Alina Zagitova wins her Grand Prix opener; Yuzuru Hanyu leads

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Alina Zagitova wasn’t flawless in her Grand Prix season opener, but she didn’t have to be.

The Olympic champion from Russia totaled 215.29 points in Helsinki, winning the event by 17.72 over countrywoman Stanislava Konstantinova. Japan’s Kaori Sakamoto improved from seventh after the short program for bronze, two weeks after her second straight Skate America silver medal.

Zagitova did not fall between two programs, but she singled a jump in Friday’s short and had two under-rotation calls in her free.

“I’m not happy with my short program,” she said through a translator. “The free skating was better, but it still was not ideal.

“It was tough for me to leave behind the short program. I was analyzing for a long time, almost the whole night.”

Her score ranks second among women this Grand Prix season behind Skate America winner Satoko Miyahara of Japan. But Zagitova’s score from her lower-level season debut in September — 238.43 — remains best in the world overall this season by 17 points.

The Helsinki field lacked Zagitova’s top rivals like Miyahara and Olympic silver medalist Yevgenia Medvedeva, whom the 16-year-old will not face until December.

She had margin for error in her first top-level event since falling three times in the world championships free skate in March and finishing fifth, her only loss in a little more than a year on the senior international level.

GP FINLAND: Full Results | Stream Schedule

Earlier Saturday, double Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu moved into position to win his Grand Prix opener for the first time in his nine-year career.

The Japanese megastar was nearly flawless on his jumps, with a slight turnout on the back end of his quadruple toe loop-triple toe combination. The score — 106.69 — is the highest men’s short program in the world this season, knocking off Olympic silver medalist Shoma Uno.

“Today was a bit challenging,” said Hanyu, who chose his short-program music, Otoñal, partially as a tribute to Johnny Weir. “I can say I landed [the jumps], but I can’t say perfect.”

Hanyu takes a 13.38-point lead over Czech Michal Brezina into Sunday’s free skate. Hanyu will not face Uno or world champion Nathan Chen this season until December’s Grand Prix Final at the earliest.

Russia swept the pairs’ and ice dance titles among fields with no Olympic or world medalists (aside from team events) or prior Grand Prix event winners.

Natalya Zabiyako and Alexander Enbert erased a .59 deficit from the paris’ short program to beat Italians Nicole Della Monica and Matteo Guarise. They totaled 198.51, distancing the Italians by 12.74.

The Russians’ total ranks them fifth in the world this season, far behind French leaders Vanessa James and Morgan Cipres (221.81).

Alexandra Stepanova and Ivan Bukin topped both the rhythm dance and free dance for 200.09 points, 3.8 clear of Italians Charlene Guignard and Marco Fabbri. Americans Lorraine McNamara and Quinn Carpenter were third, their first Grand Prix podium.

Stepnova and Bukin rank second in the world this season behind world silver medalists Madison Hubbell and Zach Donohue. However, Olympic silver medalists and world champions Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron of France have yet to debut.

As a reminder, you can watch the ISU Grand Prix Series live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. GO HERE to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season…NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.

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MORE: Medvedeva thankful for Oser’s late-night talk after Skate Canada disaster

Javier Fernandez, Alina Zagitova highlight action at European Championships

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Spain’s Javier Fernandez competes for what is expected to be the final time this weekend at the European Figure Skating Championships in Minsk, Belarus. Olympic champion Alina Zagitova of Russia is also looking to defend her title in the ladies’ field.

NBC Sports Gold’s “Figure Skating Pass” will live stream every program starting on Wednesday, and NBCSN and NBC will also have coverage.

MORE: Schedule/ How to watch

Men

Fernandez, the 2018 PyeongChang bronze medalist, owns six European titles. No man since Austrian Karl Schaefer – who won eight consecutive European titles beginning in 1929 – has won as many straight titles as Fernandez. Fernandez traded world titles during the last Olympic quadrennial with his training partner Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan. They both train in Toronto under Brian Orser.

Also in the field are Michal Brezina from the Czech Republic, who most recently finished fourth at the Grand Prix Final at age 28, and three Russian men: Mikhail Kolyada, Maxim Kovtun, and Alexander Samarin.

Ladies

Reigning Olympic gold medalist Zagitova could lead a Russian podium sweep at the 2019 European Championships with teammates Stanislava Konstantinova and Sofia Samodurova.

The competition-within-the-competition at Europeans is also notable: Russia will not choose their World team until after the event. For example, two-time world champion Yevgenia Medvedeva is not competing at Europeans, and 2015 world champion Elizaveta Tuktamysheva was already told to train for Worlds despite not competing at Europeans.

Pairs

French pair Vanessa James and Morgan Cipres will try and buck a trend at Europeans, where teams representing Russia or the Soviet Union have won 47 of the last 54 titles. Russians Yevgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov are looking for a three-peat, though have been inconsistent so far this season and recently returned to last season’s short program.

James and Cipres missed out on bronze by 0.01 points at the 2018 Europeans, and could become the first French pair to win the event since 1932. The last non-Russian team to win Europeans was Germany’s Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy in 2011.

Ice dance

Three-time world champions Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron of France should coast to the gold medal in Minsk for a fifth consecutive title. Other dance teams have won more European titles, but no team has ever won five in a row.

The rest of the podium is more unclear. The Italians, Charlene Guignard and Marco Fabbri, will likely split the difference between the two Russian teams – who have their own domestic battle to contend with: Victoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov and Alexandra Stepanova and Ivan Bukin.

As a reminder, you can watch the European Championships live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. Go to NBCsports.com/gold/figure-skating to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season. NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

How to watch the European Figure Skating Championships

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Javier Fernandez returns to competition for probably a final time with his eyes on a seventh title at the European Figure Skating Championships in Minsk, Belarus Jan. 23-27.

Olympic champion Alina Zagitova looks for a second European title in the ladies’ field, while two couples from France look to top the podiums in the dance and pairs’ fields.

NBC Sports Gold’s “Figure Skating Pass” will live stream every program from Minsk starting Wednesday with the ladies’ short program.

NBCSN and NBC will also have coverage throughout the weekend.

Preview: Javier Fernandez, Alina Zagitova highlight Europeans

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European Figure Skating Championships broadcast schedule (all times Eastern)

Wednesday

Ladies’ short program: 3 a.m. (GOLD) begins at 4:30 p.m. on NBCSN

Pairs’ short program: 10:45 a.m. (GOLD)

 

Thursday

Men’s short program: 4 a.m. (GOLD) begins at 7 p.m. on NBCSN

Pairs’ free skate: 11 a.m. (GOLD), begins at 11 p.m. on NBCSN

 

Friday

Rhythm dance: 3:30 a.m. (GOLD) begins at 2 p.m. on NBCSN

Ladies’ free skate: 10 a.m. (GOLD) begins at 6 p.m. on NBCSN

 

Saturday

Men’s free skate: 3:15 a.m. (GOLD) begins at 11 a.m. on NBCSN

Free dance: 8:25 a.m. (GOLD)

 

Sunday

Ladies’ and men’s free skate: 1:30 p.m. on NBC