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.

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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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