Yuzuru Hanyu, Nathan Chen
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Assessing figure skating’s Grand Prix season at the midpoint

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The early figure skating season produced the usual dominance from Yuzuru Hanyu and Alina Zagitova, but also surprises, such as defeats for Yevgenia Medvedeva and a mild shakeup atop the pairs’ order.

We’re halfway through the Grand Prix campaign, with early favorites emerging for December’s Grand Prix Final, which takes the top six per discipline from the six-event series.

The most anticipated Final fields are singles, where Hanyu and Nathan Chen are expected to meet for the first time since PyeongChang. Hanyu repeated as Olympic champion in February, while Chen rebounded from a short-program disaster to top the free skate for fifth overall.

Likewise, the Grand Prix Final should feature Zagitova and former training partner Medvedeva in their first head-to-head since they were separated by 1.31 points in PyeongChang. That is assuming Medvedeva takes care of business at her second Grand Prix in two weeks.

A discipline-by-discipline look at the figure skating season so far …

Men
Top Season Scores
1. Yuzuru Hanyu (JPN) — 297.12
2. Nathan Chen (USA) — 280.57
3. Shoma Uno (JPN) — 277.25
4. Shoma Uno (JPN) — 276.20
5. Mikhail Kolyada (RUS) — 274.37
6. Keegan Messing (CAN) — 265.17
7. Yuzuru Hanyu (JPN) — 263.65
8. Cha Jun-Hwan (KOR) — 259.78
9. Michal Brezina (CZE) — 257.98
10. Keegan Messing (CAN) — 257.16
Jason Brown (USA) — 234.97
Jason Brown (USA) — 233.23
Vincent Zhou (USA) — 225.75

Favorites Hanyu, Chen and Uno won their opening Grand Prix events, though Chen’s jumping program at Skate America included half the quads he attempted in PyeongChang. Chen’s score from winning the Hanyu-less world championships last season would have taken gold at the Olympics. We’ve never seen Chen and Hanyu hit all of their jumps in the same competition. Brown and Zhou were fifth and sixth, respectively, in their Grand Prix openers, putting them all but out of the running for the Final.

Women
Top Season Scores
1. Alina Zagitova (RUS) — 238.43
2. Alexandra Trusova (RUS) — 221.44 (junior)
3. Alexandra Trusova (RUS) — 221 (junior)
4. Satoko Miyahara (JPN) — 219.71
5. Rika Kihira (JPN) — 218.16
6. Alina Zagitova (RUS) — 215.29
7. Kaori Sakamoto (JPN) — 213.90
8. Mai Mihara (JPN) — 209.22
9. Bradie Tennell (USA) — 206.41
10. Elizaveta Tuktamysheva (RUS) — 206.07
Bradie Tennell (USA) — 192.89
Mariah Bell (USA) — 190.25
Mariah Bell (USA) — 188.97
Ashley Lin (USA) — 181.21

Noticeably absent from the top-10 scores list is Medvedeva, who went undefeated for more than two years from 2015 through 2017, then finished second or third in her last four events dating to January. Perhaps the biggest story in skating the rest of the Grand Prix season will be whether Medvedeva, after finishing third at Skate Canada, can qualify for the Grand Prix Final. She may need to win in France in two weeks to lock up a spot. It’s looking like the Grand Prix Final will be all Russian and Japanese women after Tennell finished fourth at Skate America. The U.S. is searching for depth with Mirai Nagasu and Ashley Wagner taking indefinite breaks and Karen Chen missing her Grand Prix opener with a foot injury. Sochi Olympian Gracie Gold is set to compete in two weeks for the first time in nearly two years.

MORE: Figure skating season TV schedule

Pairs
Top Season Scores
1. Vanessa James/Morgan Cipres (FRA) — 221.81
2. Vanessa James/Morgan Cipres (FRA) — 210.21
3. Peng Cheng/Jin Yang (CHN) — 206.42
4. Yevgenia Tarasova/Vladimir Morozov (RUS) — 204.85
5. Peng Cheng/Jin Yang (CHN) — 201.08
6. Kirsten Moore-Towers/Michael Marinaro (CAN) — 200.93
7. Yevgenia Tarasova/Vladimir Morozov (RUS) — 198.98
8. Natalya Zabiyako/Alexander Enbert (RUS) — 198.51
9. Aleksandra Boikova/Dmitriy Kozlovskiy (RUS) — 196.54
10. Natalya Zabiyako/Alexander Enbert (RUS) — 196.15
Ashley Cain/Timothy LeDuc (USA) — 181.56
Alexa Scimeca Knierim/Chris Knierim (USA) — 177.22
Ashley Cain/Timothy LeDuc (USA) — 175.06

Deanna Stellato/Nathan Bartholomay (USA) — 174.91

All the Olympic medalists are sitting out this fall or retired. The French burst through that opening. It’s not a huge surprise given they were fifth in PyeongChang and third at worlds. But James and Cipres were outscored by Tarasova and Morozov at each of the last four world championships and European Championships. Cain and LeDuc have an outside chance at the Final after their first Grand Prix medal at Skate America (bronze), but they likely need a silver in a deep Rostelecom Cup field next week.

Ice Dance
Top Season Scores
1. Madison Hubbell/Zach Donohue (USA) — 200.82

2. Alexandra Stepanova/Ivan Bukin (RUS) — 200.78
3. Alexandra Stepanova/Ivan Bukin (RUS) — 200.49
4. Madison Hubbell/Zach Donohue (USA) — 197.42
5. Kaitlyn Weaver/Andrew Poje (CAN) — 197.27
6. Victoria Sinitsina/Nikita Katsalapov (RUS) — 196.42
7. Charlene Guignard/Marco Fabbri (ITA) — 196.29
8. Victoria Sinitsina/Nikita Katsalapov (RUS) — 195.17
9. Piper Gilles/Paul Poirier (CAN) — 194.12
10. Charlene Guignard/Marco Fabbri (ITA) — 193.28
Rachel Parsons/Michael Parsons (USA) — 180.95
Lorraine McNamara/Quinn Carpenter (USA) — 180.57

The top returning couple this season, French Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron, has not competed internationally. They’ll now miss this week’s NHK Trophy after Cizeron hurt his back in a training fall last week. The Final was expected to be a showdown between Papadakis and Cizeron and training partners Hubbell and Donohue, who were fourth in PyeongChang and second at worlds behind the French. Papadakis and Cizeron would be ineligible for the Final with just one Grand Prix start. Instead, Hubbell and Donohue could have their hands full with Stepanova and Bukin. They were second at last season’s Russian Championships, but Bukin was not invited to the Olympics by the IOC. They later finished seventh at worlds. Two more promising U.S. couples, Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker and the Parsons siblings, make their Grand Prix season debuts this week.

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MORE: Olympic pairs’ champions from Russia retire

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.

Simone Biles, her name sparkling, extends 6-year win streak

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Simone Biles has long stood out for her gymnastics, but on Saturday she competed with her last name sparkling in silver beads on her World Champions Centre leotard for the first time. The gym’s other athletes had “WCC” on the back.

Biles lived up to the billing, extending her six-year win streak to 19 straight all-arounds, capturing the U.S. Classic, a tune-up for next month’s U.S. Championships.

Biles, the four-time Rio Olympic champion, scored 60 points in Louisville at the meet where she made her comeback last year after nearly two years off from competition. She prevailed by a comfortable 2.1 points over Riley McCusker, her largest margin of victory of her four U.S. Classic titles.

“I’m very satisfied,” she said on Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA. “I’m a little sad that I went out of bounds on floor [exercise], but overall I feel like there are improvements to be made.”

Full results are here.

Biles is prepping for nationals in Kansas City in three weeks, when she eyes a sixth U.S. all-around title to tie Clara Schroth Lomady‘s record from the AAU era in the 1940s and ’50s.

Then come the world championships in October in Stuttgart, Germany. Biles could win a fifth all-around to move one shy of Kohei Uchimura‘s record.

The world’s other top gymnasts may be her countrywomen.

Biles was outscored on balance beam on Saturday by 2018 World teammates Kara Eaker and McCusker and beaten on uneven bars by 2017 World all-around champion Morgan HurdSunisa Lee, Grace McCallum and McCusker. Biles swept all the gold medals at last year’s nationals.

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Geraint Thomas struggles; Julian Alaphilippe ups Tour de France lead

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LA MONGIE, France (AP) — When the team of Geraint Thomas was in its pomp at the Tour de France, a time trial followed by a big mountain stage would have been playgrounds for Sky — now in new colors as Ineos — to take cycling’s greatest race by the scruff of the neck and leave everyone else fighting for second place.

Not this year.

Thomas, the defending champion, cracked on Saturday on the Tour’s first encounter with a climb to above 2,000 meters (6,500 feet), exposing unprecedented weaknesses in his team that has won six Tours in the past seven years.

The time trial on Friday and the climb up to the legendary Tourmalet pass on Saturday seemed primed for Thomas to reel in Julian Alaphilippe, the yellow jersey-holder from France who is setting the Tour alight with his punchy riding and determination to keep the race lead, filling French fans’ heads with dreams of a first homegrown winner since 1985.

TOUR DE FRANCE: TV Schedule | Full Standings

But instead, Thomas has seen Alaphilippe only get further and further away. In two days, the Frenchman has put 50 seconds of extra daylight between him and the Welshman. His lead — up to 2 minutes, 2 seconds — is becoming large enough to start realistically envisioning Alaphilippe in yellow in Paris next weekend as the first French winner since Bernard Hinault.

Fueling the ecstasy of delirious crowds that lined Saturday’s steep uphill finish, French rider Thibaut Pinot won Stage 14, putting him back in the picture to fight for the podium after he lost mountains of time on Stage 10.

Thomas rightly pointed out that the Tour is far from done, with six more ascents to above 2,000 meters still to come.

But his inability to stay with Pinot, Alaphilippe and other title contenders at the top of the Tourmalet — he was eighth, 36 seconds behind Pinot — was a mini-earthquake for the Tour dominated by his British team since 2012 — with champions Bradley Wiggins, Chris Froome and, in 2018, Thomas.

“Not the best day. I just didn’t feel quite on it from the start. I was quite weak,” Thomas said.

“At the end I knew I just had to pace it. I didn’t really attempt to follow when they kicked. I just thought I should ride my own pace rather than follow them and blow up on the steepest bit at the end. It’s disappointing. I just tried to limit the damage.”

Having taken cycling to a new level since 2012 with its vast budget and attention to the minutest of details, the team run by David Brailsford has been hit both by misfortune and by the inevitability that, eventually, other teams would start to close the gap.

A horror crash in training for four-time winner Froome, now recovering from career-threatening broken bones, robbed the team of its ace. Thomas’ own preparations were hampered by a crash at the Tour of Switzerland last month.

And Egan Bernal, being groomed by Brailsford to succeed Froome and Thomas, looks increasingly unable to compete for the title this year. Bernal was fifth on the Tourmalet and is fourth overall, 3 minutes behind Alaphilippe.

Pinot, now sixth overall and 3:12 behind Alaphilippe, is showing remarkable grit in bouncing back from his Stage 10 misfortune, when he was part of a group that got separated from other title contenders in crosswinds.

“I have this rage inside me, because in my opinion it was an injustice,” said Pinot, a podium finisher in 2014.

“Since the start of the Tour I had this stage in the back of my mind. The Tourmalet, it’s mythical,” said Pinot, who has three career stage wins at the Tour.

French President Emmanuel Macron, on hand at the top of the Tourmalet to see Pinot win and Alaphilippe extend his lead, gushed about the “two fantastic riders.”

“They attack and they have heart,” Macron said.

Watch world-class cycling events throughout the year with the NBC Sports Gold Cycling Pass, including all 21 stages of the Tour de France live & commercial-free, plus access to renowned races like La Vuelta, Paris-Roubaix, the UCI World Championships and many more.

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