Kaitlin Hawayek, Jean-Luc Baker notch first Grand Prix win at NHK

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The U.S. has yet another Grand Prix title-winning ice dance couple.

Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker rallied to capture their first Grand Prix crown at NHK Trophy in Sunday’s free dance.

Hawayek and Baker, fourth at last season’s nationals, overcame Tiffany Zahorski and Jonathan Guerreiro‘s 4.78-point lead from Saturday’s rhythm dance to win by 1.58 over the Russians. U.S. siblings Rachel Parsons and Michael Parsons, fifth at last season’s nationals, took bronze.

Hawayek and Baker delayed their season debut until this week after Baker, whose mom was a 1988 British Olympic ice dancer, suffered a second concussion in three years in August. Last season, the former junior world champions won their first senior international title at the Four Continents Championships in January and placed 10th at the world championships in March.

They topped Sunday’s free dance but also received help as Guerreiro wobbled on twizzles, and the Russians’ rotational lift received a one-point deduction for being too long.

Hawayek and Baker became the seventh U.S. dance couple to win a Grand Prix in the series’ two-decade history, joining Elizabeth Punsalan and Jerod SwallowTanith White and Ben AgostoMeryl Davis and Charlie WhiteMadison Chock and Evan BatesMaia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani and Madison Hubbell and Zach Donohue. Five of those six went on to earn Olympic and/or world medals.

Hawayek and Baker can clinch one of six spots in December’s Grand Prix Final with another strong finish at their second Grand Prix in France in two weeks. Hubbell and Donohue already clinched a spot in the Final, the second-biggest international event of the season behind worlds.

Olympic silver medalists and world champions Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron of France withdrew before NHK due to Cizeron’s back injury, which keeps them out of the Grand Prix Final. The Olympic gold and bronze medalists — Canadians Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir and the Shibutani siblings — are on indefinite breaks from competition.

Hawayek and Baker rank seventh in the world this season by total scores.

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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Hirscher leads by 0.56 seconds after first run in World Champs slalom

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Marcel Hirscher swept into the finish area and wagged his finger triumphantly in front of the camera.

The message was clear: The ski king is back.

The Austrian produced an emphatic response to relinquishing his giant slalom title two days earlier at the world championships by taking a 0.56-second lead after the first run of the slalom on Sunday.

Only Alexis Pinturault of France was within a second of Hirscher, who was on course to win a record-tying seventh career gold medal at the worlds.

Marco Schwarz of Austria was in third place, 1.22 seconds off the lead.

Hirscher, the seven-time overall World Cup champion, showed no ill-effects from the cold that has been affecting him this week. After the giant slalom on Friday, he said he would be going straight back to bed to rest up for the slalom.

He looked in good working order on Sunday.

As the third skier on the course, Hirscher took 1.70 seconds off No. 2 starter Henrik Kristoffersen, who beat Hirscher to GS gold on Friday, and more than two seconds off Clement Noel, who came to the worlds in form after wins in Wengen and Kitzbuehel.

Save for Hirscher crashing, only Pinturault looks capable to denying the Austrian a third slalom gold at the worlds — something only the great Ingemar Stenmark has achieved. Pinturault was only 0.06 seconds behind Hirscher at the third checkpoint but he went wide at the first turn on the final descent and lost half a second.

“I’m still in the fight,” Pinturault said, “and still have a chance in the second leg. That’s the essential (thing).”

Daniel Yule of Switzerland was 0.28 behind Hirscher at the last split before falling at the start to the final descent.

Hirscher also won the slalom at the 2013 and 2017 worlds. A seventh career gold at the worlds would tie the men’s record held by compatriot Toni Sailer from the late 1950s.

Austria, a storied Alpine skiing nation, needs Hirscher to deliver in the final event to avoid finishing the world championships without a gold medal for the first time since Crans Montana, Switzerland, in 1987. The women’s team has already finished with no medals and that hasn’t happened since Schladming, Austria, in 1982.

Watch an encore presentation of the first run on NBCSN at 7:00 a.m. ET. The second and deciding run can be seen live starting at 8:00 a.m. ET on NBCSN and NBC Sports Gold.

Mikaela Shiffrin proving she’s in league of her own

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There are ski racers, and then there is Mikaela Shiffrin.

NBC Sports essayist Tim Layden calls Shiffrin the “rarest creature,” a prodigy who continues to get better with age.

Shiffrin’s stardom took off with her heart-stopping slalom gold medal in the 2014 Olympics. It looked like she would ascend to an even higher level four years later in PyeongChang when she claimed a gold medal in the giant slalom, but then she lost a battle with her nerves and failed to win a medal in the slalom. She did capture a silver in the combined event.

That Olympic disappointment has fueled her historic World Cup season. She became the youngest skier to pass the 50 win mark. She broke the women’s career record for slalom victories, and she became the first skier ever to win four-straight world championship titles in a single event.

A true prodigy indeed.