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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NHK TROPHY: Results | TV/Stream Schedule

Lucas Braathen, world’s top male slalom skier, in doubt for world championships

Lucas Braathen
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Norway’s Lucas Braathen, the world’s top male slalom skier this season, is doubtful to compete in the world championships slalom on Feb. 19 after appendix surgery on Tuesday.

“It’s been a tough couple of days fighting after surprisingly finding out about quite an intense infection on my appendix,” Braathen, a 22-year-old soccer convert with a Brazilian mom, posted on social media. “I’ve been through surgery and I’m blessed that it went successfully.”

The Norway Alpine skiing team doctor said Braathen’s recovery will take a few weeks, but there is a small possibility he can make it back for the world championships slalom, which is on the final day of the two-week competition.

Braathen has two slalom wins and one giant slalom win this World Cup season. He will miss Saturday’s slalom in Chamonix, France, the last race before worlds. Countryman Henrik Kristoffersen and Swiss Daniel Yule can overtake him atop the World Cup slalom standings in Chamonix.

Braathen entered last year’s Olympics as the World Cup slalom leader and skied out in the first run at the Games.

ALPINE SKIING WORLDS: Broadcast Schedule

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Sifan Hassan sets marathon debut

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Sifan Hassan, who won 5000m and 10,000m gold and 1500m bronze at the Tokyo Olympics in an unprecedented triple, will make her 26.2-mile debut at the London Marathon on April 23.

Hassan, a 30-year-old Dutchwoman, said she will return to the track after the race, but how the London Marathon goes will play into whether she bids for the Olympic marathon in 2024.

“I want to see what I can do on the marathon distance, to make future decisions,” she posted on social media. “We’ll see if I will finish the distance or if the distance will finish me.”

Exhausted by her Olympic feat, Hassan reportedly went at least seven months after the Tokyo Games between training in track spikes. She finished fourth in the 10,000m and sixth in the 5000m at last July’s world championships in Eugene, Oregon.

“I really needed a break after the Tokyo Olympics,” Hassan said at worlds. “I was mentally crashed. I didn’t even care about running.”

London, billed as the best women’s marathon field in history, also boasts Olympic champion Peres Jepchirchir of Kenya, world record holder Brigid Kosgei of Kenya, 2016 Olympic 10,000m champion Almaz Ayana of Ethiopia, 1500m world record holder Genzebe Dibaba of Ethiopia and the two fastest Americans in history, Emily Sisson and Keira D’Amato.

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