Alina Zagitova wins Rostelecom Cup; Gracie Gold withdraws

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Olympic champion Alina Zagitova dominated the Rostelecom Cup, while Gracie Gold withdrew before Saturday’s free skate at her first competition in 22 months, citing emotional stress.

Zagitova skated a flawed free, but still totaled 222.95 points and prevailed by 24.94 over countrywoman Sofia Samodurova. Zagitova qualified for December’s Grand Prix Final, the second-biggest annual international competition, which takes the top six skaters from the fall Grand Prix Series.

Gold, coming back from treatment for anxiety, depression and an eating disorder, was in last place of 10 skaters after struggling with jumps in Friday’s short program.

Gold, a Sochi Olympian and two-time U.S. champion, later tweeted that she withdrew because competing in the free skate would be damaging to her mental health and confidence.

“It was a difficult decision to make, but ultimately I need to put my mental health first and focus on the big picture,” was tweeted from Gold’s account. “Looking forward, I need to keep improving both my physical and mental condition. I thought checking into treatment last fall was the most difficult thing I’ve ever done, but skating my short program last night might have topped it. I do not want to undo the tremendous progress I’ve made in these last few months.”

The Grand Prix season continues next week with Nathan Chen headlining Internationaux de France, the last event before the Grand Prix Final.

ROSTELECOM CUP: Results | TV/Stream Schedule

Zagitova, 16, is undefeated in three events this season and owns the world’s top overall score (238.43) by a whopping 14.12 points. However, Japanese 16-year-old Rika Kihira has the highest total on the Grand Prix of 224.31.

Zagitova struggled Saturday with the difficult triple Lutz-triple loop combination and doubled a flip at the end of her free skate.

Her primary rival last season, countrywoman Yevgenia Medvedeva, has finished second or third in her four competitions in the last year and likely must reach the podium next week in France for a chance at the Grand Prix Final and her first matchup with Zagitova since PyeongChang.

It’s likely that no U.S. woman makes the Grand Prix Final for a third straight year, after never previously going back-to-back years without a qualifier. U.S. champion Bradie Tennell likely must win in France to reach the Final.

Earlier Saturday, double Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu won the men’s event, hours after twisting his right ankle in a hard practice fall. Hanyu hopped on a crutch backstage and said he is uncertain for the Grand Prix Final and Japanese Nationals later in December. More here on Hanyu’s day.

Russian favorites Yevgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov and Alexandra Stepanova and Ivan Bukin won the pairs’ and ice dance titles, respectively, qualifying for the Grand Prix Final.

Tarasova and Morozov, two-time world medalists, posted 220.25 points, moving up to No. 2 in the world behind French Vanessa James and Morgan Cipres, who were not in the Rostelecom field. None of the Olympic pairs’ medalists are competing this fall. Earlier Saturday, Tarasova received five stitches after cutting her chin in a practice crash into the boards.

In dance, Stepanova and Bukin tallied 199.43, keeping them close to U.S. champions Madison Hubbell and Zach Donohue in the world rankings. Those two couples face off for the first time this season at the Grand Prix Final.

The top returning couple this season, French Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron, competes next week at the top international level for the first time since winning a third world title in March. They are not eligible for the Grand Prix Final after withdrawing from last week’s NHK Trophy due to Cizeron’s back injury.

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: Ashley Wagner on her competitive future, coaching

Nathan Chen defends world title, defeating Yuzuru Hanyu at World Championships

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Nathan Chen is now the first U.S. man to win back-to-back World titles since Scott Hamilton did so four times, from 1981-1984. He defeated two-time world champion Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan in their first head-to-head competition since the PyeongChang Olympics on Saturday in Saitama, Japan.

Performing to “Land of All” by Woodkid, Chen landed four quadruple jumps and scored 216.02 points in the free skate, a new highest score in the world this season. His free skate, 323.02 points, was also the highest score in the world this season. The Yale University freshman extended his 10.59-point lead from the short program to 22.05 points to claim his second consecutive World gold medal. He heads back to class next week, after spending his spring break at this competition.

“It’s breathtaking to be in this arena. Thank you so much for being loud and carrying me through my program,” Chen told the Saitama crowd.

“I’m glad I was able to put out two strong skates both here and last year and I hope to be able to compete against Yuzuru further in the future,” Chen continued later in the press conference. “Every time Yuzu skates, he does something amazing and incredible and it’s just a huge honor to be able to skate with him, skate after him, especially knowing that how he sets the bar. It’s great to be able to follow that.”

Skating after Hanyu wasn’t an unfamiliar situation for Chen, he told reporters in a press conference following Thursday’s short program.

“It’s not my first time skating after him,” he said. “The raining of the Pooh bears is actually a pretty amazing sight to see. Knowing that fact, it’s something that I can prepare myself for — it’s not even something I have to prepare myself for. It’s an amazing thing. It’s amazing to see the fans love us, care for us and do all this to hypothetically make us happy. That’s such a great feeling.”

Two-time Olympic gold medalist Yuzuru Hanyu told reporters he was 100 percent, recovering from a lingering ankle injury, and he proved it. Skating at home, at the site of his first of two world titles, he was third after the short program but rallied to score 206.10 points in the free skate and 300.97 points overall. His Origin (“Art on Ice”) by Edvin Marton free skate earned him the silver medal. Afterward, his fans covered the ice with stuffed Pooh bears, as has become tradition for whenever Hanyu takes the ice.

“I was thinking about Plushenko when skating this program, because I am somehow lending it from him, and I feel that I have done what I could in this free program,” Hanyu said, referencing four-time Olympic medalist Yevgeny Plushenko of Russia. “But I lost, that is about it. To tell the truth, it is like death to me. I really want to win.

“When I was going through my rehabilitation, I watched the American Nationals where Nathan Chen was performing,” Hanyu continued. “I am a really competitive person, and I want to compete with a strong opponent. I respect Nathan in this sense. Now I will have enough time until the next season, and I will try not to get injured and do my best to get stronger.”

Vincent Zhou performed to the Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon soundtrack, skating first in the final flight of skaters. He was called for two under-rotations — on his quad toe and the triple flip in his triple Lutz, Euler, triple flip combination — to score a season’s best free skate (186.99) and a season’s best total score (281.16). Zhou had his best-ever World Championships finish, claiming the bronze medal.

“I had a good Nationals and Four Continents and used the momentum to build and build, and finally, I was able to put out two great performances in the same competition, here at Worlds,” Zhou said. “I really couldn’t be happier to do what I did here.”

The last time the U.S. put two men on a World Championship podium was 1996, when Todd Eldredge won gold and Rudy Galindo claimed the bronze in Edmonton, Canada.

The third U.S. man in the field, Jason Brown, fell from second after the short program to ninth overall with a 157.34 point free skate and a total overall score of 254.15 points. He skated to a Simon & Garfunkel medley.

For Brown, skating last and closing out the competition was a little less familiar from a logistics standpoint, he said in the post-short program press conference. Once he found out the draw, he texted coaches Brian Orser and Tracy Wilson to figure out how it would work — as he shares those coaches with Hanyu.

“I feel great, it is not the performance that I had wanted, but I am so proud of the fight that I put out there, the growth that I made this year,” Brown said. “Also I am so proud at my teammates. It feels amazing to perform here, I love the Japanese crowd, I love the feeling of performing out on that ice, especially in Japan.”

Full results are here.

Shoma Uno, January’s Four Continents gold medalist, likely buckled under the immense pressure of a home World Championships. He stepped out of both of his first two quad jumps in his program, both of which were called under-rotated. He managed 178.92 points in his Moonlight Sonata free skate for a total overall score of 270.32 points. His medal streak (silver 2017-18) snapped in Saitama and he finished in fourth place.

“I really admire Yuzuru Hanyu who always seeks for high scores and good results, which made me realize I am still immature,” Uno said. “Overall I am still disappointed in myself. I need to become mentally much stronger. I want to skate better next year so that when I look back this World in the future, this would be a good lesson for my skating career.”

MORE: How to watch the World Figure Skating Championships | Sui Wenjing, Han Cong recapture world pair titleAlina Zagitova wins first world title | Papadakis, Cizeron win fourth world title; Hubbell, Donohue land on podium

As a reminder, you can watch the world 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.

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Papadakis, Cizeron win fourth world title; Hubbell, Donohue land on podium

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France’s Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron captured their fourth World Championship ice dance title on Saturday in Saitama, Japan.

Skating to selections from Rachael Yamagata, Papadakis and Cizeron scored a season’s best 134.23 points in the free skate for a total score of 222.65 points. They extended their short program lead over the field to 10.89 points. They now join six other ice dance teams in winning four World Championship titles; no team has one five, but one team has won six titles.

The last time the World Championships were held in Saitama, in 2014, Papadakis and Cizeron made their event debut and finished 13th. In the years to come, they went on to win three more titles: 2015, 2016, and 2018.

“We were exactly here five years ago for the World Championships in Saitama,” Papadakis recalled. “It’s funny to remember the whole experience we gained from those five years and where we were at that time, and where we are now. It’s incredible. We are just very, very proud of us.”

Viktoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov scored a season’s best 127.82 in their free dance for a total score of 211.76. They won their first World Championship medal, a silver, marking Russia’s first world ice dance medal since 2013. Their teammates, Alexandra Stepanova and Ivan Bukin finished fourth with 208.52 points.

Two-time U.S. champions Madison Hubbell and Zach Donohue scored a season’s best 127.31 in their “Romeo and Juliet” free dance which included all Level 4 elements. They notched a total score of 210.40 and the bronze medal. They won their first World medal, a silver, in 2018.

“We feel like we put our strongest performance this season here at Worlds, and that was our goal,” Hubbell said. “Our goal was to do our best performance and the rest we can’t control, that was really what we have achieved. Next season we would love to be competing for the top of the podium. We think that Team USA is incredibly strong in ice dance, so it keeps us on our toes. We would love to be the number one team heading into the Beijing Games [in 2022], and going to bring the gold home for Team USA — that is really the plan.”

Full results are here.

Canada’s Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje skated a tribute to their late friend and two-time world medalist Denis Ten of Kazakhstan.

Their free skate earned 122.78 points and all of their elements were called Level 4, except for Weaver’s twizzles, which earned a Level 2. They scored a total of 205.62 points and finished in fifth place. Notably, Weaver and Poje have been inside the Worlds top five for the past nine years, including a silver in 2014 and two bronzes (2015, 2018).

“When the tragedy struck, we knew our mission in this program was to do it for Denis,” Weaver told NBCSports.com/figure-skating earlier this season.

Americans Madison Chock and Evan Bates moved to Montreal for a new start this season and spent nearly 10 months away from competition before returning in January. The Four Continents gold medalists earned Level 3 on their one-foot step sequence and Level 4s on the rest of their elements in Saitama for a free skate score of 122.60 and an overall score of 204.92 points. They finished in sixth place.

“It feels so good that our best performance of the season happened here, on the World Championships,” Chock said afterwards. “Now we are going to go on with our next season, but firstly enjoy our vacation.”

“I think it is our favorite free dance that we have ever had, and it is really our tempo, especially the last piece of music. It is very audience-friendly,” Bates added, confirming it’s the last time they will compete the Elvis medley.

In what has been a personal storytelling vehicle for them this season, Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker‘s free dance to The Irrespressibles earned 113.16 points for an overall score of 189.06. Their ninth place at the World Championships caps their best season ever. At last year’s Worlds, they finished 10th and then moved to Montreal for a new training environment.

“It was a really great Worlds experience for us,” Hawayek told media. “It’s always such a pleasure to be in Japan and just continue to put out memorable performances for everyone and I think we set out with a goal of doing just that, and we are very happy to feel like we did that. We feel like we put out two solid and emotionally connected, memorable performances.”

World ice dance champions title leader board:

6 titles: Lyudmila Pakhomova/ Alexandr Gorshkov (Soviet Union; 1970-74, 1976)

4 titles: Jean Westwood/ Lawrence Demmy (Great Britain, 1952-56); Eva Romanova/ Pavel Roman (Czech Republic, 1962-65); Diane Towler/ Bernard Ford (Great Britain, 1966-69); Jayne Torvill/ Christopher Dean (Great Britain, 1981-84); Natalia Bestemianova/ Andrei Bukin (Soviet Union, 1985-88); Oksana Grishuk/ Yevgeni Platov (Russia, 1994-97); Gabriella Papadakis/ Guillaume Cizeron (France, 2015-16, 2018-19)

MORE: How to watch the World Figure Skating Championships | Sui Wenjing, Han Cong recapture world pair title | Nathan Chen, Jason Brown in first and second after men’s short | Alina Zagitova wins first world title | Nathan Chen defends world title, defeating Yuzuru Hanyu at World Championships

As a reminder, you can watch the world 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.

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