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Nathan Chen eyes Grand Prix Final spot in France; TV/stream schedule

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So far, so smooth for Nathan Chen as he balances Yale freshman life with an elite figure skating career. It’s test time again this week at Internationaux de France, the last qualifier for December’s Grand Prix Final.

The world champion can afford a C- or D-performance during his Thanksgiving class break. Breathing room after winning Skate America by the largest margin in history.

All Chen must do to earn a Grand Prix Final place is finish fifth or better in Grenoble against a field lacking top rivals Yuzuru Hanyu and Shoma Uno, who already qualified for the Final. The Final is the second-biggest annual competition, taking the top six skaters in the world from the fall Grand Prix Series.

Chen has been training 3,000 miles from his California-based coach, Rafael Arutunian. Though Arutunian expressed concern about the arrangement before Skate America, the early results showed that this unique situation could work.

“We’re still trying to figure it out as we go along,” Chen said, according to U.S. Figure Skating. “I’m definitely fully committed to Rafael until the end of my career, really, so we’ll just have to play around with that and try to make the best scenario.”

Other headliners in France, such as Russian Yevgenia Medvedeva, have less wiggle room on Friday and Saturday, with live streams on NBC Sports Gold.

Day Time (ET) Event Network
Friday 9 a.m. Men’s Short NBC Sports Gold | STREAM LINK
10:45 a.m. Rhythm Dance NBC Sports Gold | STREAM LINK
12:30 p.m. Women’s Short NBC Sports Gold | STREAM LINK
2:30 p.m. Pairs’ Short NBC Sports Gold | STREAM LINK
Saturday 7:45 a.m. Men’s Free NBC Sports Gold | STREAM LINK
10 a.m. Free Dance NBC Sports Gold | STREAM LINK
1 p.m. Women’s Free NBC Sports Gold | STREAM LINK
3 p.m. Pairs’ Free NBC Sports Gold | STREAM LINK
Sunday 4 p.m. Highlights NBC | STREAM LINK

If Chen is looking to keep pace with Hanyu and Uno, though, he must win in France. The Japanese Olympic gold and silver medalists swept their Grand Prix starts.

Since Chen won Skate America with half of the eight quadruple jumps he attempted in PyeongChang, Hanyu surpassed him with the highest score in the world this season (297.12 to 280.57). But Hanyu is now uncertain for the Grand Prix Final since reinjuring his right ankle on Saturday.

Chen, Hanyu and Uno have not been in the same competition since the PyeongChang Olympics. Fortunately for Chen, the Grand Prix Final is again during one of his breaks from classes.

This week, Chen faces two-time world bronze medalist Jin Boyang, who has struggled since finishing fourth at the Olympics (one spot ahead of Chen). Sochi Olympian Jason Brown is also in the field, though he has never landed a clean, fully rotated quad in competition.

The women’s field is deeper, which could spell trouble for Medvedeva, who went undefeated for two years but has finished second or third in her last four competitions dating to January. The Olympic silver medalist took bronze at her first Grand Prix last month, which means she only automatically qualifies for the Final with a win this week. If she’s second, it could come to a tiebreak for the last spot at the Final.

And Medvedeva is not the highest-ranked skater in this week’s field. That honor falls on 16-year-old Japanese Rika Kihira, who landed two triple Axels in winning NHK Trophy two weeks ago. Only Olympic champion Alina Zagitova, already in the Final, has scored higher than Kihira this season.

U.S. champion Bradie Tennell would qualify for her first Grand Prix Final with a win this week, but that’s a tall order given the presence of Medvedeva and Kihira. Tennell beat Medvedeva in a lower-level September event, then struggled with the difficult triple Lutz-triple loop combination at Skate America and placed fourth.

This week’s ice dance and pairs’ fields feature the world’s best, all from France.

Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron compete on the top international level for the first time since earning a third world title in March. They missed an earlier Grand Prix due to Cizeron’s back injury, which excludes them from a Grand Prix Final matchup with American rivals and training partners Madison Hubbell and Zach Donohue.

Instead this week, they face the next-best U.S. couple, Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker, who won NHK Trophy two weeks ago and have a great chance to make the Final for the first time.

Vanessa James and Morgan Cipres are the class of the pairs’ field, looking to become the first French to make a Grand Prix Final in the discipline since 2001. North Korean Olympians Ryom Tae-ok and Kim Ju-sik are the third-ranked pair in the field and could make their first Grand Prix podium.

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.