Jason Brown tops Nathan Chen in Grand Prix France short program

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Nathan Chen hasn’t been in the position in nearly two years — trailing at a Grand Prix event.

The world champion fell on an under-rotated quadruple flip in the Internationaux de France short program on Friday, putting him 9.47 points behind surprise leader Jason Brown going into Saturday’s free skate in Grenoble.

Brown, a Sochi Olympian who missed the U.S. team for PyeongChang, skated a clean, quad-less program and totaled 96.41.

Chen’s effort, landing one quad, garnered 86.94 for third place behind Brown and Russian Alexander Samarin. Chen attempted one more quad than he did at Skate America last month, where he tallied 90.58.

GP FRANCE: Full Results | TV/Stream Schedule

Friday marked Chen’s first fall in top-level competition since his disastrous, 17th-place short program at the PyeongChang Olympics. Since, he topped the Olympic free skate with a record six quads (five clean), won the world title by the largest margin in history and, after enrolling at Yale, won Skate America by the largest margin in history.

While Chen’s fall was surprising, to see Brown atop the standings was downright shocking.

The 2015 U.S. champion began his first season under new coach Brian Orser by missing the podium at a lower-level September event. He then placed 11th of 12 skaters in the short at his Grand Prix debut at Skate Canada last month, ending up sixth overall.

Brown’s score Friday ranks him fourth in the world this season in the short.

“Big step,” Orser told Brown just before his score came up, adding after the score, “You did it. This was you that did it.”

Skaters are competing this week for the last spots in December’s Grand Prix Final, which takes the top six per discipline from the fall Grand Prix Series. Brown must win Grand Prix France and have Chen finish outside the top five for any chance at the Final. Chen makes the final automatically with a top-five finish.

Later Friday, three-time world champions Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron posted the world’s top short dance score this season — 84.13 — in their international season debut. While Papadakis and Cizeron are ineligible for the Grand Prix Final for missing their previous Grand Prix due to Cizeron’s back injury, fourth-place Americans Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker will qualify for their first Final if the standings hold through Saturday’s free dance.

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.