Nathan Chen rallies, wins GP France, sets possible Yuzuru Hanyu matchup

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Nathan Chen is going back to the Grand Prix Final for another possible showdown with Yuzuru HanyuJason Brown, if he keeps this up, is on his way to a rebound season after missing the PyeongChang Olympic team.

The world champion Chen won his fifth straight Grand Prix event, moving from third after the short program to overtake Brown and prevail by 15.25 points at Internationaux de France on Saturday. Chen landed three quadruple jumps in a clean, watered-down free skate, totaling 271.58 between two programs.

He overcame a 9.47-point deficit to the 2014 Olympian Brown from Friday.

“I’m still not at the level I should be technically,” Chen, who had a record six quads in his PyeongChang Olympic free skate (five clean), said, according to the Olympic Channel. “There’s a lot of work to be done, but whatever I did, I did. I am pretty satisfied.

“What I did today was the maximum of my capabilities as of right now and we’ll see about the future.”

GP FRANCE: Full Results | TV/Stream Schedule

Chen landed a quad flip and two quad toe loops in the free, including one in combination after falling on an under-rotated quad flip in the short. He’s the first man to win five straight Grand Prix starts in more than a decade.

Chen has so far successfully juggled skating with freshman classes at Yale, training some 3,000 miles from his Southern California-based coach. Like Hanyu and Olympic silver medalist Shoma Uno, Chen swept his two Grand Prix Series starts.

The Grand Prix Final in two weeks is during a break from Yale classes, as were Chen’s two Grand Prix events. The Final, which takes the top six skaters per discipline from the Grand Prix Series, is the second-biggest annual competition behind the world championships.

At the Final, Chen is slated to face the Olympic champion Hanyu for the first time since PyeongChang, where the American was 17th in the short program but won the free skate to place fifth overall. But Hanyu, who has the world’s highest score this season by 16 points, could withdraw from the Final after suffering an ankle injury last Saturday.

“It definitely has pushed me quite a lot over the past few years, to be able to skate with him in practices and compete against him and also just to be able to watch him from afar and see what he’s doing to sort of motivate me and push myself in practices,” Chen said Saturday. “It’s definitely disappointing if he won’t be at the Grand Prix Final.”

Brown did not fall and did not attempt a quad in his programs in Grenoble. The 2015 U.S. champion has now made a Grand Prix podium in all six of his senior international seasons, an active streak shared only by Hanyu among male or female singles skaters.

The silver medal marked quite an improvement for Brown, who was sixth at the U.S. Championships in January and, after changing coaches to Brian Orser, sixth at his Grand Prix season debut in Canada last month.

Brown is now a favorite to make the three-man U.S. team for the world championships in March. Only Chen has a better score this season among Americans than Brown, who is 30 points clear of PyeongChang Olympian Vincent Zhou. Brown competes at least one more time before January’s nationals, at a lower-level event in Croatia in two weeks.

“I have a long way to go with [the free skate], but I’m really happy with the development as it has come a long way since the start to the season,” Brown said. “I’m still just scratching the surface of the potential that I have. … I’m still struggling every day with the changes.”

Later, three-time world champions Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron ran away with the ice dance title by 16.4 points in their first top-level senior event of the season. While their score — 216.78 — is the highest in the world this season by nearly 16 points, they are ineligible for the Grand Prix Final because they missed their first Grand Prix due to Cizeron’s back injury.

Americans Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker finished fourth, securing their first Grand Prix Final berth. Hawayek and Baker won NHK Trophy two weeks ago. The favorites at the Final are U.S. champions and world silver medalists Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue, who won the first two Grand Prix events last month.

Grand Prix Final Qualifiers
Men
1. Yuzuru Hanyu (JPN) — 30 points
2. Shoma Uno (JPN) — 30 points
3. Nathan Chen (USA) — 30 points
4. Michal Brezina (CZE) — 26 points
5. Sergey Voronov (RUS) — 24 points
6. Cha Jun-Hwan (KOR) — 22 points

Ice Dance
1. Madison Hubbell/Zach Donohue (USA) — 30 points

2. Alexandra Stepanova/Ivan Bukin (RUS) — 30 points
3. Victoria Sinitsina/Nikita Katsalapov (RUS) — 26 points
4. Charlene Guignard/Marco Fabbri (ITA) — 26 points
5. Kaitlin Hawayek/Jean-Luc Baker (USA) — 24 points
6. Tiffany Zahorski/Jonathan Guerreiro (RUS) — 24 points

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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April Ross, Alix Klineman back atop Olympic beach volleyball qualifying

April Ross, Alix Klineman
FIVB World Tour
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Two-time Olympic medalist April Ross and new partner Alix Klineman moved back on top of the U.S. Olympic beach volleyball qualifying standings by winning an event in Itapema, Brazil this week.

Ross, who split from Kerri Walsh Jennings in 2017, and Klineman beat Canadians Sarah Pavan and Melissa Humana-Paredes 25-23, 18-21, 15-10 in Sunday’s final for their third title in 11 FIVB World Tour tournaments together.

“Every victory is important, but this counts for more,” Klineman said, according to the FIVB. “We want to send a message and we want to be consistently the best.

Ross and Klineman supplanted Walsh Jennings and her new partner, Brooke Sweat, for the lead in the early U.S. Olympic qualifying rankings with still more than a year of events ahead.

1. Ross/Klineman – 3,240 (5 events played)
2. Walsh Jennings/Sweat – 3,100 (7 events)
3. Day/Flint – 2,180 (5 events)
4. Hughes/Ross — 2,000 (4 events)
5. Larsen/Stockman — 1,840 (5 events)
6. Sponcil/Claes — 1,600 (3 events)

Each team’s 12 best results from Sept. 1, 2018, to June 14, 2020, go into the Olympic qualifying rankings. That means Ross and Klineman are comfortably in front, having played two fewer events than Walsh Jennings and Sweat, who lost in the quarterfinals in Itapema.

The top two U.S. pairs come June 15, 2020, provided they’re ranked high enough internationally, will qualify for Tokyo. Most of the qualifying events, including the ones with the most points available, are still to come this summer.

Ross, 36, picked up Klineman, 29, after Walsh Jennings didn’t join her in signing a domestic AVP contract in 2017. The 6-foot-5 Klineman primarily played indoor the previous decade, including at Stanford from 2007-10 after being the Gatorade National Player of the Year coming out of high school.

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Katie Ledecky extends 5-year win streak

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Katie Ledecky extended a five-year domestic win streak by taking the 200m freestyle at the Tyr Pro Swim Series at Bloomington on Saturday.

In her last full meet before July’s world championships, Ledecky clocked 1:55.80 to beat training partner Simone Manuel by 1.44 seconds for her second win in as many days. Ledecky is also entered in Sunday’s 800m free on the last day of the meet.

Ledecky, who also cruised to a 400m free victory on Friday, ranks third in the world in the 200m free this year, behind Australian Ariarne Titmus and Swede Sarah Sjöström (the Olympic silver medalist who is not expected to race the 200m free at worlds).

Ledecky, a five-time Olympic champion, hasn’t lost a 200m, 400m, 800m or 1500m free final at a domestic meet since Allison Schmitt beat her in a 200m free on Jan. 18, 2014 when Ledecky was 16 years old.

BLOOMINGTON: Full Results

But Ledecky lost the two biggest 200m frees of this Olympic cycle so far, at the 2017 World Championships and the 2018 Pan Pacific Championships. Italian veteran Federica Pellegrini handed Ledecky her first individual final defeat at a major international meet at 2017 Worlds.

Ledecky dropped to third in the 200m free at Pan Pacs in Tokyo last year, beaten by younger swimmers Taylor Ruck of Canada and Rikako Ikee of Japan.

Ruck, who like Ledecky trains at Stanford, is in Bloomington, but she chose not to swim the 200m free on Saturday. She instead swam the 200m backstroke about 45 minutes after the 200m free and was upset by 17-year-old Regan Smith. Smith won in 2:06.47, moving to No. 3 in the world this year.

In other events Saturday, Ella Eastin captured the 400m individual medley in 4:37.18, taking 1.25 seconds off her personal best and moving to fifth in the world this year. Eastin is not on the world championships team after an untimely bout with mono before qualifying meets last summer.

Blake Pieroni won the men’s 200m free in 1:47.25. No American ranks in the top 20 in the world this year. World silver medalist Townley Haas did not enter Bloomington.

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