Nathan Chen leads Grand Prix Final despite mistake

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Even without a jumping combination, Nathan Chen leads the Grand Prix Final going into Friday night’s free skate.

Japanese phenom Rika Kihira had no such problem, nailing her triple Axel and posting the highest women’s short program score this season, ahead of Olympic champion Alina Zagitova in Vancouver on Thursday.

Chen topped a flawed men’s field at the second-biggest annual international competition, tallying 92.99 points despite putting his hands down on a quadruple toe loop landing, failing to tack a triple toe loop on the end of it.

“Every mistake that I make in any program is something I both learn from but also something that I dwell on a little bit,” Chen said through U.S. Figure Skating, adding that he plans at least three quads in the free. “Of course I’m not completely satisfied with this program that I did today, but I’m glad that I got all of my levels. I’ve been struggling with my flip in the short program for the last couple of seasons so I’m glad I was able to do that here.”

The 19-year-old U.S. and world champion takes a 1.33-point lead over Olympic silver medalist Shoma Uno into the free, looking to repeat as Grand Prix Final champion. The Final takes the top six skaters per discipline from the fall Grand Prix Series and is often a preview of sorts for the March world championships.

Uno, who took silver to Chen at last season’s Final and worlds, put a hand down landing his opening quadruple flip. The 20-year-old made the last three Grand Prix Final podiums, the last two world championships podiums, the last two Four Continents Championships podiums and the Olympic podium, but never on the top step.

“Today at the practice, both in the morning and the six minutes warm up, I couldn’t jump properly,” Uno said, according to the International Skating Union. “I am not ill or injured. I have absolutely no excuse as to why I couldn’t jump. I wish I could say there was a reason. The fact that I could do everything well in practice and couldn’t do in the competition probably means that the mental side is part of the problem and is my weakness,”

Men’s Short Program
1. Nathan Chen (USA) — 92.99
2. Shoma Uno (JPN) — 91.67
3. Michal Brezina (CZE) — 89.21
4. Cha Jun-Hwan (KOR) — 89.07
5. Sergei Voronov (RUS) — 82.96
6. Keegan Messing (CAN) — 79.56

The Grand Prix Final continues Friday night with the rhythm dance, pairs’ short and men’s free skates, live on NBC Sports Gold and NBCSN.

GP FINAL PREVIEWS: Men | Women | Pairs | Ice DanceTV Schedule

Aside from Chen and Uno, the Grand Prix Final lacks any other men from the top seven at the PyeongChang Olympics or March’s world championships. Yuzuru Hanyu, the Olympic champion, is sitting out the event a second straight year with a right ankle injury.

Chen broke out at the Final two years ago, winning the free skate and placing second overall to Hanyu in his senior international debut season. He then won the event last season, at the time the biggest victory of his young career.

Chen and Hanyu haven’t gone head-to-head since the Olympics and likely will not until the world championships in Saitama, Japan, in March.

The women’s short featured an anticipated showdown between 16-year-olds: Zagitova, who has lost just once in two seasons as a senior skater, and Kihira, who has now landed a triple Axel clean and fully rotated three times in six tries in her senior debut season.

Kihira’s 82.51 supplanted Zagitova as the highest short score this season. Zagitova hit all of her jumps with positive grades of execution, too (77.93 points), but Thursday proved the theory that if both skaters go clean, Kihira will win.

“I was extremely surprised when I saw that score of 82.51, because it was not a score that I would have imagined would ever come up,” Kihira said, according to the ISU.

Zagitova, looking to make it five straight Grand Prix Final titles for Russian women, said she felt nervous and a little tense. She also declined to answer a question about how Kihira’s rise has affected her.

“I try not to pay attention to other skaters’ performances,” she said through a translator.

Women’s Short Program
1. Rika Kihira (JPN) — 82.51
2. Alina Zagitova (RUS) — 77.93
3. Elizaveta Tuktamysheva (RUS) — 70.65
4. Kaori Sakamoto (JPN) — 70.23
5. Sofia Samodurova (RUS) — 68.24
6. Satoko Miyahara (RUS) — 67.52

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.

MORE: Rika Kihira more than a new Miss Triple Axel

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USOC fires official as Larry Nassar report released

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The U.S. Olympic Committee fired chief of sport performance Alan Ashley in the wake of an independent report released Monday that said neither he nor former CEO Scott Blackmun elevated concerns about the Larry Nassar sexual abuse allegations when they were first reported to them.

The 233-page independent report detailed an overall lack of response when the USOC leaders first heard about the Nassar allegations from the then-president of USA Gymnastics, Steve Penny.

Blackmun resigned in February because of health concerns.

The report says the USOC took no action between first hearing of the allegations in July 2015 and September 2016, when the Indianapolis Star published an account of Nassar’s sex abuse. The report concludes that lack of action allowed Nassar to abuse dozens more girls over the 14 months of silence.

Nassar is serving decades in prison on charges of child pornography and for molesting young women and girls under the guise of medical treatment; many of his accusers testified in heart-wrenching detail at his sentencing hearing.

Though Ashley was the only one to get fired in the immediate aftermath of its release, the report paints a harsh picture of leadership of the entire U.S. Olympic movement, from the offices of the USOC to what it portrays as an essentially rogue, unchecked operation at the Karolyi Ranch in Texas — the training center run by Bela and Martha Karolyi where some of the abuse occurred.

The report concludes that one of Penny’s key objectives was to keep the allegations under wraps, to avoid “sending shockwaves through the community,” as he said in a conversation with an FBI agent.

Meanwhile, Penny is portrayed as repeatedly trying to get the FBI to investigate Nassar, but the report concludes “the investigation appears to have languished … for over seven months” in the FBI’s Detroit office. USAG took the allegations to the FBI’s Los Angeles office, but not until the newspaper report came out did that office take action.

The report says Penny notified Blackmun and Ashley that Nassar had retired in September 2015, but that both leaders had deleted the email, which referenced Nassar by name.

The report details the USOC’s relationships with the sports organizations it oversees as too deferential and not involved enough in policymaking to ensure athlete safety.

“In this governance model, the USOC exerted its broad statutory authority and monetary influence over individual sports primarily for the purpose of encouraging success at the Olympic Games, effectively outsourcing any decisions regarding on-the-ground child-protective practices to the NGBs,” the report states.

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MORE: Olympic medalist no longer on USA Gymnastics suspended list

U.S. figure skating rankings going into national championships

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A discipline-by-discipline look at U.S. figure skaters’ best season scores with no more top-level events until the U.S. Championships from Jan. 24-27 in Detroit …

Men
1. Nathan Chen — 282.42
2. Chen — 280.57
3. Chen — 271.58
4. Jason Brown — 263.42
5. Brown — 256.33
6. Brown — 234.97
7. Vincent Zhou — 234.25
8. Brown — 233.23
9. Zhou — 225.75
10. Camden Pulkinen — 223.95

Chen is on his way to a third straight national title, while Brown has been a pleasant surprise this fall after changing coaches in the offseason. The Sochi Olympian and 2015 U.S. champion even beat Chen in one program on the Grand Prix Series. Zhou, after placing sixth in PyeongChang, has struggled with under-rotations on jumps but is still in the driver’s seat for one of three world championships spots.

Women
1. Bradie Tennell — 206.41
2. Tennell — 202.41
3. Ting Cui — 199.79
4. Mariah Bell — 198.96
5. Tennell — 197.78
6. Bell — 196.60
7. Tennell — 192.89
8. Bell — 190.25
9. Bell — 188.97
10. Ashley Lin — 181.21

Two world team spots for the women. Tennell and Bell are the top returning veterans this season, but remember that 2017 U.S. champion Karen Chen has yet to compete with a foot injury. Then there are Ting, 16, and Alysa Liu, a 13-year-old who isn’t age eligible for junior or senior worlds but can compete in the senior division at nationals. Liu landed triple Axels in both programs at sectionals last month, scoring 212.97 points (though domestic scores are often inflated and not comparable with international scores).

Ice Dance
1. Madison Hubbell/Zachary Donohue — 205. 35
2. Hubbell/Donohue — 200.82
3. Hubbell/Donohue — 200.76
4. Hubbell/Donohue — 197.42
5. Kaitlin Hawayek/Jean-Luc Baker — 184.63
6. Hawayek/Baker — 184.04
7. Hawayek/Baker — 181.47
8. Rachel Parsons/Michael Parsons — 180.95
9. Lorraine McNamara/Quinn Carpenter — 180.57
10. Christina Carreira/Anthony Ponomarenko — 180.22

The only active U.S. couple to beat Hubbell and Donohue in direct competition is Madison Chock and Evan Bates, but the two-time world medalists missed the entire fall season due to Chock’s ankle surgery. With Olympic bronze medalists Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani sitting out this season and maybe done competing altogether, Hubbell and Donohue will be clear favorites to repeat as national champions.

Three U.S. couples will go to worlds. Hawayek and Baker, after qualifying for their first Grand Prix Final, are primed to go back after placing 10th last season. The status of Chock and Bates will largely determine who rounds out the world team.

Pairs
1. Tarah Kayne/Danny O’Shea — 191.43

2. Alexa Scimeca Knierim/Chris Knierim — 190.49
3. Knierim/Knierim — 182.84
4. Ashley Cain/Timothy LeDuc — 181.56
5. Kayne/O’Shea — 177.69
6. Knierim/Knierim — 177.22
7. Deanna Stellato/Nathan Bartholomay — 176.44
8. Cain/LeDuc — 175.06
9. Stellato/Bartholomay — 174.91
10. Stellato/Bartholomay — 174.78

Kayne and O’Shea, who likely would have made the Olympic team if the U.S. qualified more than one pair for PyeongChang, surprised by posting that 191 at the last event of the Grand Prix Series three weeks ago. The U.S. has just one pair at worlds this season for the first time since 1984 and last earned a medal in 2002. Kayne and O’Shea and the Knierims are ranked Nos. 9 and 10 in the world this season. Cain is recovering after falling head-first on the ice from a botched lift on Friday night.

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