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Madison Hubbell, Zachary Donohue win Grand Prix Final ice dance

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Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue notched the biggest win for American ice dancers in nearly five years at the Grand Prix Final in Vancouver on Saturday night. It’s all part of the plan.

“Our goal going into the season was to win every competition,” Hubbell said after completing a perfect autumn Grand Prix Series. “We are three steps there.”

The U.S. champions and world silver medalists topped both the rhythm dance and free dance to capture the second-biggest annual international competition. The only other American couple to win on this significant of a stage was Meryl Davis and Charlie White, most recently at the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

Hubbell and Donohue tallied their highest score this season, 205.35 points, and won by 3.98 over Russians Victoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov.

The Americans completed a breakthrough 2018: also a first national title in January (after six times finishing third or fourth), their first Olympics in February (finishing fourth after a free-dance fall), their first world championships medal in March and sweeping their Grand Prix Series starts for the first time in October.

Another U.S. couple, Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker, finished sixth out of six Saturday in their Grand Prix Final debut.

The competition lacked every PyeongChang Olympic medalist.

Canadians Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir  have likely competed for the last time, though haven’t announced retirement. French Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron are the top-ranked couple this season (by a whopping 11.43 points) but were ineligible for the Final after missing their first Grand Prix due to Cizeron’s minor back injury. Americans Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani are taking this season off and might be done competing, too.

Another accomplished couple, two-time world medalists Madison Chock and Evan Bates, sat out the Grand Prix season due to Chock’s ankle surgery but could return to go for a seventh straight medal at nationals next month.

Hubbell and Donohue will be clear favorites there, but to accomplish Hubbell’s now-publicly stated goal, they will likely have to beat their French training partners at the world championships in March. Hubbell and Donohue never outscored Papadakis and Cizeron in nine head-to-head competitions and were more than 10 points adrift at last season’s worlds.

Later Saturday in pairs, French Vanessa James and Morgan Cipres rallied from fourth place in the short program for the biggest win of their eight-year partnership against a field lacking all of the PyeongChang medalists.

Grand Prix Final Ice Dance Results
Gold: Madison Hubbell/Zachary Donohue (USA) — 205.35

Silver: Victoria Sinitsina/Nikita Katsalapov (RUS) — 201.37
Bronze: Charlene Guignard/Marco Fabbri (ITA) — 198.65
4. Alexandra Stepanova/Ivan Bukin (RUS) — 196.72
5. Tiffani Zagorski/Jonathan Guerreiro (RUS) — 184.37
6. Kaitlin Hawayek/Jean-Luc Baker (USA) — 184.04

Grand Prix Final Pairs’ Results
Gold: Vanessa James/Morgan Cipres (FRA) — 219.88

Silver: Peng Cheng/Jin Yang (CHN) — 216.90
Bronze: Yevgenia Tarasova/Vladimir Morozov (RUS) — 214.20
4. Natalya Zabiyako/Alexander Enbert (RUS) — 201.07
5. Nicole Della Monica/Matteo Guarise (ITA) — 187.63
6. Daria Pavliuchenko/Denis Khodykin (RUS) — 186.81

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Katie Ledecky swims fastest at U.S. Open from B final

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For what must have been the first time in seven years, Katie Ledecky failed to qualify for an A final in one of her primary events on Friday morning. No matter, she swam the fastest 200m freestyle at the U.S. Open from the B final at night.

Ledecky, owner of 20 combined Olympic and world titles, clocked 1:56.24 to win the B final by nearly three seconds in Atlanta. In the very next race, American record holder Allison Schmitt touched first in the A final in 1:56.47.

Full results are here. The final day of the meet airs live on Saturday at 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app.

Ledecky has rarely lost domestically in freestyles from 200m through 1500m since she made her first Olympic team at age 15 in 2012.

She kept the streak intact, giving her a sweep of the 200m, 400m and 800m frees in the first three days of the U.S. Open, what could be the deepest domestic meet before the Olympic trials in June.

Internationally, Ledecky faced challengers in the 200m free in this Olympic cycle, unlike the last one. Italian veteran and world-record holder Federica Pellegrini won the last two world titles, with Ledecky missing the event this summer due to her mid-meet illness.

Ledecky ranks seventh in the world in the 200m free this year but likely would have been faster if she was able to race at her best at world champs.

Domestically, Simone Manuel has crept up, clocking 1:56.09 to lead off the 4x200m free relay at worlds to rank second among Americans in 2019. Manuel was the third-fastest American on Friday, recording 1:57.21, her fastest time ever outside of a major summer meet.

In other events Friday, Phoebe Bacon upset world-record holder Regan Smith in the 100m backstroke. Bacon, who like Smith is 17 years old, overtook Smith in the last 25 meters and prevailed by .05 in 58.63. Bacon, while shy of Smith’s world record 57.57, took .39 off her personal best to become the fifth-fastest in the world this year.

Olympic and world champion Lilly King dominated the 100m breaststroke, beating a strong field by .62 of a second in 1:05.65.

Chase Kalisz won a potential Olympic trials preview in the 400m individual medley in 4:13.07. Kalisz, the Rio silver medalist, held off 18-year-old Carson Foster by 1.69 seconds. Ryan Lochte, the 2012 Olympic champion in the event, was fifth, 6.65 seconds behind.

Rio Olympian Townley Haas won the men’s 200m free in 1:45.92, his fastest time since August 2018. Haas, the 2017 World silver medalist, improved to the second-fastest American in the event this year behind Andrew Seliskar.

Torri Huske won the 100m butterfly on the eve of her 17th birthday. Huske clocked 57.48, taking .23 off her personal best to move from sixth fastest to third fastest in the U.S. this year.

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Ester Ledecka stuns again, wins World Cup downhill from bib No. 26

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Consider 26 a lucky number for Ester Ledecka.

Ledecka, the snowboard champion who stunningly captured the PyeongChang Olympic super-G from bib No. 26, won her first World Cup ski race on Friday — also from bib No. 26.

Ledecka was fastest in a downhill at Lake Louise, Alberta.

She kept Swiss Corinne Suter from her first World Cup win by .35 of a second. Austrian Stephanie Venier was third. Mikaela Shiffrin was 10th in her weakest discipline. Full results are here.

“I am for sure more shocked than everybody here,” Ledecka said. “I was a little bit, not disappointed about the run, but I was not super satisfied. Then I was really surprised about the time.”

Ledecka, an Olympic and world champion in Alpine snowboarding from the Czech Republic, had a previous best Alpine skiing World Cup finish of seventh. The top-ranked racers all go in the top 20 of the start list.

Last season, Ledecka raced more World Cup skiing events than snowboarding events for the first time. She was forced to choose between world championships in skiing and in snowboarding due to schedules and picked the former with a top finish of 15th.

She’s undecided about her upcoming schedule. She could continue on the Alpine skiing tour with a super-G in Switzerland next weekend, or she could fly to Italy for a snowboarding event.

The women race another downhill and a super-G in Lake Louise the next two days. A full TV and live stream schedule for the weekend races is here.

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