Anna Shcherbakova lands two quad Lutzes to win Skate America in Grand Prix debut

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15-year-old Anna Shcherbakova of Russia became the first senior lady to complete two quadruple Lutz jumps in international competition en route to winning her first ever senior Grand Prix title in Las Vegas on Saturday at Skate America.

In her senior Grand Prix debut, Shcherbakova opened her free skate with a clean quad Lutz, triple toe combination followed by a clean solo quad Lutz. She also included two triple-triple combinations in her free skate — a triple Lutz, triple loop (where the loop was called under-rotated) and a triple flip, Euler, triple Salchow (where the Salchow was called under-rotated) — which scored 160.16 points. She won gold with a total score of 227.76 points, vaulting from fourth after the short program to land atop the podium.

“I was really excited to skate my first time at senior Grand Prix. I was little bit nervous, too, but it was OK and my coaches helped me to do my best,” Shcherbakova said in English following her victory. “We work on this jump a lot and we jump it every day, every training. I’m so happy I can show that I can do quad jumps. I’m really happy today that I did two quads.”

Another notable feature of Shcherbakova’s free skate? A mid-program, mid-ice costume change.

Shcherbakova trains alongside reigning world and Olympic champion Alina Zagitova in Moscow under coach Eteri Tutberidze, known for training a host of burgeoning Russian skaters. She’s next scheduled to compete on the Grand Prix circuit at Cup of China in November.

Despite competing at the junior level at the time, Shcherbakova won the Russian national title ahead of skaters like Zagitova and Olympic silver medalist Yevgenia Medvedeva. She also won silver at last season’s world junior championships.

MORE: A quad revolution coming to ladies’ skating

Bradie Tennell, who led after Friday’s short program, wound up in second place after a clean free skate that scored 141.04 points for a total overall score of 216.14 points. That left her sandwiched between the Russians. It’s her first silver medal on the Grand Prix series after winning bronze at Skate America in 2017 and bronze at Grand Prix France in 2018.

“I think going into next week, that’s my main goal is to just skate free,” Tennell said through U.S. Figure Skating, referencing her next Grand Prix competition next weekend at Skate Canada. “I’m always trying to improve in every aspect of my skating, and I think it’s been a process. But I think anything is. You don’t get a jump in a day, so you can’t expect to improve your skating in a week. I think that last year was a very good learning year for me. Going into this season, I’m able to take my experiences from last year and draw from them to better myself for this year.”

MORE: Bradie Tennell’s personality shines through at Skate America

Yelizaveta Tuktamysheva, the 2015 world champion from Russia, was fifth after the short program but executed two clean triple Axels (one in combination with a double toe) to start off her free skate. She scored 138.69 in the free skate and ultimately finished with a bronze medal with 205.97 total points.

Japan’s skaters were in second and third place after the short program on Friday, but Kaori Sakamoto slid to fourth and Wakaba Higuchi fell to sixth. Sakamoto finished with silver medals at Skate America for the past two years, and Higuchi won silver at the 2018 World Championships.

Skate America results are here.

Karen Chen, competing in her first major international event since the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics, fell three times and finished eighth. She scored 99.64 in the free skate for 165.67 total points. The Cornell University freshman called this year her “comeback year” after a foot injury and is also slated to compete at NHK Trophy in Japan in November.

“It was definitely hard for me to find my rhythm today,” said Chen, who fought a cold at Skate America. “I’m so congested and it was really hard for me to breathe through my nose, so I started doing a lot of panting, and I think as I was just doing my program, I was just rushed and panting a lot. I wasn’t doing my deep breaths, so it just affected how I felt throughout my whole program. I thankfully have some time before NHK – time to regroup and start fresh

The third American in the field, Amber Glenn, totaled 104.92 points in the free skate and finished in seventh place with a total of 169.63 points.

The Grand Prix season continues next weekend with Skate Canada, taking place in Kelowna, British Columbia. Coverage will be available to NBC Sports Gold “Figure Skating Pass” subscribers and televised. Check out the 2019-20 season broadcast schedule for more details.

Skate America: Nathan Chen, Jason Brown 1-2 in men’s | Hubbell, Donohue defend ice dance title

As a reminder, you can watch the events from the 2019-20 figure skating season live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. Go to NBCsports.com/gold/figure-skating 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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With four former champions in the mix, who can claim U.S. Championships pairs’ title?

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There have been four different U.S. pairs’ champions in the past four years. All four of those teams are in the field at this week’s U.S. Championships in Greensboro, North Carolina. With that in mind, who could get the nod to compete at the world championships in March?

The U.S. has two spots to fill, thanks to the efforts of Ashley Cain-Gribble and Timothy LeDuc, who finished ninth at last year’s worlds.

Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier had the best fall of any U.S. pair, winning two bronze medals on the Grand Prix Series. Denney and Frazier finished with silver medals at last year’s national championships, too. The team has previous experience at the world championships (2015: 12th; 2017: 20th).

Cain-Gribble and LeDuc won the national title last year after a season that was nearly sidelined by Cain-Gribble’s concussion in December 2018. As the solo U.S. representatives at the world championships, they succeeded in earning back two world berths for 2020.

This season, they won two B-level competitions and finished fourth and fifth at their Grand Prix assignments. LeDuc said last week that despite their win at Golden Spin in December, “there was a little bit of room for improvement, which is exactly what we want from a competition going into nationals.”

“We feel like we’ve improved a lot as far as what we’re able to take on mentally because we know that this is going to be an intense week,” Cain-Gribble said. “We’re prepared for that. We’ve never had to do this before, where we’re coming in and we’re already the reigning champions. We’ve never come in with that title before. We’ve had the opportunity to talk to a lot of people about it and what that feeling is, but overall their main thing was, ‘Be prepared. Prepare yourself beyond what you can even imagine. When you get there, just go on autopilot and do your thing.’”

PyeongChang Olympic team event bronze medalists Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Chris Knierim haven’t been in top form since the Games. Later in 2018, they split from short-lived coach Aljona Savchenko in Germany and moved to California.

They finished an all-time low of seventh at last year’s nationals and were not assigned to any events later in the season. In their off-season, Chris underwent wrist surgery. The couple also added Rafael Arutunian to their coaching team to address their jumping abilities. Their season consisted of a silver medal at a B-level competition, followed by two Grand Prix assignments where they finished fourth and seventh.

“We feel that many people probably have kind of written us off, because we’re an old married couple and we’re kind of labeled ‘can’t get it together,’” Scimeca Knierim said after finishing fourth at Skate Canada this fall. “That’s almost an advantage, because I feel like for so long, we were considered the front-runners. I still believe we are. We’re trying to show we can get it together.”

The last time the Knierims competed at a nationals in Greensboro, in 2015, they won the first of their two titles. That year, they notched their highest placement (seventh) across five total trips to the world championships.

Tarah Kayne and Danny O’Shea won their national title in 2016 and were also sent on their only trip to the world championships where they finished 13th. In 2017, Kayne underwent knee surgery, but they returned to the national podium in 2018 and won silver. Last year, they finished fourth after a disastrous free skate.

This season, they collected a silver medals and a fourth place finish at two B-level competitions as well as a pair of sixth-place finishes on the Grand Prix.

MORE: 2020 U.S. Figure Skating Championships TV, live stream schedule

As a reminder, you can watch the events from the 2019-20 figure skating season live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. Go to NBCsports.com/gold/figure-skating 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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Maddie Bowman, first Olympic ski halfpipe champion, ends competitive career

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Maddie Bowman knows she has been very fortunate. She just turned 26 years old and has already accomplished everything she wanted in her sport, halfpipe skiing.

Bowman, who won the event’s Olympic debut in Sochi in 2014, recently decided to retire from competition.

“I’ve really given the sport everything I could that was positive, and I knew the sport would be in great hands when I walked away,” she said. “So I decided it was my time to be done.

“I just felt like I couldn’t give anything else to the sport because I was a little bit afraid [of injury], but also it’s mentally exhausting. It drained my mental health for sure, but I loved doing it, and I still love skiing. Competition just isn’t for me anymore.”

The decision weighed on the South Lake Tahoe native last season. She competed at the Winter X Games for the last time, taking fifth place. She earned medals each of the previous seven years, including five golds, despite undergoing two major knee surgeries in that span.

“I was thinking [last year] that this is really hard, and I don’t know if I want to keep doing this,” she said. “It was really hard for me to get into the right mental state again. It’s painful. My knees hurt, but I was torn. I was torn between wanting to walk away and the love I had for the people I was around, people I competed against and just the lifestyle. I worked really hard on opening up other doors for myself besides skiing, which is making my transition a lot smoother.”

Those opportunities include activism, spreading awareness around climate change for Protect Our Winters. Bowman wants to finish her college degree and teach high school biology and health. She aims to continue public speaking regarding motivational talks and mental health.

Bowman struggled with depression between the Sochi and PyeongChang Olympics. She is equally proud of her second Olympic performance — finishing 11th in South Korea — as her landmark gold medal in Russia. While in PyeongChang, she believed it would likely be her last Olympics.

“I had doubts if I would even make it to PyeongChang, and making it there was one of my huge accomplishments,” Bowman said. “It was such a special event. Even though I only got 11th, I skied my freakin’ heart out. I gave it everything I had.”

Bowman, the daughter of two former professional skiers, took gold in Sochi as the youngest finalist. She landed back-to-back 900s for the first time in her career (by accident after having to improvise her opening run). She did so in front of family that included 78-year-old Lorna Perpall, who wore a T-shirt that read “badass grandma.”

Afterward, Bowman spoke about friend Sarah Burke, the Canadian ski halfpipe pioneer who died after a training accident in 2012.

“It means so much for us to be able to show the world what our sport is,” Bowman said that night in Russia. “She’s here with us.

“I sure hope I, and everyone else, made her proud because we would not be here without her.”

Bowman has her own place in history. No matter how long ski halfpipe is in the Olympics, she will always be the first woman to earn gold.

“I know as our sport gets more solidified into the Olympic Games, it can become pretty national, cutthroat and competitive,” she said. “I would love to see it stay this free-spirited work of art, something beautiful like that.”

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MORE: Torah Bright, Olympic champion, no longer competing in halfpipe