Nathan Chen leads Grand Prix France, looking to extend remarkable win streak

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Nathan Chen is halfway to his eighth straight Grand Prix title, landing two quadruple jumps en route to a four-point lead at Internationaux de France on Friday.

Chen, a two-time world champion undefeated since a fifth-place PyeongChang Olympic finish, tallied 102.48 points in his “La Bohème” short program in Grenoble. Only two-time Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu, who is not competing in France, has scored higher this season.

All 11 skaters committed jumping errors Friday. Chen put both hands on the ice on a triple Axel landing. That was sandwiched between a quad toe loop-triple toe loop combination and a quad flip.

He scored .23 lower than his short program at Skate America two weeks ago.

“One week is difficult between competitions,” said Chen, who is skipping Yale sophomore classes to compete in France. “Two weeks, you have time to recover, rest and then start building back up. … But having one week, it’s like two days of travel, two days of travel, and then three days of actual training.”

Russian Alexander Samarin is second going into Saturday’s free skate (live streaming schedule here).

Japanese Shoma Uno, the Olympic silver medalist and two-time world silver medalist, fell on a quad toe loop and nearly faceplanted on a triple Axel. He is in fourth, 23.43 behind Chen.

Chen will qualify for December’s six-skater Grand Prix Final with a podium finish, setting the stage for a likely showdown with Hanyu for the first time since Chen beat him at last season’s worlds. No singles skater has won eight straight Grand Prix events since Yevgeny Plushenko at the turn of the century.

Later Friday, 16-year-old Alena Kostornaia landed an under-rotated triple Axel in her senior Grand Prix debut, tallied 76.55 and took a 2.31 lead over Olympic and world champion Alina Zagitova going into Saturday’s free skate.

Kostornaia is looking to become the third straight first-year senior Russian to win on the Grand Prix this season after 15-year-olds Anna Shcherbakova and Alexandra Trusova, who landed quads at Skate America and Skate Canada, respectively.

Zagitova, 17, had the back end of her triple Lutz-triple loop combination called under-rotated.

Mariah Bell, seeking her first Grand Prix medal since her 2016 Skate America breakthrough silver, is in third after a relatively clean skate, just an unclear edge call on a triple flip. Her short program is to Britney Spears music (with lyrics), choreographed by former training partner Adam Rippon.

“I’m getting more into my skates with it,” Bell said.

World champions Gabriella Papapdakis and Guillaume Cizeron of France topped the rhythm dance with 88.69 points, best in the world this season.

Americans Madison Chock and Evan Bates, who missed the last Grand Prix season due to Chock’s recovery from ankle surgery, skated into second with 80.69, their best score in three events this season.

“It was the best performance of this program we’ve had this season,” Bates said in audio provided by U.S. Figure Skating. “Room for improvement in the technical score still, particularly Finnstep, but overall really pleased.”

Papadakis and Cizeron haven’t lost to a couple other than recently retired world champions Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir in almost five years. Chock and Bates have their work cut out in Saturday’s free dance, but even a runner-up will put them in great position to qualify for the Grand Prix Final later this month.

“It really doesn’t feel like we’ve taken that much [time away],” Chock said. “It’s like riding a bike.”

Internationaux de France
Men’s Short Program
1. Nathan Chen (USA) — 102.48
2. Alexander Samarin (RUS) — 98.48
3. Kevin Aymoz (FRA) — 82.50
4. Shoma Uno (JPN) — 79.05
5. Moris Kvitelashvili (GEO) — 78.79
6. Romain Ponsart (FRA) — 77.48
7. Sergey Voronov (RUS) — 76.60
8. Daniel Samohin (ISR) — 70.84
9. Nicolas Nadeau (CAN) — 69.42
10. Tomoki Hiwatashi (USA) — 68.70
11. Anton Shulepov (RUS) — 63.67

Women’s Short Program
1. Alena Kostornaia (RUS) — 76.55
2. Alina Zagitova (RUS) — 74.24
3. Mariah Bell (USA) — 70.25
4. Starr Andrews (USA) — 66.59
5. Wakaba Higuchi (JPN) — 64.78
6. Kaori Sakamoto (JPN) — 64.08
7. Yuna Shiraiwa (JPN) — 63.12
8. Lee Serna (FRA) — 62.43
9. Mae Berenice Meite (FRA) — 56.35
10. Nicole Schott (GER) — 54.43
11. Maria Sotskova (RUS) — 50.38
WD. Laurine Lecavelier (FRA)

Rhythm Dance
1. Gabriella Papadakis/Guillaume Cizeron (FRA) — 88.69
2. Madison Chock/Evan Bates (USA) — 80.69
3. Charlene Guignard/Marco Fabbri (ITA) — 79.65
4. Olivia Smart/Adrian Diaz (ESP) — 76.09
5. Tiffani Zagorski/Jonathan Guerreiro (RUS) — 75.05
6. Natalya Kaliszek/Maksym Spodyriev (POL) — 74.19
7. Carolane Soucisse/Shane Firus (CAN) — 68.61
8. Julia Wagret/Pierre Souquet-Basiege (FRA) — 63.55
9. Marie-Jade Lauriault/Romain Le Gac (FRA) — 61.48
10. Allison Reed/Saulius Ambrulevicius (LTU) — 58.10

Pairs’ Short Program
1. Daria Pavliuchenko/Denis Khodykin (RUS) — 76.59
2. Anastasia Mishina/Aleksandr Galliamov (RUS) — 73.77
3. Haven Denney/Brandon Frazier (USA) — 68.65
4. Ashley Cain-Gribble/Timothy LeDuc (USA) — 66.12
5. Rebecca Ghilardi/Filippo Ambrosini (ITA) — 59.62
6. Minerva Hase/Nolan Seegert (GER) — 59.13
7. Camille Ruest/Andrew Wolfe (CAN) — 57.90
8. Miriam Ziegler/Severin Kiefer (AUT) — 57.30

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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At U.S. Open swim meet, teens make a splash with Olympic trials on horizon

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While Olympic and world champions Katie LedeckySimone Manuel and Chase Kalisz notched expected victories at the U.S. Open on Thursday, a trio of teenagers lowered personal bests to further establish their Tokyo Olympic hopes.

At the top domestic meet of the winter, Alex WalshCarson Foster and Kieran Smith each earned runner-up finishes, but their performances stood out in the big picture: looking at June’s Olympic trials, where the top two per individual event make the team.

Walsh, a rising Nashville high school senior, took 2.23 seconds off her 200m individual medley best. She clocked 2:09.01, overtaken by .17 by Melanie Margalis, the Rio Olympic and 2019 World Championships fourth-place finisher.

Full meet results are here.

Walsh moved from fifth-fastest in the U.S. this year to No. 2 behind Margalis, passing Olympic and world championships veterans Ella EastinKathleen Baker and Madisyn Cox. Of those swimmers, only Eastin was also in Thursday’s final.

Walsh joined her younger sister, Gretchen, in Olympic qualifying position based on 2019 times. Gretchen, 16, ranks fourth in the U.S. in the 100m free this year. The top six in that event at trials are in line to make the Olympic 4x100m free relay pool.

The Walshes could become the third set of sisters to make the same U.S. Olympic swim team, and the second to do it in pool swimming after Dana and Tara Kirk in 2004.

Foster, 18, continued his ascent Thursday in taking second to Kalisz in the men’s 200m IM. The world junior champion lowered his personal best in the prelims and the final, getting down to 1:57.59. Foster passed Ryan Lochte, who is nearly twice his age, in Thursday’s final and in the 2019 U.S. rankings. Only Kalisz and Michael Andrew have been faster among Americans this year.

Foster is trying to become the youngest U.S. Olympic male swimmer since 2000, when a 15-year-old Michael Phelps made his Olympic debut. Foster, who has been breaking Phelps national age-group records since he was 10, committed to the University of Texas in March 2018, two years before he graduates high school in Ohio.

Then there’s Kieran Smith, now a prime candidate to fill a huge void in the 400m freestyle. Zane Grothe is the only American ranked in the top 20 in the world this year.

Smith, a 19-year-old from the University of Florida, took 2.29 seconds off his lifetime best on Thursday to jump from outside the top 10 to No. 2 in the U.S. on the year. Smith was already ranked No. 2 in the country in the 200m free.

Two more runners-up in the 50m freestyles — Erika Brown to Manuel and Zach Apple to Brazilian Bruno Fratus — lowered personal bests to move to No. 3 in each U.S. ranking list this year.

The U.S. Open continues Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m. ET with live coverage on NBCSN and streaming on NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app.

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Nathan Chen distances Yuzuru Hanyu in Grand Prix Final short program

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A brilliant Nathan Chen outscored a flawed Yuzuru Hanyu for a fourth straight head-to-head program, taking a 12.95-point lead at the Grand Prix Final in Turin, Italy, on Thursday.

Chen, the two-time reigning world champion, tallied 110.38 points going into Saturday’s free skate. He landed a quadruple Lutz, triple Axel and quad toe loop-triple toe loop combination.

It’s the highest short program score in the world this season, leading the American to say “wow” in the kiss-and-cry area. His coach, the often-gruff Rafael Arutyunyan, banged his knee against his pupil’s.

Hanyu, the two-time reigning Olympic champion, hit a quadruple Salchow and triple Axel but then stepped out of a quad toe landing. He therefore failed to include a required jumping combination and ended up in second place.

“I wanted to do a great performance and do a good competition against [Chen], but that didn’t happen this time,” Hanyu, who was without longtime coach Brian Orser, or any other coach, said through a translator. Hanyu said Orser was busy last week, so he chose to use his lone accreditation on another coach who had travel delays.

Hanyu is not out of title contention. His world-leading free skate score this season is 16.61 points better than Chen’s best free skate from the fall Grand Prix Series.

Chen is undefeated since placing fifth at the PyeongChang Olympics, but this is just his second head-to-head with Hanyu in that span. Chen defeated Hanyu at March’s world championships, where the Japanese megastar was likely affected by an ankle injury.

After Thursday’s program, Chen repeated what he said before the competition: he still feels like he’s chasing Hanyu.

“Yuzu is like the goat, he’s the greatest of all time, really,” Chen said. “So, to have this opportunity to be able to share the ice with a guy like that, someone that I’ve looked up to for a long time, someone that I’ve watched grow up through the junior ranks when I was like a baby, it’s really cool to be able see him now. It’s really cool to even just be able to see him person.”

The Grand Prix Final, the biggest annual event outside the world championships, continues Friday with the rhythm dance, women’s short and pairs’ free skate. A full TV and live stream schedule is here.

Earlier in pairs, Chinese Sui Wenjing and Han Cong took their first step toward a first Grand Prix Final title. The Olympic silver medalists tallied 77.50, leading Russians Aleksandra Boikova and Dmitriy Kozlovskiy by .85 going into Friday’s free skate.

Sui and Han were imperfect, with Sui putting her hand down on a throw triple flip landing. They are undefeated in this Beijing Olympic cycle and own the world’s top total score this season.

The U.S. failed to qualify a pair for the six-team Final for the 11th time in the last 12 years.

Grand Prix Final
Men’s Short Program
1. Nathan Chen (USA) — 110.38
2. Yuzuru Hanyu (JPN) — 97.43
3. Kevin Aymoz (FRA) — 96.71
4. Dmitriy Aliyev (RUS) — 88.78
5. Alexander Samarin (RUS) — 81.32
6. Jin Boyang (CHN) — 80.67

Pairs’ Short Program
1. Sui Wenjing/Han Cong (CHN) — 77.50
2. Aleksandra Boikova / Dmitriy Kozlovskiy (RUS) — 76.65
3. Daria Pavliuchenko/Denis Khodykin (RUS) — 75.16
4. Anastasia Mishina/Aleksandr Galliamov (RUS) — 71.48
5. Peng Cheng/Jin Yang (CHN) — 69.67
6. Kirsten Moore-Towers/Michael Marinaro (CAN) — 67.08

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