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Alena Kostornaia defeats Alina Zagitova to win first Grand Prix in France

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Alena Kostornaia is now the third straight first-year senior Russian woman to win on the Grand Prix season. The past two weeks, 15-year-olds Anna Shcherbakova and Alexandra Trusova did it while landing quads at Skate America and Skate Canada, respectively.

Kostornaia did it sans quads, but with three triple Axels across two programs Friday and Saturday in Grenoble, France.

Kostornaia, 16 and skating in her Grand Prix debut, opened her free skate with a clean triple Axel in combination, followed by a solo triple Axel and a double Axel. She was accompanied by music from the Twilight soundtrack and Muse.

Despite an edge call on a triple flip, she scored 159.45 points in the free skate for a total of 236.00 points.

“I can’t answer that question because Alina’s a great sportsman,” said Kostornaia, after being asked if she was happy she defeated Alina Zagitova (the interview was conducted in English and posted on Twitter). “She win[s] all competition you can imagine and I’m very happy that she can go to the podium.”

(Note for fans just getting acquainted with Kostornaia: She pronounces her first name “al-YON-ah,” while Zagitova’s first name is “ah-LEE-nah.”)

Kostornaia trains alongside Zagitova, the reigning world and Olympic champion. Zagitova scored 141.82 points in the free skate (actually third in the phase) for a total of 216.06 points and the silver medal. Zagitova is 17 and in her third season as a senior skater.

Zagitova skated to a “Cleopatra” medley and was called for three under-rotations: the opening triple Lutz (which also received an unclear edge call), her double Axel in combination with a triple toe, and her triple Lutz, triple loop combination.

Closing out the session, American Mariah Bell, 23, claimed her first Grand Prix medal since a breakout performance at 2016 Skate America. She held on to her bronze medal position after the short program to tally 142.64 points in the free skate (scoring ahead of Zagitova in the phase) for a total score of 212.89 points.

“I’ve gone last many times, but this time was a little more challenging,” Bell said in audio provided by U.S. Figure Skating following the event. “I sometimes feel like when I get off the ice it’s a dream. And I hope I don’t wake up. It’s such a good feeling.”

Bell was called for just one under-rotation on her triple Lutz, the final jump of her “Hallelujah” program.

The other American in the field, Starr Andrews, was fifth with 180.54 total points.

Russia’s two pair teams in Grenoble landed on the podium to close the event. Anastasia Mishina and Aleksandr Galliamov took home the gold with 207.58 total points while Daria Pavliuchenko and Denis Khodykin earned silver with 206.56 points.

U.S. pair team Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier won their second Grand Prix bronze medal of the season, matching their Skate America finish two week ago. This marks their best-ever Grand Prix season as a team.

“This was a tough one, this week,” Frazier said following the event in audio provided by U.S. Figure Skating. “It was different physically, mentally, coming off a pretty exciting competition from Skate America. It was a big test to see how we kept our composure in a different kind of pressured situation, which is what we’re trying to do more.

“We were competing for a medal spot with a very respectable team from our country,” he added. “We knew they were gonna bring it and we had to fight. That’s the kind of fight we’ll see at Nationals.”

Americans Ashley Cain-Gribble and Timothy LeDuc, the 2019 national pair champions, finished in fourth place.

Earlier Saturday, Nathan Chen extended his Grand Prix winning streak to the longest in 18 years, and French ice dance couple Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron won their first Grand Prix of the season after a “Fame”/disco-themed rhythm dance.

Internationaux de France
Women
1. Alena Kostornaia (RUS) — 236.00

2. Alina Zagitova (RUS) — 216.06
3. Mariah Bell (USA) — 212.89
4. Kaori Sakamoto (JPN) — 199.24
5. Starr Andrews (USA) — 180.54
6. Wakaba Higuchi (JPN) — 174.12
7. Nicole Schott (GER) — 166.89
8. Lea Serna (FRA) — 166.02
9. Yuna Shiraiwa (JPN) — 161.71
10. Mae Berenice Meite (FRA) — 157.45
11. Maria Sotskova (RUS) — 144.89
WD. Laurine Lecavelier (FRA)

Pairs
1. Mishina/Galliamov (RUS) — 207.58

2. Pavliuchenko/Khodykin (RUS) — 206.56
3. Denney/Frazier (USA) — 199.40
4. Cain-Gribble/LeDuc (USA) — 195.78
5. Miriam Zielger/Severin Kiefer (AUT) — 181.26
6. Camille Ruest/Andrew Wolfe (CAN) — 166.15
7. Minerva Fabienne Hase/Nolan Seegert (GER) — 163.09
8. Rebecca Ghilardi/Filippo Ambrosini (ITA) — 157.92

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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Naomi Osaka, Coco Gauff set Australian Open duel

Naomi Osaka, Coco Gauff
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Naomi Osaka and Coco Gauff will meet in the third round of a second straight Grand Slam, this time at the Australian Open on Friday.

Osaka, the defending champion and world No. 4, and Gauff, the 15-year-old American phenom, each won second-round matches in Melbourne to reach the final 32.

Osaka swept Chinese Zheng Saisai 6-2, 6-4 on a windy Wednesday afternoon. Later, Gauff followed her first-round win over Venus Williams by eliminating Romanian veteran Sorana Cirstea 4-6, 6-3, 7-5.

“I know what to expect,” Gauff said. “I’m excited.”

Osaka beat Gauff 6-3, 6-0 in the U.S. Open third round on Aug. 31. In the most memorable moment of that night, Osaka urged Gauff to share the on-court victor’s interview at Arthur Ashe Stadium.

“It’s better than going into the showers and crying,” Osaka told Gauff in front of a packed crowd. “Let these people know how you feel.”

Gauff obliged after at first declining.

“I’m not the type of person who wants to cry in front of everyone,” she said later. “I didn’t want to take that moment away from [Osaka], as well.”

Gauff, ranked No. 684 at this time last year, is now No. 67. She broke through by beating Williams in the Wimbledon first round, then reaching the round of 16.

Gauff won a lower-level WTA Tour event in October and now ranks fifth in U.S. Olympic singles qualifying. The top four after the French Open qualify for the Tokyo Games, though Gauff has fewer than half the points as No. 4 Alison Riske.

“It’s been really cool to watch her grow because it’s happened so fast,” Osaka said.

AUSTRALIAN OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women

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John Isner leaning toward skipping Olympics again

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John Isner, the highest-ranked U.S. male singles tennis player, is considering skipping the Olympics for a second straight time.

“I haven’t put a ton of thought into it, but as of right now, I think I’m leaning towards not playing,” the 19th-ranked player said at the Australian Open on Tuesday. “It’s about scheduling. I know the Olympics, it’s a fantastic honor. There’s no doubt about that. … Right now, at this stage in my career, it’s not a huge priority for me. So that’s probably the main reason I won’t be going. I certainly love playing in the summer in America, and I’m going to focus on that.”

The Tokyo Games take place the same week as a lower-level ATP Tour event in Atlanta that Isner, a former University of Georgia star, has won five times.

Other notable male players already said they will pass on Tokyo, including Sam Querrey, the top American in Olympic qualifying standings.

Austrian Dominic Thiem, a two-time French Open finalist, is prioritizing an ATP event in Kitzbühel the week of the Olympics. The U.S. doubles team of Bob and Mike Bryan are not planning to play the Olympics in their final season before retirement, their manager said in November.

“The Olympics is very tough on the schedule … especially with Davis Cup,” Isner said in 2016, according to USA Today. “I think the fact that they have no [ATP ranking] points [at the Olympics], to be honest, was a pretty big factor as well. Obviously the Olympics is not about the money, but no points I think hindered me a bit.”

Isner, who turns 35 on April 26, is likely giving up his last chance to play Olympic singles. In his only Olympic participation, he reached the quarterfinals of the 2012 London Games, plus lost an opening-round doubles match there with Andy Roddick.

The top four U.S. men qualify for Tokyo, assuming they are among the top 60 overall qualifiers (maximum four per country) after this spring’s French Open.

Taylor FritzReilly Opelka, Steve Johnson and Tommy Paul are the U.S. men currently in Olympic qualifying position if excluding Querrey and Isner.

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