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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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Federica Brignone passes Mikaela Shiffrin for World Cup overall lead

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Italian Federica Brignone passed an absent Mikaela Shiffrin for the World Cup overall standings lead by winning a combined in Switzerland on Sunday.

Brignone prevailed by .92 of a second adding times from super-G and slalom runs in Crans-Montana. Full results are here.

Brignone moved 73 points ahead of Shiffrin in the overall through 29 of 40 scheduled races. A race winner receives 100 points on a descending scale through the 30th-place finisher. The season runs through March 22.

Shiffrin, the three-time reigning World Cup overall champion, has not competed since the unexpected death of her father on Feb. 2. She has not announced if or when she will return this season.

Brignone, 29, is having a career season with five wins and 10 podiums across four disciplines.

Brignone’s best previous World Cup overall standings finish was fifth. She earned giant slalom medals at the 2018 Olympics (bronze) and 2011 World Championships (silver).

She could become Italy’s first female World Cup overall champion. The last Italian male winner was Alberto Tomba in 1995.

The women’s Alpine skiing World Cup moves to La Thuile, Italy, for a super-G and a combined next Saturday and Sunday.

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Jade Carey on brink of becoming first gymnast to qualify for U.S. Olympic team

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The U.S. Olympic gymnastics trials aren’t until late June, but Jade Carey is in position to qualify for the Tokyo Games in March.

Carey, seeking an individual Olympic gymnastics spot outside of the team competition, earned the maximum points in a World Cup series that is one path to Olympic qualification.

Carey has three wins each on floor exercise and vault with two World Cups left in March. Carey will mathematically clinch an Olympic spot if no other gymnasts earn maximum points on one of the apparatuses to force a tiebreaker.

A gymnast’s top three finishes across the eight-stop series count in Olympic qualifying. If Carey finishes atop the floor or vault standings, she goes to the Olympics.

Carey picked up those third wins on floor and vault at the sixth World Cup in Melbourne, Australia, this weekend.

So far, no other gymnast has two wins on floor. One other gymnast can get to the maximum points on vault with one win between the last two stops (and others with two).

The one downside to qualifying this route: Carey would not be able to compete in the team competition at the Olympics. Those four spots will be determined at and after June’s trials in St. Louis, with Simone Biles likely grabbing one of them.

“I knew I would be giving up being on the team,” Carey said in October of going the World Cup route, “but I think, for me, it made sense to just go for it.”

Carey is a world medalist on vault and floor, but she doesn’t have the all-around credentials of Biles and some other U.S. gymnasts.

Olympic team event roster sizes were cut from five to four for Tokyo, putting a greater onus on all-around prowess given a team must put three gymnasts on each apparatus in the Olympic final.

The U.S. is the deepest country in women’s gymnastics, so the only truly safe pick to make the four-woman Olympic team event roster is Biles.

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