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Nathan Chen extends Grand Prix win streak to longest in 18 years

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Yuzuru Hanyu hasn’t done it. Neither has Patrick Chan. Nor Yuna KimMao Asada or Yevgenia Medvedeva.

Nathan Chen became the first singles skater since Yevgeny Plushenko nearly two decades ago to win eight straight Grand Prix events, comfortably taking Internationaux de France in Grenoble on Saturday despite a few minor jumping errors in his free skate.

Chen padded his four-point lead from Friday’s short program to win by 32.06 over Russian Alexander Samarin. Chen, skipping Yale sophomore classes to compete, landed four quadruple jumps in his free skate to total 297.16 points.

He had wonky landings on three of the four quads — dinged for negative grades of execution — in his “Rocketman” skate while wearing a wrap around his left hand.

Chen, undefeated since placing fifth at the PyeongChang Olympics, still ranks second in the world this year, trailing two-time Olympic champion Hanyu’s score from Skate Canada last week of 322.59.

If all goes as planned, Chen and Hanyu will meet for the first time this season at the exclusive, six-skater Grand Prix Final in December.

“The goal for every season is to make the Final, so I’m happy that I accomplished that,” Chen told media in Grenoble. “The program that I did today was not great. A lot of mistakes. A lot of little bobbles on the landings.

“A lot of the mistakes [for all skaters] are due to the ice being harder. A lot of competition is not typically this cold. … That being said, we have to be able to adapt to the situation. We can’t use that as an excuse for our failures. We still have to man up.”

Internationaux de France concluded later Saturday with first-year senior Alena Kostornaia of Russia winning the ladies’ field and Americans Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier earning bronze in the pairs’ event for their best-ever Grand Prix season as a team.

Also Saturday, American Tomoki Hiwatashi improved from 10th after the short program to finish fifth in his senior Grand Prix debut. Hiwatashi, 19 and the world junior champion, landed a pair of quad toe loops.

Olympic silver medalist Shoma Uno struggled in Grenoble, falling five times between two programs, including three times in Saturday’s free skate. His eighth-place finish was his worst in five years on the senior international level and his first time off the podium in 13 career Grand Prix starts.

Later Saturday, world champions Gabriella Papapdakis and Guillaume Cizeron of France extended their unbeaten streak since their Olympic silver medal, posting the world’s highest total ice dance score in their Grand Prix season debut.

Papadakis and Cizeron, who haven’t lost to a couple other than the recently retired Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir in nearly five years, tallied 222.24 to distance Americans Madison Chock and Evan Bates by 17.4.

Chock and Bates earned their sixth straight Grand Prix runner-up finish (not counting Grand Prix Finals) after missing the last Grand Prix season due to Chock’s recovery from ankle surgery. They compete at Cup of China next week, bidding for another podium to have a strong chance at qualifying for a fifth Grand Prix Final.

“We really want to focus more on the performance and less on the technicality,” Bates said, according to U.S. Figure Skating. “Obviously this is a good result but we don’t have a lot of time to make changes before China, but we think that both of these programs are in a good place.”

Internationaux de France
Men
1. Nathan Chen (USA) — 297.16

2. Alexander Samarin (RUS) — 265.10
3. Kevin Aymoz (FRA) — 254.64
4. Moris Kvitelashvili (GEO) — 236.38
5. Tomoki Hiwatashi (USA) — 227.43
6. Sergey Voronov (RUS) — 220.98
7. Nicolas Nadeau (CAN) — 217.68
8. Shoma Uno (JPN) — 215.84
9. Romain Ponsart (FRA) — 215.64
10. Daniel Samohin (ISR) — 193.66
11. Anton Shulepov (RUS) — 183.98

Ice Dance
1. Gabriella Papadakis/Guillaume Cizeron (FRA) — 222.24

2. Madison Chock/Evan Bates (USA) — 204.84
3. Charlene Guignard/Marco Fabbri (ITA) — 203.34
4. Olivia Smart/Adrian Diaz (ESP) — 188.18
5. Tiffani Zagorski/Jonathan Guerreiro (RUS) — 184.44
6. Natalya Kaliszek/Maksym Spodyriev (POL) — 183.42
7. Carolane Soucisse/Shane Firus (CAN) — 175.80
8.  Marie-Jade Lauriault/Romain Le Gac (FRA) — 166.28
9. Julia Wagret/Pierre Souquet-Basiege (FRA) — 161.99
10. Allison Reed/Saulius Ambrulevicius (LTU) — 161.73

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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