Alena Kostornaia takes one of three records on first day of NHK Trophy

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The International Skating Union reset the figure skating record book at the beginning of the 2018-19 season due to a change in the scoring system, and skaters followed up Friday by erasing three short-lived short program records at the high-scoring NHK Trophy in Tokyo.

Russia’s Alena Kostornaia, the Chinese pair of Sui Wenjing and Han Cong, and the dominant ice dance duo of France, Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron, all set records on the competition’s first day. Only Papadakis and Cizeron had previously held the record. Kostornaia and Sui/Han leap-frogged the previous record holders.

Japan’s Yuzuru Hanyu barely missed breaking his own record, settling instead for a lead of nearly 18 points in the men’s competition.

The surprise was in the women’s competition, where 2017 U.S. champion Karen Chen set a personal best and is in position to keep world and Olympic champion Alina Zagitova out of the Grand Prix Final.

SCENARIOS: See who needs what to qualify for the Final

WOMEN

Kostornaia took both the record and the lead from home favorite Rika Kihira, who held the previous record with 83.97 points at the World Team Trophy in April. The 16-year-old Russian scored 85.04 points to Kihira’s 79.89.

Both skaters opened with triple Axels, and each landed a triple-triple combination. But Kostornaia was graded a fraction of a point higher with every element and in the program components, and Kihira’s triple loop got a negative grade.

Chen posted a personal best of 67.21 with a routine to “You Say” by Lauren Daigle. Zagitova bested her rivals in program components with her typical edge in artistry but drew minus-5 marks across the board on a combination attempt that ended with just a single loop.

Chen’s jumps had a lower base value than many of the skaters behind her, and her program component scores were far behind Zagitova’s, but she drew solid marks on every element.

Starr Andrews was ninth, missing one of her jumps after opening with a strong triple-triple combination. Megan Wessenberg fell twice and ranked 12th.

MORE: Alina Zagitova focused on artistry, while other Russians push technical boundaries

MEN

Hanyu once again proved that no skater aside from Nathan Chen can challenge him. He thrilled his home crowd with an opening quadruple Salchow and outdistanced the field with a quad-triple combination. He also picked up many 9.75s on his program components and even picked up 10s from a couple of judges on his way to a 109.34 score, just shy of his record 110.53 set in the 2018 Rostelecom Cup.

France’s Kevin Aymoz overcame a shaky opening quad toe to rank second with 91.47 points. Russia’s Sergei Voronov took a firm grasp on the podium with an 88.63.

Jason Brown, who had a chance at reaching the Grand Prix Final heading into this event, racked up points in his program components but fell twice and was marked down on a triple Axel to rank eighth. Tomoki Hiwatashi also had two falls and an under-rotated jump in an ambitious program to place 11th.

ICE DANCE 

The peerless pair of four-time world champions Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron got high marks on every element and dazzling program components to break the 90-point mark with 90.03 points with their “Fame” program. Russia’s Alexandra Stepanova and Ivan Bukin also set a personal best of 84.07 to sit second, just ahead of Italy’s Charlene Guignard and Marco Fabbri, who ditched their previous program to dance to “Grease.”

Christina Carreira and Anthony Ponomarenko placed in the middle of the chasing pack in fifth place. Lorraine McNamara and Quinn Carpenter are eighth.

MORE: Gabriella Papadakis, Guillaume Cizeron on ‘Fame,’ chasing history

PAIRS

Sui and Han scored 81.27 to take a substantial lead despite negative marks on one of their elements. They took the record by 0.06 points over Russia’s Yevgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov, who posted the previous record at the 2019 World Championships.

The Canadian pair of Kirsten Moore-Towers and Michael Marinaro sit in second place. Alexa Scimera Knierim and Chris Knierim had a fall and one shaky element to place fifth. Tarah Kayne and Danny O’Shea struggled with their elements to take seventh.

NHK Trophy
Men’s short program
1. Yuzuru Hanyu (JPN)  — 109.34
2. Kevin Aymoz (FRA) — 91.47
3. Sergei Voronoz (RUS) — 88.63
4. Roman Sadovsky (CAN) — 78.51
5. Makar Ignatov (RUS) — 78.47
6. Koshiro Shimada (JPN) — 75.98
7. Sota Yamamoto (JPN) — 74.88
8. Jason Brown (USA) — 73.73
9. Anton Shulepov (RUS) — 71.76
10. Conrad Orzel (CAN) — 70.35
11. Tomoki Hiwatashi (USA) — 64.54
12. Alexei Bychenko (ISR) — 61.97

Women’s short program
1. Alena Kostornaia (RUS) — 85.04
2. Rika Kihira (JPN) — 79.89
3. Karen Chen (USA) — 67.21
4. Alina Zagitova (RUS) — 66.84
5. Mako Yamashita (JPN) — 65.70
6. Eun-Soo Lim (KOR) — 65.28
7. Sofia Samodurova (RUS) — 63.85
8. Yuhana Yokoi (JPN) — 62.67
9. Starr Andrews (USA) — 58.92
10. Kailani Craine (AUS) — 55.82
11. Mae-Berenice Meite (FRA) — 49.77
12. Megan Wessenberg (USA) — 44.78

Pairs short program
1. Sui Wenjing / Han Cong (CHN) — 81.27
2. Kirsten Moore-Towers / Michael Marinaro (CAN) — 71.21
3. Anastasia Mishina / Aleksandr Galliamov (RUS) — 69.00
4. Alisa Efimova / Alexander Korovin (RUS) — 64.94
5. Alexa Scimeca Knierim / Chris Knierim (USA) — 63.63
6. Riku Miura / Ryuichi Kihara (JPN) — 62.41
7. Tarah Kayne / Danny O’Shea (USA) — 58.70
8. Nicole Della Monica / Matteo Guarise (ITA) — 57.55

Ice dance rhythm dance
1. Gabriella Papadakis / Guillaume Cizeron (FRA) — 90.03
2. Alexandra Stepanova / Ivan Bukin (RUS) — 84.07
3. Charlene Guignard / Marco Fabbri (ITA) — 82.13
4. Lilah Fear / Lewis Gibson (GBR) — 76.09
5. Christina Carreira / Anthony Ponomarenko (USA) — 75.25
6. Wang Shiyue / Liu Xinyu (CHN) — 74.73
7. Sofia Shevchenko / Igor Eremenko (RUS) — 69.59
8. Lorraine McNamara / Quinn Carpenter (USA) — 68.80
9. Carolane Soucisse / Shane Firus (CAN) — 68.39

NHK Trophy Broadcast Schedule

Day Time (ET) Event Network
Friday 10 p.m. Free Dance NBC Sports Gold STREAM LINK
Saturday 12:30 a.m. Pairs’ Free NBC Sports Gold STREAM LINK
2:30 a.m. Women’s Free NBC Sports Gold STREAM LINK
5 a.m. Men’s Free NBC Sports Gold STREAM LINK
Sunday 4 p.m. Highlights NBC | STREAM LINK

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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Carreira, Ponomarenko understand the depth of U.S. ice dance at nationals

Carreira and Ponomarenko
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GREENSBORO, N.C. Heading into the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Greensboro this week, up-and-coming ice dancers Christina Carreira and Anthony Ponomarenko focused on their “quads” not four-revolution jumps, but still pretty tough to execute.

“(Our coaches) have us doing double run-through weeks, triple run-throughs, even quadruple run-throughs, to make sure we’re fully ready,” Carreira said. “We’re drilling a lot more, so at nationals we go in 100 percent confident.”

Pasquale Camerlengo, who trains the team along with primary coach Igor Shpilband, agreed that the run-up to Greensboro has been grueling for the skaters from Novi, Mich.

“We always plan a week we call the quads, performing (programs) four times,” Camerlengo said. “We’re trying to make them ready physically and work their stamina, to handle their programs in competition, which is a little bit different than in practice. Physically, they’re ready for it.”

Tough practices are just one component of what’s been a challenging but productive sophomore senior season for the two-time world junior medalists, fifth in the U.S. in 2019.

Thus far, they’ve competed at six international competitions, stretching from Lake Placid, N.Y., in August to NHK Trophy in Sapporo, Japan, in late November. Six is a lot, considering other top teams they’ll compete against in Greensboro have competed three to five times so far this season.

“Igor wants to get more experience at the senior level, and also more world points,” Carreira, 19, said. “For that we have to compete. We get out there and compete as much as we can, so our programs feel more trained.”

Those programs – a rhythm dance to Cole Porter’s “It’s Too Darn Hot” and flamenco free dance to “Farrucas” – stretch their abilities far more than last season’s routines. Competing every two weeks or so left little time to make adjustments, so the past six weeks were the key to their preparation for Greensboro.

“We pushed a lot of changes we needed to make until after NHK, to smooth out the programs and really train them,” Ponomarenko, 18, said.

He added that the grueling first half of 2019-20 was a necessary ice dance rite of passage.

“It’s very different from our first season. We really didn’t know what to expect. Now we kind of know where we’re at and how we can improve. We definitely feel the sophomore slump this year, but we just want to compete and keep putting our good performances.”

On paper, Carreira and Ponomarenko’s 2018 Grand Prix results – which included a bronze medal at Rostelecom Cup – look more impressive than the sixth-place finishes they earned at Skate America and NHK this season. But the skaters don’t think the placements tell the full story.

“Last season, results-wise, it might have looked better, because a lot of (top) teams took the Grand Prix season off last season,” Carreira said. “This season, I feel our programs are more difficult and we’re skating better. We want to improve our consistency so that we can compete with the top teams.”

It doesn’t take much to lose points in an ice dance routine, especially on step sequences and “twizzles,” a series of fast rotations moving across the ice. A few slips here – including a small mistake on their twizzles in the rhythm dance at Skate America – can easily drop teams out of the top group.

“They always have the feeling they could do more,” Camerlengo said. “But the season is a progression. They’re getting better and better. That’s the goal, to have them (be) more reliable.”

“They need to do what they’re capable of,” he added. “They just have to do what they’ve learned, with no fear, and just go for it.”

In Greensboro, Carreira and Ponomarenko will have to throw caution to the wind to grab one of the three U.S. ice dance spots at the 2020 World Figure Skating Championships in Montreal this March.

With Madison Hubbell and Zach Donohue, and Madison Chock and Evan Bates, very likely battling for gold, the Michigan skaters have their sights set on bronze. It’s a herculean task, considering the reigning U.S. bronze medalists, Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker, qualified for the Grand Prix Final last season and notched career-best scores at Skate Canada this fall.

All three of those teams train together in Montreal. 

But Carreira and Ponomarenko think their programs, strengthened by adjustments and all of those quadruple run-throughs, give them a fighting chance.

“(A bronze medal) is more realistic now than last season,” Carreira said.

“I believe we’ve really grown as skaters,” Ponomarenko said. “Our programs are much more difficult, which has really helped us improve. I believe the podium at nationals is very reasonable. It could be achieved with some good skating.”

Other teams could be in the mix. Last season, Lorraine McNamara and Quinn Carpenter placed a strong fourth, but injuries forced them to withdraw from one of their Grand Prix events this fall. A new pairing, Caroline Green and Michael Parsons, has gelled quickly, winning two medals at Challenger Series international events.

“The level of U.S. ice dance level is high, the depth in the U.S. is really the top worldwide,” Camerlengo said. “But the podium, it is reasonable for Christina and Anthony. They have been working hard and they have a very good level to fight for the medal. We’ll see how they will perform here. They’re ready for it.”

Not all of the team’s challenges are on the ice. The Montreal-born Carreira – who has lived and trained in Novi since she was 13 – faces hurdles gaining her U.S. citizenship, without which the couple cannot compete at the Olympics. Last May, she petitioned U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to be deemed an “alien with extraordinary ability” under the immigration code, which would help smooth the way for legal permanent residency status. She was denied and filed suit against the USCIS, later dropping the action.

Carreira is still working to achieve a pathway to U.S. citizenship and prefers not to discuss the issue.

“I can’t really say anything,” she said. “We’re working on it, we’re hoping for the best.”

Citizenship issues never entered the skaters’ minds when they teamed up in the spring of 2014. Ponomarenko and his parents, 1988 Olympic ice dance champions Marina Klimova and Sergei Ponomarenko, had long admired Carreira’s skating. When he and his former partner Sarah Feng split after the 2014 U.S. Championships, he tried out with Carreira in Novi.

“We really worked well together from the beginning,” Ponomarenko said. “I had wanted to skate with Christina for a really long time even before getting together, so it was no-brainer. The bump in the road (citizenship) can be worked through.”

“There were so many good factors it would be, I think, stupid to let something that can be fixed get in the way of (our partnership),” Carreira said. “We didn’t even think about it.”

The ice dance competition in Greensboro kicks off with the rhythm dance on Friday afternoon, with medalists decided with the free dance on Saturday night.

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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Coronavirus forces Olympic soccer and boxing qualifiers to move

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KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — Olympic qualifying events in two sports were moved from the Chinese city of Wuhan on Wednesday because of an outbreak of a deadly viral illness.

A four-nation Asian qualifying group for the women’s soccer tournament was switched from the city at the center of the health scare to Nanjing.

The Asia-Oceania boxing qualifying tournament scheduled for Feb. 3-14 in Wuhan was cancelled. No new plans were announced.

The decisions followed Chinese health authorities telling people in Wuhan to avoid crowds and public gatherings.

The Asian Football Confederation said the round-robin group — featuring host China, Australia, Taiwan and Thailand — will be played on Feb. 3-9, retaining the same dates, in Nanjing.

More than 500 people have been infected and at least 17 killed since the outbreak emerged last month. The illness comes from a newly identified type of coronavirus.

Cases have also been reported in the United States, Japan, South Korea and Thailand. All involve people from Wuhan or who recently traveled there.

In the soccer qualifiers in China, two teams advance to a four-nation playoff round in March. That will decide which two teams from Asia join host Japan at the Tokyo Olympics.

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