Yuzuru Hanyu, Alina Zagitova make NHK Trophy podium and set Grand Prix Final fields

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Yuzuru Hanyu handily won NHK Trophy on home ice in Japan on Saturday, setting up a head-to-head Grand Prix Final with American Nathan Chen. The Dec. 5-8 event takes place in Torino, Italy and will stream live for NBC Sports Gold subscribers.

Also, reigning Olympic and world champion Alina Zagitova will take on three of her younger training partners at the Grand Prix Final after a bronze medal finish at NHK Trophy.

Hanyu won four Grand Prix Finals from 2013-16, and Chen won the event in 2017 and 2018. Hanyu did not compete in the Final in 2017 or 2018, but at their head-to-head battle at the world championships in March, Chen took gold to Hanyu’s silver.

But at NHK Trophy, Hanyu was untouchable in a field that included few real threats. He executed four quadruple jumps in a free skate (loop, Salchow, toe, and quad toe, triple toe in combination) that racked up 195.71 points for a total score of 305.05.

“For now I’m happy that I was able to get through, leading up the free program, stayed healthy, had no pain and no injuries. I’m also now going to the [Grand Prix] Final. I want to recover by then and do some more training and coordination to be ready for the Final,” Hanyu said through the ISU.

France’s Kevin Aymoz was second to Hanyu by 55.03 points. Aymoz makes the Grand Prix Final with his silver medal at NHK Trophy. Canada’s Roman Sadovsky took bronze with 247.50 total points.

American Jason Brown needed a bronze medal or better to have a shot at the Grand Prix Final, but a shaky short program left him eighth. He placed fourth in the free skate for a fifth place finish — but it wasn’t enough for him to get to Torino.

A full breakdown of how NHK Trophy could’ve impacted Grand Prix standings can be found here.

Grand Prix Series Standings: Men | Ladies | Pairs | Ice Dance

Zagitova was briefly in danger of possibly missing the Grand Prix Final after a fourth place short program, but she ended up with a bronze medal behind Japan’s Rika Kihira (silver) and Russia’s Alena Kostornaia (gold). All three will head to the Grand Prix Final.

Kostornaia and Kihira both included two triple Axels in their free skates. Kostornaia opened her program with a clean triple Axel, double toe combination followed by a solo triple Axel that was called under-rotated. Kihira’s triple Axel, double toe and solo triple Axel were both called clean. Zagitova has never landed a triple Axel in competition.

“After the short program I was upset of course, but I pulled myself together for the free skating thanks to my coaches that found the right words. In the program, I was just thinking from one element to the next what I need to do,” Zagitova said via the ISU.

American Karen Chen was in bronze medal position after the short program, but placed 11th (of 12) in the free skate for an overall ninth place finish. After a season off the ice due to injury, Chen is juggling figure skating with studying at Cornell University.

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

China’s two-time world champion pair Sui Wenjing and Han Cong won NHK Trophy and earned themselves a spot in the Grand Prix Final. The teams that joined them on the podium, Canada’s Kirsten Moore-Towers and Michael Marinaro with silver and Russia’s Anastasia Mishina and Aleksandr Galliamov with bronze, will also join them in Torino.

In ice dance, French duo Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron earned 226.61 points on the way to the gold medal, which included a free dance performance to spoken word poetry set to music. They out-distanced silver medalists Alexandra Stepanova and Ivan Bukin by nearly 20 points, though the Russians will also compete in Torino.

Charlene Guignard and Marco Fabbri of Italy took the bronze medal at NHK Trophy, though missed qualifying for the six-team Grand Prix Final by finishing seventh in the standings.

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

NHK Trophy Results
Men
1. Yuzuru Hanyu (JPN)  — 305.05
2. Kevin Aymoz (FRA) — 250.02
3. Roman Sadovsky (CAN) — 247.50
4. Sergei Voronov (RUS) — 239.05
5. Jason Brown (USA) — 231.27
6. Sota Yamamoto (JPN) — 226.27
7. Makar Ignatov (RUS) — 222.45
8. Anton Shulepov (RUS) — 218.38
9. Koshiro Shimada (JPN) — 213.65
10. Tomoki Hiwatashi (USA) — 207.30
11. Alexei Bychenko (ISR) — 197.63
12. Conrad Orzel (CAN) — 196.34

Women
1. Alena Kostornaia (RUS) — 240.00
2. Rika Kihira (JPN) — 231.84
3. Alina Zagitova (RUS) — 217.99
4. Yuhana Yokoi (JPN) — 189.54
5. Mako Yamashita (JPN) — 189.25
6. Sofia Samodurova (RUS) — 183.27
7. Eun-Soo Lim (KOR) — 172.47
8. Starr Andrews (USA) — 166.72
9. Karen Chen (USA) — 165.70
10. Kailani Craine (AUS) — 165.46
11. Mae Berenice Meite (FRA) — 159.98
12. Megan Wessenberg (USA) — 131.73

Pairs 
1. Sui Wenjing / Han Cong (CHN) — 266.96
2. Kirsten Moore-Towers / Michael Marinaro (CAN) — 208.49
3. Anastasia Mishina / Aleksandr Galliamov (RUS) — 203.35
4. Alisa Efimova / Alexander Korovin (RUS) — 189.34
5. Riku Miura / Ryuichi Kihara (JPN) — 179.94
6. Tarah Kayne / Danny O’Shea (USA) — 178.73
7. Alexa Scimeca Knierim / Chris Knierim (USA) — 173.33
8. Nicole Della Monica / Matteo Guarise (ITA) — 171.43

Ice dance
1. Gabriella Papadakis / Guillaume Cizeron (FRA) — 226.61

2. Alexandra Stepanova / Ivan Bukin (RUS) — 208.81
3. Charlene Guignard / Marco Fabbri (ITA) — 198.06
4. Lilah Fear / Lewis Gibson (GBR) — 193.01
5. Wang Shiyue / Liu Xinyu (CHN) — 183.11
6. Christina Carreira / Anthony Ponomarenko (USA) — 182.26
7. Sofia Shevchenko / Igor Eremenko (RUS) — 178.08
8. Carolane Soucisse / Shane Firus (CAN) — 172.01
9. Lorraine McNamara / Quinn Carpenter (USA) — 170.21

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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Jordan Thompson, U.S. volleyball’s new weapon, took unique route to NCAA history

Jordan Thompson
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It was about this time last year that Jordan Thompson first appeared on the radar of U.S. women’s volleyball coach Karch Kiraly. Since, Thompson emerged as the youngest starter, and arguably a star, for the national team.

She goes into what could be her final weekend of college volleyball as one of the most dominant athletes in any sport. And one of the most unique stories in NCAA history.

Thompson plays not for a Big Ten or Pac-12 powerhouse, but for Cincinnati, a school that, before she arrived, never made it past the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

The unranked Bearcats upset second-ranked Pittsburgh in the second round last Saturday. They play Penn State, winner of six of the last 12 NCAA titles, in the Sweet 16 on Friday.

In 33 games this season, Thompson has registered a Division I-leading 768 kills, which is 143 more than the next most prolific attacker. That margin of 143 is the same number that separates No. 2 from No. 31.

Last season, she had 827 kills, which was 240 more than anybody else and a single-season record (by 112 kills) since NCAA match formats shifted from 30-point to 25-point sets in 2008.

She is a contender, if not a favorite, to be AVCA National Player of the Year. All of the previous winners dating to 1985 came from schools that reached at least one Final Four.

On Oct. 4, a UCF player’s face caught the wrong end of a Thompson attack. Cincinnati teammates watching from the bench dropped to the floor in astonishment.

Thompson tallied 50 kills in one match alone on Nov. 3, becoming the first D-I player to do so in 20 years.

That happened on Senior Day. Before that match, Thompson received a plaqued No. 23 jersey and flowers.

She posed for a photo standing with her husband, former Cincinnati offensive lineman Blake Yager, her mother, Mary, whose bribes helped Thompson develop into an attacker, and her father, 1990s Harlem Globetrotter Tyrone Doleman (and brother of Pro Football Hall of Famer Chris Doleman).

Mary has been most instrumental, raising Thompson as a single mom in Minnesota. Thompson, who is 6 feet, 4 inches now, was always tall for her age.

She played youth basketball against older girls and grew frustrated by the physical contact. Kneepads weren’t comfort enough. She decided to give volleyball a try in middle school.

“She was very timid,” Mary said of her daughter, who has since gotten 10 tattoos, including one of a hummingbird. “She would tell me she didn’t want to hurt anyone on the other side of the net. I told her I would give her a dollar for every time she would whack it. And I would give her $10 if she would actually hit someone on the other end of the court.”

It took a while, but Thompson was motivated by her love of horses. The payouts from her mom went toward a saddle and a bridal. A box with horse equipment remains in the family garage back home.

“She was trying to build up her supplies to be able to one day say to me, look, I’ve got a saddle, I’ve got all of my tack, I’ve got stuff to clean the hooves, can we get a horse now?” Mary said. 

After just two years of club volleyball, Thompson received her first Division-I scholarship offer. It came from Syracuse. Thompson was a high school sophomore.

“In the back of my head, I’m thinking, I’m never going to get another offer, so I better take this one,” she said.

Thompson was intent on Syracuse for a year before a coaching change led her to decommit. She wasn’t sure if many schools knew she had reopened her recruiting. A Minnesota club teammate had committed to Cincinnati and suggested Thompson take a visit.

The Bearcats went 3-29 the season before she committed.

“I said, Jordan, you can play D-I at Texas. You can go to Nebraska,” Mary said. “She was like, no, no, I want to play all four years. I actually want to get playing time, mom. She really struggled believing how good she could be.”

The biggest obstacle came junior year. In a preseason training session, Thompson collided with that Minnesota club teammate, Jade Tingelhoff, and tore the UCL in her dominant, right arm. She was in an armpit-to-wrist brace for two months post-Tommy John surgery, including three weeks with her arm locked in place.

She couldn’t brush her hair, had a hard time brushing her teeth and found it difficult showering and getting dressed.

She still went to every Bearcats game and traveled with the team. Cincinnati went from 22-10 her sophomore season to 13-19 that year without her on the court.

“It ended up being OK,” Tingelhoff said. “She came back that next season — I’m not kidding — 10 times as better than she was even the previous year.”

As a redshirt junior, Thompson and her 827 kills helped Cincinnati to a 26-8 record and its first NCAA Tournament win in seven years. She also caught the eye of Kiraly by the end of that 2018 season.

“She was one of the elite players in all of college volleyball,” he said. “Probably the only one who came from a conference other than the ones known for producing the most NCAA champions, like the Big Ten and the Pac-12.”

By last spring break, Thompson had become a favorite of U.S coaches at a camp to help select teams for summer international tournaments.

She had a one-on-one conversation with Kiraly, the only person to own Olympic indoor and beach gold medals. The legend told her she had potential to play at the Pan American Games. Later, he upped the praise to say she was ready for the top-level Nations League, a precursor to Olympic qualifying.

Thompson made her national team debut in May. By August, she came off the bench to help spur a comeback in a crucial Olympic qualifying match. The next day, she was in the starting lineup for the U.S.’ final Olympic qualifier, where the Americans clinched a Tokyo 2020 berth.

“I think a lot people don’t know she is still in college,” two-time U.S. Olympic outside hitter Jordan Larson said then. “She still has one more year left.”

Agents reached out, but Thompson had no intention of giving up her final year of NCAA eligibility. She wanted to make history at Cincinnati. That was secured with the Sweet 16 berth.

With the new year, she will trade the Cincinnati red and black for Team USA colors. She will keep in mind what the U.S. coaching staff told the team during Olympic qualifying and what she called a dream summer.

“My big goal in life was I just wanted to be in the USA gym,” said Thompson, who is working on her master’s in criminal justice. “To hear that we’re all working towards this goal of trying to make this roster, and we are being looked as potential players to make that roster, my jaw dropped. To know that it’s even a remote possibility is mind-blowing.”

VIDEO: Brazil volleyball star faints during courtside interview

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Tahiti chosen for Olympic surfing competition at 2024 Paris Games

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Paris 2024 Olympic organizers want the surfing competition to be held in Tahiti, an island in French Polynesia that is about 9,800 miles from Paris.

It would break the record for the farthest Olympic medal competition to be held outside the host. In 1956, equestrian events were moved out of Melbourne due to quarantine laws and held five months earlier in Stockholm, some 9,700 miles away.

The Paris 2024 executive board approved the site Thursday — specifically, the village of Teahupo’o — and will propose it to the IOC. It beat out other applicants Biarritz, Lacanau, Les Landes and La Torche, all part of mainland France.

“If, ever, we have two alternatives, and where one alternative gives the athletes of a particular sport more closeness to the heart of the Games and allows them to enjoy the magic and the spirit of the Games better, then in the interest of the athletes, we prefer this solution,” IOC President Thomas Bach said in June when asked about Tahiti’s interest in hosting surfing.

Surfing will debut at the 2020 Tokyo Games but is not on the permanent Olympic program. Surfing was among sports added to the Paris 2024 program in June and could be added for the 2028 Los Angeles Games.

MORE: U.S. athletes qualified for Tokyo Olympics

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