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Before Yale final exams, Nathan Chen faces a different test: Yuzuru Hanyu

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Nathan Chen is not present for this last week of classes before fall semester final exams at Yale, where his studies are geared toward statistics and data science. Instead, he’s lacing up skates in Turin, Italy, for the biggest competition of the figure skating season thus far.

Chen, undefeated in full competition since placing fifth at the PyeongChang Olympics, is part of a six-skater field at the Grand Prix Final, often an annual preview of the March world championships.

But, to many, the event is a head-to-head.

It’s the first time Chen, the two-time reigning world champion, and Japanese megastar Yuzuru Hanyu, the two-time reigning Olympic champion, will share competitive ice since Chen relegated Hanyu to silver outside Tokyo at last season’s worlds.

“He is, obviously, the top skater right now,” Chen said when asked to analyze the competition. “Not that the other skaters aren’t a challenge, but Yuzu’s definitely the biggest challenge of all.”

Since Chen’s disastrous, 17th-place Olympic short program, he outscored Hanyu in their three head-to-head programs — the Olympic free skate and both days at last season’s worlds. Chen was brilliant in all three, while Hanyu had significant jumping errors (and, at worlds, was likely affected by an ankle injury).

“You can’t base one competition on the success of a skater,” Chen said. “You have to look at an entire career. You have to look at all the different things that they’ve been through and all the ups and downs. It’s a lot more to it than I beat him here, so I’m better. That’s not necessarily the case. He had a tough run at worlds, didn’t skate like I think he could. Fortunately, I did, so it worked out for me that day.”

Chen and Hanyu, not in direct competition this fall, each won two Grand Prix Series events between October and November. Chen prevailed at Skate America and Internationaux de France by 40 and 30 points, respectively. Hanyu one-upped him with record 55- and 60-point victories in Japan and Canada.

GRAND PRIX FINAL PREVIEWS: Nathan Chen | Yuzuru Hanyu | Alysa Liu
Women | Pairs | TV/Stream Schedule | Entrants

NBC Sports analyst and two-time Olympian Johnny Weir looked past the margins of victory.

“There isn’t one performance that really sticks out to me that was weak nor was there one that was a home run,” he said. “Nathan Chen does have more of a quad arsenal, but we’ve yet to see all of them this season.

“Nathan Chen, his free skate’s really entertaining, but I think it lacks a little bit of the sophistication of Yuzuru Hanyu, so it’s going to be the [judging] panel that gets up there on the day to decide.”

Each of Hanyu’s total scores were better than Chen’s, though judges can be more or less forgiving from event to event. Chen, watching replays of Hanyu’s skates from New Haven, tracked the standings.

“You just look at the point differences throughout the year, he’s definitely pulling off better scores,” Chen said. “He’s doing really quality programs and difficult content. Knowing who he is and what he’s shown he’s capable of doing, he’s going to put down here.”

Last season, as a Yale freshman, Chen steadily built his technical content, from four quadruple jumps at Skate America to five in France and six at the Grand Prix Final. Chen repeated as Grand Prix Final champion, with Hanyu sitting out a second straight year with an ankle injury.

Chen looks more prepared as a sophomore than he did at this point last year, NBC Sports analyst and 1998 Olympic champion Tara Lipinski said.

Chen said he’s unsure of his jumping list for Thursday’s short program and Saturday’s free skate, but that he’s been training four quads in the free. He typically does two in the short. Both Chen and Hanyu performed six total quads at their most recent Grand Prix Series starts.

This competition may be more pivotal for Hanyu in the big picture. Chen is fueled by missing the medals in PyeongChang. For Hanyu, anything less than another title in Beijing in 2022 will be a downgrade.

“Does he really need a third Olympic [gold] medal? Will he definitely stay in for this next Olympics?” Lipinski said. “I think he’s using this next season, maybe even the Final, to determine where he ends up and matches up against Nathan. I think he’s using this to gauge whether he’ll stay in and really go for that third Olympic [gold] medal.” 

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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WATCH LIVE: U.S. Figure Skating Championships pairs’, women’s short programs

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Alysa Liu begins defense of her national title at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships, live on NBC Sports on Thursday evening.

The women’s short program headlines the first day of senior competition in Greensboro, N.C.

Action starts with the pairs’ short program at 4:30 p.m. ET for NBC Sports Gold subscribers, with NBCSN broadcast coverage joining in at 5. The women start at 7:30 on Gold, with NBCSN TV coverage starting at 9.

LIVE STREAM: Pairs’ short program — Gold | NBCSN | Skate Order
LIVE STREAM: Women’s short program — Gold | NBCSN | Skate Order

Liu, who last year became the youngest U.S. champion in history at age 13, seeks to become the first repeat women’s champion since Ashley Wagner in 2012 and 2013. She has the ability to land a triple Axel and a quadruple Lutz, jumps no other active U.S. woman has thrown in competition.

Liu is too young for senior international competition, meaning 2018 U.S. champion Bradie Tennell and two-time U.S. bronze medalist Mariah Bell are the favorites to earn the two world championships spots this weekend.

Pairs is harder to predict. The last four years produced four different champions, all of whom are in Greensboro competing for national medals and two world team spots.

Ashley Cain-Gribble and Timothy LeDuc are defending champions and have the highest total score this season among U.S. pairs.

Key Skate Times
6:08 p.m. — Alexa Scimeca Knierim/Christopher Knierim
6:14 — Haven Denney/Brandon Frazier
6:34 — Ashley Cain-Gribble/Timothy LeDuc
6:41 — Tarah Kayne/Danny O’Shea
9:13 — Karen Chen
9:20 — Gracie Gold
9:33 — Bradie Tennell
10:29 — Alysa Liu
10:36 — Mariah Bell

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NATIONALS PREVIEWS: Nathan Chen | Alysa Liu | Vincent Zhou | Pairs | Dance | TV 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.

Kitzbuehel hosts Hahnenkamm weekend; Mikaela Shiffrin speeds up; Alpine World Cup TV, live stream info

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The world’s most daring Alpine skiers descend the most famous annual race this weekend, while Mikaela Shiffrin tackles her own challenge, live on NBC Sports.

The men’s World Cup stops in Kitzbuehel, Austria, for the Hahnenkamm. The granddaddy is Saturday’s downhill, sandwiched between Friday’s super-G and Sunday’s slalom.

Arnold Schwarzenegger has been among the celebrity attendees in the finish area. Lindsey Vonn will be on hand this weekend, inspecting the course.

The Streif downhill track is a two-minute, two-mile test of guts: a 3,000-foot drop at an average 65 miles per hour (and maxing out much faster than that). Crashes are commonplace. A helicopter is at the ready to airlift skiers to the nearest hospital.

“You go into the starting gate, and it’s intimidating,” said American Ryan Cochran-Siegle, who makes his Kitzbuehel downhill debut on Saturday. “You don’t really know how it’s going to go. You think it’s just going to be kind of chaos.”

Cochran-Siegle, whose uncle Bob Cochran was the first American to earn a World Cup podium in the race in 1973, used two words to describe the Streif: fun … and fear.

The only American to win the Hahnenkamm downhill was Daron Rahlves in 2003. The last podium finisher was Bode Miller in 2014. The best U.S. finish the last four years was 10th.

Bryce Bennett took confidence from finishing seventh at a World Cup downhill in Wengen, Switzerland, last Saturday. That’s the best U.S. downhill finish this season outside of the home snow of Beaver Creek, Colo.

“Team morale is good, and it’s been great all season long,” said Steven Nyman, who was fifth in 2015. “We’re looking for those top-tier performances. Bryce’s seventh is a good step forward. We all know we can ski well, and it’s cool as a team we’re pushing toward the top, but we’re not there yet.”

Over in Bansko, Bulgaria, Shiffrin is expected to race downhills Friday and Saturday and a super-G on Sunday. They would mark the slalom ace’s first downhills outside of Lake Louise and Cortina d’Ampezzo, which she’s contested a combined 10 times.

Shiffrin made the podium of her last super-G in St. Moritz and her last downhill in Lake Louise, both in December. She’s coming off surprising results in slaloms and giant slaloms, not having won in her last five starts overall.

Still, Shiffrin leads the World Cup overall standings by a substantial 199 points with a tour-leading four outright victories this season.

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MORE: Alpine skiing season TV schedule

Day Time (ET) Event Network
Friday 3:30 a.m. Women’s Downhill Olympic Channel | NBC Sports Gold
5:30 a.m. Men’s Super-G NBC Sports Gold
Saturday 3:30 a.m. Women’s Downhill Olympic Channel | NBC Sports Gold
5:30 a.m. Men’s Downhill NBC Sports Gold
9 a.m.* Women’s Downhill NBCSN
Sunday 3:30 a.m. Women’s Super-G Olympic Channel | NBC Sports Gold
4:30 a.m. Men’s Slalom Run 1 NBC Sports Gold
7:30 a.m. Men’s Slalom Run 2 NBC Sports Gold
12:30 p.m.* Women’s Super-G NBCSN
Monday 1 p.m.* Kitzbuehel Highlights NBCSN

*Delayed broadcast