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 in 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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Canadian ice dancers overcome hair-raising wardrobe malfunction

Piper Gilles, Paul Poirier
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Ice dancer Piper Gilles‘ hair got caught in partner Paul Poirier‘s costume during the Canadian Championships rhythm dance, but the couple still posted the top score in Mississauga, Ontario, on Friday.

As they spun together, Gilles’ hair appeared to catch on one of Poirier’s shirt buttons. It stayed that way for about five seconds as the couple nearly came to a stop before Poirier untangled it. What was Gilles thinking?

“Crap, crap, crap, crap, crap, crap,” she said later. “It’s probably more swear words to that, but crap at that moment.

“It was like one of those pure panic moments, like, what do I do? Do we stop? Do we keep going? Paul’s like, just keep moving.”

Gilles and Poirier scored 88.86 points, taking an 11.6-point lead into the free dance.

The couple eyes their first national title after finishing second or third seven times in the last eight years behind Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir and Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje.

Gilles and Poirier rank fifth in the world this season.

The panicky moment Friday was reminiscent of the PyeongChang Olympics, where French ice dancer Gabriella Papadakis‘ dress strap broke, exposing her breast. Papadakis and partner Guillaume Cizeron took silver and have been undefeated since.

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Allison Schmitt opens 2020 in fast form, bidding to join U.S. Olympic legends

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Allison Schmitt, after failing to qualify for world championships teams, revealing a battle with depression and taking nearly two years off competition post-Rio, has a chance to swim at her fourth Olympics this summer. And to do it in an individual event for the first time since 2012.

Schmitt won the 200m freestyle in 1:56.01 at the Tyr Pro Swim Series stop in Knoxville, Tenn., on Friday night.

The time would have ranked second among Americans in 2019 behind Katie Ledecky. Ledecky is not swimming in Knoxville, but the 2012 Olympic champion and American record holder Schmitt beat Simone Manuel by 1.24 seconds.

“Wish I could say I was tapered, would make it feel a lot easier,” Schmitt said on NBCSN. “Getting better every time I jump in the water and swim in finals.”

Schmitt’s time marked her fastest outside of a major summer meet since the 2012 London Games. She’s bidding to become the third U.S. woman in her 30s to swim an individual event at an Olympics, joining 12-time medalists Dara Torres (who swam in her 40s) and Jenny Thompson.

Full Knoxville results are here. Broadcast coverage of the meet continues Saturday at 6:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app.

Swimmers are preparing for June’s Olympic trials, where the top two per individual event qualify for the Tokyo Games, plus extra 100m and 200m free swimmers for relays.

In other events Friday, 18-year-old Carson Foster took the men’s 200m free in 1:47.74, beating the U.S.’ top 400m freestyler, Zane Grothe, by 1.33 seconds.

Foster, younger than any U.S. Olympic male swimmer since a group including Michael Phelps in 2000, is better known for his individual medleys. But the 200m free offers up to six Olympic spots when including the 4x200m free relay.

“Any event where there’s more spots on the line this summer is an event I want to train for,” said Foster, who ranked outside the top 10 in the U.S. in the 200m free in 2019 and beat a field Friday that included none of the six fastest.

Annie Lazor won the 100m breaststroke in 1:06.68, a time congruent with her No. 2 ranking in the U.S. last year behind Olympic champion and world-record holder Lilly King. King, who trains with Lazor, is not competing in Knoxville.

In the 100m butterfly, 29-year-old Amanda Kendall upset top-ranked American Kelsi Dahlia in 57.65 seconds. Regan Smith, the fastest backstroker in history, was second in a personal-best 57.86, followed by Dahlia.

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