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Nathan Chen crushes Yuzuru Hanyu for Grand Prix Final three-peat

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Nathan Chen landed five quadruple jumps to run away from Yuzuru Hanyu for his third straight Grand Prix Final title. The American furthered the claim that he is the world’s best figure skater.

Chen, the two-time reigning world champion, totaled 335.50 points to prevail by 43.87 over Hanyu, the two-time Olympic champion. Chen had a 12.95-point lead from Friday’s short program, where Hanyu stumbled and did not record a required jumping combination.

“I’m thrilled with the score,” Chen said after his “Rocketman” free skate knocked off Hanyu for the world’s highest program and total scores this season by more than 10 points each. “I’m thrilled with this program.”

Chen hit two quad toe loops, a quad flip, quad Lutz and quad Salchow with no major errors on Saturday. It’s his first time doing five quads since he landed six at the March 2018 World Championships.

Hanyu also landed five quads but ran out of gas late. He nearly fell out of a combination, doubled the back end of another combo and popped an Axel. The Japanese megastar appeared to slip out of his final pose, putting his hand on the ice and grimacing as Winnie the Poohs rained down on his 25th birthday.

“I knew I probably couldn’t win,” Hanyu said.

Nobody has beaten Hanyu by this many points internationally since Adam Rippon at the 2009 World Junior Championships, when Rippon was 19 and Hanyu was 14.

Chen, undefeated since placing fifth at the PyeongChang Olympics, has now beaten Hanyu in five straight head-to-head programs. This victory may prove more pivotal than last season’s worlds, where Hanyu was likely affected by an ankle injury and was competing for the first time in four months.

“I [can] feel, like, really lonely. [If] I can’t find motivation for the skating, it’s like, here is my motivation for the skating,” Hanyu said, gesturing to Chen to his left at a press conference. “Nathan is an icon for my practice.”

Chen repeatedly waves off a potential edge over Hanyu.

“Even now, he’s truly, like, a skating god to me,” Chen said, noting that Hanyu is “miles ahead” of him in artistry, though Chen outscored him in that department Saturday for the first time. “He’s still completely capable of doing everything that I’m doing, and even better.”

Each skater now heads to his national championships — Hanyu in Japan later this month. Chen, a Yale sophomore, goes to Greensboro, N.C., in late January, eyeing his fourth straight title, not done since Brian Boitano 32 years ago.

The Grand Prix Final ends with the free dance and women’s free skate later Saturday on NBC Sports Gold. A full TV and live stream schedule is here.

Grand Prix Final
Men
Gold: Nathan Chen (USA) — 335.30
Silver: Yuzuru Hanyu (JPN) — 291.43
Bronze: Kevin Aymoz (FRA) — 275.63
4. Alexander Samarin (RUS) — 248.83
5. Jin Boyang (CHN) — 241.44
6. Dmitriy Aliyev (RUS) — 220.04

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MORE: Alysa Liu takes silver at Junior Grand Prix Final with historic jump list

Beach volleyball player’s dog becomes social media sensation

Mathias Berntsen
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Norwegian beach volleyball player Mathias Berntsen‘s dog, Kiara, captivated social media this weekend.

A video of Kiara peppering with Berntsen and a pair across the net on a grass field spread from Berntsen’s Instagram across platforms. Kiara now has 12,000 Instagram followers, more than twice the total of Berntsen.

Berntsen, 24, is one half of Norway’s second-best beach volleyball team.

He and partner Hendrik Mol are ranked 45th in the world and well outside the Tokyo Olympic picture (24 teams go to the Games), but could get in the mix depending on how qualification is amended once sports resume.

Berntsen and his cousin Mol are part of a group called the Beach Volley Vikings. Mol’s younger brother, Anders, and family friend Christian Sorum are the world’s top-ranked team (profiled here).

MORE: Beach volleyball players fly to Australia, learn event is canceled

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FIFA rules on Olympic men’s soccer tournament age eligibility

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For the first time since 1988, some 24-year-olds will be eligible for the Olympic men’s soccer tournament without using an over-age exception.

FIFA announced Friday that it will use the same age eligibility criteria for the Tokyo Olympics in 2021 that it intended to use in 2020 — that players born on or after Jan. 1, 1997 are eligible, plus three over-age exceptions. FIFA chose not to move the birthdate deadline back a year after the Olympics were postponed by one year.

Olympic men’s soccer tournaments have been U-23 events — save those exceptions — since the 1992 Barcelona Games. In 1984 and 1988, restrictions kept European and South American players with World Cup experience ineligible. Before that, professionals weren’t allowed at all.

Fourteen of the 16 men’s soccer teams already qualified for the Games using players from under-23 national teams. The last two spots are to be filled by CONCACAF nations, potentially the U.S. qualifying a men’s team for the first time since 2008.

The U.S.’ biggest star, Christian Pulisic, and French superstar Kylian Mbappe were both born in 1998 and thus would have been under the age limit even if FIFA moved the deadline to Jan. 1, 1998.

Perhaps the most high-profile player affected by FIFA’s decision is Brazilian forward Gabriel Jesus. The Manchester City star was born April 3, 1997, and thus would have become an over-age exception if FIFA pushed the birthdate rule back a year.

Instead, Brazil could name him to the Olympic team and still keep all of its over-age exceptions.

However, players need permission from their professional club teams to play in the Olympics, often limiting the availability of stars.

MORE: Noah Lyles details training near woods, dog walkers

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