Alysa Liu to make debut in Canada and more notes on figure skating Grand Prix season assignments

U.S. Figure Skating Championships
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The time has finally arrived for Alysa Liu’s senior international debut.

Liu made her presence known as one of the top American figure skaters when she won the 2019 U.S. title at just 13 years old – the youngest woman to do so – but it would be another 30-plus months until she was age eligible to compete against the world’s best.

The International Skating Union announced the Grand Prix assignments for the 2021-22 figure skating season on Tuesday and it is now known that Liu will make her senior Grand Prix debut at Skate Canada, Oct. 29-31 in Vancouver, British Columbia, and later travel to Tokyo for NHK Trophy, Nov. 12-14.

The season begins with Skate America, as it traditionally has, held for the third year running at Las Vegas’ Orleans Arena.

Out of the 12 American skaters with previous Olympic experience who are still active and hope to return to that stage in Beijing just four months later, eight of them are entered in Vegas.

The decorated list of U.S. entries includes all four reigning national champions: Bradie Tennell, Nathan Chen, pairs’ team Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier, and ice dancers Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue, plus 2021 U.S. silver medalist Amber Glenn, 2019 World bronze medalist Vincent Zhou and nine-time U.S. ice dance medalists Madison Chock and Evan Bates.

Three-time world champion Chen has won Skate America four times. Tennell, Glenn and a to-be-announced third U.S. woman will face stiff competition from 2021 World bronze medalist Aleksandra Trusova, who was part of a Russian sweep in March. Newly formed U.S. pair Chelsea Liu and Danny O’Shea will make their Grand Prix debut in Vegas.

Alysa Liu is joined at her first Grand Prix by Karen Chen in a field that includes a Russian bloc of 2021 World silver medalist Yelizaveta Tuktamysheva, 2019 Grand Prix Final victor Aliona Kostornaya and first-year senior Kamila Valiyeva. 2014 Olympian Jason Brown and Nathan Chen, notably for the first time in his career, are also competing at Skate Canada.

The Canadian pairs’ team of Vanessa James and Eric Radford, both accomplished skaters with different partners – and for James a different country, will also debut in Vancouver.

The series continues with Cup of China, Nov. 5-7 in Chongqing, where France’s four-time ice dance world champions Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron return to the ice after not competing last season due to the pandemic; they are joined by training mates Hubbell and Donohue, who have not competed at Cup of China in their previous 10 seasons together. Tennell is entered in the women’s field against reigning world champion Anna Shcherbakova. Two-time world pairs’ champions and home country favorites Sui Wenjing and Han Cong are likely to win the event for the third time.

Liu and Glenn will contend against Trusova and Japan’s Rika Kihira and Kaori Sakamoto at NHK Trophy. 2021 World ice dance champions Viktoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov of Russia will present a challenge for Chock and Bates, appearing there for the first time, and three-time U.S. bronze medalists Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker. Decorated former men’s skater Daisuke Takahashi is also entered with his ice dance partner, Kana Muramoto. Two of Russia’s top pairs’ teams will meet in Tokyo: Anastasia Mishina and Aleksandr Galliamov, and Yevgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov. Two-time Olympic and world champion Yuzuru Hanyu is favored to win his fifth NHK Trophy title.

The penultimate stop, in Grenoble, France, is highlighted by Papadakis and Cizeron, and 2021 World bronze medalists Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier of Canada in ice dance; Russia’s 2021 World bronze medalists Aleksandra Boikova and Dmitriy Kozlovskiy, and James and Radford in pairs; Shcherbakova and 2020 Skate America gold medalist Mariah Bell in women’s; and Brown and Japan’s 2021 World silver medalist Yuma Kagiyama for the men.

Prior to the Dec. 9-12 final in Osaka, Japan, the series comes to a close with the Russia Grand Prix in Sochi. The site of the 2014 Winter Olympics will be highlighted by ice dance world champions Sinitsina and Katsalapov and pairs’ world champions Mishina and Galliamov.

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Injured Ilia Malinin wins Grand Prix Finland, qualifies for Grand Prix Final

Ilia Malinin
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Ilia Malinin, competing “a little bit injured” this week, still won Grand Prix Finland and goes into the Grand Prix Final in two weeks as the world’s top-ranked male singles skater.

Malinin, who was second after Friday’s short program, landed four clean quadruple jumps in Saturday’s free skate to overtake Frenchman Kevin Aymoz.

Malinin, who landed a quad flip in competition for the first time, according to SkatingScores.com, also attempted a quad Axel to open his program, but spun out of the landing and put his hand down on the ice.

Malinin also won his previous two starts this season in come-from-behind fashion. The 17-year-old world junior champion became the first skater to land a clean, fully rotated quad Axel in September, then did it again in October at Skate America, where he posted the world’s top overall score this season.

Next, Malinin can become the second-youngest man to win the Grand Prix Final after Russian Yevgeny Plushenko. His biggest competition is likely to be world champion Shoma Uno of Japan, who like Malinin won both of his Grand Prix starts this fall. Malinin and Uno have not gone head-to-head this season.

Grand Prix Finland highlights air on NBC, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app on Sunday at 3:30 p.m. ET.

FIGURE SKATING: Results | Broadcast Schedule

Earlier, Japan’s Mai Mihara overtook world silver medalist Loena Hendrickx of Belgium to become the only woman to win both of her Grand Prix starts this season. Mihara prevailed by .23 of a point. The top three women this season by best total score are Japanese, led by a junior skater, 14-year-old Mao Shimada, who isn’t Olympic age-eligible until 2030.

Mihara and Hendrickx qualified for the Grand Prix Final, joining world champion Kaori Sakamoto and Rinka Watanabe, both of Japan, South Korean Yelim Kim and American Isabeau Levito, the world junior champion.

Italians Rebecca Ghilardi and Filippo Ambrosini won both pairs’ programs and qualified for their first Grand Prix Final.

Japan’s Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara and Americans Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier headline the Final. Both pairs won each of their Grand Prix starts earlier this fall. The Japanese have the world’s two best scores this season. The Americans are reigning world champions.

At least one Russian or Chinese pair made every Grand Prix Final podium — usually pairs from both countries — but neither nation competed in pairs this Grand Prix season. All Russian skaters are banned due to the war in Ukraine. China’s lone entry on the Grand Prix across all disciplines was an ice dance couple.

Canadians Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier improved on their world-leading score for this season in winning the ice dance by 17.03 points over Americans Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker. Both couples qualified for the Grand Prix Final in the absence of all three Olympic medalists this fall.

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Lara Gut-Behrami wins Killington giant slalom, and the overall title race may be on

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Swiss Lara Gut-Behrami rallied from third place after the first run for her 35th career World Cup victory, taking a giant slalom in Killington, Vermont, on Saturday.

Gut-Behrami, 31, earned her fifth World Cup giant slalom win and first in six years. She prevailed by .07 of a second over Italian Marta Bassino combining times from two windy runs. Sweden’s Sara Hector, the Olympic champion and first-run leader, ended up third.

“Last two years I’ve been getting better in GS again,” said Gut-Behrami, who won the GS at the last world championships in 2021. “Last year I was struggling with my health. I was all the time sick.”

ALPINE SKIING: Full Results | Broadcast Schedule

Gut-Behrami’s best events are downhill and super-G, so a strong start to the season in GS could put her on a path to winning the World Cup overall title, the biggest annual prize in ski racing. She previously lifted that crystal globe in 2016.

Reigning World Cup overall champ Mikaela Shiffrin, who previously placed second, third, fourth and fifth in Killington giant slaloms, finished 13th after winning the season’s first two races, slaloms in Finland last week. It marked her lowest World Cup GS finish since December 2019.

“[Finland] was a spectacular weekend,” Shiffrin, who has not had much recent GS training, said after her 10th-place opening run Saturday. “Every race is a different story.”

Shiffrin won all five World Cup slaloms in Killington dating to 2016 and will go for her 50th career World Cup slalom victory across all venues on Sunday (12:30 p.m. ET, NBC and Peacock).

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