At Grand Prix France, a figure skating story for the ages

Deanna Stellato-Dudek, Maxime Deschamps
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Canadian Deanna Stellato-Dudek is older than Sarah Hughes, the 2002 Olympic figure skating champion who retired 19 years ago. Stellato-Dudek also left singles skating in the early 2000s, but she’s back after a 16-year competition break.

And she’s leading Grand Prix France, a stop on the sport’s top international level.

Stellato-Dudek and partner Maxime Deschamps topped the pairs’ short program, despite a fall, with 64.33 points on Friday. At 39 years old, Stellato-Dudek is already the oldest person to make a Grand Prix podium, taking Skate America runner-up with Deschamps two weeks ago.

GRAND PRIX FRANCE: Broadcast Schedule | Results

On Saturday, Stellato-Dudek can crush the record for oldest Grand Prix winner. Come the next Winter Games, Stellato-Dudek will be 42 and older than any Olympic figure skater since World War II, according to Olympedia.org.

That is far off. More pressing: A victory on Saturday will put Stellato-Dudek and Deschamps into December’s Grand Prix Final, the most exclusive event in the sport taking the top six per discipline from the six-event Grand Prix Series.

They are the story in pairs’ skating this season in the absence of the world’s top teams from Russia — banned due to the war in Ukraine — and China — none entered in the Grand Prix Series.

Stellato-Dudek took 2000 World Junior Championships silver and retired the following season due to hip injuries at age 17. She resurfaced in 2016 as a pairs’ skater with U.S. Olympian Nathan Bartholomay and placed third at nationals in 2018 and 2019.

The Illinois native decided to switch nationality to Canada and partnered with Deschamps. They were third at last season’s nationals.

Earlier Friday, world silver medalist Loena Hendrickx topped the women’s short with 72.75 points, 3.82 ahead of South Korean Kim Ye-Lim. Hendrickx, who landed a triple flip and triple Lutz-triple toe loop combination in a clean skate, can on her 23rd birthday become the oldest women’s Grand Prix winner since Finland’s Kiira Korpi in 2012 and the first Belgian in any discipline to win a Grand Prix.

Sota Yamamoto, who was eighth at last season’s Japan Championships, led the men’s short program with 92.42 points. He landed a quadruple toe-triple toe combination and a quad Salchow that was negatively graded. Yamamoto, 22, takes a 2.96-point lead over countryman Kazuki Tomono in a field that includes no Olympic or world medalists.

Charlene Guignard and Marco Fabbri were the expected leaders in the rhythm dance with 83.52 points. The Italians can win their first Grand Prix ice dance title after second- or third-place finishes in their last seven Grand Prix starts, including the 2018 Grand Prix Final.

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Jessie Diggins ties U.S. record for World Cup cross-country skiing wins

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Jessie Diggins tied Kikkan Randall‘s U.S. record with her 13th career individual cross-country skiing World Cup victory, taking a 10km freestyle in Lillehammer, Norway, on Friday.

Diggins, the most decorated U.S. Olympic cross-country skier with a medal of every color, prevailed by 3.8 seconds over German Katharina Hennig in the interval start event. Diggins trailed Hennig by one second at the 8.2-kilometer split, then made up 4.8 seconds over the final four minutes of the course.

“My fitness and brain were in a really good place,” Diggins said, according to U.S. Ski and Snowboard. “When I asked my body to go deep into the pain cave, it responded.”

Diggins tied the record of Randall, who in 2007 became the first U.S. woman to win a World Cup cross-country skiing race and ended her career by teaming with Diggins to win the first U.S. Olympic cross-country skiing title at the 2018 PyeongChang Games. (Another skier, Alison Owen-Spencer, won a race in 1978 that U.S. Ski and Snowboard counts as a World Cup, but the International Ski Federation does not.)

Diggins opened this World Cup season last weekend in Ruka, Finland, with a best finish of 10th among three races. She trended up each day, finishing that stop with the second-fastest time in last Sunday’s individual pursuit (where she started 19th).

Diggins, 31, has spread out her goals this season. One of the biggest is helping the U.S. win a relay medal for the first time at the world championships in three months. Diggins has been a part of relays that finished fourth at four different worlds.

She also eyes the World Cup overall title, the biggest annual prize in the sport that goes to the best all-around skier for the season. In 2020-21, Diggins became the second American — and first American woman — to win the overall in a season where Norway’s top skiers, including superstar Therese Johaug, skipped early season races and chances to gain points for the overall title.

Johaug retired after winning three individual golds at last February’s Olympics. Diggins is the top returning skier given the absence of reigning overall champ Natalya Nepryayeva, who cannot compete due to the ban on Russian athletes for the war in Ukraine.

The World Cup season continues with a freestyle sprint on Saturday and a classic 20km mass start on Sunday in Lillehammer.

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Katie Ledecky out-touches new rival at swimming’s U.S. Open, extends streak

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It was a rare sight: Katie Ledecky being matched stroke for stroke in a distance race in an American pool. She was up for the challenge.

Ledecky out-touched emerging 16-year-old Canadian Summer McIntosh by eight hundredths of a second in the 400m freestyle at the U.S. Open in Greensboro, N.C., on Thursday night.

Ledecky and McIntosh were tied at the 300-meter mark. Ledecky ended up clocking 3:59.71 to McIntosh’s 3:59.79 to extend a decade-long win streak in freestyle races of 400 meters or longer in U.S. pools.

“I know we’ll have a lot more races ahead of us,” Ledecky said on Peacock. “We bring the best out of each other.”

The U.S. Open continues Friday with live finals coverage on Peacock at 6 p.m. ET.

U.S. OPEN SWIMMING: Full Results

At the Tokyo Olympics, McIntosh placed fourth in the 400m free at age 14.

She accelerated this year, taking silver behind Ledecky at the world championships and silver behind Tokyo gold medalist Ariarne Titmus of Australia at the Commonwealth Games.

Then in October, McIntosh outdueled Ledecky in a 400m free — also by eight hundredths — in a short-course, 25-meter pool at a FINA World Cup meet in Toronto. Long-course meets like the Olympics and the U.S. Open are held in 50-meter pools.

McIntosh also won world titles in the 200m butterfly and 400m individual medley, becoming the youngest individual world champion since 2011.

A potential showdown among Ledecky, Titmus and McIntosh at the 2024 Paris Games is already being compared to the “Race of the Century,” the 2004 Olympic men’s 200m free where Australian Ian Thorpe edged Dutchman Pieter van den Hoogenband and Michael Phelps.

In other events Thursday, Regan Smith, an Olympic and world medalist in the backstroke and butterfly, won a 200m individual medley in a personal best 2:10.40, a time that would have placed fifth at June’s world championships. She beat 16-year-old Leah Hayes, who took bronze in the event at worlds.

Olympic 400m IM champ Chase Kalisz won the men’s 200m IM in 1:56.52, his best time ever outside of major summer meets. Frenchman Léon Marchand won the world title in 1:55.22 in June, when Kalisz was fourth.

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