Bradie Tennell

10 things we’ve learned halfway through the Grand Prix figure skating season

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With the senior Grand Prix series at its halfway point and skaters heading for Chonqing, China for the fourth of six “regular season” events, here are 10 things we’ve learned from the series so far:

WOMEN

1. The kiddie corps of Russian women has been even better than expected – and expectations were very high.

Anna Shcherbakova, 15, Alexandra Trusova, 15, and Alena Kostornaia, 16, each has easily won gold in the first three events. Shcherbakova took Skate America by 10-plus points; Trusova won Skate Canada by 10-plus points over reigning Grand Prix Final champion Rika Kihira of Japan; and Kostornaia took Grand Prix France by nearly 20 points over reigning world and Olympic champion Alina Zagitova of Russia.

It is likely that only Kihira, at the season-ending NHK Trophy in Japan, can prevent Russian women from sweeping gold in the six events. That has happened in only one of the four Grand Prix disciplines; Russian men swept in 1998-99 and 1999-00, an era when some skaters did three events instead of the current two.

The three young Russian women have posted the three highest free skate scores in the two seasons of the revised scoring system.

2. The jump revolution in women’s skating, with quads and triple Axels, has had a bigger and faster impact than expected – even though women cannot do quads in the short program.

Trusova’s four quad attempts (three clean) helped her wipe out Kihira’s 7.95-point edge after the short program at Skate Canada. Shcherbakova’s two clean quad Lutzes carried her from fourth after the short (7.5 points from first) to the title at Skate America. Kostornaia’s three triple Axels (even the one under-rotated in the short) were difference-makers in France.

And these stats, courtesy of skatingscores.com: Four women – Trusova, Shcherbakova and juniors Kamila Valieva of Russia and Alysa Liu of the United States, the latter two winners of two Junior Grand Prix events each this season – have done 19 jumps credited as quads in international events (including the free skate-only Japan Open) this season. There had been only 22 other jumps called quads in the previous history of the sport.

The success rate for women’s quads is the big change: Last season, just five of the 16 jumps called quads got a positive Grade of Execution (another got a neutral 0.0). This season, 16 of the 19 jumps have positive GOEs – 12 of them at 2.30 or higher.

3. Mariah Bell’s two strong skates in France produced the second Grand Prix medal of her career, a bronze (after her silver at Skate America in 2016).

More striking: Bell never lost her focus and made no significant mistakes, as she frequently had in the past, and she beat Zagitova in the free skate. Yet it still seems unlikely (but not impossible) that either Bell or Bradie Tennell, second and fourth at her two events, will be the first U.S. woman to qualify for the Grand Prix Final since Ashley Wagner in 2015. Bell’s second event is Rostelecom Cup in mid-November.

MEN

4. Two-time men’s Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan, the sport’s superstar, may be heading for an even higher level of brilliance if his performance at Skate Canada is any indication.

Hanyu’s skating was his finest ever in his Grand Prix season debut. Clean in a two-quad short program, one minor mistake in a four-quad free skate, full of passion and competitive fire, this was a Hanyu asking “Can you top this?” to rival Nathan Chen, winner of the last two world titles.

5. The answer? Chen could not top it – so far.

In finishing first in all four programs at his two Grand Prix events, taking gold in both by a mile, Chen extended his Grand Prix winning streak to eight (including two wins at the Final) and became the first man to qualify for this season’s Final. But just one of his four performances (the short at Skate America) was clean.

Of course, Chen had an even messier Grand Prix record last season, but he improved in each event before lights-out, landmark performances at the U.S. and world championships.

6. All skating fans should keep their fingers crossed for a Hanyu-Chen meeting at the Grand Prix Final, since Hanyu missed the last two with foot injuries. Hanyu’s second event is the series finale (NHK in Sapporo) three weekends from now.

7. Hanyu and Chen are now light years ahead of the rest of the men in the world.

Reigning Olympic silver medalist Shoma Uno of Japan is struggling, reigning world bronze medalist Vincent Zhou of the U.S. is sitting out the Grand Prix to concentrate on his first semester of college, and eye-catching Kevin Aymoz of France is a year or two from international title contention.

PAIRS

8. Few would have foreseen heading into the season that three young Russian couples, Daria Pavliuchenko and Denis Khodykin (ages 16 and 20), Aleksandra Boikova and Dmitri Kozlovski (17 and 19) and Anastasia Mishina and Aleksandr Galliamov (18 and 20) would take command of the pair scene so far.

Call it making hay while the sun shines (and the veteran teams haven’t – yet). Reigning world champions Sui Wenjing and Han Cong (24 and 27) of China make their season debut this week at Cup of China. Reigning Grand Prix Final and European champions Vanessa James and Morgan Cipres (32 and 28) are taking the long view at contending for a 2022 Olympic medal by skipping this season’s Grand Prix for a mental and physical break. Reigning world silver medalists Yevgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov (24 and 27) slogged to third at their first competition.

And a veteran U.S. couple, Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier (24 and 26), have stepped into the open space with two second-place free skates to get bronze medals and, if results are jumbled enough the next three weeks, have a shot at a spot in the Final. Only one U.S. pair has made it in the past 11 seasons (Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Chris Knierim in 2015.)

ICE DANCE

9. It is no surprise that there is the team Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron of France, first at the Grand Prix of France, and then there is everyone else. Their “Fame” rhythm dance is disco delight, goofy costumes included, even if it is better in execution than conception. The spoken passages in their free dance are more distraction than enhancement. But the skating – oh, the skating. The attention to detail, the synchronicity, flow, edge work. They are prohibitive favorites to win Olympic gold in 2022.

10. What a battle there should be at 2020 Worlds in Montreal for the silver and bronze medals in dance. Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier of Canada threw themselves into the mix with a Skate Canada upset of Madison Hubbell and Zach Donohue of the U.S. (Hubbell and Donohue are reigning Grand Prix Final champions and world bronze medalists who have won medals in 13 straight series events.)

Madison Chock and Evan Bates of the U.S., looking for their first worlds medal since 2016 after 11 straight medals on the Grand Prix, were a solid second behind Papadakis and Cizeron in France. Reigning world silver medalists Viktoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov of Russia make their Grand Prix season debut this week. Charlene Guignard and Marco Fabbri of Italy are contenders, as are Aleksandra Stepanova and Ivan Bukin of Russia. Musical chairs dance, anyone?

Philip Hersh, who has covered figure skating at the last 11 Winter Olympics, is a special contributor to NBCSports.com/figure-skating.

MORE: Will Nathan Chen return to six quad jumps in his free skate?

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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Alexandra Trusova, 15, wins Skate Canada with 3 quadruple jumps

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Russian Alexandra Trusova, 15, landed three quadruple jumps en route to winning her senior Grand Prix debut at Skate Canada on Saturday.

Trusova overtook short-program leader Rika Kihira of Japan and South Korean You Young, who each erred on their toughest jumps, triple Axels.

Trusova, despite falling on her first of four quads, tallied the world’s highest scores this season for the free skate (166.62 points) and total (241.02), bettering her own marks from last month.

She beat the 17-year-old Kihira by 10.68, with the 15-year-old You taking bronze in her senior Grand Prix debut. Trusova is the youngest Grand Prix winner since countrywoman Elizaveta Tuktamysheva in 2011.

She became the second straight Russian 15-year-old to win in as many Grand Prix events this season after Anna Shcherbakova landed two quads herself at Skate America. This is the first time on the senior Grand Prix that women are landing clean quads as part of a revolution.

Bradie Tennell, the 2018 U.S. champion, skated fairly clean in both programs to finish fourth, the top skater in the non-quad/triple Axel division.

Tennell, after taking second at Skate America last week, has an outside shot at becoming the first U.S. woman to qualify for the Grand Prix Final since 2015. Her fate will not be decided until later in November.

Russian Yevgenia Medvedeva bounced back from an off short program to finish fifth. The Olympic silver medalist and two-time world champion last won on the top international level in November 2017.

The men’s free skate is later Saturday, streaming live on NBC Sports Gold. A full Skate Canada broadcast schedule is here.

Earlier in ice dance, Canadians Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier snapped Americans Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue‘s win streak of four Grand Prix events.

Gilles and Poirier erased a .63 deficit from the rhythm dance to win by 2.7 with 209.01 points, thanks to the world’s highest-scoring free dance on the early season. They earned their first Grand Prix title.

Hubbell and Donohue still qualified for a fifth straight Grand Prix Final, after winning Skate America last week.

The world’s top couple, French Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron, make their Grand Prix season debut in France next week.

Russian teens Aleksandra Boikova and Dmitriy Kozlovskiy won the pairs’ title with 216.71 points, best in the world this season. They distanced Canadian champions Kirsten Moore-Towers and Michael Marinaro by 8.22.

Skate Canada Results
Women
1. Alexandra Trusova (RUS) — 241.01

2. Rika Kihira (JPN) — 230.33
3. You Young (KOR) — 217.49
4. Bradie Tennell (USA) — 211.31
5. Yevgenia Medvedeva (RUS) — 209.62
6. Marin Honda (USA) — 179.26
7. Kim Yelim (KOR) — 176.93
8. Serafima Sakhanovich (RUS) — 175.97
9. Alexia Paganini (SUI) — 166.2
10. Gabrielle Daleman (CAN) — 164.34
11. Alicia Pineault (CAN) — 161.37
12. Veronik Mallet (CAN) — 147.79

Pairs
1. Aleksandra Boikova/Dmitriy Kozlovskiy (RUS) — 216.71

2. Kirsten Moore-Towers/Michael Marinaro (CAN) — 208.49
3. Yevgenia Tarasova/Vladimir Morozov (RUS) — 202.29
4. Alexa Scimeca Knierim/Chris Knierim (USA) — 199.57
5. Liubov Ilyushechkina/Charlie Bilodeau (CAN) — 192.47
6. Jessica Calanag/Brian Johnson (USA) — 181.54
7. Tang Feiyao/Yang Yongchao (CHN) — 170.57
8. Evelyn Walsh/Trennt Michaud (CAN) — 164.66

Ice Dance
1. Piper Gilles/Paul Poirier (CAN) — 209.01
2. Madison Hubbell/Zachary Donohue (USA) — 206.31
3. Lilah Fear/Lewis Gibson (GBR) — 195.35
4. Kaitlin Hawayek/Jean-Luc Baker (USA) — 194.77
5. Sara Hurtado/Kirill Khaliavin (ESP) — 180.64
6. Marjorie Lajoie/Zachary Lagha (CAN) — 177.53
7. Caroline Green/Michael Parsons (USA) — 173.82
8. Betina Popova/Sergey Mozgov (RUS) — 173.54
9. Sofia Evdokimova/Egor Bazin (RUS) — 167.39
10. Haley Sales/Nikolas Wamsteeker (CAN) — 164.27

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.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: Tuktamysheva, armed with triple Axel, fights to compete with Russian teens

Rika Kihira leads Skate Canada over 15-year-olds

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Japanese Rika Kihira leads Skate Canada after the women’s short program, topping a pair of 15-year-olds in their senior Grand Prix debuts going into Saturday’s free skate.

Kihira, who swept her three Grand Prix starts in her first senior season last year but was fourth at worlds, already had the world’s top short program score this season. She bettered it Friday with her trademark triple Axel and 81.35 points, taking a 3.13-point lead over South Korean You Young.

“The quality of my triple Axel and my triple loop was good, like in practice, but in some parts of the program I was nervous and I didn’t do my spins so well,” Kihira said, according to the International Skating Union (ISU).

NBC Sports Gold live streams all of the free programs on Saturday. A full broadcast schedule is here.

You became the 11th woman to land a triple Axel in international competition, according to skating media.

Another young teen, Russian Alexandra Trusova, is in third. Trusova landed four quadruple jumps in her most recent free skate but attempted none Friday as they are not permitted in short programs.

Bradie Tennell, the 2018 U.S. champion, is in fourth place. If Tennell can get on the podium, she will have a decent chance at becoming the first U.S. woman to qualify for December’s Grand Prix Final since 2015. She took silver at Skate America last week.

Olympic silver medalist and two-time world champion Yevgenia Medvedeva stands sixth, 15.33 behind. She stumbled out of a double Axel landing and then fell and slid into the boards on a triple Lutz.

“Doesn’t make any sense, does it?” coach Brian Orser said in the kiss-and-cry, generating no reaction from Medvedeva before the score came up.

Medvedeva last won on the top international level in November 2017 at the tail end of a two-year win streak.

Later Friday, Yuzuru Hanyu landed two quads en route to the world’s top short program score this season — 109.6 — and a 20.55-point lead over American Camden Pulkinen. Hanyu scored 6.89 points higher than Nathan Chen did at Skate America, though they will not go head-to-head until the Grand Prix Final at the earliest.

“It was not so great, but I felt I did my best today,” Hanyu said, according to the ISU. “I felt calm today, but I am not sure if my calmness led to me being more focused.”

Earlier in ice dance, two-time world medalists Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue began their march toward a fifth straight Grand Prix win and a spot in the Grand Prix Final.

Hubbell and Donohue topped the rhythm dance with 83.21 points, 1.76 off their world-leading score from Skate America last week. They lead Canadians Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier by .63 going into Saturday’s free dance.

World champions Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron of France make their Grand Prix season debut in France next week.

In pairs, Russians Aleksandra Boikova and Dmitriy Kozlovskiy took the lead in the short program with 76.45 points, best in the world this season. The teenagers topped Canadian champions Kirsten Moore-Towers and Michael Marinaro by .95 and relegated three-time world medalists Yevgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov to third.

Skate Canada
Women’s Short
1. Rika Kihira (JPN) — 81.35
2. You Young (KOR) — 78.22
3. Alexandra Trusova (RUS) — 74.40
4. Bradie Tennell (USA) — 72.92
5. Gabrielle Daleman (CAN) — 63.94
6. Yevgenia Medvedeva (RUS) — 62.89
7. Serafima Sakhanovich (RUS) — 62.63
8. Kim Yelim (KOR) — 61.23
9. Alexia Paganini (SUI) — 60.68
10. Marin Honda (USA) — 59.2
11. Alicia Pineault (CAN) — 57.59
12. Veronik Mallet (CAN) — 51.9

Men’s Short
1. Yuzuru Hanyu (JPN) — 109.6
2. Camden Pulkinen (USA) — 89.05
3. Nam Nguyen (CAN) — 84.08
4. Deniss Vasiljevs (LAT) — 84.01
5. Keiji Tanaka (JPN) — 80.11
6. Andrei Lazukin (RUS) — 78.99
7. Julian Zhi Jie Yee (MAS) — 75.64
8. Nicolas Nadeau (CAN) — 75.22
9. Matteo Rizzo (ITA) — 70.12
10. Paul Fentz (GER) — 66.32
11. Roman Sadovsky (CAN) — 65.29
12. Brendan Kerry (AUS) — 56.75

Pairs’ Short
1. Aleksandra Boikova/Dmitriy Kozlovskiy (RUS) — 76.45
2. Kirsten Moore-Towers/Michael Marinaro (CAN) — 75.5
3. Yevgenia Tarasova/Vladimir Morozov (RUS) — 73.57
4. Alexa Scimeca Knierim/Chris Knierim (USA) — 71.28
5. Liubov Ilyushechkina/Charlie Bilodeau (CAN) — 68.62
6. Jessica Calanag/Brian Johnson (USA) — 62.54
7. Tang Feiyao/Yang Yongchao (CHN) — 62.35
8. Evelyn Walsh/Trennt Michaud (CAN) — 56.09

Rhythm Dance
1. Madison Hubbell/Zachary Donohue (USA) — 83.21
2. Piper Gilles/Paul Poirier (CAN) — 82.58
3. Kaitlin Hawayek/Jean-Luc Baker (USA) — 79.52
4. Lilah Fear/Lewis Gibson (GBR) — 76.67
5. Sara Hurtado/Kirill Khaliavin (ESP) — 72.77
6. Betina Popova/Sergey Mozgov (RUS) — 71.44
7. Marjorie Lajoie/Zachary Lagha (CAN) — 70.50
8. Caroline Green/Michael Parsons (USA) — 69
9. Sofia Evdokimova/Egor Bazin (RUS) — 67.2
10. Haley Sales/Nikolas Wamsteeker (CAN) — 63.06

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.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: Tuktamysheva, armed with triple Axel, fights to compete with Russian teens