Guillaume Cizeron

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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Nathan Chen extends Grand Prix win streak to longest in 18 years

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Yuzuru Hanyu hasn’t done it. Neither has Patrick Chan. Nor Yuna KimMao Asada or Yevgenia Medvedeva.

Nathan Chen became the first singles skater since Yevgeny Plushenko nearly two decades ago to win eight straight Grand Prix events, comfortably taking Internationaux de France in Grenoble on Saturday despite a few minor jumping errors in his free skate.

Chen padded his four-point lead from Friday’s short program to win by 32.06 over Russian Alexander Samarin. Chen, skipping Yale sophomore classes to compete, landed four quadruple jumps in his free skate to total 297.16 points.

He had wonky landings on three of the four quads — dinged for negative grades of execution — in his “Rocketman” skate while wearing a wrap around his left hand.

Chen, undefeated since placing fifth at the PyeongChang Olympics, still ranks second in the world this year, trailing two-time Olympic champion Hanyu’s score from Skate Canada last week of 322.59.

If all goes as planned, Chen and Hanyu will meet for the first time this season at the exclusive, six-skater Grand Prix Final in December.

“The goal for every season is to make the Final, so I’m happy that I accomplished that,” Chen told media in Grenoble. “The program that I did today was not great. A lot of mistakes. A lot of little bobbles on the landings.

“A lot of the mistakes [for all skaters] are due to the ice being harder. A lot of competition is not typically this cold. … That being said, we have to be able to adapt to the situation. We can’t use that as an excuse for our failures. We still have to man up.”

Internationaux de France concluded later Saturday with first-year senior Alena Kostornaia of Russia winning the ladies’ field and Americans Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier earning bronze in the pairs’ event for their best-ever Grand Prix season as a team.

Also Saturday, American Tomoki Hiwatashi improved from 10th after the short program to finish fifth in his senior Grand Prix debut. Hiwatashi, 19 and the world junior champion, landed a pair of quad toe loops.

Olympic silver medalist Shoma Uno struggled in Grenoble, falling five times between two programs, including three times in Saturday’s free skate. His eighth-place finish was his worst in five years on the senior international level and his first time off the podium in 13 career Grand Prix starts.

Later Saturday, world champions Gabriella Papapdakis and Guillaume Cizeron of France extended their unbeaten streak since their Olympic silver medal, posting the world’s highest total ice dance score in their Grand Prix season debut.

Papadakis and Cizeron, who haven’t lost to a couple other than the recently retired Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir in nearly five years, tallied 222.24 to distance Americans Madison Chock and Evan Bates by 17.4.

Chock and Bates earned their sixth straight Grand Prix runner-up finish (not counting Grand Prix Finals) after missing the last Grand Prix season due to Chock’s recovery from ankle surgery. They compete at Cup of China next week, bidding for another podium to have a strong chance at qualifying for a fifth Grand Prix Final.

“We really want to focus more on the performance and less on the technicality,” Bates said, according to U.S. Figure Skating. “Obviously this is a good result but we don’t have a lot of time to make changes before China, but we think that both of these programs are in a good place.”

Internationaux de France
Men
1. Nathan Chen (USA) — 297.16

2. Alexander Samarin (RUS) — 265.10
3. Kevin Aymoz (FRA) — 254.64
4. Moris Kvitelashvili (GEO) — 236.38
5. Tomoki Hiwatashi (USA) — 227.43
6. Sergey Voronov (RUS) — 220.98
7. Nicolas Nadeau (CAN) — 217.68
8. Shoma Uno (JPN) — 215.84
9. Romain Ponsart (FRA) — 215.64
10. Daniel Samohin (ISR) — 193.66
11. Anton Shulepov (RUS) — 183.98

Ice Dance
1. Gabriella Papadakis/Guillaume Cizeron (FRA) — 222.24

2. Madison Chock/Evan Bates (USA) — 204.84
3. Charlene Guignard/Marco Fabbri (ITA) — 203.34
4. Olivia Smart/Adrian Diaz (ESP) — 188.18
5. Tiffani Zagorski/Jonathan Guerreiro (RUS) — 184.44
6. Natalya Kaliszek/Maksym Spodyriev (POL) — 183.42
7. Carolane Soucisse/Shane Firus (CAN) — 175.80
8.  Marie-Jade Lauriault/Romain Le Gac (FRA) — 166.28
9. Julia Wagret/Pierre Souquet-Basiege (FRA) — 161.99
10. Allison Reed/Saulius Ambrulevicius (LTU) — 161.73

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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MORE: Canada seeks new figure skating stars after gold-medal retirements

Gabriella Papadakis, Guillaume Cizeron go disco with ‘Fame’ ice dance

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Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron conjured 1980s workout videos with their leading rhythm dance at Internationaux de France on Friday.

Papadakis and Cizeron, four-time world champions, debuted their aerobic-themed dance to selections from the musical “Fame” on the Grand Prix level in their home nation in Grenoble.

The full dance is available for NBC Sports Gold subscribers here at the 1-hour, 16-minute mark.

Papadakis’ teal and pink costume was reminiscent of Olivia Newton-John. Cizeron’s workout-like outfit included a headband with a sleeveless pink top.

“It’s really fun for us that it is really different,” Cizeron said, according to the International Skating Union. “It’s different from what everyone else is doing, and it’s different from what we’ve been doing. It was a kind of a challenge to work on this program and make it fun.”

Internationaux de France concludes Saturday with all of the free skates. A full live stream schedule is here.

Internationaux de France
Rhythm Dance
1. Gabriella Papadakis/Guillaume Cizeron (FRA) — 88.69
2. Madison Chock/Evan Bates (USA) — 80.69
3. Charlene Guignard/Marco Fabbri (ITA) — 79.65
4. Olivia Smart/Adrian Diaz (ESP) — 76.09
5. Tiffani Zagorski/Jonathan Guerreiro (RUS) — 75.05
6. Natalya Kaliszek/Maksym Spodyriev (POL) — 74.19
7. Carolane Soucisse/Shane Firus (CAN) — 68.61
8. Julia Wagret/Pierre Souquet-Basiege (FRA) — 63.55
9. Marie-Jade Lauriault/Romain Le Gac (FRA) — 61.48
10. Allison Reed/Saulius Ambrulevicius (LTU) — 58.10

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: Canada seeks new figure skating stars after gold-medal retirements