Ivan Bukin

AP Images

Grand Prix Final ice dance preview: A return to French supremacy or can U.S. hang on to podium?

Leave a comment

Two former Grand Prix Final ice dance champions are in this year’s exclusive, six-couple field.

Last year’s champions, Americans Madison Hubbell and Zach Donohue, train alongside 2018 champions Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron of France. They also train with Americans Madison Chock and Evan Bates, two-time Grand Prix Final silver medalists themselves, at the powerhouse Montreal school.

Having two Russian teams sets up a story-within-a-story at the Grand Prix Final as well, said NBC Sports analyst Tanith White. They’ll fight to see who can be the top ice dance team in their country as the 2022 Beijing Winter Games approach.

In an interview with NBCSports.com/figure-skating, White commented on what she expects to see from each team.

Gabriella Papadakis/Guillaume Cizeron (FRA)
Papadakis and Cizeron have three Grand Prix Final medals in three appearances, including gold in 2018. The four-time world champions were unable to qualify for the Grand Prix Final last year due to only competing once in the Grand Prix Series, but returned to their usual, dominant selves this fall. They own the highest rhythm dance, free dance and total scores this season.

Their “Fame” rhythm dance garnered attention for campy costumes. White said the French duo “do a great job with steeping the program in a level of fun and humor that I think it had in the movie.”

While other teams have used spoken words for their performances before, White said the PyeongChang Olympic silver medalists upped the ante in their free dance.

“What the French are doing, apart from everyone else, is they’re actually using the cadence of the speaking to interpret how they choreograph their movement,” she said. “Every word has a different arm movement or feeling. I feel like they integrated the spoken word component in a more a thoughtful way.”

GRAND PRIX FINAL PREVIEWS: Nathan Chen | Yuzuru Hanyu | Alysa Liu
Pairs | TV/Stream Schedule | Entrants

Viktoria Sinitsina/Nikita Katsalapov (RUS)
In their debut at the Grand Prix Final last year, Sinitsina and Katsalapov took silver. Later in the season, the Russians were runners-up again at the world championships. However, as highly emotional skaters, White noted there were “a lot of mistakes flying in between these beautiful moments.” But for this season, she said the team seems to have a more stable foundation. They are able to focus on what they need to do, and that’s stay clean through a performance.

“I think they had a few growing pains with their rhythm dance in particular as they moved through the Grand Prix,” White said. “They have a chance to really show a wow moment in the rhythm dance I think to set themselves up well for the free dance. It hasn’t been perfect yet, and maybe this is their chance to show that first perfect outing of that program.”

Piper Gilles/Paul Poirier (CAN)
The Canadians made their only previous appearance in the Grand Prix Final in 2014, when they finished fifth. They placed between sixth and eighth at the world championships every year since.

“They have expressed the frustration of being seemingly locked into that level for a little while,” White said. “Feeling like, ‘What else do you want from us? What else can we do?’ They are ever the innovators. Their work ethic is always evident.”

This year, after navigating personal and professional hardships, they return to the Grand Prix Final ready to tap into these emotions.

“I think sometimes when they stretch themselves to be innovative and to choose original themes, it sometimes isn’t as easy to grab onto emotionally for a viewer,” White said. “This year, I feel like they took their experiences from their real life, their honest emotions, and the trust that they have with one another and put it in a program where you just feel like this is them skating from a very honest place.”

Madison Hubbell/Zach Donohue (USA)
The two-time and reigning U.S. champions have four total appearances in the Grand Prix Final. Last year, they became the first U.S. couple to win the Grand Prix Final since Meryl Davis and Charlie White in 2013. Hubbell doesn’t see any reason they can’t do it again.

“We are going into the Grand Prix Final as defending champions this season, and last year we entered having never medaled,” she told NBC Sports. “The difference in our approach this season has mostly been in the way that we trained in preparation for the event… a focus on quality, detail, and consistency.”

White agreed, adding their ability to tweak a program greatly within a season will serve them well. Hubbell and Donohue competed in the first two Grand Prix events this fall and have had relatively longer to work out any kinks in time for the Final.

“They can really give a completely new impression of a program once they’ve found what makes them tick within it,” White said. Plus, in the rhythm dance, “from the second [Hubbell] steps out onto the ice with that dress, and that hair, and her attitude, and presence, it feels like ‘Of course. Of course, she should be Marilyn Monroe.”

MORE: Hubbell, Donohue continue U.S. ice dance legacy

Alexandra Stepanova/Ivan Bukin (RUS)

Last year was Stepanova and Bukin’s debut at the Grand Prix Final, where they finished in fourth place. The competition-within-the-competition is an important story line here, White said, as the Russian teams duke it out to see how will be the country’s top dance team headed to the 2022 Olympics.

“I think that they are trying to refine their skating, especially with their free dance this season,” she said. “Show that they can be elegant because they are a very acrobatic team – to great effect. It’s very exciting to watch what they can do. But this season they’re trying I think to show a little more elegance, a little more maturity with their free dance… if they can hone in on the ultimate sophistication of what they bring to the ice, it will serve them very well.”

Madison Chock/Evan Bates (USA)
Chock and Bates made four straight appearances at the Grand Prix Final from 2014-17, claiming two silver medals. They sat out the circuit last year, but White was excited to see how well they were being received this season – especially after changing training locations to Montreal in the midst of Chock’s recovery from ankle surgery.

“This year we are definitely in a good frame of mind after a strong start to the season,” Bates told NBC Sports. “Our absence last year made us realize how much we missed it and only strengthened our desire to get back to this point. Now we are focused on improving on our Grand Prix performances and challenging for a spot on top of the podium.”

A spot on the podium at the Grand Prix Final, and even challenging for the top spot at U.S. Championships in January, White expected.

“The free dance is their standout program this season,” White said. “Best of all, you watch a Final warm up group with them in it – that program is going to set itself apart and break up and potential monotony between lyrical programs, or everyone in black costumes. They are gonna come out and just deliver these fully characters of the snake and the snake charmer and it was a wise choice.”

MORE: Chock, Bates return to Grand Prix circuit with ‘new power’

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!

Storylines to watch at the Grand Prix Final

Getty
Leave a comment

The Grand Prix Final is an exclusive figure skating event that caps the first part of the season before skaters move toward their national championships. The 2019 edition in particular is significant, marking the halfway point between the Olympic cycles.

Skaters score points at up to two Grand Prix events throughout the fall, and the top-scoring finishers are invited to the Grand Prix Final, Dec. 5-8 in Torino, Italy. (Streaming live and on-demand for NBC Sports Gold subscribers.)

With only six skaters/teams in each discipline, it is a small preview of March’s world championships; however, it brings a prestige all its own. Let’s examine the major storylines.

Grand Prix Series Standings: Men | Ladies | Pairs | Ice Dance | Qualifiers

Men
Two-time Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan returns to the Grand Prix Final for the first time since 2016. Hanyu missed the previous two editions due to injury; however, Hanyu owns four straight Grand Prix Finals from 2013-16.

Two-time world champion Nathan Chen won the 2017 and 2018 Grand Prix Finals in Hanyu’s absence. They competed head-to-head at March’s world championships, where Chen won and Hanyu earned silver.

But this will be their first Grand Prix Final head-to-head since Chen began his winning streak, undefeated since placing fifth at the PyeongChang Olympics in 2018.

The men’s field:
1. Yuzuru Hanyu (JPN)
2. Nathan Chen (USA)
3. Alexander Samarin (RUS)
4. Dmitri Aliev (RUS)
5. Kevin Aymoz (FRA)
6. Jin Boyang (CHN)

MORE: Nathan Chen on his hip-hop “Rocketman” free skate

Women
The top three Russians to qualify for the Grand Prix Final — Alena Kostornaia (16), Alexandra Trusova (15), and Anna Shcherbakova (15) — were the same top qualifiers for last year’s Junior Grand Prix Final. Kostornaia won, followed by Trusova, and Shcherbakova was fifth.

All three are in their first senior season. They train together in Moscow under coach Eteri Tutberidze, alongside reigning Olympic and world champion Alina Zagitova (17).

While Zagitova has never landed a quadruple jump or triple Axel in competition, Kostornaia’s free skate includes two triple Axels; Trusova’s free skate includes up to four quads; and Shcherbakova’s free skate includes two quad Lutzes.

For her part, Japan’s Rika Kihira (17) is capable of two triple Axels in her free skate, as well.

American Bradie Tennell is the oldest in the field by four years at 21.

The women’s field:
1. Alena Kostornaia (RUS)
2. Alexandra Trusova (RUS)
3. Anna Shcherbakova (RUS)
4. Rika Kihira (JPN)
5. Alina Zagitova (RUS)
6. Bradie Tennell (USA)

MORE: Bradie Tennell’s personality shines through at Skate America

Pairs
China’s Sui Wenjing and Han Cong are the most decorated team in the Grand Prix Final with two world championships and an Olympic silver medal. Last year, they had an abbreviated season due to Sui’s stress fracture in her right foot but rallied for a Four Continents title and their second world title. They won both of their regular-season Grand Prix events: Cup of China and NHK Trophy.

Relative newcomers Aleksandra Boikova and Dmitriy Kozlovskiy of Russia also won both of their regular-season Grand Prix events, too: Skate Canada and Rostelecom Cup.

Notably, Russia’s Yevgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov (two-time European champions who have taken three trips to the Grand Prix Final, even winning in 2016) were seventh in the overall standings and missed the cut.

The pairs’ field:
1. Sui Wenjing/Han Cong (CHN)
2. Aleksandra Boikova/Dmitriy Kozlovskiy (RUS)
3. Peng Cheng/Jin Yang (CHN)
4. Anastasia Mishina/Aleksandr Galliamov (RUS)
5. Kirsten Moore-Towers/Michael Marinaro (CAN)
6. Daria Pavliuchenko/Denis Khodykin (RUS)

Ice dance

Four-time world champions Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron of France missed last year’s Grand Prix Final because they pulled out of one of their regular-series events and were unable to qualify. But in their most recent Final, in 2017, they won and defeated eventual PyeongChang Olympic gold medalists Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir of Canada.

In their stead, American training partners Madison Hubbell and Zach Donohue, the two-time U.S. dance champions, took the 2018 Grand Prix Final. Another team they train with in Montreal, Americans Madison Chock and Evan Bates, also return to the Grand Prix Final after missing the Grand Prix regular season last year due to injury.

The ice dance field:

1. Gabriella Papadakis/Guillaume Cizeron (FRA)
2. Viktoria Sinitsina/Nikita Katsalapov (RUS)
3. Piper Gilles/Paul Poirier (CAN)
4. Madison Hubbell/Zach Donohue (USA)
5. Alexandra Stepanova/Ivan Bukin (RUS)
6. Madison Chock/Evan Bates (USA)

MORE: Gabriella Papadakis, Guillaume Cizeron on ‘Fame,’ chasing history

An American lens

Nathan Chen is making his fourth consecutive appearance in the Grand Prix Final, an event he’s won twice. The Yale sophomore will be the only American man in the field.

The American women have their first representative in the Grand Prix Final since 2015, when Gracie Gold and Ashley Wagner competed. This is Tennell’s first appearance in a Grand Prix Final.

The top two American ice dance teams are into the Final: Hubbell and Donohue, who won the event last year, and Chock and Bates. Prior to missing last year’s Final, Chock and Bates made four straight Finals and won two silver medals. This should offer a preview of what audiences can expect at the U.S. national championships in January from these two teams, who train together in Montreal.

There hasn’t been a U.S. pair team in a Grand Prix Final since 2015 (Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Chris Knierim). Before that, Keauna McLaughlin and Rockne Brubaker skated in the 2007 Grand Prix Final, but withdrew after the short program due to injury.

MORE: Yuzuru Hanyu, Alina Zagitova make NHK Trophy podium and set Grand Prix Final fields

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!

Yuzuru Hanyu, Alina Zagitova make NHK Trophy podium and set Grand Prix Final fields

Leave a comment

Yuzuru Hanyu handily won NHK Trophy on home ice in Japan on Saturday, setting up a head-to-head Grand Prix Final with American Nathan Chen. The Dec. 5-8 event takes place in Torino, Italy and will stream live for NBC Sports Gold subscribers.

Also, reigning Olympic and world champion Alina Zagitova will take on three of her younger training partners at the Grand Prix Final after a bronze medal finish at NHK Trophy.

Hanyu won four Grand Prix Finals from 2013-16, and Chen won the event in 2017 and 2018. Hanyu did not compete in the Final in 2017 or 2018, but at their head-to-head battle at the world championships in March, Chen took gold to Hanyu’s silver.

But at NHK Trophy, Hanyu was untouchable in a field that included few real threats. He executed four quadruple jumps in a free skate (loop, Salchow, toe, and quad toe, triple toe in combination) that racked up 195.71 points for a total score of 305.05.

“For now I’m happy that I was able to get through, leading up the free program, stayed healthy, had no pain and no injuries. I’m also now going to the [Grand Prix] Final. I want to recover by then and do some more training and coordination to be ready for the Final,” Hanyu said through the ISU.

France’s Kevin Aymoz was second to Hanyu by 55.03 points. Aymoz makes the Grand Prix Final with his silver medal at NHK Trophy. Canada’s Roman Sadovsky took bronze with 247.50 total points.

American Jason Brown needed a bronze medal or better to have a shot at the Grand Prix Final, but a shaky short program left him eighth. He placed fourth in the free skate for a fifth place finish — but it wasn’t enough for him to get to Torino.

A full breakdown of how NHK Trophy could’ve impacted Grand Prix standings can be found here.

Grand Prix Series Standings: Men | Ladies | Pairs | Ice Dance

Zagitova was briefly in danger of possibly missing the Grand Prix Final after a fourth place short program, but she ended up with a bronze medal behind Japan’s Rika Kihira (silver) and Russia’s Alena Kostornaia (gold). All three will head to the Grand Prix Final.

Kostornaia and Kihira both included two triple Axels in their free skates. Kostornaia opened her program with a clean triple Axel, double toe combination followed by a solo triple Axel that was called under-rotated. Kihira’s triple Axel, double toe and solo triple Axel were both called clean. Zagitova has never landed a triple Axel in competition.

“After the short program I was upset of course, but I pulled myself together for the free skating thanks to my coaches that found the right words. In the program, I was just thinking from one element to the next what I need to do,” Zagitova said via the ISU.

American Karen Chen was in bronze medal position after the short program, but placed 11th (of 12) in the free skate for an overall ninth place finish. After a season off the ice due to injury, Chen is juggling figure skating with studying at Cornell University.

MORE: Alina Zagitova focused on artistry, while other Russians push technical boundaries

China’s two-time world champion pair Sui Wenjing and Han Cong won NHK Trophy and earned themselves a spot in the Grand Prix Final. The teams that joined them on the podium, Canada’s Kirsten Moore-Towers and Michael Marinaro with silver and Russia’s Anastasia Mishina and Aleksandr Galliamov with bronze, will also join them in Torino.

In ice dance, French duo Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron earned 226.61 points on the way to the gold medal, which included a free dance performance to spoken word poetry set to music. They out-distanced silver medalists Alexandra Stepanova and Ivan Bukin by nearly 20 points, though the Russians will also compete in Torino.

Charlene Guignard and Marco Fabbri of Italy took the bronze medal at NHK Trophy, though missed qualifying for the six-team Grand Prix Final by finishing seventh in the standings.

MORE: Gabriella Papadakis, Guillaume Cizeron on ‘Fame,’ chasing history

NHK Trophy Results
Men
1. Yuzuru Hanyu (JPN)  — 305.05
2. Kevin Aymoz (FRA) — 250.02
3. Roman Sadovsky (CAN) — 247.50
4. Sergei Voronov (RUS) — 239.05
5. Jason Brown (USA) — 231.27
6. Sota Yamamoto (JPN) — 226.27
7. Makar Ignatov (RUS) — 222.45
8. Anton Shulepov (RUS) — 218.38
9. Koshiro Shimada (JPN) — 213.65
10. Tomoki Hiwatashi (USA) — 207.30
11. Alexei Bychenko (ISR) — 197.63
12. Conrad Orzel (CAN) — 196.34

Women
1. Alena Kostornaia (RUS) — 240.00
2. Rika Kihira (JPN) — 231.84
3. Alina Zagitova (RUS) — 217.99
4. Yuhana Yokoi (JPN) — 189.54
5. Mako Yamashita (JPN) — 189.25
6. Sofia Samodurova (RUS) — 183.27
7. Eun-Soo Lim (KOR) — 172.47
8. Starr Andrews (USA) — 166.72
9. Karen Chen (USA) — 165.70
10. Kailani Craine (AUS) — 165.46
11. Mae Berenice Meite (FRA) — 159.98
12. Megan Wessenberg (USA) — 131.73

Pairs 
1. Sui Wenjing / Han Cong (CHN) — 266.96
2. Kirsten Moore-Towers / Michael Marinaro (CAN) — 208.49
3. Anastasia Mishina / Aleksandr Galliamov (RUS) — 203.35
4. Alisa Efimova / Alexander Korovin (RUS) — 189.34
5. Riku Miura / Ryuichi Kihara (JPN) — 179.94
6. Tarah Kayne / Danny O’Shea (USA) — 178.73
7. Alexa Scimeca Knierim / Chris Knierim (USA) — 173.33
8. Nicole Della Monica / Matteo Guarise (ITA) — 171.43

Ice dance
1. Gabriella Papadakis / Guillaume Cizeron (FRA) — 226.61

2. Alexandra Stepanova / Ivan Bukin (RUS) — 208.81
3. Charlene Guignard / Marco Fabbri (ITA) — 198.06
4. Lilah Fear / Lewis Gibson (GBR) — 193.01
5. Wang Shiyue / Liu Xinyu (CHN) — 183.11
6. Christina Carreira / Anthony Ponomarenko (USA) — 182.26
7. Sofia Shevchenko / Igor Eremenko (RUS) — 178.08
8. Carolane Soucisse / Shane Firus (CAN) — 172.01
9. Lorraine McNamara / Quinn Carpenter (USA) — 170.21

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!