Nathan Chen rallies, wins GP France, sets possible Yuzuru Hanyu matchup

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Nathan Chen is going back to the Grand Prix Final for another possible showdown with Yuzuru HanyuJason Brown, if he keeps this up, is on his way to a rebound season after missing the PyeongChang Olympic team.

The world champion Chen won his fifth straight Grand Prix event, moving from third after the short program to overtake Brown and prevail by 15.25 points at Internationaux de France on Saturday. Chen landed three quadruple jumps in a clean, watered-down free skate, totaling 271.58 between two programs.

He overcame a 9.47-point deficit to the 2014 Olympian Brown from Friday.

“I’m still not at the level I should be technically,” Chen, who had a record six quads in his PyeongChang Olympic free skate (five clean), said, according to the Olympic Channel. “There’s a lot of work to be done, but whatever I did, I did. I am pretty satisfied.

“What I did today was the maximum of my capabilities as of right now and we’ll see about the future.”

GP FRANCE: Full Results | TV/Stream Schedule

Chen landed a quad flip and two quad toe loops in the free, including one in combination after falling on an under-rotated quad flip in the short. He’s the first man to win five straight Grand Prix starts in more than a decade.

Chen has so far successfully juggled skating with freshman classes at Yale, training some 3,000 miles from his Southern California-based coach. Like Hanyu and Olympic silver medalist Shoma Uno, Chen swept his two Grand Prix Series starts.

The Grand Prix Final in two weeks is during a break from Yale classes, as were Chen’s two Grand Prix events. The Final, which takes the top six skaters per discipline from the Grand Prix Series, is the second-biggest annual competition behind the world championships.

At the Final, Chen is slated to face the Olympic champion Hanyu for the first time since PyeongChang, where the American was 17th in the short program but won the free skate to place fifth overall. But Hanyu, who has the world’s highest score this season by 16 points, could withdraw from the Final after suffering an ankle injury last Saturday.

“It definitely has pushed me quite a lot over the past few years, to be able to skate with him in practices and compete against him and also just to be able to watch him from afar and see what he’s doing to sort of motivate me and push myself in practices,” Chen said Saturday. “It’s definitely disappointing if he won’t be at the Grand Prix Final.”

Brown did not fall and did not attempt a quad in his programs in Grenoble. The 2015 U.S. champion has now made a Grand Prix podium in all six of his senior international seasons, an active streak shared only by Hanyu among male or female singles skaters.

The silver medal marked quite an improvement for Brown, who was sixth at the U.S. Championships in January and, after changing coaches to Brian Orser, sixth at his Grand Prix season debut in Canada last month.

Brown is now a favorite to make the three-man U.S. team for the world championships in March. Only Chen has a better score this season among Americans than Brown, who is 30 points clear of PyeongChang Olympian Vincent Zhou. Brown competes at least one more time before January’s nationals, at a lower-level event in Croatia in two weeks.

“I have a long way to go with [the free skate], but I’m really happy with the development as it has come a long way since the start to the season,” Brown said. “I’m still just scratching the surface of the potential that I have. … I’m still struggling every day with the changes.”

Later, three-time world champions Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron ran away with the ice dance title by 16.4 points in their first top-level senior event of the season. While their score — 216.78 — is the highest in the world this season by nearly 16 points, they are ineligible for the Grand Prix Final because they missed their first Grand Prix due to Cizeron’s back injury.

Americans Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker finished fourth, securing their first Grand Prix Final berth. Hawayek and Baker won NHK Trophy two weeks ago. The favorites at the Final are U.S. champions and world silver medalists Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue, who won the first two Grand Prix events last month.

Grand Prix Final Qualifiers
Men
1. Yuzuru Hanyu (JPN) — 30 points
2. Shoma Uno (JPN) — 30 points
3. Nathan Chen (USA) — 30 points
4. Michal Brezina (CZE) — 26 points
5. Sergey Voronov (RUS) — 24 points
6. Cha Jun-Hwan (KOR) — 22 points

Ice Dance
1. Madison Hubbell/Zach Donohue (USA) — 30 points

2. Alexandra Stepanova/Ivan Bukin (RUS) — 30 points
3. Victoria Sinitsina/Nikita Katsalapov (RUS) — 26 points
4. Charlene Guignard/Marco Fabbri (ITA) — 26 points
5. Kaitlin Hawayek/Jean-Luc Baker (USA) — 24 points
6. Tiffany Zahorski/Jonathan Guerreiro (RUS) — 24 points

As a reminder, you can watch the ISU Grand Prix Series live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. GO HERE 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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Behind the scenes at Grand Prix France: Day 3

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Jean-Christophe Berlot is on the ground in Grenoble to cover Internationaux de France, the sixth and final Grand Prix event in the series before the Grand Prix Final. This is his behind-the-scenes look at the competition on the second day of competition.

 

Hairy rotations

Discovering Jason Brown’s new look makes one wonder: was he asked to cut it off to increase his rotational speed and enhance his quad abilities, as any mechanical engineer would suggest? “Not at all!” Brian Orser, his coach, answered in a big laugh.

The reason is purely aesthetics. When you make as big a change as he made, you need to make a statement: in your program, in your image, in your look. Then… Snap! But it was tough for him, because it was really his thing.” So far the change was worthwhile!

Jason’s France

Brown’s outings in France have always been big successes for him. The first time he came, back in 2013, he became an overnight sensation in Paris after an exhilarating free skate to “Riverdance,” which was to conquer the United States at the subsequent Nationals. This time he won the short program, some 5.55 points ahead of Alexander Samarin, and 9.47 points ahead of third place Nathan Chen.

“I want to compete and I’m so determined on quads. But it’s nice to be rewarded for what you’re doing,” Brown commented afterwards. “I admire these guys for pushing the sport the way they do, but I won’t give up the artistic side, and I’ll keep pushing them on that side as well.” Brown’s French revolution is on its way!

What is love?

Team USA’s Jason Brown, who brilliantly won the short program Friday afternoon in Grenoble, kindly explained why he elected to skate to “Love is a Bitch” this season.

“The story of this program started when I was taking time off after my season was over, last year. My sister sent it to me, like: ‘I just listened to this!’ It was like a joke, in fact, because there was ‘love’ in the title, and the two pieces of music I had used last season had ‘love’ in their title as well [‘The Scent of Love’ and ‘Inner Love’]. It ignited a kind of a fire within me. I thought it was a different variation of love, and a different way of connecting to a different side of me. It was … I wouldn’t say a revenge, as I am not chasing anyone for revenge, but it was like I’m hungry for more. I’m not over yet! And this program pushes me a little different.”

Japanese corner

Japanese fans are known for their generosity toward the skaters. It seems you could even measure the density of Japanese people in a crowd by the number of flowers and plush toys they send to one of their skaters (or someone they love, like Nathan Chen or Deniss Vasiljevs, their two heavy favorites in Grenoble).

Quite visibly, the short side of the rink, where the kiss and cry has been set, is a Japanese corner. When Marin Honda, Rika Kihira and Mai Mihara skated, the short side of the rink with was like a blooming tulip field in the Netherlands in spring time! With several colored plush toys among them. Well done, ladies, only Yevgenia Medvedeva managed to avoid a Japanese sweep of the intermediate podium!

Is this censorship?

Everybody knows how strong Guillaume Cizeron is on the ice. Friday’s post-event press conference proved he was also strong behind a microphone. While he was holding it, making again a strong comment about their performance, the articulated the arm of the microphone collapsed on the table. Ask Mai Mihara, Alexandra Boikova and Dmitrii Kozlovskii, who also won their event and used the same microphone: they had to hold it to talk. Who wants the winners to fight with their microphone?

Skating pairs and pairs on skates

Russia’s Aleksandra Boikova and Dmitrii Kozlozkii had a different perspective over their first-place finish after the pairs’ short program Friday night.

“I feel myself not in my place, sitting with such great skaters at this table,” Kozlovskii offered at the post-event press conference, as his team was sitting between North Korea’s Tae Ok Ryom and Ju Sik Kim, to their right, and France’s Vanessa James and Morgan Ciprès, to their left.

It’s completely our place, I think!” Boikova added right after her partner’s comment… And the duo kept arguing together for a few seconds before they recomposed. A pair has to be a pair – and your partner will always be a mystery anyway…

For your (blue) eyes only

Boikova and Kozlovskii gave an interesting rendering of their short program, set to “Dark Eyes.”

“This program was set by Natalia Bestemianova and Igor Bobrin,” Boikova explained [Bestemianova won the Olympic gold medal with Andrei Bukin in 1988 and Igor Bobrin is the 1981 European gold medalist].

“Tamara (Moskvina, who coaches the team in St. Petersburg) asked them to come working with us. They made our last two short programs,” Kozlovskii added. “And guess what? Both Dmitrii and I have blue eyes, not dark ones!” Boikova said in a smile.

Make him quiet!

Russia’s Victoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov won the second place in their rhythm dance Friday night, after the brilliant silver medal they won at Skate Canada. Katsalapov, who won an Olympic bronze medal with Elena Ilinykh back in 2014, had to significantly change his style of skating after he joined forces with Sinitsina, some four years ago. This season the duo seems to have found its balance.

“Everything, every business takes time,” Katsalapov explained. “Time is the main thing. All coaches I’ve had have wanted me to be calmer, just like I skated tonight. But the truth is … I can be like a street dog. The one who calms me is Vika [Sinitsina’s nickname]. She is passionate, yet peaceful. That saves me lots of energy, which I give to her. I trust her, and I’m relaxed when I feel her with the music.”

Find your partner’s inner energy, align yours with it, and you’ll reach the top of the world!

Last official practice

Is there anything more thrilling than arriving in the early morning and hearing some skating music coming out of the rink? The men started early Saturday morning, followed by ice dancers and ladies. The last group of the ladies event was particularly impressive, with Russia’s Yevgenia Medvedeva, Japan’s Mai Mihira and Rika Kihira, and Team USA’s Bradie Tennell on the same ice sheet.

“Today I was not able to visualize the triple Axel well,” a disappointed Kihira had stated Friday night, after she missed her trademark jump in the short program. “So tomorrow at practice I’ll focus more and double-check on my triple Axel,” she promised. The audience in attendance was not disappointed, as she nailed her triple Axel – alone and in combination with a triple toe, even in her run-through!

As a reminder, you can watch the ISU Grand Prix Series 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: Nathan Chen rallies, wins GP France, sets possible Yuzuru Hanyu matchup

Jason Brown tops Nathan Chen in Grand Prix France short program

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Nathan Chen hasn’t been in the position in nearly two years — trailing at a Grand Prix event.

The world champion fell on an under-rotated quadruple flip in the Internationaux de France short program on Friday, putting him 9.47 points behind surprise leader Jason Brown going into Saturday’s free skate in Grenoble.

Brown, a Sochi Olympian who missed the U.S. team for PyeongChang, skated a clean, quad-less program and totaled 96.41.

Chen’s effort, landing one quad, garnered 86.94 for third place behind Brown and Russian Alexander Samarin. Chen attempted one more quad than he did at Skate America last month, where he tallied 90.58.

GP FRANCE: Full Results | TV/Stream Schedule

Friday marked Chen’s first fall in top-level competition since his disastrous, 17th-place short program at the PyeongChang Olympics. Since, he topped the Olympic free skate with a record six quads (five clean), won the world title by the largest margin in history and, after enrolling at Yale, won Skate America by the largest margin in history.

While Chen’s fall was surprising, to see Brown atop the standings was downright shocking.

The 2015 U.S. champion began his first season under new coach Brian Orser by missing the podium at a lower-level September event. He then placed 11th of 12 skaters in the short at his Grand Prix debut at Skate Canada last month, ending up sixth overall.

Brown’s score Friday ranks him fourth in the world this season in the short.

“Big step,” Orser told Brown just before his score came up, adding after the score, “You did it. This was you that did it.”

Skaters are competing this week for the last spots in December’s Grand Prix Final, which takes the top six per discipline from the fall Grand Prix Series. Brown must win Grand Prix France and have Chen finish outside the top five for any chance at the Final. Chen makes the final automatically with a top-five finish.

Later Friday, three-time world champions Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron posted the world’s top short dance score this season — 84.13 — in their international season debut. While Papadakis and Cizeron are ineligible for the Grand Prix Final for missing their previous Grand Prix due to Cizeron’s back injury, fourth-place Americans Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker will qualify for their first Final if the standings hold through Saturday’s free dance.

As a reminder, you can watch the ISU Grand Prix Series live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. GO HERE 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: Ashley Wagner on coaching, TV work, future