Piper Gilles

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!

Grand Prix Final: Who’s in, who’s on the bubble, and how NHK Trophy impacts the standings

Yuzuru Hanyu, Nathan Chen
NBC Sports
Leave a comment

Some figure skaters, like Nathan Chen and ice dancers Madison Hubbell and Zach Donohue, have already clinched spots to the prestigious Grand Prix Final. But the December competition allows for an exclusive six-skater field, which will finalize this weekend after NHK Trophy in Japan (live, on-demand and commercial-free for NBC Sports Gold Pass subscribers).

Let’s examine what scenarios need to play out at NHK Trophy in order for skaters like Olympic champions Alina Zagitova and Yuzuru Hanyu to clinch spots at the event. The Final is Dec. 5-8 in Torino, Italy, site of the 2006 Olympic Winter Games.

Ladies

Two skaters have clinched spots prior to NHK Trophy:

  • Alexandra Trusova (won Skate Canada and Rostelecom Cup), 15, from Russia
  • Anna Shcherbakova (won Skate America and Cup of China), 15, from Russia

They train together in Moscow under coach Eteri Tutberidze and are both in their first season on the senior Grand Prix circuit. Along with Alena Kostornaia, this young trio are capable of some of the most difficult jumps being performed in women’s skating today. The ladies’ standings can be found here.

American Bradie Tennell currently sits third in the standings. She is as close to clinching a berth as one can get without technically doing so. Forcing Tennell out of the Grand Prix Final at this point would require a series of unlikely scenarios to take place this weekend at NHK Trophy.

Tennell would be the first American woman in a Grand Prix Final since Ashley Wagner and Gracie Gold competed in the 2015 Grand Prix Final.

American Mariah Bell ended up with the same number of points in the standings as Tennell. However, Tennell wins over Bell on a tiebreak due to her second and fourth place Grand Prix series finishes, compared to Bell’s two bronze medals this season. The first tiebreak procedure is based on highest placement on the Grand Prix series.

Tennell also beats Satoko Miyahara of Japan on a tiebreak, because Tennell’s total combined score is higher than Miyahara’s. They both have a silver medal and a fourth place finish on the series, so the next criteria looks at total scores from both Grand Prix events. Miyahara had appeared in every Grand Prix Final since 2015 and this would’ve been her fifth straight appearance.

The remainder of the six-skater field should be decided at NHK Trophy, where reigning Olympic and world champion Alina Zagitova is skating, as is Japan’s Rika Kihira and Grand Prix France champion Kostornaia (16, and also in her first senior Grand Prix season).

Kostornaia will make the Grand Prix Final with a fifth-place finish or higher, while Zagitova and Kihira just need to land on the podium to earn a spot in Torino.

Another note: Four out of the six women’s skaters in the Grand Prix Final field are Russian. Last year, three Russians and three Japanese skaters made up the field. This year, there is likely a little more variety with as many as four Russians, a Japanese skater and an American.

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

Men

Two skaters have clinched spots before NHK Trophy:

  • Nathan Chen (won Skate America and Grand Prix France) from the U.S.
  • Alexander Samarin (silver at Grand Prix France and won Rostelecom Cup) from Russia

Chen has appeared in the last three consecutive Finals, earning a silver in 2016 followed by winning back-to-back titles in 2017 and 2018. The men’s standings can be found here.

Two-time Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu skates this weekend at home in Japan and needs to place inside the top four to clinch a spot in the Grand Prix Final. Hanyu won the Grand Prix Final four straight times in 2013, ’14, ’15 and ’16, but withdrew last year from the Final after qualifying due to injury. In 2017, he couldn’t qualify for the Final due to his withdrawal from NHK Trophy. This will be the first Hanyu-Chen head-to-head since the world championships in March, where Chen earned gold to Hanyu’s silver.

American Jason Brown needs to place second at NHK Trophy to clinch a Grand Prix Final berth, but is very likely qualified even if he places third.

France’s Kevin Aymoz and Russia’s Makar Ignatov would need to win NHK Trophy to clinch a Grand Prix Final berth, and if they earn silver medals they’ll end up in a tie-break scenario with Russian Dmitri Aliev (currently third in the standings; almost certainly guaranteed a Grand Prix Final spot at this point with a bronze at Skate America and a silver at Rostelecom Cup).

Other notes: France’s last men’s representative in a Grand Prix Final was Florent Amodio, who finished sixth in 2010.

This is the first time in Olympic silver medalist Shoma Uno‘s senior career that he will miss the Grand Prix Final (eighth at Grand Prix France, fourth at Rostelecom Cup). Uno was on the Grand Prix Final podium four times in four previous appearances.

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

Pairs

Three pairs have so far clinched spots for the GPF:

  • Aleksandra Boikova/ Dmitry Kozlovskiy (won Skate Canada and Rostelecom Cup) from Russia
  • Peng Cheng/ Jin Yang (won Skate America, silver at Cup of China) from China
  • Daria Pavliuchenko/ Denis Khodykin (silvers at Skate Canada and Grand Prix France), from Russia

Pairs’ standings can be found here.

Sui Wenjing and Han Cong from China compete at NHK Trophy this weekend and can clinch a berth to the Final with a podium finish. The two-time world champions own three previous Grand Prix Final medals, but none are gold.

Anastasia Mishina and Alexandr Galliamov from Russia also compete this weekend and need to finish on the podium to clinch a spot in Torino. They already won Grand Prix France earlier this season.

For Canada’s Kirsten Moore-Towers and Michael Marinaro to make the Grand Prix Final, they need to earn gold or silver at NHK Trophy. If they finish with bronze medals, they’ll enter a tiebreak scenario with Yevgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov of Russia. That tiebreak will be determined by total cumulative score from both teams’ two Grand Prix events this fall, with the higher score getting the spot at the Final.

Two-time U.S. national pair champions Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Chris Knierim skate in Japan this weekend, too, but they need help in the standings from other teams in order to earn a spot in the Final. They skated in the Grand Prix Final in 2015, finishing seventh (under a rare circumstance where the Final allowed for seven, instead of the usual six, slots). 2017 U.S. national champions Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier are fifth in the standings for the Final before NHK Trophy, but the three-year long streak of a Grand Prix Final without an American team is likely to continue.

Ice dance

Three teams have so far clinched spots for the Grand Prix Final:

  • Viktoria Sinitsina/ Nikita Katsalapov (won Cup of China and Rostelecom Cup), from Russia
  • Piper Gilles/ Paul Poirier (won Skate Canada, silver at Rostelecom Cup), from Canada
  • Madison Hubbell/ Zach Donohue (won Skate America, silver at Skate Canada), from U.S.

Hubbell and Donohue are last year’s Grand Prix Final champions. Ice dance standings can be found here.

Four-time world champions Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron of France skate at NHK Trophy and clinch a berth to the Grand Prix Final with a podium finish.

Russia’s Alexandra Stepanova and Ivan Bukin also skate at NHK Trophy, and can only clinch a spot in the Final with a win. However, if they finish second to the French team, both will make the Final.

Currently fourth in the standings are U.S. duo Madison Chock and Evan Bates. They earned silver medals at both Grand Prix France and Cup of China, and are as close to certainly getting a spot at the Final as can be without technically clinching a spot. The most likely NHK Trophy scenario is that Papadakis and Cizeron win NHK Trophy, and Stepanova and Bukin finish second – and if that happens, Papadakis and Cizeron, Stepanova and Bukin and Chock and Bates all make the Final.

Other notes: Gilles’ and Poirier’s first and only trip to the Grand Prix Final came in the post-Sochi 2014 season, when they finished fifth.

Prior to Chock’s ankle injury, which kept the duo out of the Grand Prix series and Final last season, they appeared in four straight Finals from 2014-17, earning two silver medals.

The last appearance in the Grand Prix Final by Papadakis and Cizeron was in 2017 – prior to PyeongChang – when they beat eventual Olympic gold medalists Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir of Canada. The French couple missed the Grand Prix Final last year because they withdrew from a regular-series event and could not qualify.

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

NBC Sports researcher Sarah Hughes (not the figure skater) contributed to this report.

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