Rika Kihira

Getty

Storylines to watch at the Grand Prix Final

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!

Alena Kostornaia takes one of three records on first day of NHK Trophy

Leave a comment

The International Skating Union reset the figure skating record book at the beginning of the 2018-19 season due to a change in the scoring system, and skaters followed up Friday by erasing three short-lived short program records at the high-scoring NHK Trophy in Tokyo.

Russia’s Alena Kostornaia, the Chinese pair of Sui Wenjing and Han Cong, and the dominant ice dance duo of France, Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron, all set records on the competition’s first day. Only Papadakis and Cizeron had previously held the record. Kostornaia and Sui/Han leap-frogged the previous record holders.

Japan’s Yuzuru Hanyu barely missed breaking his own record, settling instead for a lead of nearly 18 points in the men’s competition.

The surprise was in the women’s competition, where 2017 U.S. champion Karen Chen set a personal best and is in position to keep world and Olympic champion Alina Zagitova out of the Grand Prix Final.

SCENARIOS: See who needs what to qualify for the Final

WOMEN

Kostornaia took both the record and the lead from home favorite Rika Kihira, who held the previous record with 83.97 points at the World Team Trophy in April. The 16-year-old Russian scored 85.04 points to Kihira’s 79.89.

Both skaters opened with triple Axels, and each landed a triple-triple combination. But Kostornaia was graded a fraction of a point higher with every element and in the program components, and Kihira’s triple loop got a negative grade.

Chen posted a personal best of 67.21 with a routine to “You Say” by Lauren Daigle. Zagitova bested her rivals in program components with her typical edge in artistry but drew minus-5 marks across the board on a combination attempt that ended with just a single loop.

Chen’s jumps had a lower base value than many of the skaters behind her, and her program component scores were far behind Zagitova’s, but she drew solid marks on every element.

Starr Andrews was ninth, missing one of her jumps after opening with a strong triple-triple combination. Megan Wessenberg fell twice and ranked 12th.

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

MEN

Hanyu once again proved that no skater aside from Nathan Chen can challenge him. He thrilled his home crowd with an opening quadruple Salchow and outdistanced the field with a quad-triple combination. He also picked up many 9.75s on his program components and even picked up 10s from a couple of judges on his way to a 109.34 score, just shy of his record 110.53 set in the 2018 Rostelecom Cup.

France’s Kevin Aymoz overcame a shaky opening quad toe to rank second with 91.47 points. Russia’s Sergei Voronov took a firm grasp on the podium with an 88.63.

Jason Brown, who had a chance at reaching the Grand Prix Final heading into this event, racked up points in his program components but fell twice and was marked down on a triple Axel to rank eighth. Tomoki Hiwatashi also had two falls and an under-rotated jump in an ambitious program to place 11th.

ICE DANCE 

The peerless pair of four-time world champions Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron got high marks on every element and dazzling program components to break the 90-point mark with 90.03 points with their “Fame” program. Russia’s Alexandra Stepanova and Ivan Bukin also set a personal best of 84.07 to sit second, just ahead of Italy’s Charlene Guignard and Marco Fabbri, who ditched their previous program to dance to “Grease.”

Christina Carreira and Anthony Ponomarenko placed in the middle of the chasing pack in fifth place. Lorraine McNamara and Quinn Carpenter are eighth.

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

PAIRS

Sui and Han scored 81.27 to take a substantial lead despite negative marks on one of their elements. They took the record by 0.06 points over Russia’s Yevgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov, who posted the previous record at the 2019 World Championships.

The Canadian pair of Kirsten Moore-Towers and Michael Marinaro sit in second place. Alexa Scimera Knierim and Chris Knierim had a fall and one shaky element to place fifth. Tarah Kayne and Danny O’Shea struggled with their elements to take seventh.

NHK Trophy
Men’s short program
1. Yuzuru Hanyu (JPN)  — 109.34
2. Kevin Aymoz (FRA) — 91.47
3. Sergei Voronoz (RUS) — 88.63
4. Roman Sadovsky (CAN) — 78.51
5. Makar Ignatov (RUS) — 78.47
6. Koshiro Shimada (JPN) — 75.98
7. Sota Yamamoto (JPN) — 74.88
8. Jason Brown (USA) — 73.73
9. Anton Shulepov (RUS) — 71.76
10. Conrad Orzel (CAN) — 70.35
11. Tomoki Hiwatashi (USA) — 64.54
12. Alexei Bychenko (ISR) — 61.97

Women’s short program
1. Alena Kostornaia (RUS) — 85.04
2. Rika Kihira (JPN) — 79.89
3. Karen Chen (USA) — 67.21
4. Alina Zagitova (RUS) — 66.84
5. Mako Yamashita (JPN) — 65.70
6. Eun-Soo Lim (KOR) — 65.28
7. Sofia Samodurova (RUS) — 63.85
8. Yuhana Yokoi (JPN) — 62.67
9. Starr Andrews (USA) — 58.92
10. Kailani Craine (AUS) — 55.82
11. Mae-Berenice Meite (FRA) — 49.77
12. Megan Wessenberg (USA) — 44.78

Pairs short program
1. Sui Wenjing / Han Cong (CHN) — 81.27
2. Kirsten Moore-Towers / Michael Marinaro (CAN) — 71.21
3. Anastasia Mishina / Aleksandr Galliamov (RUS) — 69.00
4. Alisa Efimova / Alexander Korovin (RUS) — 64.94
5. Alexa Scimeca Knierim / Chris Knierim (USA) — 63.63
6. Riku Miura / Ryuichi Kihara (JPN) — 62.41
7. Tarah Kayne / Danny O’Shea (USA) — 58.70
8. Nicole Della Monica / Matteo Guarise (ITA) — 57.55

Ice dance rhythm dance
1. Gabriella Papadakis / Guillaume Cizeron (FRA) — 90.03
2. Alexandra Stepanova / Ivan Bukin (RUS) — 84.07
3. Charlene Guignard / Marco Fabbri (ITA) — 82.13
4. Lilah Fear / Lewis Gibson (GBR) — 76.09
5. Christina Carreira / Anthony Ponomarenko (USA) — 75.25
6. Wang Shiyue / Liu Xinyu (CHN) — 74.73
7. Sofia Shevchenko / Igor Eremenko (RUS) — 69.59
8. Lorraine McNamara / Quinn Carpenter (USA) — 68.80
9. Carolane Soucisse / Shane Firus (CAN) — 68.39

NHK Trophy Broadcast Schedule

Day Time (ET) Event Network
Friday 10 p.m. Free Dance NBC Sports Gold STREAM LINK
Saturday 12:30 a.m. Pairs’ Free NBC Sports Gold STREAM LINK
2:30 a.m. Women’s Free NBC Sports Gold STREAM LINK
5 a.m. Men’s Free NBC Sports Gold STREAM LINK
Sunday 4 p.m. Highlights NBC | STREAM LINK

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!