Satoko Miyahara

Anna Shcherbakova one step closer to Grand Prix Final

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Skate America champion Anna Shcherbakova of Russia is within striking distance of locking up a spot at the Grand Prix Final after leading the pack in the short program at the Cup of China on Friday.

Despite an edge call on the triple Lutz in her jump combination, Shcherbakova scored 73.51 points to out-distance Japan’s Satoko Miyahara by 4.6 points. Miyahara was called for under-rotations on the triple toe of her triple Lutz, triple toe combination as well as her solo triple loop.

The ladies’ short program rules don’t allow for quadruple jumps, but Shcherbakova executed two in her free skate at Skate America a few weeks ago. She’s expected to match that program content in her free skate in Chonqing.

A late addition to the field, American Amber Glenn, sits third with 67.69 points. In an event marred by under-rotations and edge calls, Glenn’s was the only clean short program.

Meanwhile, 2015 world champion Elizaveta Tuktamysheva of Russia is fourth after falling on a triple Axel attempt. She won Cup of China in 2014. Countrywoman Sofia Samodurova, the reigning European champion, is fifth with 63.99 points.

China’s Yan Han and Jin Boyang lead the men’s field with 86.46 points and 85.34 points, respectively. Yan did not compete during the 2018-19 post-Olympic season, but Friday, skated to his short program from PyeongChang (“A Thousand Years” by Christina Perri) with a new coach.

Jin, a two-time world championships bronze medalist, placed sixth at Skate America earlier this season. He fell on an opening quad Lutz attempt, but put two quads in his short program with a quad toe, double toe combination.

Italy’s Matteo Rizzo is third with 81.72 points while American Camden Pulkinen, in his first season on the senior Grand Prix, sits fourth with 78.92 points. They each fell one time: Rizzo on a jump combination, and Pulkinen on his opening quad toe attempt.

In ice dance, Russians Viktoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov have a five-point lead over Americans Madison Chock and Evan Bates headed into Saturday’s free dance. Chock and Bates won a silver medal last weekend at Grand Prix France, while this is the Russian’s first Grand Prix event of the season. They are also expected to compete at home at Rostelecom Cup next weekend.

In pairs, it’s no surprise that two-time world champions Sui Wenjing and Han Cong lead after the short program with 80.90 points after a clean performance that included side-by-side triple toes and a throw triple flip. Canada’s Liubov Ilyushechkina and Charlie Bilodeau are second with 69.98 points followed by China’s second pair in the field, Peng Cheng and Yang Jin (68.50 points).

The lone Americans in the field, Tarah Kayne and Danny O’Shea, sit fifth with 64.08 points.

All of the free skates at Cup of China continue Saturday morning. A full broadcast schedule is here.

Cup of China
Rhythm dance
1. Sinitsina/Katsalapov (RUS) — 85.39

2. Chock/Bates (USA) — 80.34
3. Fournier Beaudry/Sorensen (CAN) — 78.41
4. Wang/Liu (CHN) — 74.77
5. Hawayek/Baker (USA) — 74.70
6. Skoptcova/Aleshin (RUS) — 69.19
7. Evdokimova/Bazin (RUS) — 64.07
8. Chen/Sun (CHN) — 61.83
9. Guo/Zhao (CHN) — 57.10
10. Komatsubara/Koleto (JPN) — 56.60

Women
1. Anna Shcherbakova (RUS) — 73.51
2. Satoko Miyahara (JPN) — 68.91
3. Amber Glenn (USA) — 67.69
4. Elizaveta Tuktamysheva (RUS) — 65.57
5. Sofia Samodurova (RUS) — 63.99
6. Marin Honda (JPN) — 61.73
7. Young You (KOR) — 61.49
8. Yi Christy Leung (HKG) — 53.90
9. Yi Zhu (CHN) — 53.19
10. Kailani Craine (AUS) — 53.01
11. Hongyi Chen (CHN) — 49.44
12. Yujin Choi (KOR) — 48.75

Men
1. Yan Han (CHN) — 86.46
2. Jin Boyang (CHN) — 85.43
3. Matteo Rizzo (ITA) — 81.72
4. Camden Pulkinen (USA) — 78.92
5. Keegan Messing (CAN) — 76.80
6. Zhang He (CHN) — 76.03
7. Keiji Tanaka (JPN) — 74.64
8. Andrei Lazukin (RUS) — 74.31
9. Brendan Kerry (AUS) — 73.96
10. Conrad Orzel (CAN) — 72.22
11. Cha Junh-wan (KOR) — 69.40
12. Chih-I Tsao (TPE) — 64.07

Pairs
1. Sui/Han (CHN) — 80.90
2. Ilyushechkina/Bilodeau (CAN) — 68.98

3. Peng/Yin (CHN) — 68.50 
4. Della Monica/Guarise (ITA) — 64.24
5. Kayne/O’Shea (USA) — 64.08
6. Efimova/Korovin (RUS) — 63.97
7. Tang/Yang (CHN) — 61.85
8. Ryom/Kim (PRK) — 60.50

MORE: Madison Chock, Evan Bates back on 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.

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Takeaways and top moments from the World Figure Skating Championships

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The 2019 World Figure Skating Championships are in the books with all of their highs and lows, triumphs and heartbreaks. The Japan-hosted event was lauded as well-organized by the skaters and was said to have featured sold-out crowds.

For the Americans, these championships seem to be a net positive, while other countries, like Japan, may still be reeling from their results on home ice.

Let’s take a look at the takeaways from the World Championships and the top moments.

Nathan Chen’s incredible title defense over home favorite Yuzuru Hanyu

NBCSports.com/figure-skating contributor Phil Hersh described Chen’s performance in Saitama, Japan during the student-athlete’s spring break from Yale University as transcendent, unblemished, and artistically compelling.

We’re running out of adjectives.

Chen stepped on the ice to warm up as the sweepers cleared a shower of Winnie the Pooh stuffed animals off the ice, thrown for hometown favorite, two-time Olympic champion and two-time world champion Yuzuru Hanyu. The pressure could not have been higher for Chen, nor the environment more tense.

His floaty quad Lutz to open his free skate set the tone for the rest of the program, which was unparalleled in its marriage of artistic and technical content. Combined with his lead from the short program, Chen defeated Hanyu in their first head-to-head since the PyeongChang Olympics by more than 20 points to win his second straight world title.

Neither Hanyu (who has a lingering ankle injury but didn’t skate like it on Saturday) nor his teammate in the crowded field, reigning Olympic silver medalist Shoma Uno, got the results they were hoping for. Uno finished fourth.

“I lost, that is about it. To tell the truth, it is like death to me,” Hanyu told media after the free skate. “I really want to win. I think I did my best, but the problem is that in figure skating, competition consists of two days, and I am losing in both. It means that I simply do not have enough strength to win.”

“If I recall, there are more competitions that I got disappointed over joyful ones in this season,” Uno said after his performance. “I really admire Yuzuru Hanyu who always seeks high scores and good results, which made me realize I am still immature. Overall, I am still disappointed in myself. I need to become much stronger mentally. I want to skate better next year so that when I look back this Worlds in the future, this would be a good lesson for my skating career.”

Another top moment: Chen’s American teammate Vincent Zhou rose from fourth after the short program to claim the bronze – his second major international medal in as many months. It marks the first time the U.S. put two men on a World podium since 1996, when Todd Eldredge (gold) and Rudy Galindo (bronze) stood on the podium in Edmonton, Alberta.

What does this mean for U.S. men?

Chen, Zhou and Jason Brown show no signs of slowing down. They’re solidly the triumvirate of the U.S. field, though newly-crowned junior world champion Tomoki Hiwatashi was hot on their heels in fourth at the national championships in January.

MORE: Who else is on their way up behind Chen, Zhou and Brown? More names to know as U.S. men’s skating is on the upswell.

Redemption for the Russians; Americans miss the mark

Olympic champion Alina Zagitova floundered this season looking to find her footing. A bad skate in a weak field helped her earn a silver medal at Europeans in January behind Sofia Samodurova, who also joined her in Saitama. She won her first world title in the country that gave her a dog named Masaru (“Victory”) after her Olympic win.

Redemption of a different sort came for the third Russian in the field, Olympic silver medalist Yevgenia Medvedeva. While it might not track that the top two ladies from the Olympics even needed to redeem themselves this year, Medvedeva struggled in her own way this season. She split from her longtime Moscow-based coach, Eteri Tutberidze, where she trained with Zagitova, and moved to around the world to Toronto to train with Brian Orser. She ditched her short program halfway through the season, wasn’t named to the European team, and was in danger of missing the World team, too. At one point, Orser said they were on “stand-by” for the spot.

But the two-time world champion has an impressive resume for a reason. She skated lights-out at Worlds, sitting fourth after the short and winning what – believe it or not – is the first major international bronze medal of her career.

MORE: A deep dive into Yevgenia Medvedeva’s move to Toronto

Moment to learn from: Japanese women placed fourth, fifth and six at a home World Championships. Grand Prix Final medalist Rika Kihira, largely seen as a favorite coming in, was a long shot for a medal after she sat seventh in the short program due to a popped triple Axel attempt. She typically is able to make up some ground in the free skate by the virtue of her two triple Axel attempts, but when she missed one on Friday, her medal hopes were dashed.

Kaori Sakamoto, sixth in PyeongChang and the reigning Japanese national champion, skated well but it wasn’t enough.

And Satoko Miyahara owns two World medals but was dinged by under-rotation calls in 2019, which seem to follow her from competition to competition.

MORE: Rika Kihira wants to be more than Miss New Triple Axel

Bradie Tennell and Mariah Bell were the two ladies in the field for the U.S., looking to earn back a third quota spot for the 2020 World Championships. It would have taken a combined finish of 13th or lower, such as sixth and seventh place finishes.

In Saitama, Tennell finished seventh and Bell finished ninth. Tennell notched new best short program and total scores, while Bell improved on two consecutive years of 12th-place finishes at Worlds.

While this has no bearing (yet) on the spots at the 2022 Winter Olympics, their inability to get the job done this year puts the U.S. ladies’ growth on the world stage in a holding pattern. That’s probably frustrating, especially for active skaters other than Tennell and Bell who want the experience of a major international championship. For example, Hanna Harrell (fourth at nationals in January, then seventh at Junior Worlds) and Ting Cui (fifth at Nationals, then 11th at Four Continents and bronze medalist at World Juniors). Plus, there’s U.S. champion Alysa Liu to consider; she won’t be age-eligible for a senior World Championships until 2022 – after the next Olympic Winter Games.

MORE: How consistent is Bradie Tennell, really?

One more moment: Yelizabet Tursynbayeva of Kazakhstan landed the first-ever clean quadruple jump in senior ladies’ international competition, a Salchow. She moved from Toronto to Moscow this season (going from Orser to Tutberidze) and had never finished better than ninth at Worlds. In 2019, she earned silver. (Creating the opposite of the U.S. problem – Kazakhstan now has three ladies’ spots for next year’s worlds and, as of right now, not enough skaters to fill them.)

Sui and Han take back the title in shortened season

China’s 2017 world champions Sui Wenjing and Han Cong had an abbreviated season this year due to Sui’s longstanding ankle and foot injuries. The 2018 Olympic silver medalists came into the World Championships as question marks; they won February’s Four Continents Championships but were not clean in either the short or the free there.

But at Worlds, they were at their best, rising from second after the short to top the Russians, Yevgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov, by 6.37 points for their second World gold. Of course, Sui and Han are eyeing a home Olympics in Beijing in 2022.

The Russians now have three World medals but have never stood on the top spot. Pairs from Russia or the Soviet Union have won 33 World titles since 1965, but only one in the last 14 years.

Heartbreak for James and Cipres: Vanessa James and Morgan Cipres of France came to Worlds undefeated and first-time European and Grand Prix Final champions this season. They were widely expected to vie for the title, possibly even take it, but they buckled under what must’ve been enormous and unfamiliar pressure. A seventh-place finish in the short program combined with a just-not-enough free skate left them in fifth overall.

“I already knew during the short program that getting a medal was almost impossible, but I think we did our job today and we are never giving up,” Cipres said. “We won’t give up until we get the world title.”

American pair’s success: Ashley Cain and Timothy LeDuc had said all season it would be the job of the U.S. pair named to the World Championships team to win back two pair quota spots for the U.S. for the following year, requiring a top-10 finish. They wanted to be the team to do it.

Then, in December, the team’s plans were nearly derailed as Cain and LeDuc had a bad fall at a small competition in Croatia in December, resulting in a concussion for Cain. But they rallied stronger than ever to win their first national title in January, finished fourth at Four Continents in February and placed ninth at the World Championships. The U.S. will have two pair spots to fill at the 2020 World Championships.

MORE: Cain, LeDuc discuss foundation of their partnership and pressure on them for Worlds

Not just the status quo in ice dance

Sure, the French couple of Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron won their fourth world title.

But Russians Viktoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov won the country’s first medal since 2013, a silver. A second Russian team, Aleksandra Stepanova and Ivan Bukin, were fourth. Russia missed the ice dance medals in PyeongChang – it was the first time in Olympic history that a team from Russia or the Soviet Union did not stand on the podium.

American dance still strong: An American team got on the podium for the 13th time in the past 15 years: Madison Hubbell and Zach Donohue won bronze. The two-time and reigning U.S. champions won their second world medal in as many years after finishing fourth in PyeongChang.

Two U.S. teams moved to Montreal to train at the same school as Hubbell and Donohue ahead of this season, Madison Chock and Evan Bates, and Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker.

Chock and Bates, the 2015 U.S. champions and two-time world medalists, finished sixth in Saitama and have said repeatedly they’re refreshed and re-invigorated headed into their third Olympic cycle as a team. It shows in their programs this season. The couple also just won their first-ever major international gold medals at February’s Four Continents Championships.

Hawayek and Baker also had their best season ever. They won their first-ever Grand Prix series gold medal and qualified for the Grand Prix Final for the first time. They reached a new high at nationals, claiming bronze. They placed fifth at Four Continents and went onto finish ninth at Worlds, improving from 10th in 2018.

They’re especially looking forward to next season, when the required rhythm dance will be Broadway/operettas for teams. They shine in character-driven programs, and Baker told NBCSports.com/figure-skating he sees the team being able to flourish in that style while training in Montreal.

Oh, Canada: Canadian ice dance may forever be synonymous with Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, the most decorated figure skaters in Olympic history, but the country’s other teams are impressive, too. Two-time Olympians Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje have finished inside the top five at Worlds each year for the past nine years, including fifth place this year and three World medals. Fan favorites Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier have finished a handful of times at sixth and eighth place at Worlds, and were seventh in Saitama.

Canada has three spots in dance at their home World Championships in Montreal in 2020, though only one men’s spot (Keegan Messing finished 15th in Saitama and teammate Nam Nguyen finished 16th), two ladies’ spots (Gabrielle Daleman finished 11th, while Alaine Chartrand finished 23rd and Aurora Cotop didn’t qualify for the free skate), and two pair spots (Kirsten Moore-Towers and Michael Marino finished seventh).

U.S. spots for Worlds in 2020

The U.S. will be able to send two ladies, three men, two pairs and three ice dance teams to the 2020 World Championships in Montreal, Canada. The 2019 team will grow from 13 to 15 athletes with the addition of the pair spot.

MORE: World medalists Nathan Chen, Vincent Zhou, Madison Hubbell and Zach Donohue headed back to Japan for World Team Trophy

As a reminder, you can watch the events from the 2018-19 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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Alina Zagitova wins first World title; Yevgenia Medvedeva earns bronze

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PyeongChang Olympic gold medalist Alina Zagitova built on her lead after Wednesday’s short program to win her first World title in Saitama, Japan on Friday.

The 16-year-old Russian had one of her only clean free skates since the Olympics, enough to score 155.42 points and earn an overall score of 237.50 points. She skated to “Carmen.”

“My first thought at the very end of the performance was ‘yes, I did it,'” Zagitova told media. “Through hardships to the stars. I was very nervous, but I think the experience from the Olympic Games helped me somehow. I felt like at the Olympics, even worse (more nervous) probably. I was very nervous, because this season didn’t go so smoothly.”

Her pet dog, Masaru, was gifted to her by the country of Japan after her Olympic win and the name means “Victory” in Japanese. Fitting.

Kazakhstan’s Elizabet Tursynbayeva became the first senior lady to land a quadruple jump, a Salchow, in international competition. The element earned her 10.81 points alone. She scored 148.80 points in the free skate for a total of 224.76 points. Tursynbayeva’s world silver medal is the first ever for her country at this event.

“I still cannot believe that I have won the silver,” Tursynbayeva said. “I am pleased that I landed the quadruple Salchow. I will remember this Championship for a long time.”

Two-time world champion Yevgenia Medvedeva — at one point a question mark to even make the Russian team — scored a season’s best 149.57 for a total score of 223.80 points. The Olympic silver medalist took a bronze medal in Japan behind her former training partner after sitting in fourth place in the short program. Medvedeva moved to Toronto before the start of the season to train with Brian Orser, while Zagitova stayed in their longtime Moscow training base and currently trains with Tursynbayeva.

“Now it proved that I can work and move forward, I can bring joy to people,” Medvedeva told media. “It proved that I am here, on the top of the World Championships and I only had had to work harder. You will see strong and beautiful Medvedeva next season. Wait for it.”

Grand Prix Final champion and Four Continents champion Rika Kihira of Japan landed her triple Axel, triple toe combination but then fell on her next pass, a solo triple Axel attempt. She rallied for a clean performance the rest of the way, though, and scored 152.59 points for a total score of 223.49. She was the highest-finishing Japanese woman at their home world championships, landing in fourth place. Teammates Kaori Sakamoto and Satoko Miyahara finished fifth and sixth, respectively.

Full results are here.

Bradie Tennell skated a season’s best 143.97 points in the free skate, giving her a total score of 213.97 points. She finished in seventh place.

“I’m so happy with the way that I skated [tonight],” Tennell said through U.S. Figure Skating. “It’s been a goal of mine all season to have [that type of] performance and I don’t think it could have come at a better time.”

Combined with Mariah Bell’s ninth place (136.81 free skate score, 208.07 total), the U.S. women were unable to win back a third quota spot for the 2020 World Championships. They would’ve had to finish a combined placement of 13 or fewer, such as sixth and seventh place.

“I’m so proud that I was able to put out two strong programs this week,” Bell said. “I just focused on doing what I know how to do and it was special to perform in front of such a great crowd.”

MORE: Papadakis, Cizeron lead rhythm dance; Americans within striking distance to podium

As a reminder, you can watch the world championships 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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