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Alena Kostornaia leads Russian parade in Grand Prix Final short program

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In this season of the Russian Troika, Alena Kostornaia has clearly been the world’s best short program skater. She proved it again on Friday in the biggest competition to date.

Kostornaia, a 16-year-old, first-year senior, bettered her own world-leading short score, tallying 85.45 points to lead the Grand Prix Final going into Saturday’s free skate. A full TV and live stream schedule is here.

Kostornaia is attempting to win the senior Grand Prix Final, the second-biggest annual competition after worlds, a year after winning the Junior Grand Prix Final. She nailed a short program that included a triple Axel.

Russia boasts the top three in the six-skater field, looking to become the first nation to sweep any discipline at the Final in two decades.

Kostornaia is followed by reigning Olympic and world champion Alina Zagitova, who dropped behind younger countrywomen this season as she has neither a triple Axel or a quad. Anna Shcherbakova, who shares a coach with Kostornaia and Zagitova, is third.

Bradie Tennell, the first U.S. woman to qualify for the Final since 2015, is fourth after a clean short save one under-rotated jump.

Russian Alexandra Trusova and Japanese Rika Kihira, ranked Nos. 1 and 3 in the world this season, fell in the short program; Trusova on a triple Axel and Kihira on the back half of a triple flip-triple toe loop combination. They are in fifth and sixth place, respectively, 14 points behind.

That’s a boost for Kostornaia, who is not as strong in the free skate given she has never landed a quadruple jump in competition. Quads are not allowed in women’s short programs, but they are in the free skate (and Trusova can land four of them in one program).

“[Kostornaia] can blend the two aspects of the sport together that makes her, I think, almost a hope for figure skating purists who are probably in this time of change quite worried about what will happen to ladies’ figure skating with all these quads,” NBC Sports analyst Tara Lipinski said before the Final. “She is the skater who is proving to everyone that you can technically advance the sport as she has with her triple Axels — and quads to come, I’m assuming — and also not forget about the balance of what figure skating’s all about and bringing the skating skills and skating quality and emotion to the ice.”

Later in pairs, Sui Wenjing and Han Cong gave China its first Grand Prix Final title in a decade, extending their unbeaten streak since taking PyeongChang Olympic silver. They padded a short-program lead, despite free stake jumping mistakes, to win by 7.42 over fellow Chinese Peng Cheng and Jin Yang.

Earlier, French Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron overcame her twizzle error to top the rhythm dance with 83.83 points, which was 6.2 off their world-leading score this season. Papadakis and Cizeron are undefeated since taking silver at the PyeongChang Olympics.

Americans Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue, who won last year’s Final in the absence of their French training partners, are second after Hubbell’s twizzle error, 1.11 points behind. The free dance is Saturday.

Grand Prix Final
Women’s Short Program
1. Alena Kostornaia (RUS) — 85.45
2. Alina Zagitova (RUS) — 79.60
3. Anna Shcherbakova (RUS) — 78.27
4. Bradie Tennell (USA) — 72.20
5. Alexandra Trusova (RUS) — 71.45
6. Rika Kihira (JPN) — 70.71

Pairs’ Results
Gold: Sui Wenjing/Han Cong (CHN) — 211.69

Silver: Peng Cheng/Jin Yang (CHN) — 204.27
Bronze: Anastasia Mishina/Aleksandr Galliamov (RUS) — 203.13
4. Aleksandra Boikova / Dmitriy Kozlovskiy (RUS) — 201.84
5. Kirsten Moore-Towers/Michael Marinaro (CAN) — 197.99
6. Daria Pavliuchenko/Denis Khodykin (RUS) — 194.75

Rhythm Dance
1. Gabriella Papadakis/Guillaume Cizeron (FRA) — 83.83
2. Madison Hubbell/Zachary Donohue (USA) — 82.72
3. Madison Chock/Evan Bates (USA) — 81.67
4. Victoria Sinitsina/Nikita Katsalapov (RUS) — 81.51
5. Alexandra Stepanova/Ivan Bukin (RUS) — 81.14
6. Piper Gilles/Paul Poirier (CAN) — 79.53

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MORE: Alysa Liu takes Junior Grand Prix Final silver with historic jump list

Nathan Chen distances Yuzuru Hanyu in Grand Prix Final short program

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A brilliant Nathan Chen outscored a flawed Yuzuru Hanyu for a fourth straight head-to-head program, taking a 12.95-point lead at the Grand Prix Final in Turin, Italy, on Thursday.

Chen, the two-time reigning world champion, tallied 110.38 points going into Saturday’s free skate. He landed a quadruple Lutz, triple Axel and quad toe loop-triple toe loop combination.

It’s the highest short program score in the world this season, leading the American to say “wow” in the kiss-and-cry area. His coach, the often-gruff Rafael Arutyunyan, banged his knee against his pupil’s.

Hanyu, the two-time reigning Olympic champion, hit a quadruple Salchow and triple Axel but then stepped out of a quad toe landing. He therefore failed to include a required jumping combination and ended up in second place.

“I wanted to do a great performance and do a good competition against [Chen], but that didn’t happen this time,” Hanyu, who was without longtime coach Brian Orser, or any other coach, said through a translator. Hanyu said Orser was busy last week, so he chose to use his lone accreditation on another coach who had travel delays.

Hanyu is not out of title contention. His world-leading free skate score this season is 16.61 points better than Chen’s best free skate from the fall Grand Prix Series.

Chen is undefeated since placing fifth at the PyeongChang Olympics, but this is just his second head-to-head with Hanyu in that span. Chen defeated Hanyu at March’s world championships, where the Japanese megastar was likely affected by an ankle injury.

After Thursday’s program, Chen repeated what he said before the competition: he still feels like he’s chasing Hanyu.

“Yuzu is like the goat, he’s the greatest of all time, really,” Chen said. “So, to have this opportunity to be able to share the ice with a guy like that, someone that I’ve looked up to for a long time, someone that I’ve watched grow up through the junior ranks when I was like a baby, it’s really cool to be able see him now. It’s really cool to even just be able to see him in person.”

The Grand Prix Final, the biggest annual event outside the world championships, continues Friday with the rhythm dance, women’s short and pairs’ free skate. A full TV and live stream schedule is here.

Earlier in pairs, Chinese Sui Wenjing and Han Cong took their first step toward a first Grand Prix Final title. The Olympic silver medalists tallied 77.50, leading Russians Aleksandra Boikova and Dmitriy Kozlovskiy by .85 going into Friday’s free skate.

Sui and Han were imperfect, with Sui putting her hand down on a throw triple flip landing. They are undefeated in this Beijing Olympic cycle and own the world’s top total score this season.

The U.S. failed to qualify a pair for the six-team Final for the 11th time in the last 12 years.

Grand Prix Final
Men’s Short Program
1. Nathan Chen (USA) — 110.38
2. Yuzuru Hanyu (JPN) — 97.43
3. Kevin Aymoz (FRA) — 96.71
4. Dmitriy Aliyev (RUS) — 88.78
5. Alexander Samarin (RUS) — 81.32
6. Jin Boyang (CHN) — 80.67

Pairs’ Short Program
1. Sui Wenjing/Han Cong (CHN) — 77.50
2. Aleksandra Boikova / Dmitriy Kozlovskiy (RUS) — 76.65
3. Daria Pavliuchenko/Denis Khodykin (RUS) — 75.16
4. Anastasia Mishina/Aleksandr Galliamov (RUS) — 71.48
5. Peng Cheng/Jin Yang (CHN) — 69.67
6. Kirsten Moore-Towers/Michael Marinaro (CAN) — 67.08

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MORE: Alysa Liu, with help from Olympic medalist, challenges top Russians

Grand Prix Final pairs’ preview: Russian revival or China’s run to Beijing?

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It’s been six years since mighty Russia last won a world title in pairs’ figure skating, five years since its last Olympic crown and three since Russians topped a Grand Prix Final podium. And last season, Russia failed to win the European title for the first time in eight years.

“They were kind of left with no one,” after 2014 Olympic champions Tatyana Volosozhar and Maksim Trankov stepped away, and subsequent teams failed to consistently win at the highest level, said Johnny Weir, NBC Sports analyst and noted aficionado of all things Russia.

That can change leading into the 2022 Beijing Winter Games, perhaps beginning at this week’s Grand Prix Final in Turin, Italy. It’s the most exclusive event in skating featuring the world’s top six teams. It’s near the midpoint of the Olympic cycle, prime time for new blood to circulate.

Enter Aleksandra Boikova and Dmitriy Kozlovskiy. They are 17 and 19 years old, respectively, and own the world’s highest score this season after sweeping their Grand Prix Series starts. Russia qualified three pairs into the Final, all with an average age in the teens.

They represent what Russia hopes is a new era. Olympics and world championships came and went with Germans, Canadians and Chinese relegating the likes of Yevgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov and Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov to silver or bronze medals.

“So [Russia] were left with these junior teams who aren’t always reliable,” Weir said. “When you’re a junior skater, you’re still finding your legs and learning how to compete at a high level. You aren’t always as reliable as a seasoned veteran. What I think is so exciting about the young teams coming up is that they’ve all shown they can carry the torch for Russia. It’s an exciting place for Russia to be, especially not far away from the next Olympic Games.”

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

Boikova and Kozlovskiy could become the youngest pairs’ champions in Grand Prix Final history, and the youngest at any global competition of this caliber since the legendary Ekaterina Gordeeva and Sergey Grinkov at the 1987 World Championships.

Weir likes Anastasia Mishina and Aleksandr Galliamov, who went undefeated on the junior circuit last season and won their senior Grand Prix debut in November.

“They have a nice, powerful way of performing, very St. Petersburg, if I can put it that way and people will understand,” he said. “There’s a very big difference, artistically, between Moscow school of skating and St. Petersburg school of skating. That power and that presence is definitely evident.”

Standing in their way are Chinese Sui Wenjing and Han Cong, undefeated since taking silver at the PyeongChang Olympics despite missing the 2018 Grand Prix season due to Sui’s stress fracture in her right foot.

Sui and Han also swept their Grand Prix starts with a higher average score than Boikova and Kozlovskiy. Weir and fellow NBC Sports analyst Tara Lipinski said they are the favorites this week.

“Sui and Han are in a class of their own,” Lipinski said. “They set themselves apart in their consistency and their maturity. Going up against these youngsters, I think it’s clear that the chemistry they’ve developed over the years together and that the confidence they have in their skating is superior to anyone else in the field. Obviously, people can be competitive with them at the final, but they would have to have major errors.

“Clearly, they have one goal, and that’s to win Beijing [2022 Olympics], which I think they’re on the road to.”

But the sheer depth of Russian pairs’ could win out by the Winter Games. Russia qualified the top four pairs into each of the last two Junior Grand Prix Finals, plus earned every medal at the last two junior worlds.

“Russia could technically be looking at [2022 Olympic] sweeps in ladies and, possibly, pairs, should these junior teams that have just come up continue to develop,” Weir said.

The U.S. failed to qualify a pair for the Final for the 11th time in the last 12 years, though Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier became the first Americans to earn medals in both of their Grand Prix starts since 2015.

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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