Alena Leonova

Gracie Gold

Gracie Gold wins NHK Trophy; Grand Prix Final picture

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U.S. champion Gracie Gold won the biggest international title of her career at NHK Trophy in Osaka, Japan, on Saturday, clinching her first Grand Prix Final berth.

Gold, who finished fourth at the Olympics and fifth at March’s World Championships, totaled 191.16 points to win by 4.76 over Russian Alena Leonova. Gold landed four triple jumps in her free skate and fell on a triple Salchow but improved on her lead after the short program due in part to Leonova’s errors.

“It wasn’t my best performance, but I skated well enough to win the competition, which was one of my goals,” Gold said in a Japanese TV interview, according to the Japan News. “But I know that I can do much better, and everyone should look for better performances later on in the season.”

Gold joined Olympic teammate Ashley Wagner and four Russians, including World silver medalist Yulia Lipnitskaya, to qualify for the Grand Prix Final in Barcelona in two weeks. Four Russians qualified for the Grand Prix Final for the second straight year.

The Grand Prix Final is the top annual international competition outside the World Championships, made up of the best six skaters per discipline over the Grand Prix series that concluded with NHK Trophy.

Gold and Wagner were the only U.S. women to make the podium in the Grand Prix series this year, and both did so in each of their two competitions. They are currently co-favorites going into the U.S. Championships in January, where three women will earn berths for the World Championships in March.

On Saturday, Gold became the first U.S. woman other than Wagner to win a Grand Prix series event since 2011.

Wagner joined Michelle Kwan as the only U.S. women to make three straight Grand Prix Finals.

NBC and NBC Sports Live Extra will air NHK Trophy coverage Sunday from 4-6 p.m. ET.

Yuzuru Hanyu KOs Jason Brown from GP Final

NHK Trophy women’s results
1. Gracie Gold (USA) — 191.16
2. Alena Leonova (RUS) — 186.4
3. Satoko Miyahara (JPN) — 179.02
8. Polina Edmunds (USA) — 161.79
9. Christina Gao (USA) — 147.51

Leaders in Grand Prix season
1. Yelena Radionova (RUS) — 203.92 (Trophee Bompard)
2. Elizaveta Tuktamysheva (RUS) — 196.6 (Cup of China)
3. Yelena Radionova (RUS) — 195.47 (Skate America)
4. Anna Pogorilaya (RUS) — 191.81 (Skate Canada)
5. Gracie Gold (USA) — 191.16 (NHK Trophy)
6. Elizaveta Tuktamysheva (RUS) — 189.62 (Skate America)
7. Alena Leonova (RUS) — 186.4 (NHK Trophy)
8. Ashley Wagner (USA) — 186 (Skate Canada)
9. Yulia Lipnitskaya (RUS) — 185.18 (Trophee Bompard)
10. Satoko Miyahara (JPN) — 181.75 (Skate Canada)
Olympic champion Adelina Sotnikova is out with a torn ankle ligament.

U.S. leaders in Grand Prix season
1. Gracie Gold — 191.16 (NHK Trophy)
2. Ashley Wagner — 186 (Skate Canada)
3. Gracie Gold — 179.38 (Skate America)
4. Ashley Wagner — 177.74 (Trophee Bompard)
5. Samantha Cesario — 174.58 (Skate America)
6. Courtney Hicks — 174.51 (Skate Canada)
7. Courtney Hicks — 172.58 (Trophee Bompard)
8. Mirai Nagasu — 165.88 (Rostelecom Cup)
9. Polina Edmunds — 161.79 (NHK Trophy)
10. Samantha Cesario — 161.7 (Trophee Bompard)

Grand Prix Final qualifiers
1. Yelena Radionova (RUS)
2. Elizaveta Tuktamysheva (RUS)
3. Anna Pogorilaya (RUS)
4. Yulia Lipnitskaya (RUS)
5. Gracie Gold (USA)
6. Ashley Wagner (USA)

Ashley Wagner finishes second at Skate Canada; Grand Prix analysis

Ashley Wagner
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Ashley Wagner didn’t impress at the 2014 U.S. Championships, Olympics and World Championships, but she remains the top U.S. woman in Grand Prix competition.

Wagner took second at Skate Canada, behind Russian Anna Pogorilaya in Kelowna, British Columbia, on Saturday night. Pogorilaya, the leader after the short program, won with 191.81 points. Wagner had 186, keeping her runner-up spot from the short program with two under-rotated jumps and no triple-triple combination in her free skate (video here).

Pogorilaya’s clean free skate made it four straight top-level events in which the top active finisher was a different Russian. Adelina Sotnikova won the Olympics, Yulia Lipnitskaya won the World Championships silver medal (behind Mao Asada, who is not competing this season) and Yelena Radionova won Skate America last week.

Pogorilaya didn’t make the Russian Olympic team and was fourth at the World Championships.

Wagner was fourth at the 2014 U.S. Championships but made the three-woman U.S. Olympic team in part due to her strong international results — unrivaled among Americans — the past few years.

Wagner has finished first or second at Grand Prix series events six times since 2012. Other U.S. women have done so a combined two times. Wagner has made a Grand Prix podium each of the last six seasons.

Wagner was beaten by Gracie Gold at last season’s U.S. Championships, Olympics and Worlds. Wagner was seventh at the Olympics and Worlds.

But Wagner’s total score at Skate Canada was 6.62 points better than Gold at Skate America last week. The other U.S. Olympian, Polina Edmunds, makes her Grand Prix debut at Cup of China next week.

Wagner, Gold and Edmunds appear the early favorites for January’s U.S. Championships. Three women will make the team for the World Championships in March.

Pogorilaya’s win marks the first time since 2003 that one nation swept the first two Grand Prix women’s events. In 2003, American Sasha Cohen prevailed at Skate America and Skate Canada. In 2002, Michelle Kwan won Skate America, and Cohen won Skate Canada.

NBC and NBC Sports Live Extra will air Skate Canada coverage Sunday from 1-2:30 p.m. ET.

Skate Canada women’s results
1. Anna Pogorilaya (RUS) — 191.81
2. Ashley Wagner (USA) — 186
3. Satoko Miyahara (JPN) — 181.75
4. Courtney Hicks (USA) — 174.51

Leaders in Grand Prix season
1. Elena Radionova (RUS) — 195.47 (Skate America)
2. Anna Pogorilaya (RUS) — 191.81 (Skate Canada)
3. Elizaveta Tuktamysheva (RUS) — 189.62 (Skate America)
4. Ashley Wagner (USA) — 186 (Skate Canada)
5. Satoko Miyahara (JPN) — 181.75 (Skate Canada)
6. Gracie Gold (USA) — 179.38 (Skate America)
Olympic champion Adelina Sotnikova to debut at Rostelecom Cup in two weeks. World silver medalist Yulia Lipnitskaya to debut at Cup of China next week.

U.S. leaders in Grand Prix season
1. Ashley Wagner (USA) — 186 (Skate Canada)
2. Gracie Gold (USA) — 179.38 (Skate America)
3. Samantha Cesario (USA) — 174.58 (Skate America)
4. Courtney Hicks (USA) — 174.51 (Skate Canada)
5. Mirai Nagasu (USA) — 158.21 (Skate America)
U.S. Olympian Polina Edmunds to debut at Cup of China.

Alpine skiers beaten out for Austria Sportsman of the Year award

Ashley Wagner challenges Russians at Skate Canada short program

Ashley Wagner
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Ashley Wagner took second place in the Skate Canada short program despite under-rotating two of her jumps, putting her within striking distance of Russian leader Anna Pogorilaya going into the free skate Saturday.

Wagner, 23, was pleased with the performance (video here), her first of the Grand Prix season, after she finished in last place at the Japan Open earlier this month.

Wagner was seventh in the short program and overall at the Sochi Olympics in February and the World Championships in March, against deeper fields.

But Wagner did something Friday her Olympic teammate, Gracie Gold, was unable to at Skate America last week — beat a Russian. Wagner outscored 2012 World silver medalist Alena Leonova.

The short program leader Pogorilaya was fourth at the World Championships. Neither Pogorilaya nor Leonova made Russia’s Olympic team for Sochi.

NBC and NBC Sports Live Extra will air Skate Canada coverage Sunday from 1-2:30 p.m. ET.

Skate Canada women’s short program
1. Anna Pogorilaya (RUS) 65.28
2. Ashley Wagner (USA) 63.86
3. Alena Leonova (RUS) 62.54
8. Courtney Hicks (USA) 56.36

Surprise U.S. scores in Skate Canada men’s short program