Alina Zagitova

AP

Alina Zagitova, Yevgenia Medvedeva defeated by 14-year-olds at Russian Nationals

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A pair of 14-year-olds defeated the Olympic gold and silver medalists at the Russian Figure Skating Championships, arguably the deepest competition in figure skating.

Anna Shcherbakova and Alexandra Trusova, who are too young for senior international events, went one-two in Saransk on Saturday after Olympic champion Alina Zagitova had a disastrous, 12th-place free skate that included two falls.

Zagitova dropped from first after the short program to fifth, two spots ahead of two-time world champion Yevgenia Medvedeva, who rebounded from a 14th-place short program.

Medvedeva was unsurprisingly left off the three-woman team for January’s European Championships, the first time she will miss the event in four season as a senior skater.

Shcherbakova and Trusova each landed a quadruple Lutz, a jump none of the world’s top senior women are doing.

Zagitova still made the Euros team and is likely for March’s world championships, given Shcherbakova, Trusova and bronze medalist Alena Kostornaya are all juniors and thus ineligible.

Stanislava Konstantinova and Sofia Samodurova, who finished fourth and sixth, round out the Euros team. Elizaveta Tuktamysheva, the 2015 World champion who missed nationals due to pneumonia, and Medvedeva are the alternates.

The world team, also three women, will be named some time after the European Championships.

Medvedeva, who went undefeated from 2015 to 2017, hasn’t won in more than a year. She placed second, third or fourth at her last five international events since suffering a broken bone in her foot in fall 2017. She fell in all four of her competitions this season under new coach Brian Orser, who stresses patience as his latest star pupil makes technical changes.

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MORE: 13-year-old eyes U.S. Championships podium

Rika Kihira defeats Alina Zagitova at Grand Prix Final

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For a second straight year, a first-year senior figure skater swept through the Grand Prix season. This time, it’s Japanese 16-year-old Rika Kihira, who beat Olympic champion Alina Zagitova at the Grand Prix Final on Saturday.

Kihira landed triple Axels in both programs in Vancouver, totaling 233.12 points to relegate Zagitova to silver by 6.59. Kihira was eighth at the world junior championships in March, 15 days after Zagitova became the second-youngest Olympic women’s singles gold medalist.

“Last season and the season before that, I had many failures,” Kihira said through a translator. “I promised myself that I would remember them and never repeat those mistakes again. … Before this season, the Grand Prix Final was not at all in my mind.”

GP FINAL: Full Results | TV Schedule

Kihira and Zagitova each had one major mistake in Saturday’s free skate.

Kihira put two hands down on the ice landing her opening triple Axel, before hitting a triple Axel-double toe loop combination. Zagitova singled the back end of a planned triple Lutz-triple toe loop combination and was outscored by 2.01 points for the night, adding to a 4.58-point deficit from Thursday’s short program.

“The first senior season is easier than the second one, because when you go out the first time, there are no expectations,” Zagitova, who suffered the second loss of her two-year senior career, said through a translator. “Now, there are more expectations, and I have to learn to deal with my nerves.”

Later Saturday, Canadian figure skating official Ted Barton said that Zagitova was “close to withdrawing” just before the free skate after injuring her foot tripping over a TV cable (h/t @olyphil). A Russian figure skating official downplayed the injury, according to TASS.

Another Russian, Elizaveta Tuktamysheva, took bronze, stepping out of her triple Axel landing on Saturday.

Kihira, who came into the Final with the highest score of the Grand Prix season and was thus a medal favorite, joined Mao Asada and Fumie Suguri as Japanese women to win the event, the second-biggest annual international competition.

The Final takes the top six skaters per discipline from the fall Grand Prix Series and is a preview of sorts for March’s world championships.

Kihira ascended this season largely on the strength of her jumps, winning all four of her events while cleanly landing four of her eight triple Axel attempts. Kihira and Tuktamysheva were the only women to perform the difficult jump on the Grand Prix circuit.

“It was my goal for this season to get into the senior ranks,” Kihira said. “I’m really happy that all of my training has borne fruit, and, in any of the big competitions, I was able to perform and control my feelings.”

The U.S. put no women into the Grand Prix Final for a third straight year and last won a women’s title at the event in 2010 (Alissa Czisny), marking its longest droughts in both respects in the competition’s 24-year history.

Bradie Tennell, the top U.S. woman at the Olympics and March’s world championships (ninth and sixth), is also the top American this season as she looks to repeat as national champion next month. Tennell won two lower-level events this fall, including one in Croatia this week.

Grand Prix Final Women’s Results
Gold: Rika Kihira (JPN) — 233.12
Silver: Alina Zagitova (RUS) — 226.53
Bronze: Elizaveta Tuktamysheva (RUS) — 215.32
4. Kaori Sakamoto (JPN) — 211.68
5. Sofia Samodurova (RUS) — 204.33
6. Satoko Miyahara (JPN) — 201.31

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Alina Zagitova faces unfamiliar test at Grand Prix Final — a younger rival

Alina Zagitova, Rika Kihira
AP
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Alina Zagitova made history merely by showing up this fall. No other Olympic women’s singles champion competed the following autumn in the Grand Prix era.

To the 16-year-old Russian’s credit, she rebounded from a fifth-place stumble at March’s season-ending world championships to sweep her three starts this season, posting the world’s highest score in her September debut.

She is the favorite at this week’s Grand Prix Final but, technically, does not have the highest ceiling. And that’s going to be the story for at least Zagitova’s near future.

“In the Grand Prix [season], she hasn’t been her absolute best; she’s leaving the door slightly open,” NBC Sports analyst Tara Lipinski said. “It’s the most vulnerable she’s been.”

GP FINAL PREVIEWS: Men | Women | Pairs | Ice DanceTV Schedule

Another 16-year-old, first-year senior Rika Kihira of Japan, had the highest score of the Grand Prix season (but hasn’t faced Zagitova). She has an inconsistent triple Axel, landing it clean and fully rotated two out of five tries between two Grand Prix starts.

Zagitova, who benefited last season from performing all of her jumps in the second half of programs for bonuses (a rule now limits this), does not have a triple Axel, and she should get familiar to facing skaters with more difficult jumps.

Not only has Kihira arrived, but also two 14-year-old Russians in the Grand Prix Final’s junior competition this week can land quadruple jumps.

NBC Sports analyst Johnny Weir said the senior event conjures the 2005 Grand Prix Final, when a 15-year-old Mao Asada landed a triple Axel and beat reigning world champion Irina Slutskaya, despite not being age-eligible for the Olympics two months later.

“Rika is probably the one athlete that I would say I’m most excited about seeing in this Final,” Lipinski said.

There are other contenders in the six-woman field at the second-biggest annual international competition. Satoko Miyahara had the highest combined score between two Grand Prix starts. Elizaveta Tuktamysheva, the 2015 World champion, had a resurgent fall, landing a triple Axel with a positive grade of execution for the first time in nearly three years.

If everyone skates to their ability, Kihira is the class of the challengers to Zagitova’s repeat bid in Vancouver. That’s not to say Zagitova has stopped progressing.

“There’s a confidence and a bit more maturity,” Weir said.

Especially in relation to the Japanese phenom. Zagitova outscored Kihira by 21 points in program components (artistic marks) combining each woman’s four Grand Prix skates this fall.

“Rika Kihira looks inexperienced in comparison to Zagitova, just when they take the ice,” Weir said. “Rika skates to her opening position, and Alina skates to her opening position, there’s a whole different level of confidence there.”

As a reminder, you can watch the ISU Grand Prix Series live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. GO HERE 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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