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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Madison Hubbell, Zachary Donohue win Grand Prix Final ice dance

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Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue notched the biggest win for American ice dancers in nearly five years at the Grand Prix Final in Vancouver on Saturday night. It’s all part of the plan.

“Our goal going into the season was to win every competition,” Hubbell said after completing a perfect autumn Grand Prix Series. “We are three steps there.”

The U.S. champions and world silver medalists topped both the rhythm dance and free dance to capture the second-biggest annual international competition. The only other American couple to win on this significant of a stage was Meryl Davis and Charlie White, most recently at the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

Hubbell and Donohue tallied their highest score this season, 205.35 points, and won by 3.98 over Russians Victoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov.

The Americans completed a breakthrough 2018: also a first national title in January (after six times finishing third or fourth), their first Olympics in February (finishing fourth after a free-dance fall), their first world championships medal in March and sweeping their Grand Prix Series starts for the first time in October.

Another U.S. couple, Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker, finished sixth out of six Saturday in their Grand Prix Final debut.

The competition lacked every PyeongChang Olympic medalist.

Canadians Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir  have likely competed for the last time, though haven’t announced retirement. French Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron are the top-ranked couple this season (by a whopping 11.43 points) but were ineligible for the Final after missing their first Grand Prix due to Cizeron’s minor back injury. Americans Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani are taking this season off and might be done competing, too.

Another accomplished couple, two-time world medalists Madison Chock and Evan Bates, sat out the Grand Prix season due to Chock’s ankle surgery but could return to go for a seventh straight medal at nationals next month.

Hubbell and Donohue will be clear favorites there, but to accomplish Hubbell’s now-publicly stated goal, they will likely have to beat their French training partners at the world championships in March. Hubbell and Donohue never outscored Papadakis and Cizeron in nine head-to-head competitions and were more than 10 points adrift at last season’s worlds.

Later Saturday in pairs, French Vanessa James and Morgan Cipres rallied from fourth place in the short program for the biggest win of their eight-year partnership against a field lacking all of the PyeongChang medalists.

Grand Prix Final Ice Dance Results
Gold: Madison Hubbell/Zachary Donohue (USA) — 205.35

Silver: Victoria Sinitsina/Nikita Katsalapov (RUS) — 201.37
Bronze: Charlene Guignard/Marco Fabbri (ITA) — 198.65
4. Alexandra Stepanova/Ivan Bukin (RUS) — 196.72
5. Tiffani Zagorski/Jonathan Guerreiro (RUS) — 184.37
6. Kaitlin Hawayek/Jean-Luc Baker (USA) — 184.04

Grand Prix Final Pairs’ Results
Gold: Vanessa James/Morgan Cipres (FRA) — 219.88

Silver: Peng Cheng/Jin Yang (CHN) — 216.90
Bronze: Yevgenia Tarasova/Vladimir Morozov (RUS) — 214.20
4. Natalya Zabiyako/Alexander Enbert (RUS) — 201.07
5. Nicole Della Monica/Matteo Guarise (ITA) — 187.63
6. Daria Pavliuchenko/Denis Khodykin (RUS) — 186.81

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Nathan Chen repeats as Grand Prix Final champion, aces fall term

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Nathan Chen completed a perfect fall figure skating season. Now, for that Spanish exam back at Yale.

Chen landed three quadruple jumps — and fell on a fourth — in his free skate at the Grand Prix Final but still won the second-biggest annual international competition for a second straight year.

The world champion beat Japanese Olympic and world silver medalist Shoma Uno by 13.32 points. South Korean Cha Jun-Hwan was third at an event that lacked injured Japanese superstar Yuzuru Hanyu.

“I definitely did not do my greatest programs, both short and long, mistakes here and there,” said Chen, who also put his hands down on a quad in Thursday’s short program. “Basically right back to the books.”

Chen joined Tara Lipinski and Meryl Davis and Charlie White as Americans to win multiple Grand Prix Finals, but none of those previous skaters had an autumn quite like the 19-year-old world champion.

Chen enrolled at Yale, sprinkling in Grand Prix Series victories in October and November during class breaks and while studying 3,000 miles from his coach, Rafael Arutunian. He’s looking forward to more regular practice after next week’s final exams, when he flies home to California.

“It’s definitely been an aspect of my skating that’s lacking a little bit,” said Chen, who will go for a third straight U.S. title in late January. “I find practicing by myself or with [other] skaters … they’re not the level as the training mates in California.”

Uno continued his trend of making major podiums, but never the top step. He’s done that at four straight Grand Prix Finals, the last two world championships, the last two Four Continents Championships and in PyeongChang. Uno struggled with two of his four quads on Friday.

“I can definitely say it was not a good performance,” he said, according to the International Skating Union. “And I think every time I finish a competition I say the same thing. I performed today with the mindset that I would finally be able to make it. But it did not go well.”

The Grand Prix Final finishes Saturday with the women’s and pairs’ free skates and the free dance. A full broadcast schedule is here.

Men’s Results
Gold: Nathan Chen — 282.42
Silver: Shoma Uno — 275.10
Bronze: Cha Jun-Hwan (KOR) — 263.49
4. Michal Brezina (CZE) — 255.26
5. Keegan Messing (CAN) — 236.05
6. Sergei Voronov (RUS) — 226.44

In other events, U.S. champions and world silver medalists Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue took the ice dance lead by 2.23 points with their highest-scoring rhythm dance this season.

Hubbell and Donohue entered as favorites given none of the Olympic medalists are at the Final. They can notch the biggest win for a U.S. dance couple since Davis and White’s breakthrough at the Sochi Olympics.

None of the Olympic pairs’ medalists are at the Final, either. So Chinese Peng Cheng and Jin Yang took a surprise lead, while pre-event favorites Yevgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov and Vanessa James and Morgan Cipres struggled with their side-by-side triple toe loops.

Short Dance
1. Madison Hubbell/Zachary Donohue (USA) — 80.53
2. Charlene Guignard/Marco Fabbri (ITA) — 78.30
3. Victoria Sinitsina/Nikita Katsalapov (RUS) — 77.33
4. Alexandra Stepanova/Ivan Bukin (RUS) — 77.20
5. Tiffani Zagorski/Jonathan Guerreiro (RUS) — 72.98
6. Kaitlin Hawayek/Jean-Luc Baker (USA) — 71.33

Pairs Short Program
1. Peng Cheng/Jin Yang (CHN) — 75.69
2. Natalya Zabiyako/Alexander Enbert (RUS) — 75.18
3. Yevgenia Tarasova/Vladimir Morozov (RUS) — 74.04
4. Vanessa James/Morgan Cipres (FRA) — 71.51
5. Nicole Della Monica/Matteo Guarise (ITA) — 69.77
6. Daria Pavliuchenko/Denis Khodykin (RUS) — 61.24

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