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Alena Kostornaia leads historic Russian medal sweep at Grand Prix Final

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Alena Kostornaia led the way as Russian women swept the medals at the Grand Prix Final, a historic achievement for a nation that has been the dominant force the last six years.

Kostornaia, 16 and in her first senior international season, landed three triple Axels between two programs, tallying 247.59 points, the world’s best score this season.

“It was a challenge for me because it is the fourth competition at the high level [this season],” said Kostornaia, undefeated this fall. “It’s really cool that I can be first.”

She prevailed by 6.67 points on the strength of her short program lead and artistic scores. Her countrywomen landed quadruple jumps in Saturday’s free skate in Turin, Italy.

Russia is the only nation to sweep the medals in one discipline in the 25-year history of the event, the second-biggest annual international competition behind the world championships. It happened once before: Russia’s men in the 1998-99 season.

Kostornaia, last year’s Junior Grand Prix Final champion, was followed in the final standings by fellow pupils of Eteri TutberidzeAnna Shcherbakova and Alexandra Trusova. NBC Sports analyst Johnny Weir calls them “the Troika.”

Shcherbakova and Trusova, both 15, each landed multiple quads but also fell on quad attempts.

Shcherbakova outscored Kostornaia in the free skate but couldn’t make up the gap from the short, where quads aren’t allowed. Trusova, who came into the event ranked No. 1 in the world, became the first woman to land a quad flip in competition.

Bradie Tennell, the first American woman in the Grand Prix Final since 2015, had a relatively clean free skate (two under-rotated jumps) and finished fifth in the six-skater field.

Olympic and world champion Alina Zagitova dropped from second after the short to sixth, her worst finish as a senior, after falling in a free skate without a quad or triple Axel.

Earlier in ice dance, French Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron extended their unbeaten run since taking Olympic silver, comfortably bagging their second Grand Prix Final title by 9.17 points.

Americans Madison Chock and Evan Bates and Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue were second and third, marking the first time the U.S. put two couples on a Grand Prix Final podium.

Chock and Bates passed Hubbell and Donohue in the free dance to match their best Grand Prix Final result from 2014 and 2015, when they were the U.S.’ top couple.

Grand Prix Final
Women
Gold: Alena Kostornaia (RUS) — 247.59

Silver: Anna Shcherbakova (RUS) — 240.92
Bronze: Alexandra Trusova (RUS) — 233.18
4. Rika Kihira (JPN) — 216.47
5. Bradie Tennell (USA) — 212.88
6. Alina Zagitova (RUS) — 205.23

Ice Dance
Gold: Gabriella Papadakis/Guillaume Cizeron (FRA) — 219.85
Silver: Madison Chock/Evan Bates (USA) — 210.68
Bronze: Madison Hubbell/Zachary Donohue (USA) — 207.93

4. Alexandra Stepanova/Ivan Bukin (RUS) — 204.88
5. Piper Gilles/Paul Poirier (CAN) — 203.50
6. Victoria Sinitsina/Nikita Katsalapov (RUS) — 203.39

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

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

Grand Prix Final ice dance preview: A return to French supremacy or can U.S. hang on to podium?

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Two former Grand Prix Final ice dance champions are in this year’s exclusive, six-couple field.

Last year’s champions, Americans Madison Hubbell and Zach Donohue, train alongside 2018 champions Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron of France. They also train with Americans Madison Chock and Evan Bates, two-time Grand Prix Final silver medalists themselves, at the powerhouse Montreal school.

Having two Russian teams sets up a story-within-a-story at the Grand Prix Final as well, said NBC Sports analyst Tanith White. They’ll fight to see who can be the top ice dance team in their country as the 2022 Beijing Winter Games approach.

In an interview with NBCSports.com/figure-skating, White commented on what she expects to see from each team.

Gabriella Papadakis/Guillaume Cizeron (FRA)
Papadakis and Cizeron have three Grand Prix Final medals in three appearances, including gold in 2018. The four-time world champions were unable to qualify for the Grand Prix Final last year due to only competing once in the Grand Prix Series, but returned to their usual, dominant selves this fall. They own the highest rhythm dance, free dance and total scores this season.

Their “Fame” rhythm dance garnered attention for campy costumes. White said the French duo “do a great job with steeping the program in a level of fun and humor that I think it had in the movie.”

While other teams have used spoken words for their performances before, White said the PyeongChang Olympic silver medalists upped the ante in their free dance.

“What the French are doing, apart from everyone else, is they’re actually using the cadence of the speaking to interpret how they choreograph their movement,” she said. “Every word has a different arm movement or feeling. I feel like they integrated the spoken word component in a more a thoughtful way.”

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

Viktoria Sinitsina/Nikita Katsalapov (RUS)
In their debut at the Grand Prix Final last year, Sinitsina and Katsalapov took silver. Later in the season, the Russians were runners-up again at the world championships. However, as highly emotional skaters, White noted there were “a lot of mistakes flying in between these beautiful moments.” But for this season, she said the team seems to have a more stable foundation. They are able to focus on what they need to do, and that’s stay clean through a performance.

“I think they had a few growing pains with their rhythm dance in particular as they moved through the Grand Prix,” White said. “They have a chance to really show a wow moment in the rhythm dance I think to set themselves up well for the free dance. It hasn’t been perfect yet, and maybe this is their chance to show that first perfect outing of that program.”

Piper Gilles/Paul Poirier (CAN)
The Canadians made their only previous appearance in the Grand Prix Final in 2014, when they finished fifth. They placed between sixth and eighth at the world championships every year since.

“They have expressed the frustration of being seemingly locked into that level for a little while,” White said. “Feeling like, ‘What else do you want from us? What else can we do?’ They are ever the innovators. Their work ethic is always evident.”

This year, after navigating personal and professional hardships, they return to the Grand Prix Final ready to tap into these emotions.

“I think sometimes when they stretch themselves to be innovative and to choose original themes, it sometimes isn’t as easy to grab onto emotionally for a viewer,” White said. “This year, I feel like they took their experiences from their real life, their honest emotions, and the trust that they have with one another and put it in a program where you just feel like this is them skating from a very honest place.”

Madison Hubbell/Zach Donohue (USA)
The two-time and reigning U.S. champions have four total appearances in the Grand Prix Final. Last year, they became the first U.S. couple to win the Grand Prix Final since Meryl Davis and Charlie White in 2013. Hubbell doesn’t see any reason they can’t do it again.

“We are going into the Grand Prix Final as defending champions this season, and last year we entered having never medaled,” she told NBC Sports. “The difference in our approach this season has mostly been in the way that we trained in preparation for the event… a focus on quality, detail, and consistency.”

White agreed, adding their ability to tweak a program greatly within a season will serve them well. Hubbell and Donohue competed in the first two Grand Prix events this fall and have had relatively longer to work out any kinks in time for the Final.

“They can really give a completely new impression of a program once they’ve found what makes them tick within it,” White said. Plus, in the rhythm dance, “from the second [Hubbell] steps out onto the ice with that dress, and that hair, and her attitude, and presence, it feels like ‘Of course. Of course, she should be Marilyn Monroe.”

MORE: Hubbell, Donohue continue U.S. ice dance legacy

Alexandra Stepanova/Ivan Bukin (RUS)

Last year was Stepanova and Bukin’s debut at the Grand Prix Final, where they finished in fourth place. The competition-within-the-competition is an important story line here, White said, as the Russian teams duke it out to see how will be the country’s top dance team headed to the 2022 Olympics.

“I think that they are trying to refine their skating, especially with their free dance this season,” she said. “Show that they can be elegant because they are a very acrobatic team – to great effect. It’s very exciting to watch what they can do. But this season they’re trying I think to show a little more elegance, a little more maturity with their free dance… if they can hone in on the ultimate sophistication of what they bring to the ice, it will serve them very well.”

Madison Chock/Evan Bates (USA)
Chock and Bates made four straight appearances at the Grand Prix Final from 2014-17, claiming two silver medals. They sat out the circuit last year, but White was excited to see how well they were being received this season – especially after changing training locations to Montreal in the midst of Chock’s recovery from ankle surgery.

“This year we are definitely in a good frame of mind after a strong start to the season,” Bates told NBC Sports. “Our absence last year made us realize how much we missed it and only strengthened our desire to get back to this point. Now we are focused on improving on our Grand Prix performances and challenging for a spot on top of the podium.”

A spot on the podium at the Grand Prix Final, and even challenging for the top spot at U.S. Championships in January, White expected.

“The free dance is their standout program this season,” White said. “Best of all, you watch a Final warm up group with them in it – that program is going to set itself apart and break up and potential monotony between lyrical programs, or everyone in black costumes. They are gonna come out and just deliver these fully characters of the snake and the snake charmer and it was a wise choice.”

MORE: Chock, Bates return to 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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