Kaitlin Hawayek, Jean-Luc Baker notch first Grand Prix win at NHK

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The U.S. has yet another Grand Prix title-winning ice dance couple.

Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker rallied to capture their first Grand Prix crown at NHK Trophy in Sunday’s free dance.

Hawayek and Baker, fourth at last season’s nationals, overcame Tiffany Zahorski and Jonathan Guerreiro‘s 4.78-point lead from Saturday’s rhythm dance to win by 1.58 over the Russians. U.S. siblings Rachel Parsons and Michael Parsons, fifth at last season’s nationals, took bronze.

Hawayek and Baker delayed their season debut until this week after Baker, whose mom was a 1988 British Olympic ice dancer, suffered a second concussion in three years in August. Last season, the former junior world champions won their first senior international title at the Four Continents Championships in January and placed 10th at the world championships in March.

They topped Sunday’s free dance but also received help as Guerreiro wobbled on twizzles, and the Russians’ rotational lift received a one-point deduction for being too long.

Hawayek and Baker became the seventh U.S. dance couple to win a Grand Prix in the series’ two-decade history, joining Elizabeth Punsalan and Jerod SwallowTanith White and Ben AgostoMeryl Davis and Charlie WhiteMadison Chock and Evan BatesMaia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani and Madison Hubbell and Zach Donohue. Five of those six went on to earn Olympic and/or world medals.

Hawayek and Baker can clinch one of six spots in December’s Grand Prix Final with another strong finish at their second Grand Prix in France in two weeks. Hubbell and Donohue already clinched a spot in the Final, the second-biggest international event of the season behind worlds.

Olympic silver medalists and world champions Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron of France withdrew before NHK due to Cizeron’s back injury, which keeps them out of the Grand Prix Final. The Olympic gold and bronze medalists — Canadians Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir and the Shibutani siblings — are on indefinite breaks from competition.

Hawayek and Baker rank seventh in the world this season by total scores.

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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NHK TROPHY: Results | TV/Stream Schedule

Opportunity knocks at NHK Trophy: preview, TV/stream schedule

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If the year after the Olympics is about new talent emerging, this week’s NHK Trophy presents ripe opportunities.

Japanese 16-year-old Rika Kihira makes her senior Grand Prix debut, a much-anticipated one after she landed two triple Axels in one program in September. Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker and Rachel Parsons and Michael Parsons, the next generation of U.S. ice dance, can make their moves after the world champions withdrew.

The headliners are more accomplished skaters, like Olympic silver medalist Shoma Uno, 2015 World champion Elizaveta Tuktamysheva and two-time world medalist Satoko Miyahara, all bidding to clinch Grand Prix Final berths at the fourth of six Grand Prix series stops.

NBC Sports Gold live streams every session starting Friday.

Day Time (ET) Event Network
Friday 12:15 a.m. Pairs’ Short NBC Sports Gold | STREAM LINK
2 a.m. Women’s Short NBC Sports Gold | STREAM LINK
5 a.m. Men’s Short NBC Sports Gold | STREAM LINK
10:45 p.m. Rhythm Dance NBC Sports Gold | STREAM LINK
Saturday 12:30 a.m. Pairs’ Free NBC Sports Gold | STREAM LINK
2:30 a.m. Women’s Free NBC Sports Gold | STREAM LINK
5:30 a.m. Men’s Free NBC Sports Gold | STREAM LINK
9:30 pm. Free Dance NBC Sports Gold | STREAM LINK
Sunday 12 p.m. Highlights NBC | STREAM LINK

The women boast the strongest field with four of the top seven skaters this season (Miyahara, Kihira, Mai Mihara and Tuktamysheva). Russia and Japan should make up the podium for the fourth straight Grand Prix.

Kihira is the wild card. Eighth at last season’s junior worlds, she won her senior international debut in September with those two triple Axels. Tuktamysheva is the only other active senior woman with that jump, which she landed cleanly two weeks ago for the first time in nearly three years.

Uno is the clear class of the men’s field. The Olympic and world silver medalist doesn’t have to worry about Yuzuru Hanyu or Nathan Chen until December’s Grand Prix Final. This week it’s American Vincent Zhou and Russian Dmitri Aliev, who were sixth and seventh in PyeongChang. Zhou looks to improve on his fifth place at Skate America, where he was dinged for seven under-rotation calls.

The NHK dance field opened wide with the withdrawal of Olympic silver medalists and world champions Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron on Tuesday. Nobody left finished in the top 12 in PyeongChang nor ranks in the highest, top-six tier of the world this season.

Enter Americans Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean Luc-Baker and siblings Rachel Parsons and Michael Parsons — average age: 23, all past world junior champions. They finished fourth and fifth at last season’s nationals behind the block of senior world medalists — Madison Hubbell and Zach DonohueMaia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani and Madison Chock and Evan Bates.

The Shibutanis are on an indefinite competition break. Chock is recovering from ankle surgery. The Grand Prix could be a showcase for new talent in the U.S.’ deepest discipline.

Hawayek and Baker make their season debut after Baker, whose mom was a 1988 British Olympic ice dancer, suffered a second concussion in three years in August. The Parsons siblings rank eighth in the world this season — a jump from No. 22 last year — and second among the couples at NHK.

The NHK pairs’ field includes U.S. Olympians Alexa Scimeca-Knierim and Chris Knierim and 2016 U.S. champions Tarah Kayne and Danny O’Shea up against three of the world’s top five teams from Canada, China and Russia.

NBC Sports researcher Sarah Hughes contributed to this report.

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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MORE: Mariah Bell focused on big picture ahead of NHK Trophy

French ice dancers win third world title; first medal for U.S. champs

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French Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron won their third world title, one month after an Olympic silver medal, while U.S. champions Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue earned their first world medal, a silver in Milan on Saturday.

Papadakis and Cizeron captured their third world title in four years by breaking world records in the short and free dances. The pre-event favorites totaled 207.20 points and prevailed by 10.56 over training partners Hubbell and Donohue.

Canadians Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje grabbed bronze.

It’s the largest margin of victory in ice dance at an Olympics or worlds since the 6.0 system was thrown out in 2004.

WORLDS: Full Scores | Recaps | TV Schedule

Papadakis and Cizeron’s score would have won the Olympics by 1.13 over Canadians Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, who skipped worlds and may never compete again. Papadakis’ dress came undone in their short dance in South Korea, exposing her breast, though they were just .14 off their personal-best short dance score at the time.

Hubbell and Donohue became the fourth different American couple to earn an Olympic or world medal in five seasons. They broke Meryl Davis and Charlie White‘s U.S. record for total score set in winning the Sochi Olympics.

It’s been a breakout year for the newest stars in the U.S.’ deepest figure skating discipline.

Hubbell and Donohue won their first national title in January after placing third or fourth the previous six years and were fourth at their first Olympics, giving up a potential bronze with Donohue’s fall in the free dance. Donohue also fell in the 2017 Worlds free dance after they were third in the short.

“We’ve done a lot of work toppling our demons, the fear, or all the what-ifs that go through our mind,” Hubbell said. “We had a history of making some errors and giving up our place.”

The French and U.S. couples shared coaches in Montreal the last two seasons, along with Virtue and Moir.

“Our goal is to get drunk together as many times as we can,” Cizeron said, drawing laughter at a press conference before adding, “that’s a joke.”

The world field lacked the Olympic gold and bronze medalists (Virtue and Moir and American siblings Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani). Medalists often skip the post-Olympic world championships due to off-ice opportunities, exhaustion or retirement.

The second U.S. couple in Milan, two-time world medalists Madison Chock and Evan Bates, were fifth after placing ninth at the Olympics, where they tangled skates and both fell in the free dance.

The third U.S. couple, 2014 World junior champions Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker, improved from 15th after the short dance to finish 10th overall in their senior worlds debut.

The U.S. put three couples in the top 10 at worlds for the seventh time in eight seasons.

The 2018-19 figure skating season starts in earnest in October with Skate America in Everett, Wash.

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MORE: Best figure skating moments from PyeongChang