Mai Mihara

Yevgenia Medvedeva must rally to make Grand Prix Final

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Coach Brian Orser gave Yevgenia Medvedeva another post-short program pep talk Friday, this one after the Russian stood third at Internationaux de France, but within a half-point of first place.

“There’s a lot of pressure on the short program, OK?” Orser told the two-time world champion and Olympic silver medalist. “And we’re getting there. You’re a little bit behind, so guess what? Kill it in the long, just like we did at Skate Canada. … You’ve got to be feisty.”

The standings must change in Saturday’s free skate, or Medvedeva will fail to qualify for December’s six-skater Grand Prix Final, the biggest annual event outside of the world championships.

Her short program looked smooth until she doubled the back end of her planned triple-triple combination. She tallied 67.55 points, trailing Japanese Mai Mihara and Rika Kihira by .4 and .09, respectively.

U.S. champion Bradie Tennell is sixth after struggling with jumps, hurting her already minute chance of making the Grand Prix Final. Tennell almost surely must win, or it will mark a third straight season with no U.S. woman in the Final.

GP FRANCE: Full Results | TV/Stream Schedule

The two-time world champ Medvedeva finished second or third at her last four events dating to January, since withdrawing before last season’s Grand Prix Final with a broken bone in her right foot. She moved from Moscow to Toronto in the offseason, began training under Orser and rebounded from a seventh-place short program to finish third in her Grand Prix season debut at Skate Canada last month.

Orser referred to her leading Skate Canada free skate in his kiss-and-cry urging to Medvedeva on Friday.

“I feel more alive than after the short program at Skate Canada,” Medvedeva said, according to the International Skating Union “I have the opportunity to fight.”

Medvedeva will automatically make the Grand Prix Final by winning Saturday. If she finishes second, it may come down to a tiebreaker. Olympic champion and former training partner Alina Zagitova is already in the Final. The two Russians haven’t faced off since Zagitova edged Medvedeva for gold in PyeongChang by 1.31.

Mihara is the surprise leader in France despite under-rotating the back end of her triple-triple combo. She finished fourth at her last four Grand Prix starts but is now in position to make her first Grand Prix Final.

Kihira, who won her senior Grand Prix debut two weeks ago, is in third place after popping her opening Axel. Kihira, ranked second in the world this season, landed two triple Axels in her leading free skate at NHK Trophy two weeks ago.

Tennell struggled with her difficult, opening triple Lutz-triple loop combination, as she did en route to a fourth-place finish at October’s Skate America. She two-footed her Lutz landing and was unable to add a second jump, forcing her to tack a triple toe loop onto her triple flip later in the program. Three of her four jumps were called under-rotated.

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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Mirai Nagasu earns bronze with personal best at Four Continents

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Mirai Nagasu isn’t going to the world championships, but it sure looks like the U.S. team could use her next month.

The 2010 Olympian earned bronze at the Four Continents Championships at the 2018 Olympic venue in South Korea, setting new personal-best free-skate and total scores.

Nagasu, in her ninth season of senior international competition, tallied 132.04 and 194.95 points, respectively, at the world championships and Olympics tune-up event.

“To have all those months of training come to fruition is why work hard and why I keep coming back,” said Nagasu, who just missed the 2014 Olympic team. “When these moments happen, it’s so exciting and so gratifying. It just validates my reason for training hard every day, doing programs even when I don’t feel like it and getting up when I fall.”

Japan’s Mai Mihara took gold with 200.85 total points, improving from fourth after Thursday’s short program. Canada’s Gabrielle Daleman, the short-program leader, held on for silver with 196.91 points.

Nagasu, who was fifth after the short program, had the second-best free skate score behind Mihara and earned her second straight Four Continents medal after silver in 2016. She landed seven triple jumps in a clean program.

“The bronze means more to me,” Nagasu said, according to U.S. Figure Skating. “The performance I was able to put out tonight was just amazing. It felt magical.”

Full results are here. NBC will air coverage at 2:30 p.m. ET on Saturday.

Nagasu finished fourth at the U.S. Championships last month, missing the three-woman worlds team. Two of the three women who beat her at nationals were also at Four Continents.

U.S. bronze medalist Mariah Bell finished sixth on Saturday, 17.85 points shy of Nagasu, while U.S. champion Karen Chen was 12th, 28.13 points behind Nagasu. Both Bell and Chen, who have few accolades internationally, spoke afterward about nerves at Four Continents.

“Not exactly how I wanted it to go,” Bell said, according to U.S. Figure Skating. “There were a few pretty big mistakes, but overall, this was the most pressure I think I’ve had in an event.”

U.S. silver medalist Ashley Wagner skipped Four Continents, as she usually does, to prepare for worlds next month in Helsinki.

The top two U.S. women at worlds out of Bell, Chen and Wagner must have placements that add up to no greater than 13 for the U.S. to earn the maximum three entries at the PyeongChang Olympics. Say, sixth and seventh place.

That likely won’t happen if Bell and Chen repeat their performances from Four Continents, given this week’s competition didn’t include skaters from Europe.

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Ashley Wagner leads U.S. 1-2 at Skate America

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Ashley Wagner bolstered her international reputation again, winning Skate America on Saturday in her first top-level full competition since her world championships silver medal in April.

Wagner totaled 196.44 points over two programs in Hoffman Estates, Ill., holding off countrywoman Mariah Bell by 4.85 points. U.S. champion Gracie Gold was fifth. Full results are here.

“The short program was definitely one of my world-class programs,” Wagner said on NBC. “Long program, I left a little bit out on the table.”

Wagner, who led by 3.75 points after Friday’s short program, was flawed in her free skate, including singling the back end of a jump combination and under-rotating two more jumps.

Still it was enough to overtake Bell, who had the highest free skate score by 3.73 points but was sixth in the short program.

It marked the first U.S. women’s one-two in a Grand Prix event since 2012 Skate America (Wagner and Christina Gao).

“I’m starting to realize my own potential and believe in myself,” Bell, who shares a coach with Wagner, said on NBC. “I’m very excited for the future.”

Gold fell in both of her programs as she tries to bounce back from dropping from first to fourth at last season’s world championships. Gold had her lowest Grand Prix finish (excluding Grand Prix Final) since her debut at 2012 Skate Canada.

Wagner notched her fifth career Grand Prix series win (only Michelle Kwan and Sasha Cohen own more among U.S. women). Wagner joined Kwan as the only women to bag multiple Skate America and U.S. Championships titles.

The women Wagner must be compared with are Russian teens. Wagner ended a 10-year U.S. medal drought at worlds last year, but Russia still rules women’s skating.

None of the top Russians competed at Skate America. Wagner is slated to face 2015 World gold and bronze medalists Elizaveta Tuktamysheva and Yelena Radionova at her next event, Cup of China, in four weeks.

The reigning world champion, Yevgenia Medvedeva, makes her Grand Prix season debut at Skate Canada next week. Medvedeva and Wagner could go head-to-head at the Grand Prix Final in Marseille, France, in December.

Earlier Saturday, Japan’s Shoma Uno topped the men’s short program with 89.15 points, landing one of his two quadruple jump attempts.

Uno, 18, was followed by the last two U.S. champions, Adam Rippon (87.32, no quads) and Jason Brown (85.75, fall on single quad attempt).

The men’s free skate is Sunday at 12:30 p.m. ET (NBC and NBC Sports app).

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