Alina Zagitova wins her Grand Prix opener; Yuzuru Hanyu leads

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Alina Zagitova wasn’t flawless in her Grand Prix season opener, but she didn’t have to be.

The Olympic champion from Russia totaled 215.29 points in Helsinki, winning the event by 17.72 over countrywoman Stanislava Konstantinova. Japan’s Kaori Sakamoto improved from seventh after the short program for bronze, two weeks after her second straight Skate America silver medal.

Zagitova did not fall between two programs, but she singled a jump in Friday’s short and had two under-rotation calls in her free.

“I’m not happy with my short program,” she said through a translator. “The free skating was better, but it still was not ideal.

“It was tough for me to leave behind the short program. I was analyzing for a long time, almost the whole night.”

Her score ranks second among women this Grand Prix season behind Skate America winner Satoko Miyahara of Japan. But Zagitova’s score from her lower-level season debut in September — 238.43 — remains best in the world overall this season by 17 points.

The Helsinki field lacked Zagitova’s top rivals like Miyahara and Olympic silver medalist Yevgenia Medvedeva, whom the 16-year-old will not face until December.

She had margin for error in her first top-level event since falling three times in the world championships free skate in March and finishing fifth, her only loss in a little more than a year on the senior international level.

GP FINLAND: Full Results | Stream Schedule

Earlier Saturday, double Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu moved into position to win his Grand Prix opener for the first time in his nine-year career.

The Japanese megastar was nearly flawless on his jumps, with a slight turnout on the back end of his quadruple toe loop-triple toe combination. The score — 106.69 — is the highest men’s short program in the world this season, knocking off Olympic silver medalist Shoma Uno.

“Today was a bit challenging,” said Hanyu, who chose his short-program music, Otoñal, partially as a tribute to Johnny Weir. “I can say I landed [the jumps], but I can’t say perfect.”

Hanyu takes a 13.38-point lead over Czech Michal Brezina into Sunday’s free skate. Hanyu will not face Uno or world champion Nathan Chen this season until December’s Grand Prix Final at the earliest.

Russia swept the pairs’ and ice dance titles among fields with no Olympic or world medalists (aside from team events) or prior Grand Prix event winners.

Natalya Zabiyako and Alexander Enbert erased a .59 deficit from the paris’ short program to beat Italians Nicole Della Monica and Matteo Guarise. They totaled 198.51, distancing the Italians by 12.74.

The Russians’ total ranks them fifth in the world this season, far behind French leaders Vanessa James and Morgan Cipres (221.81).

Alexandra Stepanova and Ivan Bukin topped both the rhythm dance and free dance for 200.09 points, 3.8 clear of Italians Charlene Guignard and Marco Fabbri. Americans Lorraine McNamara and Quinn Carpenter were third, their first Grand Prix podium.

Stepnova and Bukin rank second in the world this season behind world silver medalists Madison Hubbell and Zach Donohue. However, Olympic silver medalists and world champions Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron of France have yet to debut.

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: Medvedeva thankful for Oser’s late-night talk after Skate Canada disaster

Alina Zagitova tops Grand Prix Helsinki short program

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Olympic champion Alina Zagitova leads at Grand Prix Helsinki despite a short program jumping error in her first top-level event of the season.

Zagitova, who in PyeongChang became the second-youngest singles gold medalist after Tara Lipinski, singled the back end of her opening triple-triple combination on Friday.

She scored 68.9 points and leads by 5.13 going into Saturday’s free skate after the other top women also made mistakes. Japan’s Yuna Shiraiwa is in second place, followed by Belgian Loena Hendrickx.

Zagitova’s score is 11 points fewer than she tallied at a lower-level event in September. The 16-year-old later noted she is two inches taller than at the Olympics.

“I don’t really know why everybody is so interested in how much I’ve been growing,” Zagitova said through a translator.

Japan’s Kaori Sakamoto was Zagitova’s biggest threat going in, but she fell twice and into seventh place.

Earlier, Italians Nicole Della Monica and Matteo Guarise topped the pairs’ short program.

Later, Russians Alexandra Stepanova and Ivan Bukin led the rhythm dance with 78.18 points. U.S. couples Lorraine McNamara and Quinn Carpenter and Christina Carreira and Anthony Ponomarenko were third and fourth.

Nobody in the Helsinki field has won an Olympic or world pairs’ or dance medal or a Grand Prix event.

GP FINLAND: Full Results | Stream Schedule

Zagitova, 16, can afford mistakes this week given her top rivals — namely Olympic silver medalist and former training partner Yevgenia Medvedeva — are not in the Helsinki field. Zagitova will not face Medvedeva until December.

Sakamoto earned silver medals at the last two Skate Americas and ranks third among the deep Japanese on the early season.

Another Olympic champion, Yuzuru Hanyu, makes his Grand Prix season debut in Helsinki on Saturday. Hanyu has never won his Grand Prix season debut.

This is the first top-level event with both reigning Olympic singles champions since the 1992 World Championships.

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: Medvedeva thanks Brian Orser for late-night Skate Canada talk

Artur Dalaloyan wins world all-around in tiebreak; Sam Mikulak’s heartbreak

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A tiebreak followed heartbreak.

Artur Dalaloyan became the first Russian man to win a world championships all-around since 1999, with the same score as Chinese Xiao Ruoteng. Dalaloyan, in his first global all-around, took gold via tiebreak of throwing out each gymnast’s lowest score from the six routines.

That came about 10 minutes after American Sam Mikulak dropped out of the medals on his last routine on high bar. Mikulak, a two-time Olympian and five-time national all-around champion, remains one of the greatest U.S. gymnasts without an individual Olympic or world medal.

It was a repeat of 2013 for Mikulak. He entered the last rotation on high bar in third place. A hit routine would have put him on the podium. Though he did not fall, Mikulak made two significant errors (this time, a missed handstand and one of his hands coming off the bar on a release catch),

He had practiced this scenario over and over in practice, ending a six-routine session on high bar. High bar is his best event. He felt ready.

“That hurt real bad,” he told media in Doha. “You should have done it. You had your chance.”

Mikulak ended up fifth, 1.058 points behind bronze medalist Nikita Nagornyy of Russia. His flawed high bar scored 12.366, 2.2 fewer points than in qualifying.

GYM WORLDS: Results | TV Schedule

What an early week it has been for Dalaloyan and Nagornyy.

“I was surprised and can’t say anything more,” Dalaloyan said, according to the International Gymnastics Federation. “I need to probably go to my hotel, take a deep breath and realize that yes, I won this championship.”

Each Russian made a critical error in the last two rotations of Monday’s team final, where China surged past Russia for gold by .049. Dalaloyan fell off the parallel bars and was particularly affected, seen sitting, hunched over and shielded by the raised competition floor and stairs after the last routine.

Russia was seeking its first world team title since the breakup of the Soviet Union.

“I thought we had won,” Nagornyy, whose high bar on the last routine of the team final sealed the silver, said Monday. “I am sure we are going to get over it.”

Kohei Uchimura, who won all eight Olympic and world all-around titles in the last two Olympic cycles, sat out the world all-around for the second straight year with an ankle injury. A Japanese man failed to make an Olympic or world all-around podium for the first time since the 2004 Athens Games.

Worlds continue Thursday with Simone Biles eyeing a record-breaking fourth women’s world all-around title. She would also tie Vitaly Scherbo‘s record for career world gold medals with 12. Olympic Channel airs live coverage.

Mikulak has four more chances for that individual medal in apparatus finals Friday and Saturday.

“I’m going to get fired up and pissed,” Mikulak said in a USA Gymnastics interview. “I’m going to go home dying, or I’m going to get a medal.”

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