Takahito Mura

Yuzuru Hanyu sneaks into Grand Prix Final

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Olympic and World champion Yuzuru Hanyu earned the last berth in the Grand Prix Final by finishing fourth — barely — at the NHK Trophy in Osaka, Japan, on Saturday.

Hanyu fell in both of his programs at NHK Trophy, not at his best three weeks after a warm-up collision at the Cup of China.

“I feel I made the right decision to compete,” Hanyu said, according to the Japan Times. “I wasn’t in the best shape physically or mentally, but am proud that I was able to take part in the two events after the accident happened.”

He finished 16.27 points behind winner Daisuke Murakami on Saturday.

More importantly, he finished .15 ahead of American Jeremy Abbott. Had Abbott beaten Hanyu, American Jason Brown would have made the Grand Prix Final over Hanyu.

The Grand Prix Final, which is in two weeks in Barcelona, is the biggest annual international competition outside the World Championships. It takes the top six skaters per discipline from the six-event Grand Prix series, which concluded with NHK Trophy.

A U.S. man didn’t qualify for the Grand Prix Final for a third straight year. At no other stretch in the 20-year history of the series had U.S. men gone back-to-back years shut out of the Grand Prix Final.

Abbott was in position to make the Grand Prix Final after the short program Friday. But he dropped from second to fifth and out of contention.

Brown performed the best of the U.S. men in the Grand Prix season and will be favored to win his first U.S. title in January. Abbott is among the contenders to grab one of three U.S. men’s spots in the World Championships in March.

Murakami, who formerly represented the U.S., rallied from third after the short program to notch the biggest win of his career in his first Grand Prix appearance in three years.

NBC and NBC Sports Live Extra will air NHK Trophy coverage Sunday from 4-6 p.m. ET.

Gracie Gold wins her first Grand Prix, makes GP Final

NHK Trophy men’s results
1. Daisuke Murakami (JPN) — 246.07
2. Sergey Voronov (RUS) — 236.65
3. Takahito Mura (JPN) — 234.44
4. Yuzuru Hanyu (JPN) — 229.8
5. Jeremy Abbott (USA) — 229.65
7. Ross Miner (USA) — 205.36
11. Josh Farris (USA) — 169.88

Leaders in Grand Prix season
1. Tatsuki Machida (JPN) — 269.09 (Skate America)
2. Javier Fernandez (ESP) — 265.01 (Rostelecom Cup)
3. Takahito Mura (JPN) — 255.81 (Skate Canada)
4. Sergey Voronov (RUS) — 252 (Rostelecom Cup)
5. Daisuke Murakami (JPN) — 246.07 (NHK Trophy)
6. Javier Fernandez (ESP) — 244.87 (Skate Canada)
7. Maksim Kovtun (RUS) — 243.35 (Trophee Bompard)
8. Maksim Kovtun (RUS) — 243.34 (Cup of China)
9. Michal Brezina (CZE) — 241.23 (Rostelecom Cup)
10. Misha Ge (UZB) — 238.05 (Rostelecom Cup)
Olympic silver medalist Patrick Chan not competing in Grand Prixs.

U.S. leaders in Grand Prix season
1. Jason Brown — 235.56 (Rostelecom Cup)
2. Jason Brown — 234.17 (Skate America)
3. Max Aaron — 231.77 (Skate Canada)
4. Stephen Carriere — 231.67 (Skate Canada)
5 . Jeremy Abbott — 229.65 (NHK Trophy)
6. Richard Dornbush — 226.73 (Cup of China)
7. Adam Rippon — 225.42 (Trophee Bompard)
8. Jeremy Abbott — 219.33 (Skate America)

Grand Prix Final qualifiers
1. Maksim Kovtun (RUS)
2. Javier Fernandez (ESP)
3. Tatsuki Machida (JPN)
4. Takahito Mura (JPN)
5. Sergey Voronov (RUS)
6. Yuzuru Hanyu (JPN)

Gracie Gold leads NHK Trophy; Yuzuru Hanyu struggles

Gracie Gold
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U.S. champion Gracie Gold is in position to qualify for her first Grand Prix Final, leading the NHK Trophy in Osaka, Japan, after the short program Friday.

Gold, who was fourth at the Olympics and fifth at March’s World Championships, posted her highest short program score this season, 68.16 points. She led Russian Alena Leonova by .05.

A win at NHK Trophy would put Gold into the six-woman Grand Prix Final in Barcelona in two weeks. The Grand Prix Final, which includes the top skaters from the six-event Grand Prix series, is the top annual international competition outside the World Championships.

If the NHK standings hold through the free skate Saturday, Gold and countrywoman Ashley Wagner would join four Russian women in the Grand Prix Final.

“I think there are positives and negatives in qualifying for the GP Final,” Gold said, according to The Associated Press. “When you consider the U.S. Nationals are in January, it kind of interrupts your schedule for that, but of course it means you have done very well.”

Olympic and World men’s champion Yuzuru Hanyu is in fifth place behind leader and countryman Takahito Mura and in jeopardy of missing the Grand Prix Final. Hanyu, 19, fell on his opening quadruple jump and put his hands down on a later jump, not getting credit for a combination.

Hanyu clearly wasn’t near his best, performing three weeks after a warm-up collision with another skater at Cup of China.

“I feel like I’ve recovered enough and just tried to skate as normal,” Hanyu said, according to the AP. “Obviously this is disappointing. But the free skate is one I’m confident with and I will do my best tomorrow.”

If the NHK standings hold through the free skate, Hanyu would be in a three-way tie with Americans Jeremy Abbott and Jason Brown for the last Grand Prix Final spot. The tiebreaker would be the skaters’ highest combined scores in their two Grand Prix series events.

If Hanyu moves into the top three after the free skate, he will make the Grand Prix Final regardless of what other skaters do in Osaka.

Abbott put himself in contention with a clean short program Friday, totaling 81.51, 4.77 behind Mura. Abbott, a four-time U.S. champion, hopes to make his first Grand Prix Final in three years.

NHK Trophy Short Program

Women
1. Gracie Gold (USA) — 68.16
2. Alena Leonova (RUS) — 68.11
3. Kanako Murakami (JPN) — 64.38
6. Christina Gao (USA) — 54.86
11. Polina Edmunds (USA) — 48.96

Men
1. Takahito Mura (JPN) — 86.28
2. Jeremy Abbott (USA) — 81.51
3. Daisuke Murakami (JPN) — 79.68
5. Yuzuru Hanyu (JPN) — 78.01
10. Ross Miner (USA) — 63.36
11. Josh Farris (USA) — 58.35

U.S. figure skaters officially Olympic medalists, 50 years later

Takahito Mura wins Skate Canada; Grand Prix analysis

Takahito Mura
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Japanese men are the class of the early Grand Prix season, and Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu hasn’t even skated yet.

Takahito Mura won Skate Canada, coming from behind after the short program to top Spain’s Javier Fernandez in Kelowna, British Columbia, on Saturday.

Mura, who didn’t make Japan’s Sochi Olympic team, prevailed one week after Tatsuki Machida romped at Skate America in the Grand Prix season opener.

On Saturday, Mura landed two quadruple jumps in his clean, personal-best free skate.

Fernandez, the World Championships bronze medalist, led after the short program Friday and took second overall, falling on one quad, putting his hand down on another and stepping out of a third. He is coached by two-time Canadian Olympic silver medalist Brian Orser.

Max Aaron, the 2013 U.S. champion, moved ahead of countryman Stephen Carriere for third place.

Japanese men have won the last four Grand Prix events dating to last season, including Hanyu’s win at the Grand Prix Final and Machida at last year’s Rostelecom Cup. This is the first time skaters from one nation won the first two Grand Prix events since 1999, when Russia’s Alexei Yagudin won both Skate America and Skate Canada. Yagudin won Skate America in 1998, followed by countryman Yevgeny Plushenko at Skate Canada.

It’s the first time U.S. men have won medals at the first two Grand Prix events since 2010 (Jason Brown won silver at Skate America last week). U.S. men won medals at every Grand Prix event in 2010, except the Grand Prix Final.

The Grand Prix series continues at Cup of China next week.

NBC and NBC Sports Live Extra will air Skate Canada coverage Sunday from 1-2:30 p.m. ET.

Skate Canada men’s results
1. Takahito Mura (JPN) — 255.81
2. Javier Fernandez (ESP) — 244.87
3. Max Aaron (USA) — 231.77
4. Stephen Carriere (USA) — 231.67
10. Adam Rippon (USA) — 201.92

Leaders in Grand Prix season
1. Tatsuki Machida (JPN) — 269.09 (Skate America)
2. Takahito Mura (JPN) — 255.81 (Skate Canada)
3. Javier Fernandez (ESP) — 244.87 (Skate Canada)
4. Jason Brown (USA) — 234.17 (Skate America)
5. Nam Nguyen (CAN) — 232.24 (Skate America)
Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu to debut at Cup of China next week. Olympic silver medalist Patrick Chan not competing in Grand Prixs.

U.S. men’s leaders in Grand Prix season
1. Jason Brown — 234.17 (Skate America)
2. Max Aaron — 231.77 (Skate Canada)
3. Stephen Carriere — 231.67 (Skate Canada)
4. Jeremy Abbott — 219.33 (Skate America)
5. Douglas Razzano — 204.48 (Skate America)
6. Adam Rippon — 201.92 (Skate Canada)
Richard Dornbush to debut at Cup of China next week. Josh Farris pulled out of Cup of China.

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