Vanessa James

AP

Madison Hubbell, Zachary Donohue win Grand Prix Final ice dance

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Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue notched the biggest win for American ice dancers in nearly five years at the Grand Prix Final in Vancouver on Saturday night. It’s all part of the plan.

“Our goal going into the season was to win every competition,” Hubbell said after completing a perfect autumn Grand Prix Series. “We are three steps there.”

The U.S. champions and world silver medalists topped both the rhythm dance and free dance to capture the second-biggest annual international competition. The only other American couple to win on this significant of a stage was Meryl Davis and Charlie White, most recently at the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

Hubbell and Donohue tallied their highest score this season, 205.35 points, and won by 3.98 over Russians Victoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov.

The Americans completed a breakthrough 2018: also a first national title in January (after six times finishing third or fourth), their first Olympics in February (finishing fourth after a free-dance fall), their first world championships medal in March and sweeping their Grand Prix Series starts for the first time in October.

Another U.S. couple, Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker, finished sixth out of six Saturday in their Grand Prix Final debut.

The competition lacked every PyeongChang Olympic medalist.

Canadians Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir  have likely competed for the last time, though haven’t announced retirement. French Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron are the top-ranked couple this season (by a whopping 11.43 points) but were ineligible for the Final after missing their first Grand Prix due to Cizeron’s minor back injury. Americans Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani are taking this season off and might be done competing, too.

Another accomplished couple, two-time world medalists Madison Chock and Evan Bates, sat out the Grand Prix season due to Chock’s ankle surgery but could return to go for a seventh straight medal at nationals next month.

Hubbell and Donohue will be clear favorites there, but to accomplish Hubbell’s now-publicly stated goal, they will likely have to beat their French training partners at the world championships in March. Hubbell and Donohue never outscored Papadakis and Cizeron in nine head-to-head competitions and were more than 10 points adrift at last season’s worlds.

Later Saturday in pairs, French Vanessa James and Morgan Cipres rallied from fourth place in the short program for the biggest win of their eight-year partnership against a field lacking all of the PyeongChang medalists.

Grand Prix Final Ice Dance Results
Gold: Madison Hubbell/Zachary Donohue (USA) — 205.35

Silver: Victoria Sinitsina/Nikita Katsalapov (RUS) — 201.37
Bronze: Charlene Guignard/Marco Fabbri (ITA) — 198.65
4. Alexandra Stepanova/Ivan Bukin (RUS) — 196.72
5. Tiffani Zagorski/Jonathan Guerreiro (RUS) — 184.37
6. Kaitlin Hawayek/Jean-Luc Baker (USA) — 184.04

Grand Prix Final Pairs’ Results
Gold: Vanessa James/Morgan Cipres (FRA) — 219.88

Silver: Peng Cheng/Jin Yang (CHN) — 216.90
Bronze: Yevgenia Tarasova/Vladimir Morozov (RUS) — 214.20
4. Natalya Zabiyako/Alexander Enbert (RUS) — 201.07
5. Nicole Della Monica/Matteo Guarise (ITA) — 187.63
6. Daria Pavliuchenko/Denis Khodykin (RUS) — 186.81

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Nathan Chen repeats as Grand Prix Final champion, aces fall term

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Nathan Chen completed a perfect fall figure skating season. Now, for that Spanish exam back at Yale.

Chen landed three quadruple jumps — and fell on a fourth — in his free skate at the Grand Prix Final but still won the second-biggest annual international competition for a second straight year.

The world champion beat Japanese Olympic and world silver medalist Shoma Uno by 13.32 points. South Korean Cha Jun-Hwan was third at an event that lacked injured Japanese superstar Yuzuru Hanyu.

“I definitely did not do my greatest programs, both short and long, mistakes here and there,” said Chen, who also put his hands down on a quad in Thursday’s short program. “Basically right back to the books.”

Chen joined Tara Lipinski and Meryl Davis and Charlie White as Americans to win multiple Grand Prix Finals, but none of those previous skaters had an autumn quite like the 19-year-old world champion.

Chen enrolled at Yale, sprinkling in Grand Prix Series victories in October and November during class breaks and while studying 3,000 miles from his coach, Rafael Arutunian. He’s looking forward to more regular practice after next week’s final exams, when he flies home to California.

“It’s definitely been an aspect of my skating that’s lacking a little bit,” said Chen, who will go for a third straight U.S. title in late January. “I find practicing by myself or with [other] skaters … they’re not the level as the training mates in California.”

Uno continued his trend of making major podiums, but never the top step. He’s done that at four straight Grand Prix Finals, the last two world championships, the last two Four Continents Championships and in PyeongChang. Uno struggled with two of his four quads on Friday.

“I can definitely say it was not a good performance,” he said, according to the International Skating Union. “And I think every time I finish a competition I say the same thing. I performed today with the mindset that I would finally be able to make it. But it did not go well.”

The Grand Prix Final finishes Saturday with the women’s and pairs’ free skates and the free dance. A full broadcast schedule is here.

Men’s Results
Gold: Nathan Chen — 282.42
Silver: Shoma Uno — 275.10
Bronze: Cha Jun-Hwan (KOR) — 263.49
4. Michal Brezina (CZE) — 255.26
5. Keegan Messing (CAN) — 236.05
6. Sergei Voronov (RUS) — 226.44

In other events, U.S. champions and world silver medalists Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue took the ice dance lead by 2.23 points with their highest-scoring rhythm dance this season.

Hubbell and Donohue entered as favorites given none of the Olympic medalists are at the Final. They can notch the biggest win for a U.S. dance couple since Davis and White’s breakthrough at the Sochi Olympics.

None of the Olympic pairs’ medalists are at the Final, either. So Chinese Peng Cheng and Jin Yang took a surprise lead, while pre-event favorites Yevgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov and Vanessa James and Morgan Cipres struggled with their side-by-side triple toe loops.

Short Dance
1. Madison Hubbell/Zachary Donohue (USA) — 80.53
2. Charlene Guignard/Marco Fabbri (ITA) — 78.30
3. Victoria Sinitsina/Nikita Katsalapov (RUS) — 77.33
4. Alexandra Stepanova/Ivan Bukin (RUS) — 77.20
5. Tiffani Zagorski/Jonathan Guerreiro (RUS) — 72.98
6. Kaitlin Hawayek/Jean-Luc Baker (USA) — 71.33

Pairs Short Program
1. Peng Cheng/Jin Yang (CHN) — 75.69
2. Natalya Zabiyako/Alexander Enbert (RUS) — 75.18
3. Yevgenia Tarasova/Vladimir Morozov (RUS) — 74.04
4. Vanessa James/Morgan Cipres (FRA) — 71.51
5. Nicole Della Monica/Matteo Guarise (ITA) — 69.77
6. Daria Pavliuchenko/Denis Khodykin (RUS) — 61.24

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Vanessa James, Morgan Cipres can conquer Russians at Grand Prix Final

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The post-Olympic Grand Prix season can be lackadaisical, as Johnny Weir says, but if any skaters are defying that, it’s French pair Vanessa James and Morgan Cipres.

“James are Cipres are skating in such a dynamic and interesting way that they really are, in my opinion, the stars of the Grand Prix,” Weir said. “They’ve exceeded what they’ve already done in the past and are giving us something new.”

With all of the Olympic medalists sitting out the autumn, James and Cipres ascended from fifth at the Olympics to the top of the world rankings going into this week’s Grand Prix Final. Russia’s top two teams could challenge, but the French are the favorites in Vancouver.

“If I had to put my money on anyone, I really do think I would go with the French,” NBC Sports analyst Tara Lipinski said. “Their programs are unique. I feel like they’re finally really coming into their own.”

GP FINAL PREVIEWS: Men | Women | Pairs | Ice DanceTV Schedule

James, who was born in Canada, grew up in Virginia and Bermuda, won a British national title in singles and became a French citizen in 2009, teamed with Cipres in December 2010. That came after she finished 14th at the Vancouver Olympics with a different partner as the first black pairs team in Winter Games history. Cipres, whose last name is Spanish (and thus the “S” is not silent), was coming off a 13th-place finish at the junior world championships in singles.

James and Cipres didn’t become a global medal contender until moving from Paris to Florida in June 2016 to work with 2002 U.S. Olympian John Zimmerman. They jumped from 17th in the world rankings to fourth that season and started making regular podiums on the Grand Prix.

They would have been pegged as the No. 2 pairs’ team this season behind Olympic fourth-placers Yevgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov but averaged about a point more than the Russians per Grand Prix start this fall. James and Cipres were outscored by Tarasova and Morozov at each of the last four world championships and European Championships and haven’t beaten them in direct competition in three years.

James and Cipres, who considered making the Olympic season their last, skated programs the last two months that would have challenged for the silver medal in PyeongChang, Weir said. What sets them apart? Start with their choices for choreographers: Olympic and world ice dance champions Charlie White and Guillaume Cizeron.

“Every detail of their programs is so interesting. It isn’t a cookie-cutter pairs’ team,” Weir said. “They bring details to the elements that none of the other pairs’ teams are doing.”

Of the 69 Grand Prix Final pairs’ medals awarded, 68 have gone to Canadians, Chinese, Germans or Russians. James and Cipres, in their first Final, should become the first pair to shake things up since the 1999-2000 season.

But Tarasova and Morozov and fellow Russians Natalya Zabiyiako and Alexander Enbert also have been undefeated this fall.

No U.S. teams made the six-pair Final for the 10th time in 11 years. Tarah Kayne and Danny O’Shea, who likely would have gone to PyeongChang if the U.S. qualified more than one pair for the Olympics, finished eighth in the Grand Prix standings. Olympians Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Chris Knierim were 11th.

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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