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Alena Kostornaia leads historic Russian medal sweep at Grand Prix Final

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Alena Kostornaia led the way as Russian women swept the medals at the Grand Prix Final, a historic achievement for a nation that has been the dominant force the last six years.

Kostornaia, 16 and in her first senior international season, landed three triple Axels between two programs, tallying 247.59 points, the world’s best score this season.

“It was a challenge for me because it is the fourth competition at the high level [this season],” said Kostornaia, undefeated this fall. “It’s really cool that I can be first.”

She prevailed by 6.67 points on the strength of her short program lead and artistic scores. Her countrywomen landed quadruple jumps in Saturday’s free skate in Turin, Italy.

Russia is the only nation to sweep the medals in one discipline in the 25-year history of the event, the second-biggest annual international competition behind the world championships. It happened once before: Russia’s men in the 1998-99 season.

Kostornaia, last year’s Junior Grand Prix Final champion, was followed in the final standings by fellow pupils of Eteri TutberidzeAnna Shcherbakova and Alexandra Trusova. NBC Sports analyst Johnny Weir calls them “the Troika.”

Shcherbakova and Trusova, both 15, each landed multiple quads but also fell on quad attempts.

Shcherbakova outscored Kostornaia in the free skate but couldn’t make up the gap from the short, where quads aren’t allowed. Trusova, who came into the event ranked No. 1 in the world, became the first woman to land a quad flip in competition.

Bradie Tennell, the first American woman in the Grand Prix Final since 2015, had a relatively clean free skate (two under-rotated jumps) and finished fifth in the six-skater field.

Olympic and world champion Alina Zagitova dropped from second after the short to sixth, her worst finish as a senior, after falling in a free skate without a quad or triple Axel.

Earlier in ice dance, French Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron extended their unbeaten run since taking Olympic silver, comfortably bagging their second Grand Prix Final title by 9.17 points.

Americans Madison Chock and Evan Bates and Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue were second and third, marking the first time the U.S. put two couples on a Grand Prix Final podium.

Chock and Bates passed Hubbell and Donohue in the free dance to match their best Grand Prix Final result from 2014 and 2015, when they were the U.S.’ top couple.

Grand Prix Final
Women
Gold: Alena Kostornaia (RUS) — 247.59

Silver: Anna Shcherbakova (RUS) — 240.92
Bronze: Alexandra Trusova (RUS) — 233.18
4. Rika Kihira (JPN) — 216.47
5. Bradie Tennell (USA) — 212.88
6. Alina Zagitova (RUS) — 205.23

Ice Dance
Gold: Gabriella Papadakis/Guillaume Cizeron (FRA) — 219.85
Silver: Madison Chock/Evan Bates (USA) — 210.68
Bronze: Madison Hubbell/Zachary Donohue (USA) — 207.93

4. Alexandra Stepanova/Ivan Bukin (RUS) — 204.88
5. Piper Gilles/Paul Poirier (CAN) — 203.50
6. Victoria Sinitsina/Nikita Katsalapov (RUS) — 203.39

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MORE: Alysa Liu takes Junior Grand Prix Final silver with historic jump list

Nathan Chen crushes Yuzuru Hanyu for Grand Prix Final three-peat

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Nathan Chen landed five quadruple jumps to run away from Yuzuru Hanyu for his third straight Grand Prix Final title. The American furthered the claim that he is the world’s best figure skater.

Chen, the two-time reigning world champion, totaled 335.50 points to prevail by 43.87 over Hanyu, the two-time Olympic champion. Chen had a 12.95-point lead from Friday’s short program, where Hanyu stumbled and did not record a required jumping combination.

“I’m thrilled with the score,” Chen said after his “Rocketman” free skate knocked off Hanyu for the world’s highest program and total scores this season by more than 10 points each. “I’m thrilled with this program.”

Chen hit two quad toe loops, a quad flip, quad Lutz and quad Salchow with no major errors on Saturday. It’s his first time doing five quads since he landed six at the March 2018 World Championships.

Hanyu also landed five quads but ran out of gas late. He nearly fell out of a combination, doubled the back end of another combo and popped an Axel. The Japanese megastar appeared to slip out of his final pose, putting his hand on the ice and grimacing as Winnie the Poohs rained down on his 25th birthday.

“I knew I probably couldn’t win,” Hanyu said.

Nobody has beaten Hanyu by this many points internationally since Adam Rippon at the 2009 World Junior Championships, when Rippon was 19 and Hanyu was 14.

Chen, undefeated since placing fifth at the PyeongChang Olympics, has now beaten Hanyu in five straight head-to-head programs. This victory may prove more pivotal than last season’s worlds, where Hanyu was likely affected by an ankle injury and was competing for the first time in four months.

“I [can] feel, like, really lonely. [If] I can’t find motivation for the skating, it’s like, here is my motivation for the skating,” Hanyu said, gesturing to Chen to his left at a press conference. “Nathan is an icon for my practice.”

Chen repeatedly waves off a potential edge over Hanyu.

“Even now, he’s truly, like, a skating god to me,” Chen said, noting that Hanyu is “miles ahead” of him in artistry, though Chen outscored him in that department Saturday for the first time. “He’s still completely capable of doing everything that I’m doing, and even better.”

Each skater now heads to his national championships — Hanyu in Japan later this month. Chen, a Yale sophomore, goes to Greensboro, N.C., in late January, eyeing his fourth straight title, not done since Brian Boitano 32 years ago.

The Grand Prix Final ends with the free dance and women’s free skate later Saturday on NBC Sports Gold. A full TV and live stream schedule is here.

Grand Prix Final
Men
Gold: Nathan Chen (USA) — 335.30
Silver: Yuzuru Hanyu (JPN) — 291.43
Bronze: Kevin Aymoz (FRA) — 275.63
4. Alexander Samarin (RUS) — 248.83
5. Jin Boyang (CHN) — 241.44
6. Dmitriy Aliyev (RUS) — 220.04

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MORE: Alysa Liu takes silver at Junior Grand Prix Final with historic jump list

Alena Kostornaia leads Russian parade in Grand Prix Final short program

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In this season of the Russian Troika, Alena Kostornaia has clearly been the world’s best short program skater. She proved it again on Friday in the biggest competition to date.

Kostornaia, a 16-year-old, first-year senior, bettered her own world-leading short score, tallying 85.45 points to lead the Grand Prix Final going into Saturday’s free skate. A full TV and live stream schedule is here.

Kostornaia is attempting to win the senior Grand Prix Final, the second-biggest annual competition after worlds, a year after winning the Junior Grand Prix Final. She nailed a short program that included a triple Axel.

Russia boasts the top three in the six-skater field, looking to become the first nation to sweep any discipline at the Final in two decades.

Kostornaia is followed by reigning Olympic and world champion Alina Zagitova, who dropped behind younger countrywomen this season as she has neither a triple Axel or a quad. Anna Shcherbakova, who shares a coach with Kostornaia and Zagitova, is third.

Bradie Tennell, the first U.S. woman to qualify for the Final since 2015, is fourth after a clean short save one under-rotated jump.

Russian Alexandra Trusova and Japanese Rika Kihira, ranked Nos. 1 and 3 in the world this season, fell in the short program; Trusova on a triple Axel and Kihira on the back half of a triple flip-triple toe loop combination. They are in fifth and sixth place, respectively, 14 points behind.

That’s a boost for Kostornaia, who is not as strong in the free skate given she has never landed a quadruple jump in competition. Quads are not allowed in women’s short programs, but they are in the free skate (and Trusova can land four of them in one program).

“[Kostornaia] can blend the two aspects of the sport together that makes her, I think, almost a hope for figure skating purists who are probably in this time of change quite worried about what will happen to ladies’ figure skating with all these quads,” NBC Sports analyst Tara Lipinski said before the Final. “She is the skater who is proving to everyone that you can technically advance the sport as she has with her triple Axels — and quads to come, I’m assuming — and also not forget about the balance of what figure skating’s all about and bringing the skating skills and skating quality and emotion to the ice.”

Later in pairs, Sui Wenjing and Han Cong gave China its first Grand Prix Final title in a decade, extending their unbeaten streak since taking PyeongChang Olympic silver. They padded a short-program lead, despite free stake jumping mistakes, to win by 7.42 over fellow Chinese Peng Cheng and Jin Yang.

Earlier, French Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron overcame her twizzle error to top the rhythm dance with 83.83 points, which was 6.2 off their world-leading score this season. Papadakis and Cizeron are undefeated since taking silver at the PyeongChang Olympics.

Americans Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue, who won last year’s Final in the absence of their French training partners, are second after Hubbell’s twizzle error, 1.11 points behind. The free dance is Saturday.

Grand Prix Final
Women’s Short Program
1. Alena Kostornaia (RUS) — 85.45
2. Alina Zagitova (RUS) — 79.60
3. Anna Shcherbakova (RUS) — 78.27
4. Bradie Tennell (USA) — 72.20
5. Alexandra Trusova (RUS) — 71.45
6. Rika Kihira (JPN) — 70.71

Pairs’ Results
Gold: Sui Wenjing/Han Cong (CHN) — 211.69

Silver: Peng Cheng/Jin Yang (CHN) — 204.27
Bronze: Anastasia Mishina/Aleksandr Galliamov (RUS) — 203.13
4. Aleksandra Boikova / Dmitriy Kozlovskiy (RUS) — 201.84
5. Kirsten Moore-Towers/Michael Marinaro (CAN) — 197.99
6. Daria Pavliuchenko/Denis Khodykin (RUS) — 194.75

Rhythm Dance
1. Gabriella Papadakis/Guillaume Cizeron (FRA) — 83.83
2. Madison Hubbell/Zachary Donohue (USA) — 82.72
3. Madison Chock/Evan Bates (USA) — 81.67
4. Victoria Sinitsina/Nikita Katsalapov (RUS) — 81.51
5. Alexandra Stepanova/Ivan Bukin (RUS) — 81.14
6. Piper Gilles/Paul Poirier (CAN) — 79.53

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MORE: Alysa Liu takes Junior Grand Prix Final silver with historic jump list