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Assessing figure skating’s Grand Prix season at the midpoint

Yuzuru Hanyu, Nathan Chen

The early figure skating season produced the usual dominance from Yuzuru Hanyu and Alina Zagitova, but also surprises, such as defeats for Yevgenia Medvedeva and a mild shakeup atop the pairs’ order.

We’re halfway through the Grand Prix campaign, with early favorites emerging for December’s Grand Prix Final, which takes the top six per discipline from the six-event series.

The most anticipated Final fields are singles, where Hanyu and Nathan Chen are expected to meet for the first time since PyeongChang. Hanyu repeated as Olympic champion in February, while Chen rebounded from a short-program disaster to top the free skate for fifth overall.

Likewise, the Grand Prix Final should feature Zagitova and former training partner Medvedeva in their first head-to-head since they were separated by 1.31 points in PyeongChang. That is assuming Medvedeva takes care of business at her second Grand Prix in two weeks.

A discipline-by-discipline look at the figure skating season so far ...

Top Season Scores
1. Yuzuru Hanyu (JPN) -- 297.12
2. Nathan Chen (USA) -- 280.57
3. Shoma Uno (JPN) -- 277.25
4. Shoma Uno (JPN) -- 276.20
5. Mikhail Kolyada (RUS) -- 274.37
6. Keegan Messing (CAN) -- 265.17
7. Yuzuru Hanyu (JPN) -- 263.65
8. Cha Jun-Hwan (KOR) -- 259.78
9. Michal Brezina (CZE) -- 257.98
10. Keegan Messing (CAN) -- 257.16
Jason Brown (USA) -- 234.97
Jason Brown (USA) -- 233.23
Vincent Zhou (USA) -- 225.75

Favorites Hanyu, Chen and Uno won their opening Grand Prix events, though Chen’s jumping program at Skate America included half the quads he attempted in PyeongChang. Chen’s score from winning the Hanyu-less world championships last season would have taken gold at the Olympics. We’ve never seen Chen and Hanyu hit all of their jumps in the same competition. Brown and Zhou were fifth and sixth, respectively, in their Grand Prix openers, putting them all but out of the running for the Final.

Top Season Scores
1. Alina Zagitova (RUS) -- 238.43
2. Alexandra Trusova (RUS) -- 221.44 (junior)
3. Alexandra Trusova (RUS) -- 221 (junior)
4. Satoko Miyahara (JPN) -- 219.71
5. Rika Kihira (JPN) -- 218.16
6. Alina Zagitova (RUS) -- 215.29
7. Kaori Sakamoto (JPN) -- 213.90
8. Mai Mihara (JPN) -- 209.22
9. Bradie Tennell (USA) -- 206.41
10. Elizaveta Tuktamysheva (RUS) -- 206.07
Bradie Tennell (USA) -- 192.89
Mariah Bell (USA) -- 190.25
Mariah Bell (USA) -- 188.97
Ashley Lin (USA) -- 181.21

Noticeably absent from the top-10 scores list is Medvedeva, who went undefeated for more than two years from 2015 through 2017, then finished second or third in her last four events dating to January. Perhaps the biggest story in skating the rest of the Grand Prix season will be whether Medvedeva, after finishing third at Skate Canada, can qualify for the Grand Prix Final. She may need to win in France in two weeks to lock up a spot. It’s looking like the Grand Prix Final will be all Russian and Japanese women after Tennell finished fourth at Skate America. The U.S. is searching for depth with Mirai Nagasu and Ashley Wagner taking indefinite breaks and Karen Chen missing her Grand Prix opener with a foot injury. Sochi Olympian Gracie Gold is set to compete in two weeks for the first time in nearly two years.

MORE: Figure skating season TV schedule

Top Season Scores
1. Vanessa James/Morgan Cipres (FRA) -- 221.81
2. Vanessa James/Morgan Cipres (FRA) -- 210.21
3. Peng Cheng/Jin Yang (CHN) -- 206.42
4. Yevgenia Tarasova/Vladimir Morozov (RUS) -- 204.85
5. Peng Cheng/Jin Yang (CHN) -- 201.08
6. Kirsten Moore-Towers/Michael Marinaro (CAN) -- 200.93
7. Yevgenia Tarasova/Vladimir Morozov (RUS) -- 198.98
8. Natalya Zabiyako/Alexander Enbert (RUS) -- 198.51
9. Aleksandra Boikova/Dmitriy Kozlovskiy (RUS) -- 196.54
10. Natalya Zabiyako/Alexander Enbert (RUS) -- 196.15
Ashley Cain/Timothy LeDuc (USA) -- 181.56
Alexa Scimeca Knierim/Chris Knierim (USA) -- 177.22
Ashley Cain/Timothy LeDuc (USA) -- 175.06

Deanna Stellato/Nathan Bartholomay (USA) -- 174.91

All the Olympic medalists are sitting out this fall or retired. The French burst through that opening. It’s not a huge surprise given they were fifth in PyeongChang and third at worlds. But James and Cipres were outscored by Tarasova and Morozov at each of the last four world championships and European Championships. Cain and LeDuc have an outside chance at the Final after their first Grand Prix medal at Skate America (bronze), but they likely need a silver in a deep Rostelecom Cup field next week.

Ice Dance
Top Season Scores
1. Madison Hubbell/Zach Donohue (USA) -- 200.82

2. Alexandra Stepanova/Ivan Bukin (RUS) -- 200.78
3. Alexandra Stepanova/Ivan Bukin (RUS) -- 200.49
4. Madison Hubbell/Zach Donohue (USA) -- 197.42
5. Kaitlyn Weaver/Andrew Poje (CAN) -- 197.27
6. Victoria Sinitsina/Nikita Katsalapov (RUS) -- 196.42
7. Charlene Guignard/Marco Fabbri (ITA) -- 196.29
8. Victoria Sinitsina/Nikita Katsalapov (RUS) -- 195.17
9. Piper Gilles/Paul Poirier (CAN) -- 194.12
10. Charlene Guignard/Marco Fabbri (ITA) -- 193.28
Rachel Parsons/Michael Parsons (USA) -- 180.95
Lorraine McNamara/Quinn Carpenter (USA) -- 180.57

The top returning couple this season, French Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron, has not competed internationally. They’ll now miss this week’s NHK Trophy after Cizeron hurt his back in a training fall last week. The Final was expected to be a showdown between Papadakis and Cizeron and training partners Hubbell and Donohue, who were fourth in PyeongChang and second at worlds behind the French. Papadakis and Cizeron would be ineligible for the Final with just one Grand Prix start. Instead, Hubbell and Donohue could have their hands full with Stepanova and Bukin. They were second at last season’s Russian Championships, but Bukin was not invited to the Olympics by the IOC. They later finished seventh at worlds. Two more promising U.S. couples, Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker and the Parsons siblings, make their Grand Prix season debuts this week.

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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.