What we learned at Internationaux de France as Kagiyama, Shcherbakova book Grand Prix Final spots

The French Grand Prix was won by the favourites across all four disciplines with home hopes Papadakis/Cizeron on top in ice dance. Here's what we learned in Grenoble.

By Nick McCarvel
Picture by Alex Morean

It was a weekend of strong figure skating for the favourites at the Internationaux de France in Grenoble.

Each of Kagiyama Yuma, Anna Shcherbakova, Aleksandra Boikova and Dmitrii Kozlovskii, and Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron were expected to win - and they did - at the fifth of six stops on the International Skating Union's (ISU) Grand Prix Series, as the picture for next month's Grand Prix Final becomes more clear.

Next weekend's (26-27 November) Rostelecom Cup in Sochi is the last stop before the Final, set for Osaka from 9-12 December.

Neither singles winner Kagiyama nor Shcherbakova won with their best skating, the former struggling in the second half of his free skate with consistency and the reigning women's world champion falling on an opening quadruple Lutz attempt in the free. Each expressed the desire to get back to work over the next three weeks to make improvements.

The win at home for Papadakis and Cizeron marked another step in their return to competition, and - like Kagiyama and Shcherbakova - followed up gold at the Grand Prix event in Italy. The four-time world champion ice dancers had taken all of last season off, citing pandemic limitations on training.

MORE: Wins for Shcherbakova, Papadakis/Cizeron | Kagiyama, Boikova/Kozlovskii triumph

Here, five things we learned in Grenoble - and what it means as the Olympic figure skating season draws closer to Beijing 2022.

Men: Kagiyama soars, Sato arrives

While Kagiyama was far from perfect, he righted the ship from the Gran Premio d'Italia two weeks ago - when he struggled to seventh in the short program - and, despite mistakes at the business end of his long program, won by 22 points with a 286.41.

While the 18-year-old said the Final - which he's qualified for with two gold medals - was a goal this season, he also noted that "I still don't have what it takes" in terms of bringing his best when he needs it the most.

It was a breakout performance for silver medallist Sato Shun who, at 17, is in his first senior season. The youngster performed four quadruple jumps in his free skate, including a Lutz, toe and flip. He now enters a crowded Japanese men's field for three Olympic spots.

American Jason Brown added to his Skate Canada International silver medal with a bronze here, keeping his hopes alive for the Final. In his eighth season on the Grand Prix circuit, he joked: "Oh my gosh! I feel so old! How did this happen?" the 26-year-old quipped. "This is my eighth or ninth Grand Prix season? I feel so lucky to still be up here [on the podium]."

The weekend had bright spots for several others, including Deniss Vasiljevs' sparkling short program, Kevin Aymoz's comeback in the free skate and strong showings for Dmitri Aliev and Andrei Mozalev of Russia.

Women: Shcherbakova bounces back from fall

Setting up to open her free skate with a quad Lutz, Shcherbakova went down before she could even get off the ground, but she recovered well, completing a quad flip seconds later and holding on for an eight-point advantage over teammate Alena Kostornaia.

But the fall gave her pause: "Honestly, I'm a little bit shocked still after my performance because my first jump – I didn't understand what happened and after the whole program I was not realising what was happening. I need time, I think, to watch my performance, watch my mistakes."

Kostornaia, the 2020 European champion, added a silver to her bronze from Vancouver this season, and will wait to see on her Grand Prix Final fate. She didn't attempt the triple Axel in her short program and fell on it in the free. Should she find that jump consistently, she could be a further threat on the international stage.

There was a triple Axel, however, for Higuchi Wakaba, the 20-year-old from Japan turning in a sublime performance in the free skate to win her fifth Grand Prix medal.

In the U.S. race for three Olympic spots, Karen Chen was fifth, less than four points ahead of sixth-place finisher Mariah Bell.

Pairs: Boikova/Kozlovskii back on top

After a struggle at Skate America, in which they placed third, the 2020 European champs were back atop the Grand Prix podium, the duo earning its fourth career gold. With teammates Iuliia Artemeva and Mikhail Nazarychev taking silver, the ROC race for three pairs' spots in Beijing has become more crowded, too.

Boikova/Kozlovskii, the reigning world bronze medallists, again struggled on their side-by-side jumps, but still won by some 10 points over Artemeva/Nazarychev and worked through a host of challenges over the weekend, including a poor practice upon arrival on Thursday, which saw several falls.

Americans Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier won the bronze medal, as Canada's Vanessa James and Eric Radford mishandled a lift midway through their free skate which probably would have seen them onto the podium. Both teams are in fierce fights in their respective countries for Olympic berths.

Ice dance: Papadakis/ Cizeron reign supreme at home

How does a golden homecoming feel? Quite good, if you're Papadakis/Cizeron, who had last competed in an international event in front of a home crowd at Internationaux de France in 2019, held in this very same arena.

Their 18-point victory over Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier of Canada again proved the duo has not lost a step after not competing last year during a pandemic-interrupted season. The PyeongChang 2018 silver medallists now look to a likely showdown with Victoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov (who compete this next weekend in Sochi) at the Final, the team that beat them at Euros in 2020.

Alexandra Stepanova and Ivan Bukin of Russia captured the bronze.

Grand Prix Final: Who's in - unofficially

How is the Grand Prix Final shaping up? Here's an unofficial look after five Grand Prix events, in which 15 points are awarded for gold, 13 for silver, 11 for bronze and so on.

The Rostelecom Cup is the final of six qualifying events. Six singles skaters and six teams qualify in each discipline.

Men
Kagiyama 30 points; Uno Shoma 28; Vincent Zhou 28; Nathan Chen 26; Brown 24; Sato 22.Still to skate: Mikhail Kolyada 13 points; Evgeni Semenenko 11.

Women
Shcherbakova 30 points; Kostornaia 24; Sakamoto Kaori 24; You Young 22; Higuchi 16; Alexandra Trusova 15.Still to skate: Kamila Valieva 15 points; Elizaveta Tuktamysheva 13; Maiia Khromykh 13; Loena Hendrickx 11.

Pairs
Sui Wenjing and Han Cong
30 points; Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov 28; Boikova/Kozlovskii 26; Miura Riku and Kihara Ryuichi 24; Artemeva/Nazarychev 24.Still to skate: Anastasia Mishina and Aleksandr Galliamov 15 points; Daria Pavliuchenko and Denis Khodykin 13.

Ice dance
Papadakis/Cizeron 30 points; Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue 28; Gilles/Poirier 28; Madison Chock and Evan Bates 26; Stepanova/Bukin 22.Still to skate: Victoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov 15 points; Charlene Guignard and Marco Fabbri 13; Laurence Fournier-Beaudry and Nikolaj Sorensen 11.

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