At Grand Prix France, a figure skating story for the ages

Deanna Stellato-Dudek, Maxime Deschamps
Deanna Stellato-Dudek, Maxime Deschamps

Canadian Deanna Stellato-Dudek is older than Sarah Hughes, the 2002 Olympic figure skating champion who retired 19 years ago. Stellato-Dudek also left singles skating in the early 2000s, but she’s back after a 16-year competition break.

And she’s leading Grand Prix France, a stop on the sport’s top international level.

Stellato-Dudek and partner Maxime Deschamps topped the pairs’ short program, despite a fall, with 64.33 points on Friday. At 39 years old, Stellato-Dudek is already the oldest person to make a Grand Prix podium, taking Skate America runner-up with Deschamps two weeks ago.

GRAND PRIX FRANCE: Broadcast Schedule | Results

On Saturday, Stellato-Dudek can crush the record for oldest Grand Prix winner. Come the next Winter Games, Stellato-Dudek will be 42 and older than any Olympic figure skater since World War II, according to Olympedia.org.

That is far off. More pressing: A victory on Saturday will put Stellato-Dudek and Deschamps into December’s Grand Prix Final, the most exclusive event in the sport taking the top six per discipline from the six-event Grand Prix Series.

They are the story in pairs’ skating this season in the absence of the world’s top teams from Russia — banned due to the war in Ukraine — and China — none entered in the Grand Prix Series.

Stellato-Dudek took 2000 World Junior Championships silver and retired the following season due to hip injuries at age 17. She resurfaced in 2016 as a pairs’ skater with U.S. Olympian Nathan Bartholomay and placed third at nationals in 2018 and 2019.

The Illinois native decided to switch nationality to Canada and partnered with Deschamps. They were third at last season’s nationals.

Earlier Friday, world silver medalist Loena Hendrickx topped the women’s short with 72.75 points, 3.82 ahead of South Korean Kim Ye-Lim. Hendrickx, who landed a triple flip and triple Lutz-triple toe loop combination in a clean skate, can on her 23rd birthday become the oldest women’s Grand Prix winner since Finland’s Kiira Korpi in 2012 and the first Belgian in any discipline to win a Grand Prix.

Sota Yamamoto, who was eighth at last season’s Japan Championships, led the men’s short program with 92.42 points. He landed a quadruple toe-triple toe combination and a quad Salchow that was negatively graded. Yamamoto, 22, takes a 2.96-point lead over countryman Kazuki Tomono in a field that includes no Olympic or world medalists.

Charlene Guignard and Marco Fabbri were the expected leaders in the rhythm dance with 83.52 points. The Italians can win their first Grand Prix ice dance title after second- or third-place finishes in their last seven Grand Prix starts, including the 2018 Grand Prix Final.

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At Grand Prix France, a figure skating story for the ages originally appeared on NBCSports.com