David Boudia

David Boudia, Troy Dumais lead U.S. into world diving championships; preview

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The world diving championships kick off Saturday at one of the great scenic venues in all of sports, the Piscina Municipal de Montjuïc in Barcelona, Spain.

You may remember the outdoor pool with a breathtaking view of the Catalan capital from the 1992 Olympics, where the late American Mark Lenzi won on the springboard and China’s Fu Mingxia prevailed on the platform, the first of her record-tying four individual Olympic diving golds.

Or the 2003 world championships, where recently retired Canadian Alex Despatie nailed one of the greatest dives in major championship history, his patented twister (backward 2 1/2 somersault with 2 1/2 twists from the pike position) with a whopping 3.8 difficulty, for 107.16 points (9s and 10s) in the final round to win.

You may also recall it from a Kylie Minogue music video.

Here’s a refresher and a primer for the first major international meet since the 2012 Olympics:

What happened in London: China dominated but again fell short of sweeping, taking six of eight events.

One of those two non-China golds came in the marquee diving event of the Games, the men’s platform on the next to last day of competition. American David Boudia upset a defeaning crowd inside the London Aquatics Centre by defeating Great Britain’s Tom Daley (in addition to world champion and favorite Qiu Bo.)

USA Diving won four medals in London, its first medals since Laura Wilkinson‘s comeback gold at the 2000 Olympics.

The other three podiums came in synchro events — Troy Dumais and Kristian Ipsen (bronze) and Kelci Bryant and Abby Johnston (silver) on the springboard and Boudia and Nick McCrory on the platform (bronze).

What’s happened since London: Start with Boudia, 24, who took time off to get married and appear as a judge on a celebrity diving TV show.

He returned to competition in May, taking silver at the USA Diving Grand Prix in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., behind a Chinese diver who did not compete individually at the Olympics.

Boudia then easily won trials a week later and notably nearly qualified the synchronized 3-meter springboard.

Boudia is tempering expectations given the layoff but said he will perform the same dives as he did in London.

What could be different from 2012 is the competition. Daley, he of the 2.4 million Twitter followers, was listed as doubtful due to a glandular problem by the BBC earlier this week. However, he’s in Barcelona and practicing but, like Boudia, will not compete in synchro.

Qiu, who cited an illness as a reason for settling for silver in London, is back boasting a new, higher difficulty dive. The 20-year-old leads a Chinese team hoping to sweep all 10 events as it did in 2011.

Dumais and Ipsen are the only other Olympic medalists on the 15-diver U.S. roster, but they are no longer synchro partners.

They parted mutually given Dumais, 33, isn’t yet committed to another full Olympic cycle and Ipsen, 20, is a rising junior at Stanford, 1,700 miles away from Dumais’ training base in Austin, Texas.

“I haven’t closed the door,” said Dumais, a four-time Olympian and five-time world championship medalist looking for his first worlds gold. “Hopefully he hasn’t closed the door.”

Dumais qualified for the synchro springboard with a new, even younger partner, incoming Texas freshman Michael Hixon.

Ipsen swept the trials one- and three-meter springboard events after doubling up at NCAAs in March.

None of the eight U.S. women’s divers have any worlds or Olympic experience, but keep on eye on Samantha Pickens, who won the NCAA one-meter springboard title for Arizona and then took the same event at trials, and Amy Cozad, who made the worlds team on the platform after finishing third at last year’s Olympic trials, where only the top two advanced to London.

Schedule: Universal Sports will have coverage beginning with Saturday’s synchro events.

Finals
Saturday: Women’s synchro springboard (11:30 a.m. ET)
Sunday: Men’s synchro platform (11:30 a.m.)
Monday: Men’s one-meter springboard (8 a.m.), women’s synchro platform (11:30)
Tuesday: Women’s one-meter springboard (8 a.m.), men’s synchro springboard (11:30)
Thursday: Women’s platform (11:30 a.m.)
Friday: Men’s three-meter springboard (11:30 a.m.)
Saturday, July 27: Women’s three-meter springboard (11:30 a.m.)
Sunday, July 28: Men’s platform (8 a.m.)

Sidney Crosby’s sister wants to play in Olympics

Maia, Alex Shibutani repeat as U.S. champions, just miss record

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KANSAS CITY — Maia and Alex Shibutani proved again they are the best in the U.S. The task will be much tougher in two months at the world championships.

The siblings totaled 200.05 points to repeat as national champions on Saturday.

They missed the U.S. Championships overall record score, set by Olympic champions Meryl Davis and Charlie White, by .14 of a point, after setting the short dance record Friday.

“A year out from the Olympics, this is exactly where we want to be,” Maia Shibutani told Andrea Joyce on NBC. “I know we’ve improved so much.”

Madison Chock and Evan Bates, the 2015 U.S. champions, were second, 1.01 points behind the Shibutanis. Chock and Bates actually outscored the Shibutanis in the free dance.

Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue were third after Hubbell shockingly fell during their free dance.

Full results are here.

The Shibutanis are riding a tidal wave of momentum. They earned their first U.S. title in 2016, then took silver at the world championships last March and bronze at the Grand Prix Final last month.

“The past year and a half, we’ve built so much momentum,” Alex Shibutani said. “We’re really coming into our own.”

The world’s two best couples are two-time reigning world champions Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron of France and Canada’s Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir.

Virtue and Moir took Olympic gold in 2010 and silver in 2014, then took two seasons off and returned this year to post the highest scores under the current system implemented in 2010.

The U.S., though, is unquestionably the deepest ice dance nation. The Shibutanis, Chock and Bates and Hubbell and Donohue made up half of the top six at the 2016 World Championships. All three couples qualified for each of the last two Grand Prix Finals, which take only six couples.

Meanwhile, Davis and White have watched the ascension while taking a three-year break from competition. They are running out of time to decide if they will attempt to defend their Olympic title in PyeongChang. A nation can send no more than three couples to the Olympics.

The U.S. Championships continue Saturday night with the women’s free skate (8 p.m. ET, NBC, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app).

Check out NBCsports.com/USFIGS for all-access coverage all weekend.

VIDEO: Tara Lipinski reflects on winning 1997 U.S. title at age 14

U.S. Championships Ice Dance
GOLD: Maia Shibutani/Alex Shibutani — 200.05

SILVER: Madison Chock/Evan Bates — 199.04
BRONZE: Madison Hubbell/Zachary Donohue — 191.42
4. Elliana Pogrebinsky/Alex Benoit — 170.29
5. Kaitlin Hawayek/Jean-Luc Baker — 160.06

Haven Denney, Brandon Frazier win U.S. pairs title after year off

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KANSAS CITY — Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier returned from a year off to win their first U.S. pairs title on Saturday, despite an error-prone free skate and against a field lacking any previous U.S. champion teams.

Denney and Frazier jumped from second after the short program to total 188.32 points and win by 2.04 over Sochi Olympian Marissa Castelli and Mervin Tran. Denney and Frazier’s total score was 23.33 points fewer than last year’s winning score.

Ashley Cain and Timothy LeDuc, who led by 3.96 after the short program, had a strong free skate going until a fall on their throw triple Lutz and finished third Saturday.

Full results are here.

Denney and Frazier were the top U.S. pair in the fall international season by 16 points, taking a silver medal at Skate America.

But Denney struggled on landings in the short program, her right leg wrapped after blowing out her right knee in spring 2015 that caused them to miss the entire 2015-16 season. They also had multiple jumping errors in their free skate, but, unlike the rest of the top five, stayed on their feet Saturday.

“We’re trying harder elements, harder jumps, bigger throws, bigger twists,” Frazier said. “What you see is a couple of ups and downs. This is all building for the next season.”

The U.S. will send two pairs to the world championships in Helsinki in two months, but not definitively the top two finishers from Saturday. The world championships pairs teams will be named Sunday.

Denney and Frazier finished 12th at the 2015 Worlds, after placing second at that year’s U.S. Championships. Castelli and Tran, in their second year as a pair, have no worlds experience together and are ineligible for the 2018 Olympics. Tran, born in Canada, is not a U.S. citizen.

Pairs is the U.S.’ weakest discipline. The last U.S. pair to earn an Olympic or world medal was Kyoka Ina and John Zimmerman at the 2002 Worlds. Eight different pairs have won the last nine U.S. titles.

In 2016, the U.S. pairs finished ninth and 13th at worlds, but both of those teams are out due to injuries.

Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Christopher Knierim, the top U.S. pair in international competition in recent seasons, has been out of competition all season due to her September stomach surgery. They have returned to full training.

The Knierims filed a petition to be named to the world championships team, which is selected on a discretionary basis on results from the U.S. Championships and other recent competitions.

“Whatever they decide,” Tran said of a U.S. Figure Skating selection committee, “we’re all for that.”

The 2016 U.S. champions Tarah Kayne and Danny O’Shea withdrew before the free skate Saturday after Kayne suffered a concussion in a short-program fall. They placed fifth in the short program.

The U.S. Championships continue Saturday night with the women’s free skate (8 p.m. ET, NBC, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app).

Check out NBCsports.com/USFIGS for all-access coverage all weekend.

VIDEO: Tara Lipinski reflects on 1997 U.S. title at age 14

U.S. Championships Pairs
GOLD: Haven Denney/Brandon Frazier — 188.32
SILVER: Marissa Castelli/Mervin Tran — 186.28
BRONZE: Ashley Cain/Timothy LeDuc — 184.41

4. Deanna Stellato/Nathan Bartholomay — 173.50
5. Jessica Pfund/Joshua Santillan — 168.90