Max Aaron

U.S. men’s figure skaters mired in quad quandary

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DETROIT — Down went Max Aaron. Down went Adam Rippon.

It’s the hardest puzzle piece to snap into place in men’s figure skating leading up to the Sochi Olympics: the quadruple jump. And after the season’s first Grand Prix event, it continues to be an elusive element for the top U.S. men.

Only Skate America’s winner, Tatsuki Machida of Japan, made it through the weekend without any trouble with four-revolution jumps, landing two in his free skate to win over Rippon and Aaron, who took silver and bronze, respectively.

Daisuke Takahashi, the 2010 Olympic bronze medalist, barely caught his quadruple toe loop and struggled Saturday to finish fourth.

Can the American men find their quad form come Sochi?

Evan Lysacek was criticized in 2010 for winning gold in Vancouver without a quad. While Lysacek remains out with injury, two-time Olympic silver medalist Elvis Stojko, who helped usher in the jump to men’s skating in the 1990s, is a fan of the bigger-is-better movement.

“Guys are trying two quads in a program, which is awesome,” Stojko said last week. “I feel that they’re really pushing the envelope. Now they’re back to what we were doing in 2002 in the quads. There’s more guys doing it and more consistently, which is great. So, having at least one quad in the program is a must, if you want to be in the hunt. If you really want to take down the competition, doing two with a combination.”

The toe loop has been a struggle for Aaron, who landed two quad salchows Saturday night.

“Right now we’re committed to keeping that quad toe loop in there; we’re not going to take it out,” Aaron said. “Maybe by Boston (U.S. Championships in January) it will be perfect, maybe it will not.”

Aaron has a whopping three quads in his free skate, compared to just one in Rippon’s. The silver medalist made light of his fall Saturday night, in which he hit the boards.

“I’m lucky that the Joe Louis is an old, sturdy arena,” Rippon said, drawing laughs. “The boards held up and didn’t break.”

But Rippon, who was second at Nationals in 2012, got serious a few minutes later, saying that he planned to add one, if not two quad jumps to his program this season.

“My priority for each competition is to go out and put out a good quad lutz,” he said. “By the end of the season I hopefully will add another quad lutz and also a quad toe to the program. The quad toe has been good at home in practice.”

Other Americans in contention to make the Sochi Olympic team, including Ross Miner and three-time national champion Jeremy Abbott, have quads but have not been able to execute them on a consistent basis.

For many skaters it is a numbers game. Figure skating’s “new” scoring system, which has now been around for nearly 10 years, awards higher totals for the bigger jumps, even if they aren’t executed perfectly.

“I left a lot of points on the table,” said Aaron, referring to the fall and subsequent mistakes around his quads. “It was unacceptable for me to fall. I’m not very happy about that.

“I’m going to go back home and continue to work. We want the components a lot higher, we want the technical score a lot higher and we want the overall score a lot higher. We’re not looking for falls or step outs; we’re looking for a clean skate every time. We will get it right. We picked that program for a reason and there’s no backing down.”

Plushenko updates on his training

Simone Biles welcomed home with cheerleaders, band, police escort (video)

Simone Biles
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The celebration began the moment Simone Biles walked into Bush Airport in Houston on Wednesday.

Biles, after winning four gold medals at the Rio Olympics, arrived in her home state of Texas to the sounds of a band, sights of Houston Texans cheerleaders and much more.

Mayor Sylvester Turner declared Wednesday to be “Simone Biles Day” in Houston, handing the gymnast a paper proclamation.

“Hi guys, I’m Simone Biles, and I can’t thank everyone [enough] in all of Houston for coming out to see me today and to welcome me from Rio,” she said, laughing, on a podium at the airport. “I don’t know what else to say, I’m nervous, and I love you guys.”

Later, Biles was given a parade in her hometown of Spring, a Houston suburb, with a police escort.

Biles and the Final Five’s first stop on the way home from Rio was New York, where they went on a media tour earlier this week. They reached the top of the Empire State Building, visited Jimmy Fallon and saw “Hamilton.”

The Final Five will reunite for a USA Gymnastics tour of 36 cities, beginning Sept. 15.

MORE: Home videos of Simone Biles doing gymnastics

Gwen Jorgensen the latest Olympic triathlon star to move up to marathon

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When Olympic triathlon champion Gwen Jorgensen lines up for her first 26.2-mile race at the New York City Marathon on Nov. 6, it will be hard to judge her performance.

Perhaps the best measure will be her time versus those of previous Olympic triathlon medalists in their marathon debuts.

Jorgensen is recognized as the greatest female runner among top-level female triathletes, perhaps of all time, with an ability to make up deficits of more than one minute on the 10km run after swimming 1,500 meters and biking 40 kilometers.

Swiss Nicola Spirig, the 2012 Olympic triathlon gold medalist, made her marathon debut in 2014 in 2:42:53. Sprig, though, had more long-distance racing experience than Jorgensen, including a half marathon.

Jorgensen, 30 and a former University of Wisconsin distance runner and swimmer, has never tackled more than 10 miles in training, according to The New York Times.

“When you ask athletes what they want to do after they win gold or the Super Bowl, they say they want to go to the happiest place on earth,” Jorgensen said, according to the newspaper. “Running is my happiest place. It’s my Disneyland.”

Portugal’s Vanessa Fernandes shared triathlon’s longest top-level international winning streak before Jorgensen strung together 13 wins in a row.

Fernandes, the 2008 Olympic triathlon silver medalist, clocked 2:31:25 in her first marathon, but it came in 2015, four years after her last elite international triathlon.

The 2015 New York City Marathon women’s winning time was 2:24:25 by Kenyan Mary Keitany. The top American, Laura Thweatt, ran 2:28:23.

This year’s American field may be stronger, with Olympic track distance runners Molly Huddle and Kim Conley making their marathon debuts.

Other Olympic triathlon medalists, including 2004 gold medalist Kate Allen and 2000 silver medalist Michellie Jones, have moved up to the Ironman — a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike and a marathon.

In 2014, Jorgensen said she didn’t see herself ever doing an Ironman.

MORE: What Jorgensen asked Ironman star Mirinda Carfrae