Max Aaron

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


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

Mikaela Shiffrin wins final slalom for best career season (video)

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Mikaela Shiffrin won her 12th World Cup race this season and seventh slalom, both personal bests, at the World Cup Finals in Are, Sweden, on Saturday.

Shiffrin, who clinched her second World Cup overall title and fifth slalom season title before the last races of the campaign this weekend, prevailed by 1.58 seconds over Swiss Wendy Holdener. PyeongChang gold medalist Frida Hansdotter of Sweden was third.

“The slalom has always been really close to my heart,” said Shiffrin, who won the last two slaloms this season after a shocking fourth-place finish in PyeongChang. “To finish with a run like that was super special.”

Full results are here.

Shiffrin matched Lindsey Vonn‘s American record for World Cup wins in one season — 12 — with one more race Sunday. Only Swiss Vreni Schneider has more women’s World Cup wins in a single campaign with 14.

Shiffrin, who turned 23 on Tuesday, also moved into solo fifth place on the women’s World Cup wins list with 43, including 23 victories in the last two seasons.

If Shiffrin keeps it up, she can move into the top three next season, though Lindsey Vonn‘s record 82 is a ways off.

“I’m not thinking about that so much,” Shiffrin said. “It’s way too soon to set that as my goal.”

Shiffrin is also three World Cup slalom wins shy of the record 35 held by retired Austrian Marlies Schild, whom Shiffrin supplanted as the world’s top slalom skier in 2013.

The World Cup Finals conclude Sunday with the women’s giant slalom. Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA will air live coverage of the second run at 7:30 a.m. ET.

“After today I’m really looking forward to going to the start one more time this season and hammering down,” Shiffrin said.

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Katie Ledecky beaten in NCAA Championships individual medley

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Katie Ledecky lost an NCAA Championships race for the first time in eight career finals, taking second in the 400-yard individual medley on Friday.

Stanford teammate Ella Eastin easily beat Ledecky by 3.69 seconds and grabbed the American and NCAA records from Ledecky, too. Eastin’s 3:54.60 is 1.93 seconds faster than Ledecky’s time from the Pac-12 Championships last month.

How did she do it?

“Honestly, I don’t know,” Eastin said on ESPNU. “I’ve built a lot of endurance this year, and it really showed.”

Eastin is decorated in her own right. She three-peated as NCAA 400-yard IM champion and held the American record in the event before Ledecky lowered it last month.

Eastin would have made the 2017 World Championships team had she not been disqualified for an illegal turn after finishing in second place at nationals.

Ledecky, a sophomore, has never contested the 400m IM at a U.S. Championships, Olympics or world championships, nor did she race the 400-yard IM at 2017 NCAAs. She raced the 400 IM instead of the 200 freestyle on Friday.

All of Ledecky’s races at major meets before Friday were in freestyle events. Her only defeat in a major international meet individual final was the 200m freestyle at 2017 Worlds.

Ledecky won five NCAA titles last year and the last two nights anchored the 800-yard freestyle relay and captured the 500-yard freestyle by eight seconds.

Meet results are here.

Later Friday, Lilly King of Indiana three-peated in the 100-yard breaststroke, breaking her American and NCAA records and winning in 56.25 seconds. King is also the Olympic and world champion in the 100m breast, plus the world-record holder.

“Always excited to get the record, but was really hoping to break 56 today,” King said.

Louisville’s Mallory Comerford became the second woman after Missy Franklin to break 1:40 in the 200-yard freestyle, winning in 1:39.80. Co-Olympic 100m free champ Simone Manuel of Stanford was third. Comerford and Ledecky tied for the 2017 NCAA 200 free title.

Stanford’s Ally Howe won the 100-yard backstroke in 49.70, one hundredth shy of her NCAA and American records. Olympic 100m backstroke silver medalist Kathleen Baker of Cal-Berkeley was third.

NCAAs conclude Saturday. Ledecky swims the 1,650-yard freestyle. She is the overwhelming favorite, having gone 35 seconds faster than anyone this season.

Ledecky hasn’t discussed with Stanford whether she will return for her junior season or turn pro, according to the school.

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