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

Alison, Bruno rout Phil Dalhausser, Nick Lucena in FIVB World Tour Finals title match

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Brazil looks golden in beach volleyball, 10 months ahead of the Rio Olympics.

Brazilian pairs swept the FIVB World Tour Finals in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on Sunday, capped by World champions Alison Cerutti and Bruno Schmidt crushing 2008 Olympic champion Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena 21-13, 21-15 in a meeting of arguably the world’s two best teams.

Earlier, Larissa and Talita beat Germans Laura Ludwig and Kira Walkenhorst 21-17, 21-18 in the women’s final. Larissa and Talita have won 11 of the 16 international tournaments they’ve played since teaming up in July 2014.

Perhaps more dominant are Alison, a 2012 Olympic silver medalist with the legendary Emanuel, and Schmidt, nephew of Olympic basketball all-time scoring leader Oscar Schmidt. They swept the three biggest tournament titles of 2015 — the World Tour Finals plus the World Championships in the Netherlands in July and the World Series of Beach Volleyball in Long Beach, Calif., in August, during a stretch when they won all five FIVB World Tour events in those two months.

Brazil last earned an Olympic beach volleyball title in 2004, with Americans taking three of the four gold medals since. Volleyball, indoor and beach, is arguably the No. 2 sport in Brazil behind soccer, and the 2016 Olympic tournaments on Copacabana Beach will be highly anticipated.

Alison, an imposing 6-foot-8 figure nicknamed “Mammoth” with a matching tattoo, and Bruno also beat Dalhausser and Lucena in the World Series of Beach Volleyball final Aug. 23.

That tournament marked the American duo’s international return after Dalhausser and partner and two-time Olympian Sean Rosenthal split. The Floridians Dalhausser, 35, and Lucena, 36, had previously played together through the 2005 season.

On Wednesday, Dalhausser and Lucena beat Alison and Bruno in three sets in pool play. The two pairs had played 209 points together over two matches going into Sunday’s final, with the Americans holding a 105-104 points won advantage.

Three-time Olympic champion Kerri Walsh Jennings missed the World Tour Finals after undergoing season-ending right shoulder surgery, while partner and Olympic silver medalist April Ross teamed with sub partner Lauren Fendrick and lost in the quarterfinals Friday.

The FIVB World Tour season continues with a tournament in Puerto Vallerta, Mexico, this week.

MORE BEACH VOLLEYBALL: PHOTOS: Alison/Bruno, Dalhausser/Lucena play match on helipad

WATCH LIVE: Possible Olympic final preview in FIVB World Tour Finals — 2:30 p.m. ET

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FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — The World champions will play beach volleyball’s hottest team Sunday in an intriguing FIVB Word Tour Finals championship match and possible Olympic final preview, live on NBC and NBC Sports Live Extra.

Brazilians Alison Cerutti and Bruno Schmidt established themselves as beach volleyball’s best team by winning every international tournament they entered this July and August, including the World Championship.

But the U.S. pair of Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena has been the talk of the sport since partnering in July for the first time since separating in 2005. The duo has only entered five FIVB World Tour events this year, but they have made four finals.

“We don’t consider them to be a new team,” Bruno said. “They already play together so well.”

WATCH LIVE: FIVB World Tour Finals — 2:30 p.m. ET

There are many similarities between the pairs.

Alison and Dalhausser are both intimidating blockers. Dalhausser has been named the FIVB World Tour’s best blocker six times, while Alison was recognized in 2011.

In fact, Lucena called Alison “a thicker version of Phil.” Alison, who is known as “Mammoth,” has 35 pounds on Dalhausser, the “Thin Beast.”

Bruno and Lucena are speedy defensive specialists. Dalhausser called Bruno, nephew of Olympic basketball’s all-time leading scorer Oscar Schmidt, the world’s best defender.

“Bruno might be better than me,” Lucena said, laughing, “but I am taller.”

Both Bruno and Lucena are listed at 6-foot-1.

Dalhausser also compared to Lucena to Todd Rogers, his 2008 Olympic gold medal partner. Dalhausser described Lucena as “more explosive” than Rogers, who was named the FIVB World Tour’s best defensive player three times.

“Todd was super competitive, and Nick is the same way,” Dalhausser said.

Alison and Bruno and Dalhausser and Lucena split their first two meetings (not counting a recent exhibition on a helipad). They’ve played 209 points. Alison and Bruno have won 104. Dalhausser and Lucena have won 105.

Alison and Bruno won the first clash, 21–16, 20–22, 15–13 in the World Series of Beach Volleyball final in Long Beach, Calif., on Aug. 23.

Then Dalhausser and Lucena won Wednesday, 18-21, 21-16, 15-11 in a pool-play match that Lucena called “the most competitive match we’ve played.”

Dalhausser and Lucena, who are both from Florida, are counting on the heat to be a third teammate in Fort Lauderdale.

“We have to wear out the big guy,” Dalhausser said, referring to Alison. “We hope it’s 150 degrees, and we will serve him every time.”

The winning team will receive $100,000. It is the biggest international first-place monetary prize ever.

“They are the best team in the world,” Lucena said. “We want to change that and show what we can do.”

On the women’s side, Brazilians Larissa Franca and Talita Antunes and Germans Laura Ludwig and Kira Walkenhorst advanced to Sunday’s final, which will be live on Universal Sports Network at 1:00 p.m. ET. Larissa and Talita have won 10 of the 15 international events they’ve played since debuting in July 2014.

Three-time Olympic champion Kerri Walsh Jennings missed the World Tour Finals due to season-ending right shoulder surgery. Her partner, Olympic silver medalist April Ross, teamed with Lauren Fendrick this past week, and they lost in the quarterfinals.

MORE BEACH VOLLEYBALL: ‘Mammoth,’ ‘Magician,’ bring Brazil back atop beach volleyball