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

More of best GIFs from PyeongChang Olympics

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The 2018 Winter Games are over, but that doesn’t mean we’ll forget all the amazing heights reached by American athletes. Take a look back at a few of them here with an added twist, powered by Giphy:

18 most dominant athletes from the 2018 Olympics

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My 18 most dominant gold medalists at the Olympics, choosing at least one from each sport. 

1. Ester Ledecka, Czech Republic, Alpine Skiing/Snowboarding
Arguably the greatest athlete on the planet after taking surprise gold in Alpine skiing’s super-G and snowboarding’s parallel giant slalom (where she was the clear favorite). The 22-year-old became the third athlete to win individual Winter Olympic gold medals in different sports, the first since 1932 and the first woman. The other two were done in cross-country skiing and Nordic combined, the latter being a mixture of ski jumping and cross-country skiing. Ledecka’s feat was certainly more impressive.

2. Marit Bjørgen, Norway, Cross-Country Skiing
The most decorated athlete at the Games with five medals, including two golds. Bigger, though, is that the 37-year-old mom broke countryman Ole Einar Bjørndalen’s record for career Winter Olympic medals, finishing with 15. She also tied Bjørndalen and Bjørn Dæhlie’s record of eight Winter Olympic titles by winning the last event of the Games, the 30km, by 109 seconds, the largest Olympic cross-country margin of victory in 38 years. In her final career Olympic race.

3. Yun Sung-Bin, South Korea, Skeleton
Under host-nation pressure, the man in the Iron Man helmet had the fastest run in each of the four heats and won by 1.63 seconds, the largest margin in Olympic skeleton history.

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