Max Aaron

Olympic men’s spots wide open at U.S. Figure Skating Championships

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Max Aaron and Adam Rippon just missed four years ago. Jason Brown and Jeremy Abbott were champions.

The skaters will reconvene as four contenders for two Olympic spots at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Boston this week. The men’s short program is Friday night, the free skate Sunday and the team announcement Sunday night.

The competition is billed as up for grabs, and limiting it to a quartet may prove short-sighted. U.S. men’s figure skating, while competitive and unpredictable domestically, is in the doldrums internationally.

Sochi marks the first Olympics in 20 years for which the U.S. failed to qualify the maximum three men’s skaters. No man competing this week has won an Olympic or World Championships medal.

2010 Olympic champion Evan Lysacek announced he would not attempt to defend his gold medal in December, citing a hip injury. Two-time Olympian Johnny Weir retired in October.

The last time they competed at the same U.S. Championships was four years ago in Spokane, Wash., where the three-man team for Vancouver was named.

Aaron, Brown, Rippon and Abbott were there, too.

U.S. Figure Skating Championships Previews: Men | Women | Ice Dance | Pairs | Schedule

Aaron, then a 17-year-old converted hockey player, led following the junior short program in Spokane after finishing eighth at sectionals the year before.

“Since we are all so close at the top, it really is anyone’s game,” he said before the free skate at the 2010 U.S. Championships, a phrase he could easily repeat going into Boston.

Aaron’s maturation saw him similarly jump from eighth at the 2012 U.S. Championships to win in 2013, making him a favorite to reach Sochi.

His ascension seemed to stop there. Aaron finished seventh at the World Championships in March, respectable for the current state of U.S. men.

This season, he fell repeatedly in international events and seemed to bottom out at NHK Trophy in Japan, botching jumps in both programs and finishing seventh out of nine skaters.

“Every time I watch a performance, I’m disgusted with how I’ve skated,” Aaron said. “I’m very embarrassed.”

Aaron is known for his quadruple jumps. He ambitiously added one to his free skate for this season, giving him three total in the program. In response to his embarrassing performances, he’s since dropped back to two quads in the free skate, like he had when he won the national title.

Aaron will aim to duplicate his golden performance from last year’s U.S. Championships. He will hope not to repeat 2010, where he ceded his short program lead and finished third behind a 15-year-old making his junior debut named Jason Brown.

Brown is a ponytailed skater with Arsenio Hall in his corner.

He’s the rising star of the U.S. men, having won bronze and silver at the last two World Junior Championships and adding an even more impressive bronze at a Grand Prix event in Paris in November. Only Olympic gold-medal favorites Patrick Chan and Yuzuru Hanyu were better than Brown in the Paris field.

“Every event this season has taught me more and more,” said Brown, who doesn’t perform quads (yet) but does skate to Irish “Riverdance” music. “As the season has gone on, I’ve gotten more confident about the fact that I can make this Olympic Team and I can get my first U.S. title.”

If he does so, Brown will repeat Aaron’s feat of jumping from eighth to first at back-to-back U.S. Championships.

Four years ago, Brown celebrated his U.S. junior gold medal by taking a seat at Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena and watching the senior men perform for spots on the Vancouver Olympic Team. There, he saw Rippon and Abbott go up against Lysacek, Weir and others.

Rippon, then 20, was the two-time reigning world junior champion. He was the future of U.S. men’s figure skating given Lysacek, Weir and Abbott were 24 or older.

“I definitely felt like the baby [in Spokane],” Rippon said. “I felt like I had this outside shot of making the Olympic Team and what a dream come true it would be. … I don’t know if I really believed if I could be part of the team at that time.”

He couldn’t. Rippon finished fifth in 2010, committing back-to-back young skater’s mistakes in his short program, stopping himself at the boards after a jump and falling on his butt on a footwork sequence.

Rippon has yet to evolve into a consistent senior threat at the international level in the years since, but neither has any other U.S. man. He showed signs of improvement this season, two years after leaving Olympic silver medalist coach Brian Orser and one year after moving to California, where the second-guessing skater would become the yin to confident training partner Ashley Wagner‘s yang.

Rippon won silver at Skate America in October, his first Grand Prix event medal in nearly three years. He has one quad jump planned in each of his programs in Boston.

“I’ve put myself in a really good position,” Rippon said, before channeling Wagner’s moxie. “I feel like this should be my U.S. title.

“You have to look at me because I’m demanding your attention. I’m telling you that I’m one of the best and you have to watch.”

That would have described Abbott’s performance at the 2010 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, where the Coloradoan won the second of his back-to-back national titles. It was a bit of a surprise, beating the reigning world champion Lysacek, and confirmed his 2009 gold was no fluke.

Abbott has never finished lower than fourth in seven U.S. Championships, which would lead one to believe he’s a favorite to be one of the two men chosen for Sochi.

Yet he’s disappointed time and again in major international competition — ninth at the 2010 Olympics, twice 11th at the World Championships and eighth at his last worlds appearance in 2012.

He looked lost in taking sixth at Skate Canada in October but rebounded to win bronze at NHK Trophy in November, beating Aaron. His total score was fourth highest among Americans this season, trailing Brown, Rippon and Aaron.

The quartet’s top scores this Grand Prix season are within six points of each other. To put that tight race in perspective, Abbott won the 2010 U.S. Championship by 25 points.

“I can do the tricks, and I can skate; I have great skating skills and artistry and well-choreographed programs,” Abbott recently told National Public Radio. “For me, the biggest obstacle is just bringing it all together.”

Aging NHL All-Stars still in play as Canada shapes Olympic roster

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NHL All-Stars Jarome Iginla and Shane Doan could still be on the Canada Olympic team in February, while officials hope the 25-man roster is largely in place in November.

GM Sean Burke said he talked to the players’ agents on Tuesday morning, one month after Burke first told media that Iginla and Doan were being considered for PyeongChang.

The NHL is not participating at the Olympics for the first time since 1994, which Burke said was the last time Canada didn’t enter as the gold-medal favorite.

It may be an underdog in PyeongChang to Russia, which is expected to field a team mostly or wholly of players from its domestic league, the KHL, the world’s second-best league to the NHL. And possibly Alex Ovechkin defying the NHL’s mandate.

Iginla and Doan, a pair of 40-year-old forwards, are unsigned and could choose international play over the NHL.

Burke on Tuesday echoed what Hockey Canada CEO Tom Renney said last month, that Iginla and Doan have to play in a non-NHL league if they want to be considered for the Olympics.

“If anybody’s going to play in the Olympics, there has to be a plan for the full year,” Burke said. “That includes obviously playing with us in events, but it also has to include playing somewhere in league play. … Anybody that’s going to play on this team, no matter what their pedigree or what they’ve done in the past, we’re going to consider. We want to look at all possibilities, but there has to be a long-term plan because it’s going to be very intense.”

Iginla played for Canada at the 2002, 2006 and 2010 Olympics. Doan suited up in 2006.

Meanwhile, 45 less-heralded Canadian professionals were evaluated at a pair of tournaments in Russia this month. Burke said a “majority” of the Olympic team will come from that group of 45.

“We’ll get our structure down, and then If we have to bring players in at a later date, I think it should be pretty easy for them to come in,” head coach Willie Desjardins said Tuesday.

While not tipping his hand, Burke noted that the three goalies who combined to play in those tournaments “all performed very well.”

Those goalies all have NHL experience — Ben Scrivens (144 games from 2011-16), Justin Peters (83 games from 2010-16) and Kevin Poulin (50 games for the New York Islanders).

“Scrivens I thought was outstanding,” said Burke, a Canadian Olympic goalie in 1988 and ’92 and three-time NHL All-Star. “As we start out today I think we have three really quality goaltenders.”

Burke added that he wanted to “get our roster down to as close to our Olympic team as we can” by Canada’s next tournament in Finland in November.

“We do have to make decisions before probably the ideal time,” Burke said.

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MORE: USA Hockey reaches out to aging NHL players, too

Mo Farah says goodbye in Zurich; Diamond League preview

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Mo Farah‘s last track race is lined up to be one of his most difficult.

Farah, who swept the 5000m and 10,000m at the 2012 and 2016 Olympics, is moving to road racing and marathons after this season.

The Somalian-born Brit’s decorated track career ends Thursday, at the first of two Diamond League finals meets in Zurich.

NBC Sports Gold coverage begins at 12:30 p.m. ET and continues through NBCSN coverage from 2-4 p.m.

It is by no means a coronation for Farah. He races the 5000m, the event he lost at the world championships in London two weeks ago. The man who beat him at worlds, Ethiopian Muktar Edris, is in the Zurich field.

As is American Paul Chelimo, who took silver to Farah in the Rio Olympic 5000m and bronze at worlds behind Edris and Farah.

Here are the Zurich entry lists. Here’s the schedule of events (all times Eastern):

12:25 pm. — Women’s Triple Jump
12:35 p.m. — Men’s High Jump
1:10 p.m. — Men’s Pole Vault
1:25 p.m. — Women’s Javelin
1:35 p.m. — Women’s Shot Put
2:05 p.m. — Women’s 400m Hurdles
2:13 p.m. — Men’s 1500m
2:24 p.m. — Women’s 200m
2:31 p.m. — Women’s 3000m Steeplechase
2:45 p.m. — Men’s Long Jump
2:49 p.m. — Men’s 400m Hurdles
2:55 p.m. — Men’s Javelin
2:58 p.m. — Women’s 800m
3:08 p.m. — Men’s 100m
3:14 p.m. — Men’s 5000m
3:35 p.m. — Women’s 100m Hurdles
3:43 p.m. — Men’s 400m

Here are five events to watch:

Women’s 200m — 2:24 p.m.
Olympic champion Elaine Thompson is entered here after skipping the 200m at worlds. She will face the 2015 and 2017 World 200m champion, Dafne Schippers of the Netherlands, and the Olympic 400m champion, Shaunae Miller-Uibo of the Bahamas.

Thompson shockingly finished out of the medals at worlds (fifth in the 100m), reportedly slowed by a stomach illness and an Achilles problem. The Jamaican looked closer to herself last Sunday, winning a 100m in Birmingham over the world silver medalist, plus Schippers and Miller-Uibo. But she has trailed off from consistently racing the 200m, which is Schippers’ preferred event.

Men’s High Jump — 2:35 p.m.
Qatar’s Mutaz Barshim is on the verge of capping the first undefeated season for a male high jumper since Swedish legend Stefan Holm in 2004. Who knows, there may be a world-record attempt on Thursday.

Barshim, 26, cleared 2.40 meters for the first time since June 2016 in Birmingham on Sunday, and then took the bar. The world record is 2.45 meters, set by Cuban Javier Sotomayor in 1993. Barshim took attempts at equaling or bettering that mark two of the last three years, but has not tried in 2017. This is his last chance to do so on the Diamond League stage until next spring.

Women’s 800m — 2:58 p.m.
Speaking of dominance, Caster Semenya can wrap up her second straight undefeated Diamond League campaign in the 800m in Zurich.

The scrutinized South African was in usual form at worlds, dusting Burundi’s Francine Niyonsaba and American record holder Ajee’ Wilson with her trademark blowout finishing kick. All of Semenya’s closest pursuers the last two years are in Thursday’s race save Wilson.

Men’s 100m — 3:08 p.m.
Justin Gatlin lines up for his first 100m since upsetting Usain Bolt at worlds. Bolt may be retired, but perhaps an even more familiar foe is in Zurich: Asafa Powell. Gatlin and Powell once shared the 100m world record of 9.77, before Gatlin’s time was wiped away due to his four-year doping ban. Gatlin and Powell have gone separate directions since Gatlin’s comeback in 2010.

Powell has reportedly broken 10 seconds a total of 97 times since 2004, the most in history. But he’s never finished better than third at an Olympics or worlds. In Zurich, he’ll look to break 10 for the first time since this meet a year ago. Powell has broken 10 seconds in 13 straight years since 2004, if you include his 2013 results that were stricken due to doping. He’s running out of chances to keep the streak alive.

Men’s 5000m — 3:14 p.m.
Just 12 1/2 more laps for Farah, who may have revenge on his mind against Edris, the man who kept him from a winning goodbye and an 11th straight global distance title in the world 5000m two weeks ago.

Farah is trying to end his track career in a better way than many of the sport’s legends.

Bolt pulled up with an injury in his relay finale at worlds. Kenenisa Bekele, the 5000m and 10,000m world-record holder who is now a marathoner, failed to finish his last documented track race at Ethiopia’s Olympic Trials for Rio. Likewise, Haile Gebreselassie was seventh in his track finale at Ethiopia’s Olympic Trials in 2012.

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