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.

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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.”

Michael Phelps ‘would probably do’ another Olympics if not for injury risk

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Michael Phelps said he would probably swim another Olympic cycle if it wasn’t for the possibility of injury, particularly with his shoulders.

“If you could guarantee me that I would never get injured in four years, and I would never have any problems with my shoulders or anything like that in four years, I’d probably do it again because I had more fun this time around,” Phelps said in a social media video Friday. “But I don’t want to risk that and not be able to spend time with Booms [son Boomer] when he grows up and watch him and be a part of every single part of his life when he gets older and older. So I think that’s something, for me, that I will never put my body through. I won’t take that chance. I think my body is way more important and my family is way more important than going another four years to swim in one more Olympics.”

Phelps’ right shoulder was a particular issue in his comeback for the Rio Olympics. He received two cortisone shots in the months before the Games, leading coach Bob Bowman to say that Phelps was “75 percent” of what he was at the 2008 Beijing Games, according to Sports Illustrated.

(Phelps has said he didn’t compete at 100 percent in Beijing, given an October 2007 broken wrist that interrupted training.)

Phelps reiterated, repeatedly as usual, during the 70-minute video that he would not return to competitive swimming. He still swims recreationally “for peace of mind” and “meditation.”

What about retirement saddens him?

“Not having the chance to represent my country anymore is something bums me out,” Phelps said, particularly hearing the national anthem atop the medal stand.

Phelps has plenty to keep him busy. The most pressing is testifying at a congressional hearing looking at improving the flawed anti-doping system in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday.

“I have a lot to say,” Phelps said. “To have that opportunity to speak out about my true feelings. I’ve never really, truly been able to do it.”

He began outlining those words Friday and said he had until Sunday to finish a page or a page and a half to present to the subcommittee.

“There are too many people who are cheating, that’s the easiest way to say it,” Phelps said. “Look what happened at the [Rio] Olympics, all the athletes that tested positive that were still allowed to compete. I think that’s wrong, and I think it’s unfair. I think that’s something that needs to clean.”

In Rio, Phelps praised teammate Lilly King‘s criticisms of athletes competing who had previously served doping punishments (such as King’s breaststroke rival, Russian Yuliya Yefimova). Phelps doubts he has ever competed in a clean race.

“I think you’re going to probably see a lot of people speaking out more,” Phelps said in Rio, according to The Associated Press. “I think [King] is right, I think something needs to be done. It’s kind of sad today in sports in general, not just in swimming, there are people who are testing positive who are allowed back in the sport and multiple times. It kind of breaks what sport is meant to be and that’s what pisses me off.”

Phelps said Friday that he hopes to help “clean the sports up so we can get back to why we play sports.”

“I don’t think any athlete should ever have that feeling that somebody else is at an advantage of using a performance-enhancing drug to help them,” he said. “I had these massive dreams and goals of things I wanted to accomplish and achieve, and never were they because I thought I could take an easy way by cheating. I basically just worked as hard as I could and made sure that my body was as prepared as I could possibly make it for every single meet. So I was able to accomplish the goals and dreams that I had. That’s something that I’m going to Congress to talk about.”

Phelps also added in Friday’s video that he hopes another swimmer will come along and break his records, that he was recently knocked out of a poker tournament by his wife and he will be in Budapest for the world championships in July.

Just not as a competitor.

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Dawn Harper-Nelson makes tearful plea about banned medication

BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND - AUGUST 24: Dawn Harper-Nelson of the United States after winning the Women's 100m Hurdles during the Diamond League at Alexander Stadium on August 24, 2014 in Birmingham, England.  (Photo by Ben Hoskins/Getty Images)
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In a tearful social media video, Olympic 100m hurdles champion Dawn Harper-Nelson said Thursday that she was “afraid for my life” because she’s not allowed to take prescribed blood-pressure medication that is banned by anti-doping authorities.

“I just want to say that this is not fair, that I’m afraid for my life,” she said. “I’m about to go into urgent care, because my blood pressure’s really high again. And USADA [U.S. Anti-Doping Agency] said I can’t take the medicine the doctors giving me. And they’re giving me a new medicine. This is just not OK. My head’s bothering me, my vision’s kind of blurry, and they said my blood pressure is high. I’m scared. People need to be aware, this is not cool.”

Harper-Nelson is serving a three-month ban after previously taking a prescribed medication and failing to learn that it contained a banned substance. She said she was prescribed the medication after being rushed to an emergency room and diagnosed with high blood pressure. The ban ends March 1.

Athletes can request therapeutic use exemptions (TUEs) through USADA if they have an illness or condition that requires the use of medication listed on the World Anti-Doping Agency’s Prohibited List. It’s not clear if Harper-Nelson has requested a TUE for medication containing a banned substance.

Harper-Nelson tested positive for the banned diuretic hydrochlorothiazide, which is on the prohibited list, and related metabolites on Dec. 1, according to USADA:

Harper-Nelson’s explanation that her positive test was caused by a blood pressure medication she was prescribed by a physician to treat hypertension. Harper-Nelson further explained that she made efforts to determine if the medication contained prohibited substances; however, due to using partial search terms, those efforts were unsuccessful.

On Thursday, A USADA official reached out to Harper-Nelson on Twitter. USADA has not commented on the situation.

Harper-Nelson won the 2008 Olympic 100m hurdles title and took silver behind Sally Pearson in 2012. She failed to make the Rio Olympic team, getting eliminated in the Olympic Trials semifinals.

The U.S. trio in Rio swept the medals — Brianna RollinsNia Ali and Kristi Castlin.

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