Seth Wescott

Seth Wescott, Nick Baumgartner up for one Olympic spot

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Apologies to figure skating, but men’s snowboardcross appears to include the most intriguing U.S. Olympic discretionary selection.

Three men have qualified automatically — two-time Olympian Nate Holland and first-time Olympians Trevor Jacob and Alex Deibold — via earning one top-four finish in World Cup events this season.

The U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association has the ability to add a fourth man to the team, and it is expected to do so next week.

That fourth spot could go to Seth Wescott, who has won both Olympic gold medals since the sport was added to the Olympics in 2006.

Wescott, 37, underwent a complete reconstruction of his left ACL in April after falling into an Alaska crevasse while shooting part of a film for ski and snowboard director Warren Miller. He tore the ACL and broke his tibia.

His return to competition came in Andorra last weekend, the final World Cup event before the Olympics. Wescott finished an unimpressive 49th and 31st in two races, aiming for that top-four criteria.

“I knew it was going to be a tough order for me to jump back on in basically on the last weekend and try to make [the Olympic Team],” Wescott said in a phone interview. “Getting back up to speed, it takes a little while. with my whole scenario, my coming off injury. I thought, mainly for my health, I needed to wait until the last possible moment [to return].”

That fourth spot could also go to Nick Baumgartner, a 2010 Olympian and the only U.S. man with three top-10 finishes on the World Cup tour this season.

“I’m definitely stressed and sweating a little bit,” Baumgartner said in a phone interview. “I don’t want to sound cocky, but as of right now I feel like the strongest rider on the team.”

Baumgartner, 32, hoped to secure his spot in Andorra with a top-four finish, but he came in sixth and eighth in two races.

“It definitely is tough because Seth has had some great results,” Baumgartner said. “There’s no taking it away, he won the last two [Olympics]. … It’s a hard call, but in my eyes I really just hope they go with the results and how the riding is going right now. I think that’s the fair way to go. I also wish I didn’t put myself in this situation.”

Wescott is one of three Olympians trying to become the first American man to win the same Winter Olympic event three straight times (Bonnie Blair is the only U.S. woman to do it). Fellow snowboarder Shaun White (halfpipe) and speed skater Shani Davis (1000m) also won in 2006 and 2010.

Wescott, if they all make the Olympic team, would be the last of the three to make the attempt. Men’s snowboardcross in Sochi is Feb. 17, five days after Davis’ 1000m and six days after White’s halfpipe.

“My history is what it is, and I have the best history of anyone on the U.S. team at major events, worlds, X Games, Olympics,” Wescott said. “So I know, from a USOC perspective, if they’re looking at fielding a team, they’re looking at fielding who’s going to bring medals. That definitely has to weigh in some.

“I was really happy with the progress I made last week and knowing we’ve got more than 30 days until the race day for us over there [in Sochi], I really do feel like I could be ready to go the way I need to be.”

Wescott said he has not made contact with anybody to argue his case to be picked. He believes in the system, that a spot must be earned, and is not feeling pressure despite the uncertainty.

“There is no grandfathering,” he said. “There is no taking me because of what I’ve done in the past. I’m honestly a fan of that.”

Baumgartner calls Wescott a friend.

“I look up to him very much,” Baumgartner said. “You always want great things for your friends, and I want to go [to Sochi] as well. I feel as if I earned it.”

Knowing the qualifying scenario, Wescott still cheered Baumgartner on at the bottom of the course in Andorra.

“Go punch your ticket today,” Wescott told Baumgartner. “I would be happy to see him have great success. Frankly, I don’t think there’s anyone on the team that deserves it more than he does.

“I’ve been so fortunate to have two [Olympic] experiences I’ve had. A third one right now isn’t going to drastically change my life one way or another,” said Wescott, who harbors plans for 2018 whether or not he goes to Sochi. “I look at him as a single father and all the stuff that he has on his plate. He’s an amazing athlete, one of the best we have.”

Wescott brought up an interesting point. He and Baumgartner are slated to compete in the Winter X Games in Aspen, Colo., on Jan. 24. The Winter X Games is not an official Olympic qualifying event, but in this case, he hopes the results there will be taken into consideration.

The final nominations to the Olympic Team are due Jan. 25.

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Olympic pairs’ champs crush world record for world title; U.S. struggles

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Germans Aljona Savchenko and Bruno Massot added a world title to their Olympic gold with a world-record score, while U.S. pairs’ struggles continued with the Americans’ lowest-ever results at a world championships.

Savchenko and Massot broke the longest-standing record total in figure skating, extending their lead from Wednesday’s short program to win by 20.31 points over Russians Yevgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov.

“It was exactly the season that we wanted,” Massot said. “We reached our goal today.”

Vanessa James and Morgan Cipres took bronze, France’s second Olympic or world pairs medal in 86 years.

Full results are here.

Savchenko and Massot’s free skate — the first to eclipse 160 points under the current judging system — included a side-by-side triple Salchow-double toe loop-double toe loop combination and a throw triple flip and throw triple Salchow.

Their total score — 245.84 points — shattered 2014 Olympic champions Tatyana Volosozhar and Maksim Trankov‘s record of 237.71 set at 2013 Skate America. Their winning margin also broke Volosozhar and Trankov’s record for an Olympics or world championships under the 14-year-old points system.

Savchenko earned her 11th world medal — tying the female record held by Norwegian singles legend Sonja Henie — and sixth world title — tying Soviet Alexander Zaitsev for second on the all-time pairs’ list, four behind Irina Rodnina.

This was the French-born Massot’s first world title. Savchenko’s previous five world titles came with now-retired Robin Szolkowy.

Savchenko is 34, a five-time Olympian and the oldest pairs’ gold medalist in Winter Olympic history. The logical question — will she continue competing next season?

“Think about tomorrow,” she said, with Massot adding, “Ask again next week.”

The two U.S. pairs finished 15th and 17th, which means the U.S. drops to one pairs’ spot for the 2019 Worlds, its fewest since 1957.

U.S. champions Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Christopher Knierim dropped from 11th after the short program to 15th of 16 pairs after the free skate. Scimeca fell on their death spiral and a throw triple flip, looked distraught skating off the ice and tweeted 10 minutes later, “I’m sorry for losing us a spot” and “Bad day to have a bad day.”

The Knierims made the top 10 in their four previous world championships appearances with a best finish of seventh.

The other U.S. pair, 2000 World junior singles silver medalist Deanna Stellato and 2014 Olympian Nathan Bartholomay, were 17th in Wednesday’s short program, missing the cutoff for the free skate by one spot.

It’s the first time all U.S. pairs finished outside the top 11 at a worlds, granted worlds didn’t regularly have a field greater than 15 pairs before 1990.

It came on the heels of the U.S. having its smallest pairs’ contingent — one pair — at an Olympics since the first Winter Games in 1924. The Knierims were 15th in PyeongChang, marking the first time the U.S. sent a pair to an Olympics and put none in the top 10.

The last U.S. pairs’ medal at worlds came in 2002, making this the nation’s longest drought in any figure skating discipline. The last Olympic medal was in 1988.

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Nathan Chen hits short program, leads world championships

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That’s more like it, Nathan Chen.

After two disastrous Olympic short programs, Chen nailed his jumps at the world championships, taking the lead by 1.86 points over Russian Mikhail Kolyada in Milan on Thursday. American Vincent Zhou is third.

Full results are here.

“I learned a lot from the Olympics, and I used what I learned there heading into the short program in terms of where to place my mind, what to think about throughout the program,” Chen said. “It was great to have an opportunity to come back before the end of the season to try the short program again, sort of hope to redeem myself.”

Later Thursday, Germans Aljona Savchenko and Bruno Massot backed up their Olympic gold with a world title, shattering the longest-standing world record in figure skating with a record margin of victory. Full recap here.

In Saturday’s men’s free skate, Chen can become the youngest men’s world champion since Yevgeny Plushenko in 2001. Zhou can become the first man to make a senior world podium the year after winning a world junior title since Plushenko in 1998. The U.S. last put two men on a world podium in 1996 (Todd EldredgeRudy Galindo).

This week’s field lacks Yuzuru HanyuJavier Fernandez and Patrick Chan, who combined to win every Olympic and world title since 2011 but ended their seasons at the Olympics.

On Thursday, Chen hit a quadruple Lutz-triple toe loop combination, a quadruple flip and a triple Axel for 101.94 points (2.18 shy of his personal best). It was a reversal from PyeongChang, where Chen’s short programs began unraveling with that opening combination, and he scored 80.61 and 82.27 points.

Chen placed 17th in the Olympic short program and redeemed himself with the top free skate, moving up to fifth. He went into the Olympics as the only undefeated male skater for the season.

“That I was able to bounce back and have the long program that I did, because of that the whole Olympic experience wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be after the short program,” Chen said Thursday. “Being able to have that, I didn’t have any ghosts of the Olympics following me [to worlds].”

Zhou, the youngest of 37 men in the field at 17, landed a quad Lutz-triple toe loop combination and a quad flip, fist pumping at the end of his skate. He shattered his personal-best short program by 12.25 points. Zhou was sixth at the Olympics.

“I came here to skate a clean program, I did that, and being in the top three is icing on the cake,” Zhou said.

Two other medal favorites — Olympic silver medalist Shoma Uno of Japan and two-time world bronze medalist Jin Boyang of China — struggled with jumps. Jin is fourth and Uno fifth.

Uno, competing with a reported ankle injury, performed a triple-double combination rather than the quad-triple he did in PyeongChang. Jin had a quad toe called under-rotated.

The third American, 2013 U.S. champion Max Aaron, is in 15th place. Aaron put his hand down on his opening quad Salchow and turned out of his triple Axel landing.

Key Free Skate Start Times (Saturday ET)
Max Aaron (USA) — 6:05 a.m.
Shoma Uno (JPN) — 8:21 a.m.
Jin Boyang (CHN) — 8:29 a.m.
Mikhail Kolyada (RUS) — 8:38 a.m.
Vincent Zhou (USA) — 8:47 a.m.
Nathan Chen (USA) — 8:55 a.m.

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