Yuna Kim leads after ladies’ short program; Gracie Gold 4th

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As some expected, a Russian skater has emerged as the top challenger to Olympic gold medalist Yuna Kim in the ladies’ competition.

But that Russian skater isn’t the one most were expecting.

Adelina Sotnikova appears to have emerged from the shadow of Yulia Lipnitskaia after earning a personal-best 74.64 in her short program – putting her less than three-tenths of a single point behind the Queen after the first day.

Lipnitskaia, the reigning European champion at just 15 years old, had been having a superb Sochi Olympics. But tonight, she finally made a mistake with a fall on her triple flip.

VIDEO: Kerrigan says Yuna Kim in a league of her own

She now sits fifth after the short program, down more than three points to U.S. Nationals champion Gracie Gold, who should be pleased with a fourth-place performance and a berth in the final group for tomorrow’s free skate.

Ditto for Gold’s compatriot, Ashley Wagner, who also will be in the final group even though she was scored less than Lipnitskaia for her solid – and clean – program.

VIDEO: Watch Yuna Kim’s short program routine

Wagner runs sixth, one spot ahead of the third American in the field, Polina Edmunds, who went to the top of the scoreboard after her skate and stayed there until Kim’s arrival and subsequent score of 74.92.

U.S. men’s skater Jason Brown, who was live-tweeting the proceedings at the Iceberg, was happy with his teammates’ results:

Suffering perhaps the worst night of all was Japan’s Mao Asada, who won the silver behind Kim four years ago in Vancouver.

VIDEO: Comparing Yuna Kim’s performance to Gracie Gold’s

Asada fell on a triple axel and also doubled a planned triple loop. The mistakes were major, and they were reflected in her score: 55.51, good for 16th place among the 24 skaters remaining.

MORE: Canada defends Olympic women’s bobsled title; U.S. gets silver, bronze

FIGURE SKATING – LADIES’ SHORT PROGRAM (TOP 10)
1. Yuna Kim (KOR), 74.92
2. Adelina Sotnikova (RUS), 74.64
3. Carolina Kostner (ITA), 74.12
4. Gracie Gold (USA), 68.63
5. Yulia Lipnitskaia (RUS), 65.23
6. Ashley Wagner (USA), 65.21
7. Polina Edmunds (USA), 61.04

8. Akiko Suzuki (JPN), 60.97
9. Mae Berenice Meite (FRA), 58.63
10. Nathalie Weinzierl (GER), 57.63

Max Aaron retires from figure skating

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Max Aaron, a national champion and Skate America winner, has retired from competitive figure skating.

Aaron, 26, ends his career as the only Skate America men’s winner not to compete in an Olympics. He is one of three U.S. men’s champions in the last 55 years not to compete in an Olympics, along with Ryan Bradley and Rudy Galindo.

“Of course, becoming an Olympian, or having an Olympic medal would have been great to say, ride off on my white horse, but having the ability to say that I have no regrets in my entire career of figure skating, for me that is my gold medal,” Aaron said Thursday night.

Aaron, a former top USA Hockey developmental player, also figure skated growing up to help with his skating skills as one of the smaller players on his team.

He stopped playing hockey at 16 due to a broken vertebra but continued full-time with figure skating. By 2012, Aaron considered quitting figure skating after placing eighth at nationals (one year after being U.S. junior champion) and being told he wasn’t artistic enough.

But Aaron kept with it and completed a remarkable bounce back the next year, winning the U.S. title and setting himself up as a favorite to make the 2014 Olympic team.

But Aaron ended up third at the 2014 U.S. Championships. The two Sochi Olympic spots went to Jeremy Abbott and Jason Brown.

Aaron continued, becoming the first U.S. man to win Skate America in six years in 2015 and topping the short program at the 2016 U.S. Championships before ultimately finishing second to Adam Rippon.

Aaron plummeted to ninth at the 2017 U.S. Championships, coming back from offseason hernia surgery, but returned to the Olympic team radar last fall with a personal-best free skate at Cup of China, including three landed quadruple jumps. He went into the 2018 U.S. Championships ranking third among American men for the season.

But Aaron was again ninth at nationals, missing the Olympic team. He was called on to compete at last month’s world championships as the third alternate after Rippon, Ross Miner and Brown all passed.

Aaron had stopped skating and instead was training for a triathlon. He went to worlds in Milan on two weeks of training and finished 11th, a result that helped the U.S. keep three men’s spots for 2019 Worlds. Nathan Chen won the world title, but Vincent Zhou was 14th. The U.S. needed its second man to be 12th or better to go along with Chen’s first place to ensure three spots next year. Aaron reportedly said at worlds that it may have been his last competition.

Aaron said he’s started a job with Merrill Lynch.

“It’s really been a great ride. I have no regrets,” he said. “That’s one thing that I always told myself, in sport, in life, I want to have no regrets, and I can honestly say, with the help from my coaches and friends, that I have no regrets in the sport.”

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Martha, Bela Karolyi speak on Larry Nassar case (video)

Martha Karolyi, Bela Karolyi
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Former USA Gymnastics national team coordinators Martha and Bela Karolyi said they knew nothing about Larry Nassar‘s alleged abuse in an interview that airs on an hourlong NBC News “Dateline” special Sunday at 7 p.m. ET.

Star U.S. gymnasts, among more than 100 who said they were sexually abused by the convicted Nassar, said they were abused at the Karolyi’s ranch in Texas during national-team training camps.

“That’s awful, but I would say even if they have big names or they have no names, any child who was violated by Nassar, it’s a crime and it’s so sad,” Martha Karolyi told Savannah Guthrie in part of the interview that aired on TODAY on Friday.

How could the Karolyis not have known about the alleged abuses committed at their property?

“Yes, but if you couldn’t suspect anything, I heard during the testimonies that some of the parents were in therapy room with their own child and Larry Nassar was performing this — and the parent couldn’t see. How I could see?” Martha Karolyi said.

“The whole thing is just like an explosion, a bomb exploding, boom,” Bela Karolyi said.

Martha Karolyi led the national team for 15 years before retiring after the Rio Olympics. She told Guthrie that in “no way” did she suspect Nassar was sexually abusing athletes.

The Karolyis have been named as co-defendants in several civil lawsuits filed against Nassar and USA Gymnastics.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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