Worlds preview: Changing of the guard lingers for pairs figure skaters

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Is this the competition where the changing of the guard becomes reality on the world stage in pairs figure skating?

Reigning Olympic gold medalists Tatyana Volosozhar and Maksim Trankov will sit out the World Championships, set to start Tuesday evening (EST) in Saitama, Japan, leaving the door open for the next generation of Olympic champions to take over the throne.

The leading contenders for said spot are Volosozhar and Trankov’s Russian compatriots Ksenia Stolbova and Fyodor Klimov, the surprise silver medalists from the Sochi Games last month.

More: Full Worlds schedule and streaming times | Entry list

It will be German veterans Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy who will look to stall that shift for a bit longer, however, the four-time world champions coming off a second consecutive Olympic bronze medal, this one highly disappointing.

Savchenko/Szolkowy were second after the short program in Sochi only to falter on two elements in their free skate, finishing behind the two Russian teams.

The U.S. will pin its hopes on its Olympic line-up, with two-time U.S. champions Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir leading the charge (ninth in Sochi) and fellow Olympians Felicia Zhang and Nathan Bartholomay (12th) also set to compete.

2012 U.S. champions Caydee Denney and John Coughlin pulled out of the event last week due to an ankle injury sustained by Denney, opening the spot for Zhang/Bartholomay.

“We’re just hoping to continue with our good streak of getting new personal bests,” Boston-based Castelli, 23, told NBCSports.com in a phone interview last week. “Not all the top teams from Sochi are going to be there, so we want to be even higher than top 10 – maybe top seven or six. Mostly we want to go out there and skate two clean programs.”

More: World Figure Skating Championships men’s preview

In addition to Volosozhar/Trankov, Sochi fourth-placers Pang Qing and Tong Jian will not compete in Saitama. The veteran Chinese pair won silver at the 2010 Vancouver Games and were world champions in 2006 and 2010.

Canada sends two teams with medal aspirations: Kirsten Moore-Towers and Dylan Moscovitch (fifth in Sochi) and Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford (seventh). A year ago, Duhamel/Radford won the bronze medal at the World Championships in front of a home crowd.

Castelli/Shnapir will look to continue to improve on their rare throw quadruple Salchow jump after Castelli nearly landed it cleanly twice in Sochi. They were the only team to attempt the element at the Olympics.

“The quad Salchow has its good days and its bad days,” Castelli explained. “I own that throw and I guarantee you when we get to competition – we did it at the Olympics – I’m going to take that confidence and use it.”

The two American teams – like the men’s singles skaters – will look to combine for a 13th-place finish to gain three spots for the U.S. at the World Championships next year, something the Americans haven’t achieved since Worlds in 2003.

“We’re just focusing on our task at hand and want to do a good job,” Castelli said. “If both teams do a great job, then we’ll get that third pairs team and that’s something we ultimately hope for.”

It’s a long shot for the U.S., which was a combined 21st in Sochi.

At 22 and 23 respectively, Stolbova/Klimov look to become the youngest world champions since compatriots Yelena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze won in 1998 at 20 and 21.

At a combined age of 64, Savchenko (30) and Szolkowy (34) would become the oldest world champions in pairs since 1968 when legendary Soviet husband-and-wife team Liudmila Belousova and Oleg Protopopov won at the ages of 32 and 35, respectively.

Tensions were high after Savchenko and Szolkowy’s free skate performance in Sochi, in which Szolkowy fell on a triple toe loop, his second such fall in an Olympic long program (he did so in 2010, as well). A disappointed Savchenko attended their medalist press conference with little to say and practiced with a different partner leading up to the Sochi gala.

China’s Peng Cheng and Zhang Hao will look to move up from an eighth-place finish in Sochi while Russians Vera Bazarova and Yuri Lariyonov want to better their overall sixth place. Vanessa James and Morgan Cipres of France hope to improve from 10th.

Castelli said without Volosozhar and Trankov in attendance the feeling in the field would be different, though no less important.

“I think it changes a little bit to not have the Olympic champions there,” she said. “I’ve never been to Worlds after the Olympics, so I’ve been asking people who have and they’ve told me it’s just as competitive as any other major event. I’m looking forward to that aspect. Even with the Olympics, we’ve been training for this since last June and this is the last stop along the way.”

Icenetwork.com will provide live coverage for subscribers. Pairs skate Tuesday for the short program (9 p.m. EST) and Wednesday for the  free skate (10:30 p.m.). NBC will air a World Championships recap show April 13 from 3-6 p.m. ET.

Shaun White, Chloe Kim lead Team USA award winners

Shaun White, Chloe Kim
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Shaun White and Chloe Kim swept the Team USA Awards just like they swept the halfpipe gold medals in PyeongChang.

The snowboarders were named the top U.S. male and female Olympians on Thursday night at an awards show in Washington, D.C., on the eve of the Team USA White House visit.

The women’s hockey team, which beat Canada in a gold-medal game shootout, earned the Olympic team title.

The awards, hosted by Mike Tirico, air on NBCSN on May 12 from 6-7:30 p.m. ET.

The athlete and team winners for the PyeongChang Olympics and Paralympics were determined by online fan voting (50 percent) and members of the Olympic and Paralympic family, including journalists (the other 50 percent).

White, 31, earned his third Olympic halfpipe title in four Games by attempting back-to-back double cork 1440s at a contest for the first time and landing them on his third and final run. White overtook Japanese Ayumu Hirano for the gold with 97.75 points.

Kim, 18 and at her first Olympics, injected far less drama into her final the previous day. Her first-run score of 93.75 would have been enough for gold, but she tacked on a 98.25-point victory lap on her finale with the first back-to-back 1080s by a woman at an Olympics.

The male and female Paralympian winners were both Nordic skiers. Dan Cnossen, a retired Navy SEAL, earned six medals after coming to PyeongChang without any podium finishes in 24 career Paralympic and world championships biathlon and cross-country skiing events. Oksana Masters earned five PyeongChang medals after dislocating her right elbow before the Games.

In 2014, the first edition of the Team USA Awards, Sochi slopestyle snowboarding gold medalist Sage Kotsenburg, luge bronze medalist Erin Hamlin and ice dance gold medalists Meryl Davis and Charlie White took the Olympian honors.

In 2016, Michael PhelpsKatie Ledecky and the women’s gymnastics team were the Olympian winners.

2018 Team USA Awards nominees (WINNERS IN BOLD)
Male Olympian
Red Gerard, Gold, Snowboard Slopestyle
Shaun White, Gold, Snowboard Halfpipe — WINNER
David Wise, Gold, Ski Halfpipe
John-Henry Krueger, Silver, Short Track Speed Skating (1000m)
Chris Mazdzer, Silver, Luge (singles)

Female Olympian
Jamie Anderson, Gold and Silver, Snowboard Slopestyle, Big Air
Chloe Kim, Gold, Snowboard Halfpipe — WINNER
Mikaela Shiffrin, Gold and Silver, Alpine Skiing (giant slalom, combined)
Elana Meyers Taylor, Silver, Bobsled
Brittany Bowe, Bronze, Speed Skating (team pursuit)

Olympic Team
Jessie Diggins/Kikkan Randall, Gold, Cross-Country Skiing (team sprint)
Men’s Curling, Gold
Women’s Hockey, Gold — WINNER

Olympic Coach
Jason Cork, Cross-Country Skiing — WINNER

Phil Drobnick, Curling
Mike Jankowski, Freestyle Skiing and Snowboarding

Male Paralympian
Dan Cnossen, Gold, 4 Silvers, Bronze, Nordic Skiing — WINNER

Noah Elliott, Gold, Bronze, Snowboarding
Andrew Kurka, Gold, Silver, Alpine Skiing
Mike Schultz, Gold, Silver, Snowboarding
Andy Soule, Gold, Bronze, Nordic Skiing

Female Paralympian
Kendall Gretsch, 2 Golds, Nordic Skiing
Brenna Huckaby, 2 Golds, Snowboarding
Oksana Masters, 2 Golds, 2 Silvers, 1 Bronze, Nordic Skiing — WINNER
Brittani Coury, Silver, Snowboarding
Laurie Stephens, Bronze, Alpine Skiing

Paralympic Team
Sled Hockey, Gold — WINNER

Paralympic Coach
Gary Colliander, Nordic Skiing — WINNER

Guy Gosselin, Hockey
Graham Watanabe, Snowboarding

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USA Track and Field sets team for Penn Relays, live on NBC Sports

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World 100m champion Justin Gatlin headlines the U.S. roster for the Penn Relays, which air live on NBCSN and NBC Sports Gold this weekend.

Friday
Penn Relays: 5-6 p.m. ET, NBCSN and NBC Sports Gold

Saturday
Penn Relays: 12:30-3 p.m. ET, NBCSN and NBC Sports Gold
Drake Relays: 3-5 p.m. ET, NBCSN and NBC Sports Gold

Gatlin is joined on the U.S. team for the Penn Relays in Philadelphia by NCAA 800m champion Raevyn Rogers, plus Michael Cherry and Aaliyah Brown, who were part of U.S. medal-winning relays at last summer’s world outdoor championships.

They will compete Saturday in USA vs. the World races in the men’s and women’s 4x100m and 4x400m and men’s and women’s sprint medleys.

Women 4x100m pool
Aaliyah Brown
Destinee Brown
Destiny Carter
Tawanna Meadows
Candace Hill
Kyra Jefferson

Women 4x400m pool
Jasmine Blocker
Kendra Chambers
Daina Harper
Kyra Jefferson
T’sheila Mungo
Raevyn Rogers
Kiah Seymour
Jaide Stepter

Men 4x100m pool
Leshon Collins
Jeff Demps
Justin Gatlin
Cordero Gray
Tevin Hester
Remontay Mcclain
Bryce Robinson
Blake Smith
Justin Walker

Men 4x400m pool
Michael Berry
Marcus Chambers
Michael Cherry
Kyle Collins
Najee Glass

Calvin Smith
Marqueze Washington

The schedule (p.m. ET):

Women’s 4x100m — 12:38
Men’s 4x100m — 12:50
Women’s Sprint Medley — 2
Men’s Sprint Medley — 2:10
Men’s 4x400m — 2:35
Women’s 4x400m — 2:52

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