Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir. AP Photo.

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 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.” 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.

U.S. Olympic Team Trials schedule for track and field

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USA Track and Field announced the schedule of events for the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team Trials. The meet will take place in Eugene, Ore. from July 1-10.

The top three finishers in each individual event will qualify for the Rio 2016 Olympics, provided they have achieved the qualifying standard.

The schedule suits Allyson Felix, who could go for a Michael Johnson-like 200m-400m double in Rio. After the women’s 400m final on July 3, she would be able to rest until the first round of the women’s 200m on July 8.

Ashton Eaton, the 2015 male IAAF Athlete of the Year, set the decathlon world record at the 2012 U.S. Olympic Team Trials. He then broke his own world record at the 2015 world championships. The decathlon competition will take place July 2-3.

The men’s shot put on July 1 will be the first event at the meet to qualify Olympians for the Rio Games. But the first USATF athletes will qualify to go to Rio at the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials on Feb. 13 in Los Angeles.

Four event finals are scheduled to take place on the Fourth of July. The last event final of the day will take place at 5:51 p.m. PT. Then the athletes have a rest day on July 5, and the hammer throw will be the only event contested on July 6.

Here’s the schedule of event finals for the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team Trials, along with the event winners* from the 2015 USA Track and Field Championships:

Date Event Final 2015 Winner
Friday, July 1 Men’s Shot Put Joe Kovacs
Friday, July 1 Men’s 10,000m Galen Rupp
Saturday, July 2 Women’s Discus Throw Gia Lewis-Smallwood
Saturday, July 2 Women’s 10,000m Molly Huddle
Saturday, July 2 Women’s Long Jump Tianna Bartoletta
Sunday,  July 3 Women’s High Jump Chaunte Lowe
Sunday,  July 3 Men’s Long Jump Marquis Dendy
Sunday,  July 3 Women’s 400m Allyson Felix
Sunday,  July 3 Men’s 400m David Verburg
Sunday,  July 3 Women’s 100m Tori Bowie
Sunday,  July 3 Men’s 100m Tyson Gay
Monday, July 4 Men’s Pole Vault Sam Kendricks
Monday, July 4 Men’s Javelin Throw Sean Furey
Monday, July 4 Women’s 800m Alysia Montano
Monday, July 4 Men’s 800m Nick Symmonds
Wednesday, July 6 Men’s Hammer Throw Kibwe Johnson
Wednesday, July 6 Women’s Hammer Throw Amber Campbell
Thursday, July 7 Women’s Shot Put Michelle Carter
Thursday, July 7 Women’s Triple Jump Christina Epps
Thursday, July 7 Women’s 3000m Steeplechase Emma Coburn
Friday, July 8 Men’s Discus Throw Jared Schuurmans
Friday, July 8 Men’s 3000m Steeplechase Evan Jager
Friday, July 8 Women’s 100m Hurdles Dawn Harper-Nelson
Saturday, July 9 Women’s Javelin Throw Kara Winger
Saturday, July 9 Men’s Triple Jump Omar Craddock
Saturday, July 9 Men’s 5,000m Ryan Hill
Saturday, July 9 Men’s 200m Justin Gatlin
Saturday, July 9 Men’s 110m Hurdles David Oliver
Sunday, July 10 Women’s Pole Vault Jenn Suhr
Sunday, July 10 Men’s High Jump Erik Kynard
Sunday, July 10 Women’s 1500m Jenny Simpson
Sunday, July 10 Men’s 1500m Matt Centrowitz
Sunday, July 10 Women’s 400m Hurdles Shamier Little
Sunday, July 10 Women’s 5,000m Nicole Tully
Sunday, July 10 Men’s 400m Hurdles Bershawn Jackson
Sunday, July 10 Women’s 200m Jenna Prandini

*NOTE: Byes to the 2015 world championships were awarded to 2013 world champions and 2014 Diamond League event winners

Olympians headline swimming’s Winter Nationals; Preview

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Michael Phelps, Missy Franklin and Nathan Adrian are among the Olympic gold medalists listed on the psych sheets for this weekend’s Winter Nationals in Federal Way, Wash.

Phelps’ lineup includes the 200m IM, 100m butterfly and 200m butterfly. At Summer Nationals in August, he clocked the fastest times in the world in each of those events.

“I already know what I can change in that event,” he told NBC Sports’ Carolyn Manno in a poolside interview immediately following his 200m IM.

Franklin is expected to swim the 50m freestyle, 100m freestyle, 200m freestyle, 100m backstroke, where she is seeded second behind Natalie Coughlin, and 200m backstroke.

Coughlin will also see action in the 50m and 100m freestyles. She said earlier in 2015 that the 100m backstroke may enter her repertoire again, and at the Pan American Games, her 100m backstroke leadoff leg in the medley relay was the fastest she’s been since the 2008 Beijing Games at 59.05.

MORE: Phelps, Franklin, Ledecky win to end Minneapolis meet

Adrian will swim the 50m freestyle, where he is ranked first, and the 100m freestyle, where he ranks third. However, both men faster than him in the 100m freestyle field represent non-U.S. countries internationally.

Allison Schmitt is slated to compete with Franklin in the 100m and 200m freestyles, in addition to the 400m freestyle. Katie Ledecky, who has dominated U.S. women’s freestyle events at all distances, is not expected at the meet.

Notable international names competing at the meet, like those ranked above Adrian in the 100m freestyle, include:

  • Olympic bronze medalist Vladimir Morozov (Russia): 100m freestyle, 50m freestyle, 100m breaststroke, 100m backstroke
  • Olympic gold medalist Ous Mellouli (Tunisia): 400m freestyle, 1500m freestyle, 400m IM
  • Olympic gold medalist Grant Hackett (Australia): 100m freestyle, 200m freestyle, 400m freestyle
  • World champion Yulia Efimova (Russia): 50m freestyle, 100m breaststroke, 200m breaststroke, 200m IM
  • Pan American Games medalist Santo Condorelli (Canada): 50m freestyle, 100m freestyle, 100m butterfly

A live webcast of the meet will be available on, including noon E.T. prelims and 9 p.m. E.T. finals beginning Thursday, Dec. 3 through Saturday, Dec. 5. NBC will air coverage on Sunday, Dec. 6 from 1-2 p.m. E.T.

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