Worlds preview: Hanyu goes for double gold after Sochi

Leave a comment

This week the reigning Olympic figure skating champion Yuzuru Hanyu looks to become the first man to win a World Championship gold medal in the same year he stood atop the Olympic podium since 2002.

Hanyu, the 19-year-old from Japan who held on to win gold in Sochi last month against three-time world champion Patrick Chan, will try to win a double gold in 2014 and become the first man to do so since Russian Alexei Yagudin in 2002.

The Championships will be without its three-time and reigning champion in Chan, the Canadian who faltered to a silver medal in Sochi and is sitting out these Worlds to rest and recuperate in looking towards his uncertain future.

The men’s event gets underway Wednesday morning (EST) in Saitama, Japan, and concludes on Friday.

More: Full Worlds schedule and streaming times | Entry list

The World Championships, often a depleted field following the Olympics, will be without silver medalist Chan, bronze winner Denis Ten (out with injury), sixth place winner Daisuke Takahashi (a bronze medalist in 2010) and American Jason Brown, who placed ninth.

The U.S. will send reigning national champion Jeremy Abbott (12th in Sochi) and 2013 U.S. champ Max Aaron, who missed out on the Sochi Games by one spot in January.

“Watching my teammates that I thought I was going to go to the Olympics with on TV was the hardest part,” the 22-year-old Aaron told NBCSports.com in a phone interview last week. “That was really tough for me.”

Aaron was seventh at Worlds in 2013 and was seen to be given a vote of confidence by the U.S. Figure Skating Association when selected for Worlds over Brown following Nationals.

More: World Figure Skating Championships pairs preview

The U.S. needs Abbott and Aaron to combine for a 13th-place finish overall to recover a third spot on the international stage, which the U.S. men haven’t had since the 2011 World Championships.

Abbott, who announced this would be his last season prior to the U.S. Championships, said a third spot was not his focus.

“Of course everyone wants the three spots but it’s nobody’s focus,” said the 28-year-old, who had his best Worlds finish in 2010 when he placed fifth following the Vancouver Games. “Everyone wants to do the best that they can do. The two of us are definitely good enough to get back the three spots. Max is very talented and I think I’m capable enough that the two of us combined can do that.”

But Aaron said a third spot will be at the forefront of his mind when he takes to the ice in Saitama.

“I knew that third spot was going to make a difference going into the Olympic year, but we came up a little short,” Aaron said referring to the two U.S. spots the team had for Sochi. “Unfortunately that person was me.”

Hanyu will skate before a figure skating-mad fan base in Japan after becoming the first man in the country’s history to win an Olympic gold medal as well as Japan’s only figure skating medal in Sochi.

He fell twice in his free skate performance at the Iceberg Skating Palace, but the favorite Chan wasn’t better, Hanyu holding on for gold in a competition that was riddled with mistakes and falls.

Without Chan and Ten in the mix, Spain’s Javier Fernandez (fourth at the Sochi Olympics) will be figured into the medal mix after winning the bronze at the same event a year ago and seen to have given up a medal in Sochi.

Other Sochi competitors will factor into the medal conversation along with Hanyu, Fernandez, Abbott and Aaron. Japan’s Tatsuki Machida was fifth at the Olympics, Han Yan of China was seventh, German Peter Liebers was eighth and Michal Brezina of the Czech Republic placed 10th.

Russia will send 18-year-old Maksim Kovtun, the teenager who beat Yevgeny Plushenko at the Russian Championships in December but was skipped over for the veteran for the country’s lone men’s spot in Sochi. Plushenko helped Russia to gold in the team event before pulling out of the individual event, facing ridicule domestically.

“I think people are a lot more relaxed having gone through the Olympics and I think it makes for a really good competition,” said Abbott, who had two disastrous short programs (in the team and individual events) in Sochi before skating mistake-free in the long program. “In 2010, there were some amazing performances and I think this year is going to be no different. It’s still a world-class competition and you’re going to get world-class performances.”

Aaron said it was too early to tell, but that he’d like for Saitama to be the first step in the long road to the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang.

“I can’t look that far ahead,” said the 2014 U.S. bronze medalist. “I have to take it season by season, day by day. I’m focused on what I need to do and the task at hand.”

While Abbott didn’t put a placement expectation on his Worlds effort, Aaron was more forthcoming.

“I’m shooting for a medal to be honest,” he said. “I want those clean performances and I’m hopefully coming away with that third spot for the U.S.”

Icenetwork.com will provide live coverage for subscribers. The men’s short program is set for Wednesday morning (2:45 a.m. EST) and the free skate will take place Friday (4 a.m. EST). NBC will air a World Championships recap show April 13 from 3-6 p.m. ET.

Eliud Kipchoge wins Berlin Marathon; no world record

Leave a comment

Olympic champion Eliud Kipchoge won the Berlin Marathon but missed the world record by 35 seconds, slowed by rain and humidity.

The Kenyan clocked 2:03:32, just missing the three-year-old record of 2:02:57. Countryman Dennis Kimetto set that mark at the 2014 Berlin Marathon.

Kipchoge, who has won nine of his 10 career marathons, said Sunday marked the toughest conditions under which he has run 26.2 miles.

“My mind was to run at least a world record,” the 32-year-old said. “Next time. Tomorrow is a [new] day. … I still have a world record in my legs.”

The two other men chasing the record — Kenenisa Bekele and Wilson Kipsang — dropped out after 18 miles.

Instead, the runner-up was surprise Ethiopian Guye Adola, who ran the fastest debut marathon ever on a record-eligible course in an unofficial 2:03:46.

Adola stuck with Kipchoge until the last mile as both men trailed off Kimetto’s world-record pace.

Kenyan Gladys Cherono won the women’s race by 18 seconds in 2:00:23. It’s her second Berlin win in three years.

Many expected to see a men’s world record Sunday. Kipchoge, Bekele and Kipsang had all run within 16 seconds of the mark in the last two years but had never raced together in the German capital.

Berlin is the world’s fastest marathon. The men’s world record has been lowered six times since 2003, each time in the shadow of the Brandenburg Gate.

Kipchoge was the pre-race favorite.

On May 6, he ran 2:00:25 in Nike’s staged sub-two-hour marathon attempt on an Italian Formula One track. It was contested under special conditions that made it ineligible for record purposes with pacers entering mid-race.

Kipchoge won Berlin in 2015 in 2:04:00 despite insoles flopping out the back of his shoes the last half of the race.

Bekele and Kipsang teased the world record in a memorable Berlin duel last year, with Bekele winning six seconds shy of it.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: Top Americans set for major marathon next month

Yuzuru Hanyu falters as Javier Fernández wins opener

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Even Yuzuru Hanyu can struggle in September.

The Olympic and world champion singled his first jump, doubled a few more and fell in the free skate of his opening event of the Olympic season on Saturday. Video is here.

He squandered an 11.52-point lead over two-time world champion Javier Fernández from Friday’s short program at the Autumn Classic in Montreal.

Hanyu ended up 10.83 points behind Fernández overall, even though the Spaniard also fell in his free skate.

Full scores are here.

It’s a familiar feeling for Hanyu, who saw Fernández pass him in the free skate at the 2015 and 2016 Worlds.

The Japanese megastar also been known to have clunker programs at fall events in past seasons. In every one of his senior seasons, Hanyu has been beaten in one of his first two competitions.

Hanyu came to Montreal with a sore knee, which reportedly led him to take the quadruple loop out of his repertoire for one weekend.

Still, Hanyu was marvelous in the short program. His score was the second-highest under the 13-year-old judging system.

Showdowns like Hanyu-Fernández are usually reserved for, at the earliest, the Grand Prix series in late October and November. The Autumn Classic is a lower-level event.

Hanyu, 22, next skates at the Rostelecom Cup in four weeks. He will face 18-year-old U.S. champion Nathan Chen, who beat Hanyu at the Four Continents Championships at the PyeongChang Olympic venue in February.

The figure skating season continues next weekend with Nebelhorn Trophy in Germany, the final Olympic qualifying competition. North Korea could clinch its first spots in any sport for the Olympics in the pairs event.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: What to watch every day of PyeongChang Olympics