Tatsuki Machida. Getty Images.

Worlds: Japan’s Machida tops Hanyu, men’s field after short program

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Japan is the figure skating gift that keeps on giving.

With a crowd of over 20,000 on hand, the World Figure Skating Championships opened Wednesday in Saitama, Japan, with another skater from this country mad about the sport launching himself to the top of the heap.

It wasn’t newly-crowned Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu, but instead Tatsuki Machida, the 24-year-old who was fifth in Sochi and making his debut at Worlds in front of an adoring home audience.

With a sold-out Saitama Super Arena crowd watching on, Machida delivered an Olympic-sized performance, nailing an opening quadruple toe-triple toe combination before hitting a triple Axel and triple Lutz during his skate to “East of Eden.”

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Hanyu, who won the country its first-ever gold medal in men’s figure skating last month, was in third after a fall on his opening quadruple jump (91.24). Hanyu’s training partner, Spain’s Javier Fernandez, was in second, scoring a 96.42. They share a coach in 1987 world champion Brian Orser.

The American men had a so-so night. Four-time U.S. champion Jeremy Abbott fell on his opening jump before executing a strong short program, scoring a 79.67 to finish in eighth. 2013 U.S. winner Max Aaron was one place behind with a 78.32, called for under-rotating his triple Axel, which he touched a hand down on.

“So close! So close!” Abbott said as he skated off the ice. “I put myself in a good place,” he added after receiving his score.

Abbott and Aaron will need to make a move up the rankings in the free skate should they want to earn the U.S. a coveted third spot for the World Championships next year: a combined 13th-place finish is needed. Aaron was third at the U.S. Championships this year, leaving him off the Sochi team.

“It was tough when I didn’t make the Olympic team,” Aaron said in a statement from U.S. Figure Skating. I took that to heart because that’s something that is a goal of mine. I wish I was there but it means a lot for me to get three spots this year and moving forward. To do that, we need to have two good skates from both me and Jeremy. I think we can do that.”

In pairs, four-time world champions Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy kept a changing of the guard at bay at least for another program. The Germans enlisted their Olympic “Pink Panther” short and performed it flawlessly, scoring a 79.02 to own the lead going into Wednesday night’s free skate.

Reigning Olympic champions Tatyana Volosozhar and Maksim Trankov’s absence in Saitama left the door open for compatriots Ksenia Stolbova and Fyodor Klimov to carry the momentum of their surprise Olympic silver medal into Worlds.

But that didn’t happen in the short program, the younger Russian pair at times tentative and unsure in their “Surrender” routine (76.15), which seemed to drag at the end. Canadians Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford, seventh at the Olympics after being third at the World Championships a year ago, were second behind Savchenko/Szolkowy, scoring a 77.01.

It was a vastly disappointing night for the U.S. pairs, two-time national champions Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir registering a 60.60 to finish in 11th and Felicia Zhang and Nathan Bartholomay in 14th with a score of 57.59.

“We were hoping to ride the wave of energy from the Olympics here,” Shnapir said in a statement, noting the team’s ninth-place finish in Sochi. “It didn’t happen today. It wasn’t the short program we wanted, we made some big mistakes.”

Most notably, both Castelli and Shnapir doubled their planned side-by-side triple Salchows, resulting in a major loss of points. The U.S. had an outside shot of qualifying three teams for Worlds in 2015 this week, now Castelli/Shnapir must finish inside of the top 10 in order for the team to maintain its two spots.

“We wanted to skate our best and put out a good step forward for Team USA,” Castelli added in the USFSA press release. “We’re hoping to move up to that 10th spot so we will have two teams next year for worlds. That’s our goal right now.”

The skating will continue with the pairs free skate Wednesday night (10:30 p.m. ET), followed by the ladies’ short program Thursday morning (2:45 a.m. ET). View full short program results from men’s and pairs here.

Short program standings – MEN’S
1 Tatsuki MACHIDA JPN 98.21
2 Javier FERNANDEZ ESP 96.42
3 Yuzuru HANYU JPN 91.24
4 Tomas VERNER CZE 89.08
5 Han YAN CHN 86.70
6 Takahiko KOZUKA JPN 85.54
7 Maksim KOVTUN RUS 84.66
8 Jeremy ABBOTT USA 79.67
9 Max AARON USA 78.32

Short program standings – PAIRS
2 Meagan DUHAMEL/Eric RADFORD CAN 77.01
3 Ksenia STOLBOVA/Fyodor KLIMOV RUS 76.15
4 Wenjing SUI/Cong HAN CHN 72.24
5 Cheng PENG/Hao ZHANG CHN 71.68
11 Marissa CASTELLI/Simon SHNAPIR USA 60.60
14 Felicia ZHANG/Nathan BARTHOLOMAY USA 57.59

Pyeongchang 2018 video looks at Olympic venues, slogan

Pyeongchang 2018
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Pyeongchang Olympic organizers published a promotional video Friday highlighting the South Korean host’s venues and its slogan, “Passion. Connected.”

The video highlights South Korea’s history of hosting major sports events — the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, the 2002 FIFA World Cup across Japan and South Korea and the 2011 World Track and Field Championships in Daegu — which was also a point during its host city candidacy several years ago.

Pyeongchang finally earned the right to host the Olympics after finishing second in voting for the 2010 Winter Games (losing by three votes) and the 2014 Winter Games (losing by four votes).

The Opening Ceremony on Feb. 9, 2018, will mark the first Winter Games in East Asia in 20 years.

The slogan was announced on May 16, 2015.

MORE: Pyeongchang 2018 Olympic news

Australia gold medalist swimmer gets mole removed after heads-up from fan

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 06:  Mack Horton of Australia celebrates winning gold in the Final of the Men's 400m Freestyle on Day 1 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at the Olympic Aquatics Stadium on August 6, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
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Mack Horton, the Olympic 400m freestyle champion, said he had a mole on his chest removed after a fan emailed his Australian swim team doctor alerting to get it checked out.

Horton said he believed the concerned fan may have been a skin specialist, according to the (Melbourne) Herald Sun.

“I’ve been watching this mole for a little while, Mack should probably go and get it checked out,” Horton said the fan said in an email to the doctor, according to the report. “They just looked at it [Thursday] and said let’s take it out now.

“They checked my whole body and then looked at this one and said we’d rather do it sooner rather than later.”

Horton joked on Australian TV that he probably owes the fan a free swim lesson.

“Sometimes I was blasé and sometimes I’d see it in the mirror and say, ‘I probably should get this one checked out,’ because I had noticed it had been changing a little bit, but I guess this person calling me out on it made me finally go and do it, which was a good thing,” Horton said, according to the newspaper.

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