Tatsuki Machida. Getty Images.

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

Leave a comment

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.”

More: World Figure Skating Championships ladies preview | Ice dance preview

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

U.S. men’s soccer blanks Canada, reaches Olympic qualifying playoff

Marc Pelosi
Leave a comment

The U.S. under-23 men’s soccer team kept its Olympic qualifying hopes alive by beating Canada 2-0 in the CONCACAF tournament’s third-place game in Sandy, Utah, on Tuesday night.

Midfielder Marc Pelosi and forward Jerome Kiesewetter scored in the 69th and 84th minutes, respectively, with Canada playing with 10 men for the entire second half.

The U.S. will qualify for the Rio Olympics if — and only if — it beats Colombia in a one-game playoff in Rio de Janeiro in March.

The U.S. failed to qualify for the 2004 and 2012 Olympic tournaments and hasn’t won a men’s soccer medal since 1904, when the Olympic tournament included three teams.

The Americans missed an earlier chance to clinch a Rio Olympic spot when they lost 2-0 to Honduras in the CONCACAF tournament semifinals Saturday.

If the U.S. qualifies for Rio, it can swap in a maximum of three players born before Jan. 1, 1993, to its roster for the Olympics.

The U.S. took advantage of the over-age exception to add World Cup veterans in 2008 (Brian McBride) and 2000 (Brad Friedel).

The U.S. can already add three World Cup veterans without using any over-age spots, since John BrooksJulian Green and DeAndre Yedlin will still be eligible for the U-23 team in 2016. Even though none were used in CONCACAF qualifying.

The 2016 Olympic men’s soccer tournament field:

Brazil — possibly with Neymar
Argentina — 2008 Olympic champion when it had Lionel Messi
Germany — possibly with Philipp Lahm, but unlikely for Mesut Özil
Portugal — possibly with 2004 Olympian Cristiano Ronaldo
Sweden — possibly with Zlatan Ibrahimovic
U.S. or Colombia
Three Asian nations determined in January
Three African nations determined in December

MORE SOCCER: Jurgen Klinsmann’s journey to an Olympic bronze medal

Watch ‘Race’ film about Jesse Owens teaser video

Leave a comment

“Race,” a film about Olympic sprint legend Jesse Owens, will hit theaters Feb. 19.

Owens, who won four gold medals at the Berlin 1936 Olympics in the face of Nazi Germany, is played by Stephan James in the film.

Jason Sudeikis and Jeremy Irons are also in the cast for the Focus Features film, according to reports. Sudeikis will reportedly play Owens’ coach, Larry Snyder. Irons will play Avery Brundage, then the president of the U.S. Olympic Committee.

MORE TRACK AND FIELD: Angelina Jolie discusses her decision to use Jesse Owens in ‘Unbroken’