Gracie Gold, Ashley Wagner
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Ashley Wagner, Gracie Gold renew rivalry on new stage at Skate America

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Ashley Wagner and Gracie Gold have gone head-to-head 10 times in major competition. Five times Wagner finished higher. Five times Gold finished higher.

The tie will be broken at Skate America this weekend in Hoffman Estates, Ill., (broadcast schedule here) in their first meeting on the Grand Prix level.

Wagner has embraced the rivalry angle the last few years, calling it beneficial for the sport’s popularity.

“I would love to establish myself as the leading U.S. lady,” Wagner said last week when asked of a goal for Skate America.

One could argue Wagner already accomplished that with her silver medal at the world championships last spring, ending a 10-year U.S. women’s podium drought. Gold was fourth at worlds, dropping from first after the short program.

Wagner and Gold each performed once already this season at the free-skate-only Japan Open on Oct. 1. Wagner placed third out of six skaters — which she called a success as she wasn’t yet in competition shape. Gold was sixth.

So Wagner may have an edge over Gold, but that wasn’t the case not too long ago.

Gold finished higher than Wagner at the 2014 Olympics, 2014 World Championships and 2015 World Championships, plus outscored Wagner in three straight programs before her free-skate free-fall at worlds on April 2.

A U.S. woman hasn’t won Skate America, the biggest annual international competition in the U.S., since 2012, matching the host nation’s longest drought in the history of the event that started in 1981.

Wagner and Gold each was runner-up in her last Skate America appearance — Gold last year and Wagner in 2013.

The opportunity is there for either to break through. The field includes no other woman who finished in the top six at worlds the last two years.

Japan’s Mao Asada, a three-time world champion, is the star name of the group, but Asada is a question after not attempting her trademark triple Axel at a lower-level competition two weeks ago (and finishing second).

The Skate America men’s field is led by the world’s two best teens — 2015 World bronze medalist Jin Boyang of China and 2015 Grand Prix Final bronze medalist Shoma Uno of Japan.

Jin is the first skater to land four quadruple jumps in an international program. Uno is the first to land a quadruple flip.

If Jin and Uno are on their game, the top Americans — 2015 national champion Jason Brown and 2016 national champion Adam Rippon — might be fighting for bronze.

Reigning U.S. champions Tarah Kayne and Danny O’Shea and Maia and Alex Shibutani highlight the pairs and ice dance fields, respectively.

MORE: Ashley Wagner: ‘I’m in the last couple of years of my career’

Chinese lead, star pairs struggle in world championships short program

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China’s Sui Wenjing and Han Cong recorded the highest pairs short program score in the world since the 2014 Olympics, topping the world championships field in Helsinki on Wednesday.

Two-time defending world champions Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford of Canada and Olympic silver medalists Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov are well behind in seventh and 13th place, respectively.

Sui and Han, in just their second event this season, tallied a personal-best 81.23 points.

They lead by 1.39 over Germans Aliona Savchenko and Bruno Massot going into the free skate Thursday (1 p.m. ET, NBCSN, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app).

Russians Yevgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov are in third.

The Chinese will go for their first world title after giving up a short-program lead last year and taking silver for a second straight time.

Full worlds short program results are here.

PREVIEWS: Men | Women | Pairs | Dance | TV schedule

Sui and Han missed the fall season after Sui underwent right ankle and left foot surgeries last spring. They returned at the Four Continents Championships in February and posted personal-best free skate and total scores, ranking only behind Tarasova and Morozov for the season.

Duhamel and Radford, looking to become the first pair to three-peat in 40 years, came in slowed by Radford’s hip injury suffered in the last week. Radford was off-balance on his triple toe loop landing Wednesday. Duhamel’s hand touched the ice on her throw triple Lutz landing.

They scored 72.67 points, which is 8.56 behind Sui and Han.

Stolbova and Klimov both suffered falls in their short program and scored 65.59, qualifying for the 16-pair free skate by four points. The Russian champions missed the autumn season due to Stolbova’s left leg injury.

The top U.S. pair was Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Christopher Knierim, who posted a personal-best 72.17 points for eighth place. The husband-and-wife pair are competing for the second time this season after Scimeca Knierim’s serious abdominal injury.

U.S. champions Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier suffered two falls and placed 20th, matching the worst U.S. pairs finish in worlds history. They did not qualify for the 16-pair free skate.

Therefore, the Knierims must finish 10th or better after the free skate to ensure the U.S. earns two pairs places at the 2018 Olympics.

Pairs is the U.S.’ weakest discipline. The last U.S. medal in pairs at worlds came in 2002. The last Olympic medal was in 1988.

North Korean pair Ryom Tae Ok and Kim Ju Sik placed 14th in the short program, the highest of any pair expected to compete for one of four final Olympic quota spots in September.

North Korea sent no athletes to the Sochi Olympics, and it’s not a guarantee it will qualify any athletes for PyeongChang, or if it will send athletes to South Korea in February. But Ryom and Kim’s personal best by nearly 11 points on Wednesday was very encouraging.

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MORE: U.S. pairs skater back from life-threatening condition

Pairs Short Program
1. Sui Wenjing/Han Cong (CHN) — 81.23
2. Aliona Savchenko/Bruno Massot (GER) — 79.84
3. Yevgenia Tarasova/Vladimir Morozov (RUS) — 79.37
8. Alexa Scimeca Knierim/Christopher Knierim (USA) — 72.17
20. Haven Denney/Brandon Frazier (USA) — 56.23

Missy Franklin out due to shoulder surgeries

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Missy Franklin is sidelined from swimming competition for an undisclosed period of time to recover from surgeries on both of her shoulders due to bursitis, according to her social media.

“This is what’s best for me to come stronger than ever,” was posted on Franklin’s Instagram. “I’m so far from being done with this sport.”

The five-time Olympic champion was diagnosed in early January following an MRI, underwent surgeries that month and has returned to limited training.

Franklin, who has not raced since the Rio Olympics, will not compete in the next USA Swimming Pro Series meet in Mesa, Ariz., in two weeks.

Her return date is not set.

The U.S. Championships are in June in Indianapolis and serve as a qualifying meet for the world championships in Budapest in July.

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