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U.S. bobsled, skeleton athletes ready to skip world championships

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U.S. Bobsled and Skeleton Olympians voted to recommend boycotting February’s world championships in Sochi if the event is not relocated out of the doping-tainted nation, according to The New York Times.

U.S. Bobsled and Skeleton’s athlete advisory committee voted unanimously in recent days, according to the report. Listed members of the committee include Olympic skeleton sliders Matthew Antoine and Kyle Tress.

“There’s tremendous support to skip this event, and I think it’s the right decision,” Tress said, according to the report.

At least 15 Russian medalists from the Sochi Olympics, including bobsledders and skeleton sliders, were on a state-run doping program leading into those Winter Games, according to the newspaper’s report in May. Russian doping samples were also tampered with at the Sochi Olympics, according to the report.

Those are primary reasons why bobsled and skeleton athletes in the U.S. and Europe have voiced concern about competing in Sochi in February.

Olympic champions Lizzy Yarnold (skeleton) and Steven Holcomb (bobsled) said earlier this fall that they may skip worlds, and men’s skeleton stars Martins and Tomass Dukurs might, too, according to Latvian media.

“We discussed this as a team, we’re up in the air,” Holcomb said last month. “We don’t know what we’re going to do yet. Safety is a concern. What are the chances I go there, and all of a sudden Russian anti-doping tests me, and I [falsely] test positive? That wouldn’t surprise me in the least. Being outspoken, yeah I’m a little nervous about going there.”

On July 19, following rampant Russian anti-doping issues, the IOC asked all winter sports federations to “freeze their preparations for major events in Russia, such as world championships … and to actively look for alternative organizers.”

The IOC later clarified that statement, telling federations it did not apply to events whose host cities were already chosen, according to Inside the Games. The 2017 World Bobsled and Skeleton Championships were awarded to Sochi in June 2013.

The International Bobsled and Skeleton Federation (IBSF) said it will not comment until after the second part of McLaren report into Russian doping is published Friday.

The World Cup bobsled and skeleton season started last weekend in Whistler, B.C. Both Russians who won 2014 Olympic skeleton medals competed in Whistler, seven months after the New York Times reported their names were on the Sochi doping list.

Alexander Tretiakov, a 2014 Olympic champion, finished second in Whistler, one spot ahead of Antoine. Elena Nikitina, a 2014 Olympic bronze medalist, finished 17th out of 25 racers in Whistler.

Nikitina won bronze in Sochi by .04 over American Katie Uhlaender. Uhlaender did not race in Whistler but is on the U.S. team for World Cups this season.

“Sochi is in Russia, and it’s the place where the cheating happened,” Uhlaender said, according to The New York Times. “I’m confused at how the IOC said what it said, and we’re still holding our world championships there.”

MORE: Bobsled, luge, skeleton broadcast schedule

*Correction: Olympic medalist bobsledder Elana Meyers Taylor is listed on U.S. Bobsled and Skeleton’s athlete advisory council webpage, but she said Monday she resigned her position on the athletes advisory council in July.

Nathan Chen hits short program, leads world championships

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That’s more like it, Nathan Chen.

After two disastrous Olympic short programs, Chen nailed his jumps at the world championships, taking the lead by 1.86 points over Russian Mikhail Kolyada in Milan on Thursday. American Vincent Zhou is third.

Full results are here.

“I learned a lot from the Olympics, and I used what I learned there heading into the short program in terms of where to place my mind, what to think about throughout the program,” Chen said. “It was great to have an opportunity to come back before the end of the season to try the short program again, sort of hope to redeem myself.”

Later Thursday, Germans Aljona Savchenko and Bruno Massot backed up their Olympic gold with a world title, shattering the longest-standing world record in figure skating with a record margin of victory. Full recap here.

In Saturday’s men’s free skate, Chen can become the youngest men’s world champion since Yevgeny Plushenko in 2001. Zhou can become the first man to make a senior world podium the year after winning a world junior title since Plushenko in 1998. The U.S. last put two men on a world podium in 1996 (Todd EldredgeRudy Galindo).

This week’s field lacks Yuzuru HanyuJavier Fernandez and Patrick Chan, who combined to win every Olympic and world title since 2011 but ended their seasons at the Olympics.

On Thursday, Chen hit a quadruple Lutz-triple toe loop combination, a quadruple flip and a triple Axel for 101.94 points (2.18 shy of his personal best). It was a reversal from PyeongChang, where Chen’s short programs began unraveling with that opening combination, and he scored 80.61 and 82.27 points.

Chen placed 17th in the Olympic short program and redeemed himself with the top free skate, moving up to fifth. He went into the Olympics as the only undefeated male skater for the season.

“That I was able to bounce back and have the long program that I did, because of that the whole Olympic experience wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be after the short program,” Chen said Thursday. “Being able to have that, I didn’t have any ghosts of the Olympics following me [to worlds].”

Zhou, the youngest of 37 men in the field at 17, landed a quad Lutz-triple toe loop combination and a quad flip, fist pumping at the end of his skate. He shattered his personal-best short program by 12.25 points. Zhou was sixth at the Olympics.

“I came here to skate a clean program, I did that, and being in the top three is icing on the cake,” Zhou said.

Two other medal favorites — Olympic silver medalist Shoma Uno of Japan and two-time world bronze medalist Jin Boyang of China — struggled with jumps. Jin is fourth and Uno fifth.

Uno, competing with a reported ankle injury, performed a triple-double combination rather than the quad-triple he did in PyeongChang. Jin had a quad toe called under-rotated.

The third American, 2013 U.S. champion Max Aaron, is in 15th place. Aaron put his hand down on his opening quad Salchow and turned out of his triple Axel landing.

Key Free Skate Start Times (Saturday ET)
Max Aaron (USA) — 6:05 a.m.
Shoma Uno (JPN) — 8:21 a.m.
Jin Boyang (CHN) — 8:29 a.m.
Mikhail Kolyada (RUS) — 8:38 a.m.
Vincent Zhou (USA) — 8:47 a.m.
Nathan Chen (USA) — 8:55 a.m.

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Olympic pairs’ champs crush world record for world title; U.S. struggles

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Germans Aljona Savchenko and Bruno Massot added a world title to their Olympic gold with a world-record score, while U.S. pairs’ struggles continued with the Americans’ lowest-ever results at a world championships.

Savchenko and Massot broke the longest-standing record total in figure skating, extending their lead from Wednesday’s short program to win by 20.31 points over Russians Yevgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov.

Vanessa James and Morgan Cipres took bronze, France’s second Olympic or world pairs medal in 86 years.

Full results are here.

Savchenko and Massot’s free skate — the first to eclipse 160 points under the current judging system — included a side-by-side triple Salchow-double toe loop-double toe loop combination and a throw triple flip and throw triple Salchow.

Their total score — 245.84 points — shattered 2014 Olympic champions Tatyana Volosozhar and Maksim Trankov‘s record of 237.71 set at 2013 Skate America. Their winning margin also broke Volosozhar and Trankov’s record for an Olympics or world championships under the 14-year-old points system.

Savchenko earned her 11th world medal — tying the female record held by Norwegian singles legend Sonja Henie — and sixth world title — tying Soviet Alexander Zaitsev for second on the all-time pairs’ list, four behind Irina Rodnina.

This was the French-born Massot’s first world title. Savchenko’s previous five world titles came with now-retired Robin Szolkowy.

The two U.S. pairs finished 15th and 17th, which means the U.S. drops to one pairs’ spot for the 2019 Worlds, its fewest since 1957.

U.S. champions Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Christopher Knierim dropped from 11th after the short program to 15th of 16 pairs after the free skate. Scimeca fell on their death spiral and a throw triple flip, looked distraught skating off the ice and tweeted 10 minutes later, “I’m sorry for losing us a spot” and “Bad day to have a bad day.”

The Knierims made the top 10 in their four previous world championships appearances with a best finish of seventh.

The other U.S. pair, 2000 World junior singles silver medalist Deanna Stellato and 2014 Olympian Nathan Bartholomay, were 17th in Wednesday’s short program, missing the cutoff for the free skate by one spot.

It’s the first time all U.S. pairs finished outside the top 11 at a worlds, granted worlds didn’t regularly have a field greater than 15 pairs before 1990.

It came on the heels of the U.S. having its smallest pairs’ contingent — one pair — at an Olympics since the first Winter Games in 1924. The Knierims were 15th in PyeongChang, marking the first time the U.S. sent a pair to an Olympics and put none in the top 10.

The last U.S. pairs’ medal at worlds came in 2002, making this the nation’s longest drought in any figure skating discipline. The last Olympic medal was in 1988.

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