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Shibutanis headline tight ice dance field at figure skating nationals

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It’s pretty clear which three ice dance couples the U.S. will send to PyeongChang. What’s to be decided at nationals this week is which will be its leading couple and only medal favorite.

Siblings Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani won the last two U.S. titles and haven’t been beaten by a U.S. couple in any event in more than two years.

But the gap is miniscule.

The results from the Grand Prix Final, an Olympic preview of sorts, show just how close the top three U.S. dance teams are:

  1. Gabriella Papadakis/Guillaume Cizeron (FRA) — 202.16 (world record)
  2. Tessa Virtue/Scott Moir (CAN) — 199.86
  3. Maia Shibutani/Alex Shibutani (USA) — 188.00
  4. Madison Hubbell/Zachary Donohue (USA) — 187.40
  5. Madison Chock/Evan Bates (USA) — 187.15

The French and Canadians are clear favorites for Olympic gold and silver. That leaves three U.S. couples — separated by .85 of a point at the Grand Prix Final — looking for bronze.

Whether the Shibutanis win another U.S. title in San Jose on Sunday or finish third won’t change whether they go to PyeongChang.

But reputation matters more in ice dance than any other discipline. At every Olympics since 1984, the U.S. ice dance couples finished in the same order as they did at nationals a month earlier.

Like in 2014, when Meryl Davis and Charlie White won their sixth straight national title en route to becoming the first U.S. Olympic ice dance champions. Chock and Bates were second at nationals and eighth at the Olympics; the Shibutanis were third and ninth.

Davis and White haven’t competed since.

In their absence, the U.S. should have its deepest top-to-bottom ice dance contingent in Olympic history.

The Shibutanis and Chock and Bates each bagged two world championships medals in the last three seasons. Hubbell and Donohue qualified for the last three Grand Prix Finals, a competition for the world’s top-six couples.

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A look at the three very likely U.S. Olympic ice dance couples:

Maia Shibutani/Alex Shibutani
Three world championships medals
2016, 2017 U.S. champions
2017-18 U.S. ranking: 1

Made the podium at seven straight nationals beginning when Maia was 16 years old in 2011, when they won a world bronze medal in their first senior season.

But the Shibutanis really came into their own the last three seasons, overtaking Chock and Bates as the top U.S. couple and claiming world silver in 2016 and bronze in 2017.

They were recently beaten by Chock and Bates and Hubbell and Donohue in programs, but not in a whole competition since the 2015 Grand Prix Final.

“If we’re looking at any other team for motivation, then that’s not really the right place that we should be looking,” Maia said.

The Shibutanis hope to become the first siblings to win Olympic figure skating medals together since 1992.

Madison Chock/Evan Bates
Two world championships medals
2015 U.S. champions
2017-18 U.S. ranking: 3

When Davis and White stepped away from competition, Chock and Bates ascended atop U.S. ice dancing, earning a world silver medal in 2015 in their fourth season together.

But that reign ended with the Shibutanis’ first national title two years ago. Chock and Bates have lost six straight head-to-heads between the two couples.

“There have been some trying moments in the last few seasons,” Bates said.

They leaned on each other. Chock and Bates began dating around Christmas 2016, eight years after they went on three dates that never materialized.

Madison Hubbell/Zachary Donohue
Four-time U.S. bronze medalists
Fourth at 2017 Grand Prix Final
2017-18 U.S. ranking: 2

They are sick of bronze, but third place in U.S. ice dance is enough to make it to the Olympics. Hubbell and Donohue are on the upswing.

“We’re making progress on the teams we would really like to overcome,” said Hubbell, who missed the three-couple 2014 Olympic team with Donohue by finishing fourth at those nationals.

At last season’s Grand Prix Final, they beat Chock and Bates for the first time since 2012. Then they did it again at this season’s Grand Prix Final, where they also outscored the Shibutanis in the free dance. Hubbell and Donohue have never defeated the Shibutanis for a full competition, though.

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Paralyzed man walks London Marathon in 36 hours in exoskeleton

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A paralyzed man walked the London Marathon route wearing an exoskeleton suit, finishing around 11 p.m. Monday, nearly 36 hours after he started, according to British media.

Simon Kindleysides was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor in April 2013 and was paralyzed from the waist down, he said on the BBC before the race.

“I want to be a role model to my children so they can say their daddy’s been the first paralyzed man to walk the London Marathon ever,” said Kindleysides, a 34-year-old father of three, according to the report.

Kindleysides predicted he would finish in 37 hours, completing the first half of the 26.2-mile race on Sunday, then sleeping a few hours and walking the final 13.1 miles on Monday. Kindleysides said after finishing that he spent 26.5 of those 36 hours walking the marathon.

“Painful, emotional to walk that far in 26.5 hours,” he said. “It feels amazing. So glad I’ve done it. I’m here proving a point, anything is possible.”

Kindleysides said he handcycled from London to Paris for charity two years ago.

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Candace Parker finished with USA Basketball

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Candace Parker said she will not play for Team USA again, detailing her reaction to being left off the Rio Olympic team nearly two years ago.

“This is the first time I’ve spoke on this,” Parker said on a podcast published Sunday. “I’m not playing USA Basketball anymore.

“I’m one of those people. Once it’s done, it’s done.”

Parker was surprisingly left off the 12-woman Olympic roster for Rio after being a key player on the 2008 and 2012 gold-medal teams.

Asked if the omission was due to politics or an “intentional snub,” Parker detailed her commitment to USA Basketball playing through injuries from before her freshman year at the University of Tennessee through the 2012 Olympics. Plus, taking time away from her daughter to play on an October 2015 European tour one week after her Los Angeles Sparks were eliminated from the WNBA Playoffs.

“If it wasn’t going to be my play that made the final decision [on the Olympic roster]. If it wasn’t going to be my performance on the court, don’t have me do that,” she said of the European tour and Rio Olympic promotions. “It was more about loyalty. I’ve been loyal to you for this long. At least give me the heads-up that you might not make the team, and then I could choose. … I was hurt because I feel like I’ve played through so many injuries, given so many hours to USA Basketball, and then in one fell swoop they can just be like, it doesn’t matter about your play, you’re just not on the team.”

Parker’s place on the Rio team was in jeopardy after she missed both the 2014 World Championship (knee injury) and a February 2016 training camp (overseas club commitment), the last camp before the Olympic team would be named, combined with an influx of bigs since the London Games.

“We don’t get into specifics speaking about each player publicly,” USA Basketball director Carol Callan said after the 2016 team was announced. “Needless to say there are a lot of deliberations. We have a committee for a reason. … What it does speak to is that we have incredible depth on this team. … We’re looking at depth and talent at each position, and there are just a lot of numbers games that are played at that three-four position that is the strength of our team. We appreciate Candace. It’s not an easy call to make.”

Since Rio, U.S. head coach Geno Auriemma stepped down (as expected after two Games), and Dawn Staley succeeded him. Auriemma was not on the selection committee for the 2016 Olympic team. Parker said that even if the whole USA Basketball administration changed, she would not be interested in playing for the U.S. again.

“I think Dawn Staley is an amazing coach. She’s awesome. I wish I could have played for her,” Parker said. “It has nothing to do with her, but for me, mentally, I wouldn’t be able to represent USA Basketball anymore.

“I jokingly said [8-year-old daughter] Lailaa was going to get a passport and play for another team, but that’ll be her decision,” Parker said with a laugh. “I can’t put that on her.

“I was more upset about not being able to share the [Olympic] experience with my daughter. That would be the Olympics that she would have remembered.”

Parker was not among 29 players named to the initial U.S. national basketball team player pool for the 2020 Olympic cycle in December. Players can be added or dropped from the national team pool between now and 2020, so the door is not completely shut on anyone.

Callan declined to say whether Parker declined an invitation to the national team.

“We generally don’t talk about players that aren’t here because there’s a variety of reasons why they’re not. She’s one of them,” Callan said in December. “We choose not to try to speak for them. So, I would simply suggest that you ask her. Candace has been an important part of our program over the years. We talked previously about the decision when she didn’t make the Olympic roster. I just think she’s better suited to say that. I don’t want to speak for her.”

Parker said last May, two months after Staley’s hiring, that she didn’t know if she would play for the U.S. again and had not thought about it.

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