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Olympic pairs’ champs lead after worlds short program

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Germans Aljona Savchenko and Bruno Massot backed up their Olympic pairs’ title by topping the world championships short program in Milan on Wednesday night.

Savchenko, seeking her sixth world title, and Massot, eyeing his first, tallied a personal-best 82.98 points with a clean program including side-by-side triple Salchows and a throw triple flip.

“We are Olympic champions, but the Olympics were yesterday,” Savchenko said, according to the International Skating Union. “We put our Olympic gold medals aside and focus on this competition.”

They lead Russians Yevgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov by 1.69 going into Thursday’s free skate.

Full results are here.

Savchenko can tie Norwegian Sonja Henie for the female record of 11 world championships medals. She can grab a share of second on the all-time pairs’ list of world titles with Soviet Alexander Zaitsev, four shy of Irina Rodnina‘s record.

The field lacks the Olympic silver and bronze medalists. China’s Sui Wenjing and Han Cong are not defending their world title due to Sui’s foot injury. Canadians Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford, the 2015 and 2016 World champions, retired after PyeongChang.

That made Savchenko and Massot and Olympic fourth-place finishers Tarasova and Morozov the pre-worlds favorites. Vanessa James and Morgan Cipres are in third, seeking France’s second Olympic or world pairs’ medal in 86 years.

U.S. champions Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Christopher Knierim are 11th with 69.55 points after placing 15th in PyeongChang. Scimeca’s elbow knocked Knierim’s eyebrow coming down from a lift Wednesday. The Knierims made the top 10 in their four previous world championships appearances with a best finish of seventh.

“We wish we could have broken 70 [points],” Scimeca said, according to U.S. Figure Skating. “That was a goal of ours.”

The other U.S. pair, 2000 World junior singles silver medalist Deanna Stellato and 2014 Olympian Nathan Bartholomay, were 17th, missing the cutoff for the free skate by one spot. Stellato, who retired from singles skating at 17 due to hip injuries, came back at age 32 in pairs in 2016 and took bronze with Bartholomay at nationals.

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

Key Free Skate Start Times (Thursday ET)
Alexa Scimeca Knierim/Christopher Knierim (USA) — 2:51 p.m.
Natalya Zabiyako/Alexander Enbert (RUS) — 4:20 p.m.
Vanessa James/Morgan Cipres (FRA) — 4:28 p.m.
Aljona Savchenko/Bruno Massot (GER) — 4:37 p.m.
Yevgenia Tarasova/Vladimir Morozov (RUS) — 4:46 p.m.

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Sonja Henie record at stake; figure skating worlds pairs preview

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When Aljona Savchenko won her first gold medal at her fifth Olympics with her third different partner in PyeongChang, she said she “wrote history.”

She can write some more this week.

Savchenko, who at 34 became the oldest female figure skating champion in Winter Olympic history, and partner Bruno Massot are the only pairs medalists from PyeongChang who are back for the world championships in Milan.

The Germans headline the field for the short program Wednesday and free skate Friday.

Savchenko can tie Norwegian Sonja Henie for the female record of 11 world championships medals. She can grab a share of second on the all-time pairs list with a sixth world title, four shy of Soviet Irina Rodnina‘s record.

Savchenko, who won four crowns with now-retired Robin Szolkowy, goes for her first world title with Massot. They’re clear favorites.

Olympic silver medalists Sui Wenjing and Han Cong withdrew from worlds due to Sui’s foot injury. Olympic bronze medalists Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford retired.

It’s arguably a surprise that Savchenko and Massot chose to compete in Milan. They’re the first Olympic pairs champions to compete at a post-Olympic worlds since 1992.

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Their top challengers are Russians Yevgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov, who outscored Savchenko and Massot in the Olympic short program but dropped off the podium in the free skate with a fall on their throw.

U.S. champions Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Christopher Knierim, 15th at the Olympics, made the top 10 in all of their four world championships appearances with a best finish of seventh. The last U.S. pairs medal came in 2002, the nation’s longest drought in any figure skating discipline.

The Knierims were the only U.S. pair in PyeongChang, but in Milan they’re joined by Deanna Stellato and Nathan Bartholomay.

Stellato earned singles silver at the 2000 World Junior Championships, then retired at age 17 due to hip injuries. She came back at age 32 in 2016 in pairs and, with the Sochi Olympian Bartholomay, took bronze at this year’s nationals.

Key Short Program Start Times (Wednesday ET)
Deanna Stellato/Nathan Bartholomay (USA) — 1:39 p.m.
Alexa Scimeca Knierim/Christopher Knierim (USA) — 4:05 p.m.
Yevgenia Tarasova/Vladimir Morozov (RUS) — 5:14 p.m.
Aljona Savchenko/Bruno Massot (GER) — 5:20 p.m.
Vanessa James/Morgan Cipres (FRA) — 5:33 p.m.

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MORE: Best figure skating moments from PyeongChang

Knierims top U.S. Championships pairs short program

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With just one Olympic pairs spot available, any mistake could cost a team dearly at the U.S. Championships.

Pre-event favorites Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Chris Knierim avoided a big one in the short program Thursday, taking the lead with 71.10 points.

The husband and wife tangled going into their throw triple flip. At least one of her skates appeared to scrape across his pant leg, and there was a hole in those pants afterward, according to figure skating expert Jackie Wong.

The Knierims, the highest-scoring American pair each of the last four seasons, still outpaced the competition in U.S. figure skating’s weakest discipline.

The 2016 U.S. champions Tarah Kayne and Danny O’Shea are in second, 2.17 points behind. Deanna Stellato and 2014 Olympian Nathan Bartholomay are in third, 3.26 back.

The pairs free skate is Saturday in San Jose, live on NBC and streaming on NBCOlympics.com from 4-6 p.m. ET.

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The Knierims could be beaten for the national title and still be named the U.S. Olympic pairs team on the strength of their results from the past year.

“Regardless of whether we’re the leading team and we’re supposed to go, whatever, we need to skate well,” Chris said, according to U.S. Figure Skating. “We can’t come in here and have two bad skates, get third place or fourth place or off the podium and still be named to the team and feel confident about that.”

They returned to competition in February after a lengthy absence due to Scimeca Knierim’s life-threatening illness. They also got married in that difficult period.

“We skate for each other rather than for a score or for the judges,” he said on NBCSN.

In five international competitions since, they posted the five highest scores by a U.S. pair over the last two seasons.

They were 10th at the world championships and rank 16th in the world this year. A U.S. pair last won an Olympic medal in 1988.

Kayne and O’Shea, who upset the Knierims for the 2016 U.S. title, impressed to take second in the short program Thursday. They entered nationals ranked seventh among American pairs this season, with just one event under their belt.

They withdrew from last season’s nationals after she slammed her head in a short program fall and suffered a concussion. Kayne then underwent unrelated knee surgery and was off the ice for five months.

Stellato and Bartholomay have to be the best story of any pair at nationals.

Stellato was the 2000 World junior silver medalist in singles but ended that career as a teen due to injuries.

After more than a decade away from competition, she teamed with Bartholomay last season. They finished fourth at nationals.

Bartholomay and former partner Felicia Zhang were 12th at the Sochi Olympics.

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