U.S. men’s race for Olympic figure skating spots wide open

Jason Brown
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DETROIT — Already a mystery not to be solved until January, the road to Sochi for the American men got even more clouded with the short program at Skate America on Friday night.

In the first Grand Prix of the Olympic season, reigning national champion Max Aaron fell (literally) to sixth place out of eight skaters while less heralded Jason Brown and Adam Rippon scored personal bests with respective satisfying skates.

They’ll finish with free skates Saturday.

Skate America Friday recap

Reigning Olympic champion Evan Lysacek and Aaron, who broke out for a national title in January in Omaha, were for the last few months the de facto front-runners in a race for two Olympic spots for the red, white and blue.

But Aaron’s attack-at-all-costs approach hurt him at Joe Louis Arena, falling on his first big jump, a quadruple Salchow.

“It’s all my fault; I take the blame,” Aaron, 21, said. “It was a bit of a lack of focus.”

While Aaron’s stock takes a dip, Brown and Rippon rise on a list that won’t be easy to decipher in the weeks leading up to the National Championships in January.

Said list also includes three-time national champion Jeremy Abbott, three-time medalist Ross Miner and 2011 silver medalist Richard Dornbush.

“I wanted to show that I had this big presence on the ice,” said Rippon after his short program, which put him in third (80.26 points) behind Japan’s Tatsuki Machida and Brown. “I think it’s the first step to making the Olympic team. I feel like I’ve been a dark horse for about a year and a half now, but I feel like I’m on the right track now.”

Rippon was second at nationals in 2012 but faltered to fifth a year ago. Training alongside two-time U.S. national champion Ashley Wagner, Rippon has gained muscle strength and confidence, skating to “Carmen” Friday night and conjuring a form he said he had lost due to a lack of confidence a year ago.

“I think everyone has the same mentality: ‘I can be one of those guys,’” Rippon said of the Americans and qualifying for Sochi. “But I want to come across as, ‘I know I’m one of those guys.’ It’s not a cockiness. It’s a demeanor that you see and you’re scared that I’m in the event.”

Brown was a last-minute substitute for Lysacek, whose lingering injuries have denied the Vancouver gold medalist a comeback, which was originally planned for September, then here. Lysacek will have to register an international qualifying score prior to nationals to be eligible for the Olympics.

“I’m working really hard everyday. I’m working on making my program more difficult however I can,” said Brown, 18. “[Sochi] is definitely a goal of mine. Every day I realize that this could be possible, that it could be a reality.”

Aaron, for one, doesn’t disagree that the field is wide open.

“Jason is a great sub in; he’s a hard worker and a great athlete,” he said. “Evan needs to be healthy before he competes.”

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Valencia Marathon produces historic times in men’s, women’s races

2022 Valencia Marathon
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Kenyan Kelvin Kiptum and Ethiopian Amane Beriso won the Valencia Marathon and became the third-fastest man and woman in history, respectively.

Kiptum, a 23-year-old in his marathon debut, won the men’s race in 2 hours, 1 minute, 53 seconds. The only men to ever run faster over 26.2 miles are legends: Kenyan Eliud Kipchoge (2:01:09 world record, plus a 2:01:39) and Ethiopian Kenenisa Bekele (2:01:41).

Kipchoge made his marathon debut at age 28, and Bekele at 31.

Beriso, a 31-year-old whose personal best was 2:20:48 from January 2016, stunned the women’s field Sunday by running 2:14:58. The only women to have run faster: Kenyans Brigid Kosgei (2:14:04) and Ruth Chepngetich (2:14:18).

Ethiopian Letesenbet Gidey finished second in 2:16:49, the fastest-ever time for a woman in her marathon debut. Gidey is the world record holder at 5000m and 10,000m.

Valencia is arguably the top annual marathon outside of the six World Marathon Majors. The next major marathon is Tokyo on March 5.

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Aleksander Aamodt Kilde wins Beaver Creek downhill

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BEAVER CREEK, Colo. — Norway’s Aleksander Aamodt Kilde won his second straight World Cup downhill race to start the season, despite feeling under the weather.

Although dealing with an illness all week in training, Kilde powered through the challenging Birds of Prey course Saturday in a time of 1 minute, 42.09 seconds. It was enough to hold off Marco Odermatt of Switzerland by 0.06 seconds. James Crawford of Canada was third to earn his second career World Cup podium finish.

Kilde also won the opening downhill last weekend in Lake Louise, Alberta.

“It’s been a tough week,” Kilde said after the race. “I caught the flu in Lake Louise after a very, very nice weekend. It really hit me hard. Then I got a couple of days to rest and take it easy. … I felt OK. Still feeling it a little bit in my system.”

The Beaver Creek crew members had the course in solid shape a day after a downhill race was canceled due to high wind and snowfall.

ALPINE SKIING: Results | Broadcast Schedule

Kilde reached speeds around 75 mph in picking up his eighth World Cup downhill victory. That tied him with Kjetil Jansrud for the third-most downhill wins in the World Cup discipline among Norwegian men. The total trails only Aksel Lund Svindal (14) and Lasse Kjus (10).

“I found a really, really good set-up with my equipment and also with my skiing,” Kilde explained. “I believe in myself. I trust in myself. I have a good game plan. When I stand on the start, I don’t dwell on anything. I know that this plan is what I do and when I do that it’s going to be fast.”

Odermatt has been on the podium in all four World Cup races this season as he tries to defend his overall World Cup title. The 25-year-old finished third in the opening downhill of the season last weekend. He’s also won a giant slalom race and a super-G.

Ryan Cochran-Siegle wound up in seventh place for the top American finish. He was ninth in the downhill in Lake Louise.

“It’s been solid,” Cochran-Siegle said of his strides in the discipline. “A couple of little things here and there that pushed me off that top three. You have to ski with a lot of intensity and ski without abandon, in a sense. Today was a good step.”

Switzerland’s Beat Feuz, who won the Olympic downhill gold medal at the Beijing Games last February, tied for ninth.

The Beaver Creek stop on the circuit comes to a close Sunday with a super-G race. Odermatt will be the favorite after holding off Kilde in the opening super-G last weekend.

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