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

Jason Brown

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.”

Elvis Stojko not a fan of Olympic team event

Elena Fanchini, medal-winning Alpine skier, dies at 37

Elena Fanchini

Italian skier Elena Fanchini, whose career was cut short by a tumor, has died. She was 37.

Fanchini passed away Wednesday at her home in Solato, near Brescia, the Italian Winter Sports Federation announced.

Fanchini died on the same day that fellow Italian Marta Bassino won the super-G at the world championships in Meribel, France; and two days after Federica Brignone — another former teammate — claimed gold in combined.

Sofia Goggia, who is the favorite for Saturday’s downhill, dedicated her win in Cortina d’Ampezzo last month to Fanchini.

Fanchini last raced in December 2017. She was cleared to return to train nearly a year later but never made it fully back, and her condition grew worse in recent months.

Fanchini won a silver medal in downhill at the 2005 World Championships and also won two World Cup races in her career — both in downhill.

She missed the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics because of her condition.

Fanchini’s younger sisters Nadia and Sabrina were also World Cup racers.

USA Boxing to skip world championships

USA Boxing

USA Boxing will not send boxers to this year’s men’s and women’s world championships, citing “the ongoing failures” of the IBA, the sport’s international governing body, that put boxing’s place on the Olympic program at risk.

The Washington Post first reported the decision.

In a letter to its members, USA Boxing Executive Director Mike McAtee listed many factors that led to the decision, including IBA governance issues, financial irregularities and transparency and that Russian and Belarusian boxers are allowed to compete with their flags.

IBA lifted its ban on Russian and Belarusian boxers in October and said it would allow their flags and anthems to return, too.

The IOC has not shifted from its recommendation to international sports federations last February that Russian and Belarusian athletes be barred, though the IOC and Olympic sports officials have been exploring whether those athletes could return without national symbols.

USA Boxing said that Russian boxers have competed at an IBA event in Morocco this month with their flags and are expected to compete at this year’s world championships under their flags.

“While sport is intended to be politically neutral, many boxers, coaches and other representatives of the Ukrainian boxing community were killed as a result of the Russian aggression against Ukraine, including coach Mykhaylo Korenovsky who was killed when a Russian missile hit an apartment block in January 2023,” according to the USA Boxing letter. “Ukraine’s sports infrastructure, including numerous boxing gyms, has been devastated by Russian aggression.”

McAtee added later that USA Boxing would still not send athletes to worlds even if Russians and Belarusians were competing as neutrals and without their flags.

“USA Boxing’s decision is based on the ‘totality of all of the factors,'” he said in an emailed response. “Third party oversite and fairness in the field of play is the most important factor.”

A message has been sent to the IBA seeking comment on USA Boxing’s decision.

The women’s world championships are in March in India. The men’s world championships are in May in Uzbekistan. They do not count toward 2024 Olympic qualifying.

In December, the IOC said recent IBA decisions could lead to “the cancellation of boxing” for the 2024 Paris Games.

Some of the already reported governance issues led to the IOC stripping IBA — then known as AIBA — of its Olympic recognition in 2019. AIBA had suspended all 36 referees and judges used at the 2016 Rio Olympics pending an investigation into a possible judging scandal, one that found that some medal bouts were fixed by “complicit and compliant” referees and judges.

The IOC ran the Tokyo Olympic boxing competition.

Boxing was not included on the initial program for the 2028 Los Angeles Games announced in December 2021, though it could still be added. The IBA must address concerns “around its governance, its financial transparency and sustainability and the integrity of its refereeing and judging processes,” IOC President Thomas Bach said then.

This past June, the IOC said IBA would not run qualifying competitions for the 2024 Paris Games.

In September, the IOC said it was “extremely concerned” about the Olympic future of boxing after an IBA extraordinary congress overwhelmingly backed Russian Umar Kremlev to remain as its president rather than hold an election.

Kremlev was re-elected in May after an opponent, Boris van der Vorst of the Netherlands, was barred from running against him. The Court of Arbitration for Sport ruled in June that van der Vorst should have been eligible to run against Kremlev, but the IBA group still decided not to hold a new election.

Last May, Rashida Ellis became the first U.S. woman to win a world boxing title at an Olympic weight since Claressa Shields in 2016, taking the 60kg lightweight crown in Istanbul. In Tokyo, Ellis lost 3-0 in her opening bout in her Olympic debut.

At the last men’s worlds in 2021, Robby Gonzales and Jahmal Harvey became the first U.S. men to win an Olympic or world title since 2007, ending the longest American men’s drought since World War II.

The Associated Press and NBC Olympic research contributed to this report.

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