Max Aaron

U.S. men’s figure skaters mired in quad quandary

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DETROIT — Down went Max Aaron. Down went Adam Rippon.

It’s the hardest puzzle piece to snap into place in men’s figure skating leading up to the Sochi Olympics: the quadruple jump. And after the season’s first Grand Prix event, it continues to be an elusive element for the top U.S. men.

Only Skate America’s winner, Tatsuki Machida of Japan, made it through the weekend without any trouble with four-revolution jumps, landing two in his free skate to win over Rippon and Aaron, who took silver and bronze, respectively.

Daisuke Takahashi, the 2010 Olympic bronze medalist, barely caught his quadruple toe loop and struggled Saturday to finish fourth.

Can the American men find their quad form come Sochi?

Evan Lysacek was criticized in 2010 for winning gold in Vancouver without a quad. While Lysacek remains out with injury, two-time Olympic silver medalist Elvis Stojko, who helped usher in the jump to men’s skating in the 1990s, is a fan of the bigger-is-better movement.

“Guys are trying two quads in a program, which is awesome,” Stojko said last week. “I feel that they’re really pushing the envelope. Now they’re back to what we were doing in 2002 in the quads. There’s more guys doing it and more consistently, which is great. So, having at least one quad in the program is a must, if you want to be in the hunt. If you really want to take down the competition, doing two with a combination.”

The toe loop has been a struggle for Aaron, who landed two quad salchows Saturday night.

“Right now we’re committed to keeping that quad toe loop in there; we’re not going to take it out,” Aaron said. “Maybe by Boston (U.S. Championships in January) it will be perfect, maybe it will not.”

Aaron has a whopping three quads in his free skate, compared to just one in Rippon’s. The silver medalist made light of his fall Saturday night, in which he hit the boards.

“I’m lucky that the Joe Louis is an old, sturdy arena,” Rippon said, drawing laughs. “The boards held up and didn’t break.”

But Rippon, who was second at Nationals in 2012, got serious a few minutes later, saying that he planned to add one, if not two quad jumps to his program this season.

“My priority for each competition is to go out and put out a good quad lutz,” he said. “By the end of the season I hopefully will add another quad lutz and also a quad toe to the program. The quad toe has been good at home in practice.”

Other Americans in contention to make the Sochi Olympic team, including Ross Miner and three-time national champion Jeremy Abbott, have quads but have not been able to execute them on a consistent basis.

For many skaters it is a numbers game. Figure skating’s “new” scoring system, which has now been around for nearly 10 years, awards higher totals for the bigger jumps, even if they aren’t executed perfectly.

“I left a lot of points on the table,” said Aaron, referring to the fall and subsequent mistakes around his quads. “It was unacceptable for me to fall. I’m not very happy about that.

“I’m going to go back home and continue to work. We want the components a lot higher, we want the technical score a lot higher and we want the overall score a lot higher. We’re not looking for falls or step outs; we’re looking for a clean skate every time. We will get it right. We picked that program for a reason and there’s no backing down.”

Plushenko updates on his training

Molly Huddle wins 10,000m at USATF Outdoors for 27th national title

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Molly Huddle may now be a marathoner, but she’s still the class of the U.S. 10,000m field.

Huddle, the American record holder and two-time Olympian, won the national title in the 25-lap race for the fourth straight time, clocking 31 minutes, 52.32 seconds in Des Moines on Thursday night. Huddle owns 27 national titles between track and road races.

Lopez Lomong, the 2008 U.S. Olympic flag bearer who was among the Lost Boys of Sudan, surged past Shadrack Kipchirchir to win the 10,000m by 1.29 seconds in 28:58.38. Lomong, who ran the 1500m and 5000m at the 2008 and 2012 Olympics, was racing the 10,000m for the second time in his career. The field lacked eight-time U.S. champion Galen Rupp for the first time since 2006. Rupp is now focused on the marathon.

For Huddle, it was a much more pleasant experience than on April 16, when she finished 16th with hypothermia in the most dreadful Boston Marathon weather in at least 30 years. Huddle was to undergo a root canal the following day, then finished third at a 10K in Central Park on June 9.

“I wasn’t sure if I’d be fit enough yet, but I’m glad that when I needed to pick it up, I could,” Huddle told media in Des Moines.

So Huddle entered the U.S. Championships having been beaten by countrywomen in her last two races. Before Boston, Huddle had been the top American in all of her road races the previous five years.

The 33-year-old led after every lap on Thursday and pulled away from Olympic teammate Marielle Hall at the bell, winning by 4.36 seconds. Gwen Jorgensen, the Rio Olympic triathlon champion transitioning to the marathon, finished seventh, 31.77 seconds behind.

“The goal is always to come in and try to win, and I don’t think I was in it for the win,” said Jorgensen, who gave birth to a son, Stanley, on Aug. 17. “I didn’t think I’d be running any track races.”

Huddle would normally be a contender for her first major international medal, but this is the only year in the Olympic cycle without a world championships or Olympics. Huddle plans to race marathons in the fall, next spring and at the 2020 Olympics, but wants to run the 10,000m at the 2019 World Championships.

USATF Outdoors: TV Schedule | Results | Women’s Preview | Men’s Preview

Also Thursday, the female headliner of the meet, Sydney McLaughlin, withdrew before the first round of the 400m after feeling tightness in her quad in warm-up.

McLaughlin, who at 16 became the youngest U.S. track and field athlete to compete at an Olympics in 44 years, just turned professional after her freshman season at the University of Kentucky. She ranks No. 1 in the world this year in the 400m hurdles and No. 5 in the 400m.

All of the favorites advanced out of the 100m first round, including 200m world leader Noah Lyles, two-time Olympian Mike Rodgers (in 9.89 seconds, fastest time in the world this year) and Pre Classic winner Ronnie Baker. World gold and silver medalists Justin Gatlin and Christian Coleman are sitting out nationals.

The men’s and women’s 100m semifinals and finals are Friday. Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA has live coverage from 6-9 p.m. ET.

Defending 1500m champion Robby Andrews failed to qualify for Saturday’s final.

Keturah Orji and Tori Franklin traded meet records in the triple jump final, with Orji prevailing with a 14.59-meter leap to Franklin’s 14.52. Franklin holds the American record of 14.84 meters with Orji ranking No. 2 all-time.

MORE: Lyles, Norman, green teens at Olympic Trials, now stars at USATF Champs

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Kayla Harrison wins MMA debut with Ronda Rousey’s signature move

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Double Olympic judo champion Kayla Harrison won her MMA debut with an arm-bar submission, using former roommate Ronda Rousey‘s signature move for a first-round submission at a Professional Fighters League event in Chicago on Thursday night.

“I was wicked nervous,” the Massachusetts native said. “This is all so new. No one has ever locked me in a cage and said, go kill someone. … I can’t wait until the next one.”

Harrison, in her first competition since the Rio Games, beat Brittney Elkin (3-5) after 3 minutes, 18 seconds, of the five-minute first round. Harrison dominated from the start, took Elkin down to the mat after 30 seconds, landed a series of punches and eventually rolled Elkin into the arm bar.

Harrison announced in October 2016 that she joined the MMA promotion as a commentator and brand ambassador, but not necessarily a fighter. A year ago, Harrison said she would compete.

The comparisons to former judo training partner and Olympic bronze medalist Rousey have shadowed her for years.

“I’ve been waiting for a long time to fight,” Harrison, 27, said in April. “First, it was more me. I just wanted to get my feet wet, get in there, see if I liked getting punched in the face. Now that I’ve established that I do, we’ve sort of been waiting for the PFL to get their stuff together. So, their stuff is together.”

Harrison that her first two planned opponents pulled out for reasons unknown to her.

“I don’t care who I fight,” Harrison said in April. “It’s tough because I’m 0-0 in MMA. So it’s not like I’m going to fight someone who’s 10-0. But I think it’s difficult when you have two Olympic gold medals behind your name. Like people are kind of like, are you really an amateur?”

Harrison, who has said she hopes to fight three times this year, said her goal is for everyone to know that she is the world’s best MMA fighter.

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MORE: Rousey: UFC return just as likely as Olympic return