Ross Miner

Boston figure skaters under pressure on home ice at U.S. Championships

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BOSTON — When it was announced that the U.S. Championships would be held at TD Garden in Boston in 2014 two years ago, pairs team Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir looked at one another and said, “Oh no.”

The team, having been fifth at Nationals for two years running, knew that the pressure mounted on their shoulders to do well in the town they called home would be even greater seeing that it was an Olympic year.

“It’s really hard skating in front of people you know,” Shnapir told reporters Thursday evening. “We do little exhibitions on Friday night at the Skating Club of Boston and those are some of the most nerve-wracking performances for us because those are all people that we know. There’s this feeling of expectation that we have to do well.”

What is there to be said about “home-ice” advantage? None of the four Olympic hopeful skating this weekend – Castelli/Shnapir, Christina Gao and Ross Miner – train at TD Garden, and the pressure mounted on them in front of a crowd can be stifling – well, “freezing” if you may.

“We were pretty nervous,” Shnapir added.

Castelli/Shnapir skated last in the pairs short program, adding to the drama of the occasion.

“I’m glad it’s finally here,” Miner said of Nationals on Thursday. “The waiting, if you ask many of us, is sometimes the hardest part. Once you get into the swing of it it’s kind of like, ‘OK, we’re into a competition now. This is normal.’ It’s the waiting that’s hard.”

U.S. Championships: Ice Dance Preview | Men’s Preview | Schedule | Short Program Start Orders

Miner was second at Nationals a year ago, while Gao has been fifth four straight years. Both – like a Castelli/Shnapir – need a top-level performances over the weekend to seal a their respective spots on the Sochi team.

“It was definitely challenging, but as soon as we hit our spot – as soon as we heard our names called and we felt that energy – all that nervousness just left,” Shnapir explained. “We rode that wave and will try and ride it through Saturday.”

Pennsylvania native and Los Angeles-based skater Adam Rippon, the 2012 silver medalist, doesn’t buy the home-ice advantage – or pressure that goes along with it, however.

“Every situation and every arena is what you make it,” Rippon said. “I can tell you that I went to Bulgaria three times and by the third time I felt like I was on home ice. It’s all relative.”

But it’s relatively high-pressure for Castelli/Shnapir, Gao and Miner, all who need strong Nationals performances – and a little help from the crowd – to book their respective spots in Sochi.

Castelli, Shnapir dazzle in pairs short program

World Cup Alpine season opener gets green light

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After checking the snow on the Rettenbach glacier in Soelden, Austria, FIS officials announced Thursday that the traditional World Cup season opener is set to go ahead as planned Oct. 26-27 with men’s and women’s giant slalom races.

Current conditions at Soelden show a solid 30 inches of snow at the summit. The race finishes at an altitude of 2,670 meters (8,760 feet), far above the currently snowless village.

The first races of the season are never guaranteed to have enough snow, though last year’s men’s race at Soelden had the opposite problem, being canceled when a storm blew through with heavy snowfall and high winds. 

France’s Tessa Worley won the women’s race last year ahead of Italy’s Frederica Brignone and U.S. skier Mikaela Shiffrin, who would go on to dominate the rest of the World Cup season.

The Soelden weekend is followed by three dormant weeks until the season resumes Nov. 23-24 in Levi, Finland. The World Cup circuits then switch to North America. The men will run speed events Nov. 30-Dec. 1 in Lake Louise, Alberta, then head to Beaver Creek, Colo., for more speed events and a giant slalom Dec. 6-8. The women run slalom and giant slalom Nov. 30-Dec. 1 in Killington, Vt., and head to Lake Louise the next weekend.

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Olympic marathon and race walk move from Tokyo to Sapporo draws some pushback

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In the wake of a dropout-plagued set of world championship endurance races in Qatar, moving the 2020 Olympic marathons and race walks from Tokyo to the cooler venue of Sapporo is a quick fix for one problem, pending the potential for untimely heat waves.

But the move has drawn some opposition for a variety of reasons.

First, many organizers and politicians appear to have been caught by surprise. Tokyo’s governor, Yuriko Koike, was “taken aback” and Sapporo’s mayor, Katsuhiro Akimoto, learned about the move from the media, Kyodo News reported. Koike even sarcastically suggested that the races could move all the way northward to islands disputed by Russia and Japan.

South African sports scientist Ross Tucker suggested that running in heat and humidity poses an interesting challenge for athletes, some of whom may be able to catch up with faster runners by preparing for the conditions.

British marathoner Mara Yamauchi made a similar point, saying the move was unfair to those who already were preparing for the heat, humidity and other conditions.

Belgian marathoner Koen Naert said he will make the best of the change but complained that some of his preparation and every runner’s logistical planning would no longer apply.

The angriest athlete may be Canadian walker Evan Dunfee, who placed fourth in the 2016 Olympic 50km race and nearly claimed bronze as a Canadian appeal was upheld but then rejected. He says runners and walkers can beat the conditions if they prepare, which many athletes did not do for the world championships in Qatar.

“So why do we cater to the ill prepared?” Dunfee asked on Twitter.

The move also takes athletes out of the main Olympic city and takes away the traditional, tough less frequent in modern years, finish in the Olympic stadium.

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