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

David Boudia adjusts diving event, goal for world championships

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David Boudia earned diving medals at his last three world championships and the 2012 and 2016 Olympics, but that was on the platform. He competes on the global stage on the springboard for the first time at worlds this week.

“I don’t have a lot of high hopes,” Boudia, who is still learning the springboard after switching to it in the last year, said in a phone interview from South Korea, where he begins competition Wednesday (TV schedule here). “But I think my biggest goal is to walk away with an Olympic spot.”

An Olympic spot not necessarily for himself, but for the U.S.

Boudia, a 30-year-old father of three, and any other American will clinch 2020 Olympic quota spots by placing in the top 12 in their respective individual events this week. Those spots, and any others earned at later competitions in the next year, will be filled at trials in June in Indianapolis.

NBC Sports analyst Cynthia Potter believes Boudia, who left the sport to sell homes in 2017 and came back and suffered a concussion off the platform in 2018, can meet his goal of making Friday’s 12-man final in Gwangju.

“He would have to dive well, but not better than he’s been diving,” she said. “His springboard is really well-timed, rhythmic, and he’s for a long time known how to go into the water without making a splash.”

But challenging Rio Olympic gold and silver medalists Cao Yuan of China and Jack Laugher of Great Britain, plus defending world champion Xie Siyi of China would be very tough.

Boudia lacks their degrees of difficulty, for now. He hopes to switch out two of his six dives before his first competition of 2020, though he could insert one of them should he make the world final.

“I need a good six months, so from August to December is when we’re kind of really drilling the fundamentals of learning those new dives and getting them perfected,” he said.

Boudia rallied to beat Rio Olympic springboard diver Michael Hixon for the title in May at nationals, where the top two per event earned world berths. But Boudia competed there with about a month of competition dive practice, about half as long as he would prefer.

“Hix and I are going to have a lot of training to do if we want to be even close to cracking that top five,” at worlds, Boudia said in May, according to TeamUSA.org.

Boudia is the lone U.S. diver to earn an individual world medal in an Olympic diving event since 2009.

The U.S. produced breakthroughs at worlds so far. Sarah Bacon became the first American woman to earn a world title since 2005, taking the non-Olympic 1m springboard event. Murphy Bromberg and Katrina Young bagged bronze in synchronized platform, ending a decade-long medal drought in any synchro event.

But Boudia’s goal must be shared among the whole team — as many top-12 finishes individually and top three in synchro events to gobble up Tokyo 2020 quota spots. The U.S. failed to qualify full teams for the 2012 and 2016 Olympics.

“Getting in the top 12 in the four individual Olympic events is the big deal right now,” Potter said. “Whether you are on the awards stand or not, that would be icing on the cake for a lot of these divers.”

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Anita Wlodarczyk, one of track and field’s most dominant, sidelined

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Poland hammer thrower Anita Wlodarczyk, the only woman to win the last five combined Olympic and world titles in a track and field event, will not go for a fourth straight world championship this fall.

Wlodarczyk had season-ending, arthroscopic left knee surgery on Monday, according to Polish media citing her coach.

Wlodarczyk, 33, has the top 15 throws on the IAAF’s all-time list, and 27 of the top 29. Her world record of 82.98 meters (scribbled on her leg pre-op) is 11 and a half feet farther the second-best woman in history. She originally took silver at the 2012 Olympics and 2013 Worlds but was upgraded to gold after Russian Tatyana Lysenko was stripped for doping.

Wlodarczyk won a reported 42 straight finals between 2014 and 2017, then suffered three losses in 2018 and two so far this year in three lower-level meets before the operation.

Americans DeAnna Price and Brooke Anderson rank Nos. 1 and 2 in the world this year. A U.S. woman has never finished in the top five of an Olympic or world championships hammer throw, which debuted at worlds in 1999 and the Olympics in 2000.

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