Marissa Castelli, Simon Shnapir lead pairs at U.S. Championships

Marissa Castelli, Simon Shnapir
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Home ice was kind to Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir.

The reigning national champions who train in Boston led after the pairs short program at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships at TD Garden on Thursday.

They beat their personal best by more than 10 points, scoring 73.13 points skating to Santana for a cushion of 6.63.

“I was in shock at first; I was not expecting that,” Castelli said, according to The Associated Press. “I like to try to calculate it in my head. I would have been happy with 66 or 67, so it was just insane.”

Castelli and Shnapir are in the driver’s seat for one of two U.S. Olympic pairs berths. It marked confirmation that Castelli and Shnapir are the top U.S. pairs team. Their title last year came with an asterisk as the previous U.S. champions were absent due to injury.

Their closest competition Thursday was a bit of a surprise — reigning U.S. bronze medalists Felicia Zhang and Nathan Bartholomay followed by DeeDee Leng and Timothy LeDuc, who were ninth last year.

The pairs free skate starts at 2:45 p.m. on Saturday (NBC, NBC Sports Live Extra, 3-6 p.m.). The two U.S. Olympic pairs teams, based largely but not solely off the final standings, will be announced Sunday around noon.

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

Castelli and Shnapir’s short program included clean side-by-side triple Salchows and a strong throw triple Salchow.

The biggest eye opener was Leng and LeDuc, who followed flawed efforts from more accomplished couples by posting a cleaner 66.40-point performance.

2012 U.S. champions Caydee Denney and John Coughlin, he of the incredible back tattoo, were fourth at 65.40. Denney, a 2010 Olympian at 16 with a different partner, doubled a planned triple toe loop and had trouble with her landing on a throw triple flip.

“I wish we would have performed a little bit better — a lot better,” Denney told reporters. “I think right now all we can do is trust ourselves and really just move on and throw everything into Saturday’s performance and try to do the best that we can.”

2013 U.S. silver medalists Alexa Scimeca and Christopher Knierim were fifth at 64.68. They fell, nearly in unison, on side-by-side triple Salchows.

Unpredictable results are common in U.S. pairs, where few strong couples stay together for more than a few years and the previous five years produced five different U.S. champions.

In fact, the last pair to win back-to-back titles, Keauna McLaughlin and Rockne Brubaker, won their golds in 2008 and 2009 and then failed to make the 2010 U.S. Olympic Team. 

No U.S. pair has won an Olympic medal since 1988. That does not figure to change in Sochi. The favorites will be Russians, Germans, Chinese and Canadians.

Pairs Short Program
1. Marissa Castelli/Simon Shnapir — 73.13
2. Felicia Zhang/Nathan Bartholomay — 66.50
3. DeeDee Leng/Timothy LeDuc — 66.40
4. Caydee Denney/John Coughlin — 65.40
5. Alexa Scimeca/Christopher Knierim — 64.68

Sarah Hughes joins NBC Olympics for Sochi

12-year-old skateboarders earn medals at world championships

Chloe Covell
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At the world skateboarding championships, 12-year-olds Chloe Covell from Australia and Onodera Ginwoo from Japan earned silver and bronze medals, respectively, in Sunday’s street finals.

In the women’s event, Covell took silver behind Brazilian 15-year-old Rayssa Leal, who was a silver medalist herself at the Tokyo Games.

Frenchman Aurélien Giraud, a 25-year-old who was sixth in skateboarding’s Olympic debut in Tokyo, won the men’s final in the United Arab Emirates. Ginwoo was third behind Portugal’s Gustavo Ribeiro.

The top Americans were Olympic men’s bronze medalist Jagger Eaton in sixth and 15-year-old Paige Heyn in seventh in the women’s event.

Nyjah Huston, a six-time world champion who placed seventh in Tokyo, missed worlds after August surgery for an ACL tear.

Up to three men and three women per nation can qualify per event (street and park) for the 2024 Paris Games. World rankings come June 2024 determine which Americans qualify.

In Tokyo, four of the 12 skateboarding medalists were ages 12 or 13.

Japan’s Kokona Hiraki, then 12, won silver in women’s park to become the youngest Olympic medalist since 1936, according to Olympedia.org. Japan’s Momiji Nishiya, then 13, won women’s street and became the youngest gold medalist in an individual event since 1936.

Worlds conclude this week with the men’s and women’s park events. The finals are Saturday.

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Francesco Friedrich, most decorated bobsledder in history, rebounds for 12th world title

Francesco Friedrich
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A week after his first major championships defeat in seven years, German Francesco Friedrich returned to his winning ways to close the world bobsled championships on Sunday.

Friedrich’s four-man sled won the world title by 69 hundredths of a second over British and Latvian sleds that tied for silver, combining times from four runs over the last two days in St. Moritz, Switzerland. It marked Great Britain’s first world championships men’s bobsled medal since 1966.

Geoff Gadbois drove the lone U.S. sled in the field, finishing 18th.

Friedrich, the most decorated bobsledder in history, extended his records with a fifth consecutive world four-man title and 12th world championship between two- and four-man events.

Germany swept all four titles at bobsled worlds with four different drivers taking gold.

Friedrich had won 12 consecutive Olympic or world titles before taking two-man silver at worlds last week in St. Moritz, Switzerland. He was dethroned in that event by countryman Johannes Lochner.

Friedrich has been hampered recently by a muscle injury from sprint training in late December. Going into worlds, Lochner had won four consecutive World Cup two-man races, while Hall won the last two World Cups in four-man.

Friedrich, 32, said before this season that he plans to make the 2026 Milan-Cortina Winter Games his final competition. Friedrich and push athlete Thorsten Margis can break the record of four career Olympic bobsled gold medals that they currently share with retired Germans Andre Lange and Kevin Kuske.

The World Cup season concludes with stops in Igls, Austria, and Sigulda, Latvia, the next two weekends.

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