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

Marissa Castelli, Simon Shnapir

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

South Korea’s first gold medalist of 2018 PyeongChang Olympics to compete for China

Lim Hyo-Jun

Lim Hyo-Jun, a short track speed skater who won South Korea’s first gold medal of the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics, has been cleared to skate for China and was reportedly named to the national team Monday.

Lim, who won the 1500m on the first day of medal competition at the PyeongChang Games, began the process of switching to China after a June 2019 incident where he pulled down a teammate’s trousers, leaving him standing, exposed, in front of female teammates.

Lim, the 2019 World overall champion, was banned from the team for a year and later found guilty of sexual harassment before the verdict was overturned on appeal.

It was reported in March 2021 that Lim was in the process of trying to gain Chinese nationality to compete at the Beijing Winter Olympics, but Lim was not cleared to switch by the International Skating Union until this July. His Chinese name is Lin Xiaojun.

Another star South Korean skater, triple 2006 Olympic gold medalist Ahn Hyun-Soo, switched to Russia after not making the 2010 Olympic team. He then won three golds for the host nation as Viktor Ahn at the 2014 Sochi Games.

China’s national team for the upcoming season reportedly does not include veterans Wu Dajing, the nation’s lone gold medalist across all sports at the 2018 Olympics, and Fan Kexin, a three-time Olympic medalist.

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Brigid Kosgei, world record holder, to miss London Marathon

Brigid Kosgei

World record holder Brigid Kosgei withdrew before Sunday’s London Marathon due to a right hamstring injury that has bothered her for the last month.

“My training has been up and down and not the way I would like to prepare to be in top condition,” was posted on Kosgei’s social media. “We’ve decided it’s best I withdraw from this year’s race and get further treatment on my injuries in order to enter 2023 stronger than ever.”

Kosgei, a 28-year-old Kenyan mother of twins, shattered the world record by 81 seconds at the 2019 Chicago Marathon. She clocked 2:14:04 to smash Brit Paula Radcliffe‘s record from 2003.

Since, Kosgei won the 2020 London Marathon, took silver at the Tokyo Olympics, placed fourth at the 2021 London Marathon and won this past March’s Tokyo Marathon in what was then the third-fastest time in history (2:16:02).

Ethiopian Tigist Assefa moved into the top three by winning the Berlin Marathon last Sunday in 2:15:37.

The London Marathon women’s field includes Kenyan Joyciline Jepkosgei, a winner in New York City (2019) and London (2021), and Yalemzerf Yehualaw, who was the Ethiopian record holder until Assefa won in Berlin.

The men’s field is headlined by Ethiopian Kenenisa Bekele, the second-fastest male marathoner in history, and Brit Mo Farah, a four-time Olympic champion on the track.

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