Worlds: Japan’s Machida tops Hanyu, men’s field after short program

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Japan is the figure skating gift that keeps on giving.

With a crowd of over 20,000 on hand, the World Figure Skating Championships opened Wednesday in Saitama, Japan, with another skater from this country mad about the sport launching himself to the top of the heap.

It wasn’t newly-crowned Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu, but instead Tatsuki Machida, the 24-year-old who was fifth in Sochi and making his debut at Worlds in front of an adoring home audience.

With a sold-out Saitama Super Arena crowd watching on, Machida delivered an Olympic-sized performance, nailing an opening quadruple toe-triple toe combination before hitting a triple Axel and triple Lutz during his skate to “East of Eden.”

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Hanyu, who won the country its first-ever gold medal in men’s figure skating last month, was in third after a fall on his opening quadruple jump (91.24). Hanyu’s training partner, Spain’s Javier Fernandez, was in second, scoring a 96.42. They share a coach in 1987 world champion Brian Orser.

The American men had a so-so night. Four-time U.S. champion Jeremy Abbott fell on his opening jump before executing a strong short program, scoring a 79.67 to finish in eighth. 2013 U.S. winner Max Aaron was one place behind with a 78.32, called for under-rotating his triple Axel, which he touched a hand down on.

“So close! So close!” Abbott said as he skated off the ice. “I put myself in a good place,” he added after receiving his score.

Abbott and Aaron will need to make a move up the rankings in the free skate should they want to earn the U.S. a coveted third spot for the World Championships next year: a combined 13th-place finish is needed. Aaron was third at the U.S. Championships this year, leaving him off the Sochi team.

“It was tough when I didn’t make the Olympic team,” Aaron said in a statement from U.S. Figure Skating. I took that to heart because that’s something that is a goal of mine. I wish I was there but it means a lot for me to get three spots this year and moving forward. To do that, we need to have two good skates from both me and Jeremy. I think we can do that.”

In pairs, four-time world champions Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy kept a changing of the guard at bay at least for another program. The Germans enlisted their Olympic “Pink Panther” short and performed it flawlessly, scoring a 79.02 to own the lead going into Wednesday night’s free skate.

Reigning Olympic champions Tatyana Volosozhar and Maksim Trankov’s absence in Saitama left the door open for compatriots Ksenia Stolbova and Fyodor Klimov to carry the momentum of their surprise Olympic silver medal into Worlds.

But that didn’t happen in the short program, the younger Russian pair at times tentative and unsure in their “Surrender” routine (76.15), which seemed to drag at the end. Canadians Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford, seventh at the Olympics after being third at the World Championships a year ago, were second behind Savchenko/Szolkowy, scoring a 77.01.

It was a vastly disappointing night for the U.S. pairs, two-time national champions Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir registering a 60.60 to finish in 11th and Felicia Zhang and Nathan Bartholomay in 14th with a score of 57.59.

“We were hoping to ride the wave of energy from the Olympics here,” Shnapir said in a statement, noting the team’s ninth-place finish in Sochi. “It didn’t happen today. It wasn’t the short program we wanted, we made some big mistakes.”

Most notably, both Castelli and Shnapir doubled their planned side-by-side triple Salchows, resulting in a major loss of points. The U.S. had an outside shot of qualifying three teams for Worlds in 2015 this week, now Castelli/Shnapir must finish inside of the top 10 in order for the team to maintain its two spots.

“We wanted to skate our best and put out a good step forward for Team USA,” Castelli added in the USFSA press release. “We’re hoping to move up to that 10th spot so we will have two teams next year for worlds. That’s our goal right now.”

The skating will continue with the pairs free skate Wednesday night (10:30 p.m. ET), followed by the ladies’ short program Thursday morning (2:45 a.m. ET). View full short program results from men’s and pairs here.

Short program standings – MEN’S
1 Tatsuki MACHIDA JPN 98.21
2 Javier FERNANDEZ ESP 96.42
3 Yuzuru HANYU JPN 91.24
4 Tomas VERNER CZE 89.08
5 Han YAN CHN 86.70
6 Takahiko KOZUKA JPN 85.54
7 Maksim KOVTUN RUS 84.66
8 Jeremy ABBOTT USA 79.67
9 Max AARON USA 78.32

Short program standings – PAIRS
1 Aliona SAVCHENKO/Robin SZOLKOWY GER 79.02
2 Meagan DUHAMEL/Eric RADFORD CAN 77.01
3 Ksenia STOLBOVA/Fyodor KLIMOV RUS 76.15
4 Wenjing SUI/Cong HAN CHN 72.24
5 Cheng PENG/Hao ZHANG CHN 71.68
6 Kirsten MOORE-TOWERS/Dylan MOSCOVITCH CAN 69.31
7 Vera BAZAROVA/Yuri LARIYONOV RUS 67.41
8 Yulia ANTIPOVA/Nodari MAISURADZE RUS 66.78
11 Marissa CASTELLI/Simon SHNAPIR USA 60.60
14 Felicia ZHANG/Nathan BARTHOLOMAY USA 57.59

Sofia Goggia loses pole, wins race by .01

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ST. MORITZ, Switerland (AP) — An Italian 1-2 edging Mikaela Shiffrin into third place. This movie has been seen before in the women’s World Cup this season.

By the smallest margin, Italy’s Sofia Goggia won a super-G on Saturday and Mikaela Shiffrin was third, which helped extend her overall standings lead.

Goggia was just 0.01 second faster than her teammate Federica Brignone on a sunny, windswept mountain above the high-end resort of St. Moritz.

Shiffrin was only 0.13 behind Goggia for her sixth podium finish in eight World Cup races so far as she seeks a fourth straight overall title.

It was the second time in two weeks that Shiffrin stood looking up at two Italians. It also happened in a giant slalom at Killington, Vt., where Marta Bassino edged Brignone for victory.

“They are all great skiers and they have a really aggressive mindset,” Shiffrin said of her friendly rivalry with the Italy team. “It’s super cool to see.”

Brignone was sitting in the leader’s box when Goggia raced and applauded with hands above her head after seeing her teammate’s time.

“It’s an amazing thing for all the team to share the podium and share happiness,” said Brignone, though acknowledging it hurt to lose by so little.

“It’s one hundredth so it burns. A lot,” she said.

Goggia’s seventh World Cup win was her third in super-G. She also took silver at the biennial world championships in February when Shiffrin won by just 0.02.

Always one of the most flamboyant racers, Goggia seemed at the limit making some turns and lost a ski pole landing a jump near the end.

The 2018 Olympic downhill champion said she had to let the pole go after soaring “too long, too high” at the jump.

Goggia also held nothing back standing atop the podium, loudly and heartily singing her national anthem, known by its opening line of Fratelli d’Italia, with eyes closed.

In a tight race, 10 racers were within one second of the winner. Nicole Schmidhofer, the 2017 World champion on this course, was fourth and there was a three-way tie for sixth.

By placing 10th, Viktoria Rebensburg rose to lead the super-G standings after two races. The German racer is also second overall though her World Cup points total is less than half of Shiffrin’s 532 tally.

“For now, she [Shiffrin] is unbeatable for the overall,” said Brignone, who is third.

Shiffrin won this race last year, and also added victory in the parallel slalom to sweep the weekend series.

Shiffrin later said she will skip Sunday’s parallel event — just the third time she has skipped a tech race since she burst onto the World Cup scene in 2012 — to prepare for a giant slalom in Courchevel, France, on Tuesday and a downhill and combined in Val d’Isere next weekend.

“There are quite a few reasons for this but at the top of the list is that for several years I have been longing to race Val d’Isere but have never been able to because the @fisalpine schedule is always too tough (for those who race in all disciplines),” was posted on Shiffrin’s social media. “But one of my goals this season is to get on that track and to race a little more speed in general so I’m trying to manage energy and focus accordingly!”

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Brittany Bowe breaks record shared with Bonnie Blair, Heather Bergsma

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Brittany Bowe broke a record she shared with Bonnie Blair and Heather Bergsma by winning her seventh straight World Cup 1000m on Saturday in Nagano, Japan.

Bowe clocked 1:14.344, taking the track record from Olympic silver medalist Nao Kodaira and distancing Olympic bronze medalist Miho Takagi and Dutchwoman Sanneke de Neeling by .55.

Bowe, fourth and eighth in the event at her two Olympics, is averaging better than a half-second margin of victory during her streak dating to last season, a significant gap to the rest of the field. She lowered track records in six of her seven wins, plus broke the world record and added a world championships gold.

“I’ve got a lot of losses under my belt. With how sweet the wins are, the losses are just as tough,” Bowe told Dutch broadcaster NOS. “There are some races that I’m not pleased with, and I’d like to be on the top of that 1500m podium. So that one’s keeping me hungry.”

Bowe, a past world champion and former world-record holder at 1500m, last won at that distance in February.

Her latest 1000m victory broke a tie with Blair and Bergsma for the U.S. record for consecutive women’s World Cup 1000m victories, according to schaatsstatistieken.nl. Blair won all six of her World Cup 1000m starts in the 1993-94 Olympic season, while Bergsma took six straight in 2016-17.

Only German Anni Friesinger-Postma has more consecutive World Cup wins at the distance with eight in the 2007-08 season, according to the website. For the men, Shani Davis won 12 straight from 2008-10.

Bowe, a former Florida Atlantic point guard who missed all of 2016-17 with a concussion, is up to 26 career World Cup wins. That’s fifth on the U.S. all-time list behind Blair (69), Davis (58), Dan Jansen (46) and Bergsma (34), according to schaatsstatistieken.nl.

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