Tatsuki Machida

Japan’s Machida routs U.S. men at Skate America; ice dancers make history

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Again, U.S. men were outperformed at Skate America. Again, a Japanese man walked away with the gold.

Tatsuki Machida breezed to the first repeat men’s Skate America title in 13 years on Saturday night after U.S. Olympians Jason Brown and Jeremy Abbott‘s error-filled free skates.

A Japanese man has won Skate America eight of the last 10 years.

Earlier, U.S. ice dancers went one-two at a Grand Prix event for the first time ever. Sochi Olympians Madison Chock and Evan Bates and Maia and Alex Shibutani held their positions from Friday’s short dance.

Machida became the first man since Tim Goebel (2000, 2001) to repeat as Skate America champion. The World Championships silver medalist landed two quadruple jumps in his free skate (video here) and totaled 269.09 points, a whopping 34.92 ahead of second-place Brown. Machida, who led after the short program Friday, won by 24.14 last year.

A U.S. man has won Skate America once in the last 11 years — Evan Lysacek in 2009. Machida’s winning margin broke Lysacek’s record for biggest rout in Skate America history (under the new scoring system implemented in 2003). The current U.S. men’s drought matches the longest in history in America’s biggest annual international competition.

In the free skate, Brown fell on a triple Axel and put his hand on the ice on another jump (video here). But he moved ahead of Abbott and placed three spots higher than at 2013 Skate America, which marked his Grand Prix debut as a replacement for Lysacek.

Abbott, a four-time U.S. champion, stayed on his feet but botched a few jumps and totaled 219.33 (video here), dropping from second place to fifth.

Sochi Olympic bronze medalist Denis Ten of Kazakhstan fell on his opening quadruple jump. He was fourth, behind Canadian Nam Nguyen.

In the ice dance, Chock and Bates tallied 171.03 points for their first Grand Prix event title. The Shibutani siblings had 160.33. Chock and Bates and the Shibutanis were eighth and ninth, respectively, in Sochi.

No other couple in the Skate America field had finished better than 14th at an Olympics or World Championships.

The top four couples from the Sochi Olympics are not competing together this season, including Americans Meryl Davis and Charlie White and Canadians Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir.

Skate America concludes with the women’s free skate Sunday (NBC, 4-6 p.m. ET).

Gracie Gold in third after Skate America 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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