U.S. Figure Skating Championships women’s preview

Gracie Gold, Ashley Wagner, Polina Edmunds, Mirai Nagasu
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The most anticipated competition at this week’s U.S. Figure Skating Championships is among the women, where a growing rivalry brews for gold and several skaters are in the picture to make the World Championships roster of three.

Icenetwork.com will stream the short program from Greensboro, N.C., on Thursday at 7:50 p.m. ET. NBC will air the free skate live on Saturday at 8 p.m.

Here’s the start order. Here’s the full competition schedule.

Here’s a look at women’s skaters to watch, with takes from NBC figure skating analysts Tara Lipinski and Johnny Weir.

Gracie Gold
Age: 19
Hometown: Hermosa Beach, Calif.
Credentials: 2014 U.S. champion, fourth at 2014 Olympics, fifth at 2014 World Championships

Gold was the clear favorite to repeat since her maiden title last year, until Dec. 4, when she announced she had a small stress fracture in her foot and pulled out of the Grand Prix Final. She’s pronounced herself ready to go, but that injury plus Ashley Wagner‘s fantastic free skate at the Grand Prix Final raised doubt.

Lipinski’s Take: “After talking to them, Ashley seemed so hungry and so vicious. … When I talked to Gracie, she was a little more reserved. I almost could feel the fear, but she’s technically so good.”

Gracie Gold’s evolving friendship with Taylor Swift

Ashley Wagner
Age: 23
Hometown: Los Angeles
Credentials: 2012-13 U.S. champion, seventh at 2014 Olympics, seventh at 2014 World Championships

Wagner is the oldest podium threat but has the most momentum. She won bronze in December at the Grand Prix Final, the biggest international competition of the season outside of the World Championships. She fought to earn a podium place with a strong free skate, jumping from sixth place out of six skaters after the short program. Her free skate score was six points higher than Gold’s total when she won the NHK Trophy in Japan two weeks earlier. Wagner can become the oldest U.S. champion since Michelle Kwan in 2005 and the first woman to win three titles since Kwan, who won nine.

Lipinski’s Take: “Ashley’s win of the bronze at the Grand Prix Final has elevated her back again into maybe the favorite for gold, whereas I feel before Gracie was still holding onto that position. That rivalry is going to be pretty intense, especially the short program, just because so much rides on that. I’m sure the energy in the building that night will be palpable.”

Ashley Wagner, unshaken by 2014, out to reclaim U.S. title

Polina Edmunds
Age: 16
Hometown: San Jose, Calif.
Credentials: 2014 U.S. silver medalist, ninth at 2014 Olympics, eighth at 2014 World Championships

Edmunds shocked TD Garden when she finished second to earn a spot on the U.S. Olympic team last year, in her first senior U.S. Championships. She struggled to adapt to increased pressure and puberty in this follow-up season. Edmunds will finish sixth this week if all skaters repeat their best scores from the Grand Prix season. Edmunds hopes to become the youngest U.S. champion since Mirai Nagasu in 2008.

Lipinski’s Take: “I could probably relate most to what Polina is going through now. I grew an inch and a half, two inches every year. When I won Worlds [in 1997] and then the Olympics [in 1998], I definitely grew. You can feel the differences. Hopefully, speaking for Polina, even after talking to her, she has such a great base and technique for her triple [jumps]. I think that will hold her over, even if she is feeling some changes.”

Polina Edmunds deals with growing pains since Olympics

Mirai Nagasu
Age: 21
Hometown: Colorado Springs, Colo.
Credentials: 2014 U.S. bronze medalist, 2008 U.S. champion, fourth at 2010 Olympics

Nagasu was left off the three-woman Sochi Olympic team despite finishing third at the 2014 U.S. Championships. That’s because fourth-place Wagner had much stronger results in the two years leading up to the Olympics, which also go into determining the Olympic team. This season, Nagasu has not skated well enough to make one believe she can win the U.S. title. However, she knows what it takes to perform well on the big stage, winning the 2008 U.S. title at age 14, the second-youngest ever behind Tara Lipinski. She hopes to return to Worlds for the first time since 2010.

Weir’s Take: “Certainly a year of renaissance for Mirai Nagasu with a new coaching team. We did see stronger performances on the Grand Prix, but not on the same level as Ashley Wagner and Gracie Gold are giving.”

U.S. Figure Skating Championships men’s preview

Samantha Cesario
Age: 21
Hometown: Oceanside, N.Y.
Credentials: Fifth at 2014 U.S. Championships, fourth at 2014 Skate America

Cesario will finish third, and presumably make her first World Championships team, if all skaters repeat their best scores from the Grand Prix season. That would be a breakout for the New Yorker, who improved from eighth at the 2013 U.S. Championships to finish fifth last year, beating Wagner in the free skate.

Weir’s Take: “She has that razzle dazzle appeal of New York.”

Courtney Hicks
Age: 19
Hometown: Chino Hills, Calif.
Credentials: Sixth at 2014 U.S. Championships, fourth at 2013 U.S. Championships

Hicks, a former U.S. junior champion, put herself in the Olympic conversation with the third-best free skate at the 2013 U.S. Championships. But her very next nationals program, the short in Boston in 2014, was 16th best, ending her Sochi hopes. She was fourth at both of her Grand Prix events this season, proving the most consistent American behind Wagner and Gold.

Lipinski’s Take: “Huge jumps.”

Tara Lipinski, Johnny Weir’s predictions for U.S. Championships

Luz Long’s Olympic silver medal for sale from Jesse Owens long jump duel

Jesse Owens, Luz Long
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One of the most consequential Olympic medals ever awarded is on the auction block — the silver medal captured in 1936 by Germany’s Luz Long, the long jumper who walked arm in arm through the stadium with Jesse Owens to celebrate their triumphs while Adolf Hitler watched from the stands.

Long’s family has decided to auction the medal and other collectibles from the German jumper’s career. Long was killed in World War II in 1943.

The auction house selling the medal has labeled Long’s collection “The Beacon of Hope.”

“The story of Jesse Owens never seems to end,” said Long’s granddaughter, Julia Kellner-Long, in a phone interview from her house in Munich. “My grandfather has always been inspirational and influential in the way I choose to see the world, and this is something I think the world outside needs. Now more than ever. It gives us hope.”

Long cemented himself in Olympic lore during the Berlin Games when he was the first to congratulate Owens on his triumph in the long jump. Later they walked around the stadium together and posed for pictures.

There’s also the story Owens told of Long approaching him after he fouled on his first two attempts in the preliminary round. With only one more try to make the final, Owens said Long suggested he take off a foot in front of the board, to assure he wouldn’t foul on his last try. Owens took that advice and went on to win the title — one of four he captured in Berlin — with a then-Olympic record jump of 8.06 meters (26 feet, 5 1/2 inches).

Owens was Black, and his stirring success at those Olympics was said to have annoyed Hitler by puncturing the Nazi myth of Aryan racial superiority.

The camaraderie between Owens and Long, and the relationship that ensued between the men and their families, are often held up as the prime example of what the Olympics are supposed to be about — a peaceful coming together of people from different countries and cultures who set their differences aside in the spirit of competition.

“It took a lot of courage for him to befriend me,” Owens said, years later. “You can melt down all the medals and cups I have and they wouldn’t be a plating on the 24-karat friendship I felt for Luz Long at that moment. Hitler must have gone crazy watching us embrace.”

The decision to sell came shortly after Luz’s son (and Julia’s father), Kai, died at age 80. Kellner-Long said the great responsibility of preserving her grandfather’s memorabilia should be passed onto an individual, or museum, that has the time and resources to do so. The family also wanted to use the sale to rekindle the story of Long and Owens.

“Even 86 years later, shining a beacon of hope is an important and realistic value, especially in a time of increasing racism, increasing exclusion and hatred,” Kellner-Long said.

The auction house started the bidding for Long’s medal at $50,000, and estimated the value at somewhere between $500,000 and $1 million. The bidding runs through Oct. 15. The value of Olympic medals on the open market varies widely. One of Owens’ four gold medals from 1936 fetched $1.46 million. Bill Russell’s gold medal from the 1956 Olympics recently sold for $587,500.

David Kohler of SCP Auctions, which is conducting the sale, said the medal is about Long, but also “the story of the courageousness and the athlete and what he did there.”

Long didn’t live long enough to see his legacy play out. He was killed in 1943 in the battle of St. Pietro on the Italian island of Sardinia. Shortly before that, he wrote a letter to Owens, one he predicted would be “the last letter I shall ever write.”

In it, Long asked Owens to go to Germany after the war and find his son.

“Tell him, Jesse, what times were like when we were not separated by war,” Long wrote. “I am saying — tell him how things can be between men on this earth.”

Owens and Kai Long met several times over the years, including at Berlin’s Olympic Stadium in 1966. Owens later was a best man at Kai’s wedding.

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Jenny Simpson, most decorated U.S. miler, shifts focus with new Puma sponsorship

Jenny Simpson
Puma
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Jenny Simpson, the most decorated U.S. female miler in history, plans to return to racing on Sunday with a new shoe sponsor, Puma.

Simpson, whose last race was the Cherry Blossom 10-mile road race in Washington, D.C., in September 2021, according to World Athletics, will run what she called “a little rust-buster” at the Army Ten-Miler in Washington, D.C.

“My intention is to turn my focus to the roads,” Simpson, 36, wrote in an email. “I have some great PUMA spikes that I love so the track isn’t off the table. But my emphasis will be road racing.”

Last year’s Cherry Blossom was her first race longer than 5,000 meters, according to World Athletics. What are the chances she eventually moves up to the marathon distance?

“This new chapter is an exploration,” she answered. “I’m going to let the races, training, and coaching guide the next steps as they come. I know I can physically do it, it’s a matter of whether I can be great at it and my team and I will only go there if we think we can be competitive. So, let’s say for chances… 51% :)”

Simpson made her first Olympic team in 2008 in the 3000m steeplechase, then in 2012 and 2016 in the 1500m, earning a bronze medal in Rio. She is the lone U.S. woman to win a world 1500m title (2011) or an Olympic 1500m medal.

From 2007 through 2019, Simpson finished in the top three in one of the 1500m, 5000m or 3000m steeplechase at all 13 annual USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships. Last year, she was 10th in the Olympic Trials 1500m in a bid to become the oldest U.S. Olympic 1500m runner in history, according to Olympedia.org.

Simpson focused much of her time this year helping her Colorado community heal and rebuild from a late December fire. She did not enter the USATF Outdoors for the first time since 2006.

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