Jason Brown

Jason Brown leads U.S. short program; quad debate stoked

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Jason Brown wowed the crowd (again) and shocked himself, posting the second-highest short program in U.S. Championships history Friday night.

The Sochi Olympian scored 93.36 points and, at 20 years old, is now poised to become the youngest U.S. men’s champion since Johnny Weir won the first of his three straight titles in 2004. Brown’s mouth was agape when the score was revealed.

“I was beyond shocked,” Brown told Icenetwork. “Excited doesn’t even fit the term.”

But the competition is close. He leads 2013 World junior champion Joshua Farris by 2.96 points and four-time U.S. champion Jeremy Abbott by 3.43.

Brown will go for his first U.S. title in the free skate on Sunday (NBC and Live Extra, 4 p.m. ET). He’ll be favored to lead a three-man U.S. team for March’s World Championships, a roster that will be chosen after the U.S. Championships.

Brown came to Greensboro, N.C., as the favorite and delivered under that pressure Friday night. He executed a triple Axel, triple flip-triple toe loop combination and a triple Lutz (video here).

Brown was second to Abbott at the 2014 U.S. Championships and finished ninth at the Sochi Olympics. He was the top U.S. man in the Grand Prix season that concluded in December.

Farris, a 20-year-old who beat Brown at the 2013 World Junior Championships, was a surprising second Friday (video here). He had pulled out of a Grand Prix series assignment in November with an ankle injury and finished 11th in his other Grand Prix event. He’s never finished better than fourth at a U.S. Championships.

“I am so surprised that I performed as well as I did,” Farris said in a press conference. “I was terrified going into the short program, so the fact that I skated like that, I was ecstatic.”

Abbott recorded the highest short program ever at the U.S. Championships, 99.86 last year. He skated clean again Friday, two weeks after the death of his father, raising a hand to the air after his short program (video here).

“We made a nice, strong statement that figure skating can be an art as well as a sport,” Abbott said of himself, Brown and Farris.

None of Brown, Farris and Abbott attempted a quadruple jump Friday.

“To be rather blunt, I think this is a rather tired topic,” Abbott said. “We all know that we have to have a quad at the world stage to medal … but I think that attention needs to be paid to detail. … Figure skating is a craft, and the craft can sometimes be a little overlooked. I think it’s important to have both, to be honest. I know Josh can do a quad, and I can do a quad. I haven’t seen Jason, but I’m sure he’s working on it.”

Abbott said he completely rebuilt his biomechanics off the ice leading into this season.

“I’ve been playing catch-up all season,” Abbott said. “The quad is starting to come.”

Brown said he doesn’t want to sacrifice other parts of his skating in order to incorporate the quad, which he has trained but doesn’t currently have in his competition programs.

“I won’t lose my artistry because of the quad,” Brown said. “It will just enhance the program.”

Farris said he’s planning a quad in his free skate and in the short program the rest of the season.

Aaron, in fourth, is looking to bounce back from finishing a disappointing fourth at last year’s nationals and missing the Olympic team. He landed a quadruple jump (Salchow).

Former U.S. silver medalists Adam Rippon (84.71) and Ross Miner (82.25) were fifth and sixth.

Earlier in ice dance, Madison Chock and Evan Bates edged siblings Maia and Alex Shibutani by .11 in an anticipated short dance duel between two Sochi Olympic couples. Both are going for their first U.S. title in the absence of Sochi gold medalists Meryl Davis and Charlie White.

The U.S. Championships continue with the pairs free skate and free dance Saturday afternoon (NBC and Live Extra, 3 ET) and the women’s free skate Saturday night (NBC and Live Extra, 8 ET).

McKayla Maroney, Meb Keflezighi get Topps baseball cards

Men’s short program
1. Jason Brown — 93.36
2. Joshua Farris — 90.4
3. Jeremy Abbott — 89.93
4. Max Aaron — 85.78
5. Adam Rippon — 84.71
6. Ross Miner — 82.25

Sam Girard, Olympic short track champion, surprisingly retires at age 22

Sam Girard
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Sam Girard, who avoided a three-skater pileup to win the PyeongChang Olympic 1000m, retired from short track speed skating at age 22, saying he lost the desire to compete.

“I leave my sport satisfied with what I have accomplished,” Girard said in a press release. “This decision was very well thought through. I am at peace with the choice that I’ve made and am ready to move onto the next step.”

Girard and girlfriend and fellow Olympic skater Kasandra Bradette announced their careers end together in a tearful French-language press conference in Quebec on Friday.

Girard detailed the decision in a letter, the sacrifices made to pursue skating. Notably, moving from his hometown of Ferland-et-Boilleau, population 600, to Montreal in 2012. His hobbies had been of the outdoor variety, but he now had to drive an hour and a half from the training center just to go fishing.

In PyeongChang, Girard led for most of the 1000m final, which meant he avoided chaos behind him on the penultimate lap of the nine-lap race. Hungarian Liu Shaolin Sandor‘s inside pass took out South Koreans Lim Hyo-Jun and Seo Yi-Ra, leaving just Girard and American John-Henry Krueger.

Girard maintained his lead, crossing .214 in front of Krueger to claim the title. He also finished fourth in the 500m and 1500m and earned bronze in the relay.

“My first Olympics, won a gold medal, can’t ask for more,” he said afterward.

Though Girard was already accomplished — earning individual silver medals at the 2016 and 2017 Worlds — he came to PyeongChang as the heir apparent to Charles Hamelin, a roommate on the World Cup circuit whom Girard likened to a big brother. Girard earned another world silver medal this past season.

Hamelin, after taking individual gold in 2010 and 2014, left PyeongChang without an individual medal in what many expected to be his last Olympics. However, he went back on a retirement vow and continued to skate through the 2018-19 season.

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MORE: J.R. Celski explains decision to retire

Maia, Alex Shibutani extend break from ice dance competition

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Brother-sister ice dance duo Maia and Alex Shibutani will not compete next season, the Olympic bronze medalists announced via U.S. Figure Skating on Friday.

“We’re healthier and stronger than we were after the Olympics, and we’re continuing to push ourselves,” Maia Shibutani said in a press release.

“We’ve continued to skate a lot, and we feel like we’ve benefited from some time away to create in different environments and focus on experiences that can help us grow,” Alex said.

The “Shib Sibs” won the U.S. title in 2016 and 2017. They won their first world medal in 2011 (bronze) before reaching the world podium again in 2016 and 2017 with silver and bronze, respectively.

They most recently competed at the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics, where they earned bronze both individually and in the team event.

Maia and Alex Shibutani are now the second ice dance medalists from PyeongChang to announce they’ll sit out at least part of next season. Gold medalists Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir of Canada will tour instead this fall and are not expected to return to competition.

The siblings haven’t stayed away from the ice entirely in their break from the sport, though — they’ve also been touring and performing in shows.

The Shibutanis became the second set of siblings to earn Olympic ice dance medals after France’s Isabelle and Paul Duchesnay in 1992.

MORE: How Gracie Gold landed in Philadelphia, thoughts competitive return

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