U.S. pairs outside top five after World Championships short program

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U.S. pairs champions Alexa Scimeca and Chris Knierim were out of sync on their side-by-side triple Salchows and placed seventh in the World Championships short program in Shanghai on Wednesday.

Scimeca and Knierim, who are aiming for top six at Worlds, enter the free skate Thursday trailing Canadian leaders Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford by 11.48 points (full standings here).

“We had to fight through some of it, and we had little errors here and there, but overall it was great and our season’s best [short program score], so we are happy,” said Knierim, according to U.S. Figure Skating.

U.S. silver medalists Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier were one spot behind Scimeca and Knierim, in eighth place in the short program.

The two U.S. pairs’ results must add up to no greater than 13 to earn the maximum three berths at the 2016 World Championships in Boston. Scimeca and Knierim and Denney and Frazier must improve by a combined two places in the free skate to reach 13.

“We would like to be in the top six overall,” said Scimeca, according to U.S. Figure Skating. “We know we have to skate a near-perfect long to make that happen, but we believe in ourselves.”

The U.S. has not had three pairs spots at Worlds since 2003, hasn’t won a Worlds medal since 2002 and hasn’t won an Olympic medal since 1988, its longest droughts of all four figure skating disciplines.

Duhamel and Radford, the two-time reigning World bronze medalists and pre-event favorites, scored .03 off their personal best in the short program. They are undefeated this season and seeking to be the first Canadian pair to win Worlds gold since Jamie Sale and David Pelletier in 2001.

The reigning Russian Olympic champions Tatyana Volosozhar and Maksim Trankov and reigning German World champions Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy are not competing in Shanghai this week.

Pairs Short Program
1. Meagan Duhamel/Eric Radford (CAN) — 76.98
2. Qing Pang/Jian Tong (CHN) — 72.59
3. Wenjing Sui/Cong Han (CHN) — 71.63
4. Yuko Kavaguti/Aleksander Smirnov (RUS) — 71.59
5. Cheng Peng/Hao Zhang (CHN) — 69.67
7. Alexa Scimeca/Chris Knierim (USA) — 65.56
8. Haven Denney/Brandon Frazier (USA) — 61.32

World Figure Skating Championships schedule

Tommy Ford ends U.S. men’s World Cup drought at Beaver Creek

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Tommy Ford earned his first World Cup win at age 30 and ended the U.S. men’s longest victory and podium droughts in two decades.

Ford won the giant slalom in Beaver Creek, Colo., on Sunday, the last North American race on tour this season. He prevailed by eight tenths of a second combining times over two runs.

“It doesn’t beat doing it here. I’ve been working hard,” Ford, in his 86th World Cup start dating to 2009, said on Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA. “No secret, just kept it simple and really trusted what I was doing.”

Norwegians Henrik Kristoffersen and Leif Kristian Nestvold-Haugen were second and third. American Ted Ligety, fourth after the opening run, finished 11th.

Full results are here.

Ford became the first U.S. man to win a World Cup since Travis Ganong took a downhill on Jan. 27, 2017. He also became the first U.S. male podium finisher since Ligety in January 2018. Both were the longest droughts for the program since the late 1990s.

Ford, a 2010 and 2018 Olympian who missed the 2014 Olympics due to a broken femur, had been working toward this moment.

He finished a World Cup career-high fourth at the season-opening giant slalom in Soelden, Austria, on Oct. 27. Last season, the Oregon native and former Dartmouth student had a pair of fifths.

The men’s World Cup moves to Val d’Isere, France, next weekend for a giant slalom and slalom.

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Katie Ledecky wins race by 30 seconds, takes back No. 1 ranking

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In her last race of the year, Katie Ledecky ensured she would finish 2019 as the world’s fastest 1500m freestyler.

Ledecky clocked 15:35.98 at the U.S. Open in Atlanta, winning the longest event on the Olympic pool program by 29.97 seconds. Typical for Ledecky, who owns the nine fastest times in history. This one came in at No. 8. Full meet results are here.

Ledecky scratched the 1500m free final at the summer world championships due to illness. Italian Simona Quadarella went on to win that title in 15:40.89, which was the world’s fastest time this year until Saturday night.

“I didn’t have time on my mind at all today. I just wanted to have a consistent swim,” Ledecky, undefeated in 1500m free finals for nine years, said on NBCSN. “That’s probably the best mile that I’ve had in a while.”

The women’s 1500m freestyle debuts at the Olympics in Tokyo. Ledecky is expected to add that to her Rio Olympic individual lineup of 200m, 400m and 800m frees, assuming she is top two in each event at the June Olympic trials.

In other events Saturday, Erika Brown handed Simone Manuel a rare defeat in the 100m freestyle. Brown, a University of Tennessee senior, clocked 53.42 and lowered her personal best by .71 between prelims and the final. Brown moved from sixth to fourth in the U.S. rankings this year, upping her stock as a contender to make the Olympic 4x100m free relay pool via a top-six finish at trials.

Brown previously lowered her personal best in the 50m free on Thursday. She ranks third in the U.S. this year in that event.

Emily Escobedo dealt Lilly King a rare domestic defeat in the 200m breaststroke. Escobedo lowered her personal best by .87 and clocked 2:22.00, moving to seventh fastest in the world this year and remaining fourth among Americans.

In the men’s 200m breast, Olympic champion Dmitriy Balandin of Kazakhstan was beaten by Cody Miller, the Olympic 100m breast silver medalist. Both were slower than their best times this year.

The next significant swim meet is a Tyr Pro Series stop in Knoxville, Tenn., from Jan. 16-19.

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