Ashley Wagner leads Skate Canada as Olympic, World champions struggle

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Ashley Wagner recorded a personal-best short program and leads Skate Canada heading into Saturday’s free skate.

Wagner, a three-time U.S. champion, landed all of her jumps cleanly for 70.73 points, her first time breaking the 70-point barrier. She has a comfortable 7.38-point lead over Japan’s Yuka Nagai.

“I like to think that that performance is just kind of a preview of what I’m capable of,” Wagner said in Lethbrige, Alberta. “I was skating in shows all summer, so I had about a month to really get everything together. … I think that there is more to come with that program. The more I get comfortable with the style and the movement, I think it will just build on top of that.”

World champion Elizaveta Tuktamysheva of Russia followed Wagner with a sluggish performance on her jumps for 55.37 points, good enough for seventh place.

Tuktamysheva, who was 10th at the 2013 Russian Championships, won eight titles last season, including sweeping the Grand Prix Final, European Championships and Worlds.

U.S. Olympian Polina Edmunds placed fifth in the short program, under-rotating two jumps.

The men’s competition provided a surprise leader in Japan’s Daisuke Murakami, who totaled 80.88 to edge Olympic silver medalist and three-time World champion Patrick Chan by .07.

The Canadian Chan, back after taking one season off, fell on a triple Axel and doubled a planned triple Lutz.

“Frustrating,” Chan said, according to The Associated Press. “Better next time.”

Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu also struggled, receiving zero points on two of his three jumping passes, and is in sixth place.

Icenetwork.com will broadcast Saturday’s free skates (2 p.m. ET for women; 8:45 for men) live for subscribers. NBC will air coverage Sunday from 4:30-6 p.m. ET.

MORE FIGURE SKATING: Full season broadcast schedule

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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