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Tarah Kayne and Danny O’Shea win their 1st US pairs title

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ST. PAUL, Minn. — Tarah Kayne and Danny O’Shea took the ice last at the U.S. Championships, just needing to skate cleanly to win their first national pairs title.

Cautious but calm, Kayne and O’Shea did what their rivals couldn’t and clinched a lopsided win with a record score Saturday.

They earned 142.04 points for the long program for 211.65 total, the highest mark ever at nationals, to beat defending champs Alexa Scimeca and Christopher Knierim.

Kayne and O’Shea led after the short program, and when Scimeca and Knierim made several mistakes, the title was there for the taking.

Skating to “The Music of the Night” from “The Phantom of the Opera,” Kayne and O’Shea had the day’s only clean program among the contenders.

[MORE: Check out the U.S. Figure Skating Championships All-Access Page]

Knierim fell on their side-by-side triple toe loops, and Scimeca had two feet down on one throw jump and both hands down on the other. They scored 129.45 points in the free skate for 196.80 total.

Marissa Castelli, who won two U.S. titles with former partner Simon Shnapir, was third with Mervin Tran with 179.04 points. The Americans have two spots at the world championships.

Kayne had hip surgery in July 2014, and she and O’Shea had to take off that Grand Prix season. They still managed to finish third at last year’s U.S. Championships, missing out on a spot at worlds.

Kayne recalled that on the day of her surgery, O’Shea told her: “We are one day closer to a clean program.” It came on the biggest day of their careers Saturday. When the scores were announced, Kayne burst into tears, and O’Shea alertly reached over to hand her a box of tissues.

The two have been skating together for under four years, an eternity for American pairs skating. Earlier this season, Scimeca and Knierim became the first U.S. pairs team to qualify for the Grand Prix Final since 2007, offering hope that the fortunes of American pairs skating might finally be reversing.

They struggled there, though, and again at nationals. Scimeca and Knierim completed their signature quadruple twist to open the program, but then the mistakes started coming.

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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