World Figure Skating Championships pairs preview: ‘A game of Russians’

Tatyana Volosozhar, Maksim Trankov
AP
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BOSTON — Russian pairs, for so long the standard of figure skating excellence, did not come close to a medal at the 2015 World Championships.

Don’t expect a repeat of that failure at TD Garden this week.

“Pairs will be a game of Russians,” said Johnny Weir, NBC Olympics analyst and noted lover of all things Russian.

Both Weir and colleague Tara Lipinski tap Russia to go one-two here, which it hasn’t done since 2005.

The difference from last year is that the best Russian pairs are actually competing at Worlds.

Olympic champions Tatyana Volosozhar and Maksim Trankov and Sochi silver medalists Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov sat out the 2015 event in Shanghai, where the best Russian finish was fifth.

They’ve returned with force this season.

Volosozhar and Trankov, who wed in August, swept the Russian and European Championships in the winter. Stolbova and Klimov won the Russian Grand Prix and the Grand Prix Final in the fall. The pairs share a coach in Nina Mozer but haven’t gone head-to-head since the Sochi Winter Games.

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Which pair should be the favorite this week? Lipinski and Weir disagree.

“The reigning Olympic champions in my mind are on a different level,” Lipinski said of Volosozhar and Trankov, winners of 11 of their last 12 top-level international starts dating to 2012. “They have the air. They have the confidence of Olympic champions, and when they take the ice, they grab your attention.”

Weir called Volosozhar and Trankov’s “Dracula” free skate “downtrodden” and “labored,” questioning their conditioning after not competing at all in 2014-15.

He likes Stolbova and Klimov to break through for their first World title following four silvers and one bronze combined at the Olympics, Worlds and Europeans.

“Stolbova and Klimov of Russia have been in a class by themselves,” he said.

But their form is hazy, having not competed in more than three months due to reported back and shoulder injuries to Klimov.

What’s clear is Canadians Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford are not favored to repeat as World champions.

Further down, surprise U.S. champions Tarah Kayne and Danny O’Shea and Grand Prix Finalists Alexa Scimeca and Chris Knierim are even less likely to snap the U.S. pairs medal drought set to reach 14 years.

Scimeca and Knierim, who were the first U.S. pair to make the prestigious Grand Prix Final since 2007, can aim for the top seven, Weir said. They were seventh at both the Grand Prix Final and last year’s Worlds and have better international standing than Worlds rookies Kayne and O’Shea.

“[Scimeca and Knierim] have been on the world stage before, and they’re pushing the bar technically,” Lipinski said. “That’s all you can ask for, especially with the state U.S. pairs have been in for so long.”

Lipinski and Weir’s medal picks from last week:

Lipinski
Gold: Volosozhar/Trankov (RUS)
Silver: Stolbova/Klimov (RUS)
Bronze: Duhamel/Radford (CAN)

Weir
Gold: Stolbova/Klimov (RUS)
Silver: Volosozhar/Trankov (RUS)
Bronze: Savchenko/Massot (GER)

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Teri McKeever fired by Cal as women’s swimming coach after investigation

Teri McKeever
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Teri McKeever, the first woman to serve as a U.S. Olympic swimming head coach, was fired by the University of California at Berkeley after an investigation into alleged verbal and emotional abuse of swimmers that she denied.

McKeever was put on paid administrative leave from her job as head women’s swimming coach in May after an Orange County Register report that 20 current or former Cal swimmers said McKeever verbally and emotionally bullied her swimmers.

Cal athletics director Jim Knowlton wrote in a letter to the Cal team and staff that a resulting independent law firm report detailed “verbally abusive conduct that is antithetical to our most important values.”

“I strongly believe this is in the best interests of our student-athletes, our swimming program and Cal Athletics as a whole,” Knowlton said of McKeever’s firing in a press release. “The report details numerous violations of university policies that prohibit race, national origin and disability discrimination.”

The Orange County Register first published what it says is the full independent report here with redactions.

“I deny and unequivocally refute all conclusions that I abused or bullied any athlete and deny any suggestion I discriminated against any athlete on the basis of race, disability or sexual orientation,” McKeever said in a statement Tuesday confirming her firing and expressing disappointment in how the investigation was conducted. “While I am disappointed in the way my CAL Career will conclude, I wish to thank and celebrate the many student-athletes and staff that made my time in Berkeley a true blessing and gift.”

McKeever’s lawyer wrote that McKeever “will be filing suit to expose the manner in which gender has affected not only the evaluation of her coaching but harmed and continues to harm both female and male athletes.”

McKeever led Cal women’s swimming and diving for nearly 30 years, winning four NCAA team titles and coaching Olympic champions including Missy FranklinNatalie Coughlin and Dana Vollmer.

In 2004, she became the first woman to be on a U.S. Olympic swim team coaching staff, as an assistant. In 2012, she became the first woman to be head coach of a U.S. Olympic swim team. She was an assistant again for the Tokyo Games.

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Diana Taurasi returns to U.S. national basketball team

Diana Taurasi
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Diana Taurasi is set to return to the U.S. national basketball team next week for the first time since the Tokyo Olympics, signaling a possible bid for a record-breaking sixth Olympic appearance in 2024 at age 42.

Taurasi is on the 15-player roster for next week’s training camp in Minnesota announced Tuesday.

Brittney Griner is not on the list but is expected to return to competitive basketball later this year with her WNBA team, the Phoenix Mercury (also Taurasi’s longtime team, though she is currently a free agent), after being detained in Russia for 10 months in 2022.

Taurasi said as far back as the 2016 Rio Games that her Olympic career was likely over, but returned to the national team after Dawn Staley succeeded Geno Auriemma as head coach in 2017.

In Tokyo, Taurasi and longtime backcourt partner Sue Bird became the first basketball players to win five Olympic gold medals. Bird has since retired.

After beating Japan in the final, Taurasi said “see you in Paris,” smiling, as she left an NBC interview. That’s now looking less like a joke and more like a prediction.

Minnesota Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve succeeded Staley as head coach last year. In early fall, she guided the U.S. to arguably the best FIBA World Cup performance ever, despite not having stalwarts Bird, Griner, Tina Charles and Sylvia Fowles.

Taurasi was not in contention for the team after suffering a WNBA season-ending quad injury in the summer. Taurasi, who is 38-0 in Olympic games and started every game at the last four Olympics, wasn’t on a U.S. team for an Olympics or worlds for the first time since 2002.

Next year, Taurasi can become the oldest Olympic basketball player in history and the first to play in six Games, according to Olympedia.org. Spain’s Rudy Fernandez could also play in a sixth Olympics in 2024.

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