Tatyana Volosozhar, Maksim Trankov
AP

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

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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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Simone Biles returns to the gym, going from mental drain to physical pain

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For Simone Biles, this was supposed to be the stretch run of a legendary career.

Instead, she returned to her gym on May 18 with long-term thoughts of waiting 14 months until the Tokyo Olympics. And the immediate aches of a world-class gymnast who just missed nearly two months of regular training.

“After that amount of time off, it kind of sucks because your body hurts and then you get really sore,” Biles said in a pre-recorded ESPNW interview that aired Thursday. “So you just have to get back into the swing of things. But it felt nice to see my coaches, my teammates, and just to be back on the equipment and in the environment.”

In that same Texas gym three months ago, Biles had a far different outlook. One that would have put fear into any gymnast who still harbored ambition of ending her near-seven-year win streak.

“I never felt more ready this early in the season,” she said. “I was so ready for the Olympics to be this year.”

Biles repeated in interviews the last two months that the Olympic postponement to 2021 was devastating. Thoughts zig-zagged: How do I go on another year, at age 23, in a sport recently dominated by (but not limited to) teenagers?

“I’m getting pretty old,” she said in the interview published Thursday. “Will I be at the top of my game?”

Biles proved the last two years — after a year off — that she can win — and comfortably — while not at her best. She grabbed the 2018 World all-around title by a record margin — with two falls. Last year, she became the most decorated gymnast in world championships history. In Tokyo, she can become the first woman to repeat as Olympic all-around champion, and the only one older than 20, in more than 50 years.

This for a gymnast whose early goal was to earn a college scholarship. Biles did, to UCLA, but had to give it up by turning professional.

“So I’ve exceeded that,” Biles said. “And then I wanted to go to world championships and Olympics, and I’ve been to five worlds and one Olympic Games. So, I’d be more than happy [to walk away].”

After gymnastics, Biles has another goal — to be a voice for foster kids. She was in foster care multiple times before being adopted at age 6 by grandparents Ron and Nellie.

Those plans, along with so much else for Biles and so many others, have been pushed back a full year.

“I was already being mentally drained and almost, not done with the sport, but just going into the gym and feeling tired and being like, OK, I’m going to get my stuff [done], get out,” she said. “We have this one end goal, and now that it’s postponed another [year], it’s just like, how are we going to deal with that? We’re already being drained, and so it’s to keep the fire in the sport within yourself alive.”

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2022 Pan Pacific Championships canceled as swimming calendar shifts

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The Pan Pacific Swimming Championships, a quadrennial major international meet, will not be held in 2022 “out of respect for the recent changes to the international sporting calendar,” according to a press release.

The Pan Pacs’ charter nations — the U.S., Australia, Canada and Japan — agreed to the move. The 2026 event will be held in Canada, which was supposed to be the 2022 host.

The decision came after the 2021 World Championships were moved to May 2022, following the Tokyo Olympics moving from 2020 to 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic. The quadrennial multi-sport Commonwealth Games — which includes Australia and Canada, but not the U.S. or Japan — are scheduled for July 27-Aug. 7, 2022.

“Organizing a third major championships in that window presented several challenges,” according to the Pan Pacs release.

Pan Pacs mark the third-biggest major international meet for U.S. swimmers, held in non-Olympic, non-world championships years.

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