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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Shelby Houlihan shatters American 5000m record

Shelby Houlihan
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Shelby Houlihan chopped 10.52 seconds off her own American 5000m record, clocking 14:23.92 at a Bowerman Track Club intrasquad meet in Portland, Ore., on Friday night.

Houlihan, who was 11th in the Rio Olympic 5000m, has in this Olympic cycle improved to become one of the greatest female distance runners in U.S. history.

She first broke Shannon Rowbury‘s American record in the 5000m by 4.47 seconds in 2018. In 2019, she broke Rowbury’s American record in the 1500m by 1.3 seconds in finishing fourth at the world championships in 3:54.99.

On Friday, Houlihan and second-place Karissa Schweizer both went under the American record. Schweizer, 24 and three years younger than Houlihan, clocked 14:26.34, staying with Houlihan until the winner’s 61-second final lap.

“I knew Karissa was going to try to come up on me and take the lead. She does that every time,” Houlihan told USATF.tv. “I had decided I was not going to let that happen.”

Houlihan improved from 41st to 12th on the world’s all-time 5000m list, 12.77 seconds behind Ethiopian Tirunesh Dibaba‘s world record.

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Can T.J. Oshie, other established Olympic hockey stars hold on for 2022?

T.J. Oshie
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T.J. Oshie will be 35 years old during the next Winter Olympics. Jonathan Quick will be 36. Now that the NHL is one key step closer to returning to the Winter Games, the question surfaces: which 2014 Olympians will have a difficult time returning to rosters in 2022?

Oshie was the last of the 14 forwards chosen for the U.S. Olympic team for Sochi, beating out Bobby Ryan and Brandon Saad, in part for his shootout prowess.

In group play against Russia, Oshie was memorably tapped by U.S. head coach Dan Bylsma six times in a shootout, including all five in the sudden-death rounds. Oshie beat Sergei Bobrovsky four times, including the game winner.

“After I went out for my third attempt, I figured I was going to keep going,” Oshie said, according to USA Hockey. “Each time I would look up to see what [Bylsma] had to say, and he would just give me a nod every time. I kind of started laughing toward shot five and six because it was getting kind of ridiculous.”

Oshie became known as “T.J. Sochi” on social media. President Barack Obama congratulated him on Twitter. The U.S. eventually lost to Canada in the semifinals and Finland in the bronze-medal game.

When the NHL chose not to send its players to the PyeongChang Winter Games, it may have spelled the end of Oshie’s Olympic career.

Consider that the oldest forward on the 2014 U.S. Olympic team was 29, six years younger than Oshie will be come 2022. A recent Olympic roster prediction from The Hockey Writers put Oshie in the “Just Missed Out” list.

NBC Sports NHL analyst Pierre McGuire has Oshie among the finalists for the last forward spots in his early U.S. roster prediction.

“I wouldn’t discount T.J. Oshie because shootout is still part of it,” McGuire said. “He still has his shootout moves, even though he’s not getting any younger.”

Quick, the unused third goalie in 2010, played 305 out of 365 minutes in net for the U.S. in Sochi. He was coming off a Stanley Cup in 2012 and en route to another one in 2014.

Since, he was sidelined by a knee injury that required surgery. He remains the Los Angeles Kings’ No. 1 goalie, which almost automatically puts an American in the Olympic roster discussion these days.

“Somebody like Jonathan definitely merits consideration just because of his achievement level over time, but I think he’d be the first person to tell you injuries have definitely affected him,” McGuire said of Quick, looking to become the second-oldest U.S. goalie to play in the Olympics after Tom Barrasso in 2002. “It’s not going to be easy for him.”

The U.S. could bypass Quick for three Olympic rookies in 2022. Connor Hellebuyck, John Gibson and Ben Bishop have superior save percentages and goals-against averages and more games played than Quick since the start of the 2018-19 season.

A wild card is Spencer Knight, the 19-year-old No. 1 from the world junior championships who last year became the highest-drafted goalie since 2010 (No. 13 to the Florida Panthers). Knight would break defenseman Bryan Berard‘s record as the youngest U.S. Olympic hockey player in the NHL era.

The Canadian roster has traditionally been deeper than the U.S. The talent is overwhelming at center, led by Sidney CrosbyConnor McDavidPatrice Bergeron and Nathan MacKinnon. The Canadians must get creative if the likes of veterans Jonathan Toews and John Tavares will join them in Beijing.

Toews, then 21, was the best forward at the 2010 Vancouver Games and Canada’s only one on the all-tournament team. While Toews’ last NHL All-Star selection was in 2017, his last two seasons have been his best in terms of points per game since 2011.

“The one thing that Canada is very good at, they do it extremely well, they select players that fit roles,” McGuire said, noting Mike Richards shifting to the wing during the 2010 Olympics. “When you look at the overwhelming depth that Canada has, that’s going to be the thing that’s going that’s going to be very interesting to watch to see how it plays out at center.”

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