French repeat as World ice dance champions; U.S. gets two medals

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France’s Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron became the first ice dance couple to repeat as World champions since 2007, while Americans earned silver and bronze in Boston on Thursday night.

Papadakis and Cizeron, who last year became the youngest World ice dance champions in 40 years, posted the highest-scoring free dance in international competition under a scoring system implemented in 2005.

They easily distanced U.S. siblings Maia and Alex Shibutani by 6.03 points and Madison Chock and Evan Bates by 8.69.

“We didn’t expect these high marks at all,” Papadakis said. “It took us a moment at the end of our program to realize what we have achieved, and I still can’t believe it.”

The French also topped the short dance at TD Garden on Wednesday, capping a comeback from Papadakis’ August practice fall and concussion. She still experiences headaches.

Their total score, 194.46, marked the second-best under the current system. Only Americans Meryl Davis and Charlie White‘s 195.52 from the Sochi Olympics was better, but Davis and White did cede their free-dance world record.

“I could not be happier to pass that along to them,” White said on Icenetwork.com. “I was just in awe the entire program. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

The top three went unchanged from the short dance.

The U.S. earned multiple medals in a single event at Worlds for the first time since 2011, when Davis and White took gold and the Shibutanis bronze in the siblings’ first season as senior skaters.

The Shibutanis had not earned an Olympic or Worlds medal since, bottoming out with a ninth-place finish in Sochi but re-emerging with their best performances this season. They won their first U.S. title in January and the Four Continents Championship in February.

“We’ve been able to really weather out this journey,” Maia said.

Chock and Bates earned their second straight Worlds medal after silver in 2015, when Papadakis and Cizeron overtook them in the free dance.

“Last year was the first time that we had ever been in medal contention at a World Championships, and I don’t think we really knew how to handle it very well,” Bates said. “Looking back, I don’t think we skated our best free dance. With that said, I think today we did skate our best free dance.”

The Shibutanis and Chock and Bates had scores in Boston that would have won the 2014 and 2015 World titles.

The U.S.’ third couple, Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue, placed sixth. It’s the first time the U.S. put three couples that high at a Worlds since 1955.

It continued a U.S. ice dance renaissance. In 2005, Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto won the nation’s first World ice dance medal in 20 years.

Four different U.S. couples have combined to win 12 medals at the last 12 World Championships, while the U.S. has totaled seven medals overall across men’s, women’s and pairs in the same stretch.

The ice dance field is about to get stronger with the return of 2010 Olympic champions Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir next season. The Canadians haven’t competed since taking Sochi silver behind Davis and White, who also have been out since the Olympics but haven’t announced whether they will return.

Virtue and Moir used to train with Davis and White in Michigan but will be taught by new coaches in their comeback — Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon in Montreal.

Dubreuil and Lauzon’s star pupils? Papadakis and Cizeron. They’ll have to share.

“It’s going to be another challenge for us,” Papadakis said.

The World Championships continue Friday with the pairs short program and men’s free skate with coverage beginning at 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and NBC Sports Live Extra.

MORE: Meryl Davis, Charlie White wait for right feeling for possible return

World Championships Ice Dance
GOLD: Gabriella Papadakis/Guillaume Cizeron (FRA) — 194.46
SILVER: Maia Shibutani/Alex Shibutani (USA) — 188.43
BRONZE: Madison Chock/Evan Bates (USA) — 185.77
6. Madison Hubbell/Zachary Donohue (USA) — 176.81

MyKayla Skinner’s motivation for Tokyo: her Rio Olympic experience

MyKayla Skinner
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MyKayla Skinner remembers the little room at the SAP Center in San Jose. She remembers the wait, somewhere between 10 and 20 minutes.

After the 2016 U.S. Olympic Women’s Gymnastics Trials, the competitors (14 total performed) assembled while a selection committee convened in another space.

The committee finalized the five-woman Olympic team (plus three alternates), marched into the athletes’ room and delivered the verdict.

“They say the first four names, and then there’s that one spot left,” Skinner recalled. “I’m like, is it going to be me? You’re so tense just waiting there. All of us holding each other’s hands in the room. We’re all sitting there. It’s just, like, frozen dead silent. Then they say that fifth spot.”

Skinner doesn’t remember who was the fifth name. Just that it wasn’t her.

“I just broke down crying,” she said in a recent interview. “All that hard work I put in still wasn’t good enough. Even though it was. It’s just who they needed for the team.”

Skinner placed fourth in the all-around at those Olympic Trials, the highest finisher who was not named to the Olympic team. She was one of three alternates. If the Olympic team was chosen by all-around standings, a selection committee would not be necessary. Instead, gymnasts are puzzle pieces, chosen as who best fits the Olympic format: three gymnasts per apparatus in the team final and up to two per nation per individual final.

Skinner’s mind raced while she waited for the committee’s decision. She eventually settled on a gut feeling, that she would not make the team.

“I thought that it should be enough, but at the same I didn’t think that it would be,” said Lisa Spini, Skinner’s coach at Desert Lights Gymnastics in Chandler, Arizona. “I thought the team was already decided before the Olympic Trials.”

Spini said it was her toughest night as a gymnastics coach.

“Being an alternate is probably the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do in gymnastics,” said Skinner, who traveled to Brazil and, with fellow alternates Ashton Locklear and Ragan Smith, trained separately from the Olympic team. “The whole time I was in Rio, I probably cried every single night

“The Olympics should be something so special, but I feel like it was definitely miserable at times. It was really hard to enjoy being an alternate. With this comeback, that has pushed me so hard just because I was so close.”

You may have read about Skinner back in the spring, after the Tokyo Olympics were postponed to 2021.

It’s a devastating delay for a female gymnast, whose peak often lasts for one Olympic cycle (sometimes even shorter). Skinner is an exception, excelling for the better part of a decade on different levels.

She made her first world championships team in 2014. After Rio, she matriculated at the University of Utah, where she was twice an NCAA all-around runner-up and hit an NCAA record 161 straight routines without a fall. In 2019, she decided to come back to international competition — for an Olympic run — with one year left of NCAA gymnastics.

She is 23, the oldest of the 16-woman U.S. national team. She is trying to become the oldest woman to make a U.S. Olympic gymnastics team since 2004. And the first with NCAA experience to do so since Alicia Sacramone in 2008.

“The reason why a lot of college gymnasts couldn’t come back and do it is they’ve been so injured over the years,” Spini said. “Their body wouldn’t hold up. She’s been really lucky that way.”

Skinner could have easily followed the path of so many other stars who signaled the end of an elite career by going to college, where training and routines are less demanding.

She questioned herself often after the Tokyo postponement whether it was worth it to return to elite training. The Olympic team event roster size has been cut from five to four. Simone Biles is an overwhelming favorite to earn one spot. In the face of those odds, Skinner can’t shake a memory from Rio.

“I just go back to the moment of when I was sitting in the stands,” watching the Final Five earn gold, Skinner said. “I was so close to making the team. This has been my dream ever since I went to Desert Lights when I was 12.”

Skinner’s comeback is already a success. Last year, on three months of elite training, she placed eighth at the U.S. Championships. She was convinced to accept an invitation to the world championships selection camp, where six women would make the traveling team (one later named an alternate).

Like in 2016, Skinner placed fourth in the all-around competition before the roster was chosen.

Again, the gymnasts gathered for the announcement. This time, Skinner made the cut as the sixth woman named. Biles, the other 20-something at the camp and a friend, jumped in excitement.

The team traveled to Germany in late September. After training, one woman had to be designated the alternate. High performance team coordinator Tom Forster took Skinner aside one day on the way to lunch. She knew what was coming and broke down in tears, flashing back to 2016.

“Simone was like, hey, let’s go to the bathroom. She helped talk me through it and helped me calm down and definitely made me a feel a lot better,” said Skinner, who supported Biles and the U.S. team that competed in Stuttgart. She then wed Jonas Harmer in November and decided what must be done to make the Olympic team.

“We’re going to try to add in some big skills, which will put her difficulty level, probably, second only to Simone,” Spini said.

Skinner is documenting her last year-plus in elite gymnastics on a YouTube channel with 29,000 subscribers. She has been fortunate during the coronavirus pandemic to train at her gym if no more than 10 people were present. Many other gymnasts — and athletes across Olympic sports — spent weeks or months out of their facilities.

“I definitely don’t think I would have been able to have that much time off,” she said. “That’s really hard with gymnastics because you feel like, you take two days off, and it’s like you had a year off.”

One day this spring, Skinner’s mom called, in tears, fearing for her life with an illness that turned out to be the coronavirus. Both of her parents, in their 60s, had it and briefly lost their senses of taste. Her mom had breathing problems, but they recovered.

One night last month, Skinner had a dream about next year’s Olympic Trials. The Final Five all came back to compete, and Skinner was again named an alternate. She woke up. Skinner doesn’t know how she would handle that kind of disappointment in real life, again.

“So it’s kind of scary,” she said. Then Skinner thinks back to Rio, and that burning she felt while watching the Final Five win gold medals.

“This is what I’m supposed to do. This is what I’m meant to do is elite gymnastics,” said Skinner, who was born via life-threatening, early-labor C-section, needing to be revived by doctors. “I think it’s cool that I can have this opportunity to go and push myself one last time so I can reach that end goal.”

MORE: Gymnast Grace McCallum won a coin flip to become world champion

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Wilson Kipsang, former marathon world-record holder, banned 4 years

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Wilson Kipsang, a former marathon world-record holder and Kenyan Olympic bronze medalist, was banned four years for whereabouts failures — not being available for drug testing — and providing false evidence in his case.

Kipsang had been provisionally banned in January in the case handled by the Athletics Integrity Unit, track and field’s doping watchdog organization. Athletes must provide doping officials with locations to be available for out-of-competition testing. Three missed tests in a 12-month span can lead to a suspension.

Kipsang, 38, received a four-year ban backdated to Jan. 10, when the provisional suspension was announced. His results since April 12, 2019, the date of his third whereabouts failure in a 12-month span, have been annulled. He is eligible to appeal. The full decision is here.

Kipsang won major marathons in New York City, London, Berlin and Tokyo between 2012 and 2017.

He lowered the world record to 2:03:23 at the 2013 Berlin Marathon, a mark that stood for one year until countryman Dennis Kimetto took it to 2:02:57 in Berlin. Another Kenyan, Eliud Kipchoge, lowered it to 2:01:39 at the 2018 Berlin Marathon.

Kipsang, the 2012 Olympic bronze medalist, last won a top-level marathon in Tokyo in 2017. He was third at the 2018 Berlin Marathon and 12th at his last marathon in London in April 2019, a result now disqualified.

Other Kenyan distance-running stars have been banned in recent years.

Rita Jeptoo had Boston and Chicago Marathon titles stripped, and Jemima Sumgong was banned after winning the Rio Olympic marathon after both tested positive for EPO. Asbel Kiprop, a 2008 Olympic 1500m champion and a three-time world champ, was banned four years after testing positive for EPO in November 2017.

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