Ashley Wagner, Gracie Gold renew rivalry on new stage at Skate America

Gracie Gold, Ashley Wagner
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Ashley Wagner and Gracie Gold have gone head-to-head 10 times in major competition. Five times Wagner finished higher. Five times Gold finished higher.

The tie will be broken at Skate America this weekend in Hoffman Estates, Ill., (broadcast schedule here) in their first meeting on the Grand Prix level.

Wagner has embraced the rivalry angle the last few years, calling it beneficial for the sport’s popularity.

“I would love to establish myself as the leading U.S. lady,” Wagner said last week when asked of a goal for Skate America.

One could argue Wagner already accomplished that with her silver medal at the world championships last spring, ending a 10-year U.S. women’s podium drought. Gold was fourth at worlds, dropping from first after the short program.

Wagner and Gold each performed once already this season at the free-skate-only Japan Open on Oct. 1. Wagner placed third out of six skaters — which she called a success as she wasn’t yet in competition shape. Gold was sixth.

So Wagner may have an edge over Gold, but that wasn’t the case not too long ago.

Gold finished higher than Wagner at the 2014 Olympics, 2014 World Championships and 2015 World Championships, plus outscored Wagner in three straight programs before her free-skate free-fall at worlds on April 2.

A U.S. woman hasn’t won Skate America, the biggest annual international competition in the U.S., since 2012, matching the host nation’s longest drought in the history of the event that started in 1981.

Wagner and Gold each was runner-up in her last Skate America appearance — Gold last year and Wagner in 2013.

The opportunity is there for either to break through. The field includes no other woman who finished in the top six at worlds the last two years.

Japan’s Mao Asada, a three-time world champion, is the star name of the group, but Asada is a question after not attempting her trademark triple Axel at a lower-level competition two weeks ago (and finishing second).

The Skate America men’s field is led by the world’s two best teens — 2015 World bronze medalist Jin Boyang of China and 2015 Grand Prix Final bronze medalist Shoma Uno of Japan.

Jin is the first skater to land four quadruple jumps in an international program. Uno is the first to land a quadruple flip.

If Jin and Uno are on their game, the top Americans — 2015 national champion Jason Brown and 2016 national champion Adam Rippon — might be fighting for bronze.

Reigning U.S. champions Tarah Kayne and Danny O’Shea and Maia and Alex Shibutani highlight the pairs and ice dance fields, respectively.

MORE: Ashley Wagner: ‘I’m in the last couple of years of my career’

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

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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.

“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

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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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