Getty Images

Ashley Wagner trails at Cup of China, Grand Prix Final in jeopardy

1 Comment

The U.S. went from potentially having three singles skaters in the Grand Prix Final for the first time since 2009 to possibly having none after the Cup of China short program Friday.

World silver medalist Ashley Wagner is in fifth place after performing a triple-double jump combination rather than a triple-triple. Wagner scored 64.36 points, which is 7.84 points behind leader Kaetlyn Osmond of Canada.

Full scores are here.

If the standings hold and Wagner finishes fifth after the free skate, she will have to wait for the results of next week’s NHK Trophy to see if she qualifies for her fifth straight Grand Prix Final.

December’s Grand Prix Final is the most exclusive event in figure skating, taking the top six skaters from the six-event Grand Prix series by totaling each skater’s two results.

Wagner won Skate America in October, putting her in the driver’s seat for a berth before her short program Friday in her second event.

Russian Yevgenia Medvedeva is already qualified for the Grand Prix Final. If the Cup of China standings hold, Osmond and Russian Yelena Radionova will join her. Two more Russians, Anna Pogorilaya and Maria Sotskova, are in the driver’s seat to qualify at NHK Trophy next week.

Three Japanese skaters — Mai Mihara, Satoko Miyahara and Wakaba Higuchi — are also in the picture.

On the men’s side, China’s Jin Boyang complicated the Grand Prix Final qualifying picture by doing the opposite of Wagner on Friday.

Jin, the world bronze medalist who was fifth at Skate America, topped the Cup of China short program with 96.17 points after landing two quadruple jumps.

He leads a surprise in second place, Israel’s Daniel Samohin, by a whopping 12.7 points. Three-time world champion Patrick Chan of Canada is third.

If Jin holds on to win Cup of China, he will pass American Adam Rippon in the Grand Prix Final qualifying standings.

This is key, as Shoma Uno and Javier Fernandez have already qualified for the Grand Prix Final, and Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu is likely to join them if he performs well at NHK Trophy next week.

Likewise, Chan, who won Skate Canada in October, will qualify for the Grand Prix Final if the standings hold after the free skate Saturday.

That would essentially leave one open men’s Grand Prix Final spot, with Rippon in the clubhouse lead going into NHK Trophy.

Two other Americans are also in the running. Jason Brown can pass Rippon if he finishes fourth or better at NHK. Nathan Chen can pass Rippon if he finishes second or better at NHK.

But Israel’s Oleksii Bychenko could spoil it for all of the Americans if he finishes second or better at NHK, and ahead of Brown and Chen.

The U.S. has already qualified two ice dance couples for the Grand Prix Final — Madison Chock and Evan Bates and Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue — and should get a third with Maia and Alex Shibutani in second place after the Cup of China short dance.

The U.S. has always qualified at least one singles skater for the Grand Prix Final, which debuted in 1995.

MORE: Figure skating season broadcast schedule

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

Getty Images
Leave a comment

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.”

MORE: Top U.S. gymnasts disagree with Tokyo Olympic age rule

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

2022 Pan Pacific Championships canceled as swimming calendar shifts

Getty Images
Leave a comment

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.

MORE: Caeleb Dressel co-hosts a podcast. It’s not about swimming.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!