Maia, Alex Shibutani beaten in free dance, still repeat as U.S. champions

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KANSAS CITY — Maia and Alex Shibutani were not the best U.S. ice dancers on Saturday, for the first time in a year. Still, they held on to repeat as U.S. champions.

The siblings were outscored in the U.S. Championships free dance by Madison Chock and Evan Bates, but their lead from a record-breaking short dance was enough to win by 1.01 points at Sprint Center. Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue were third after Hubbell shockingly fell during their free dance.

The top three repeated from 2016. Full results are here.

The Shibutanis took a 2.46-point lead into the free dance and totaled 200.05 points overall. They missed the U.S. Championships overall record score, set by Olympic champions Meryl Davis and Charlie White, by .14 of a point, after breaking Davis and White’s short dance record Friday.

“A year out from the Olympics, this is exactly where we want to be,” Maia Shibutani told Andrea Joyce on NBC. “I know we’ve improved so much.”

Chock and Bates, the 2015 U.S. champions, outscored the Shibutanis in a program on Saturday for the first time since the 2016 U.S. Championships short dance.

It was at last year’s nationals that the Shibutanis displaced Chock and Bates as the U.S. power couple in dance. The siblings went on to better Chock and Bates in both programs at the Four Continents Championships, World Championships and the Grand Prix Final in December.

“A lot of times we get hung up on results, and it doesn’t really, truly reflect how our skating has grown and how our partnership has evolved,” Bates said. “I think this was our best competition, probably, to date. … We would have loved to recapture our national title, but it didn’t happen for us.”

Hubbell and Donohue had been rising until Hubbell hit the ice Saturday. They were sixth at the 2016 World Championships and then fifth at the Grand Prix Final in December, finishing ahead of Chock and Bates.

They leave Kansas City with a fourth U.S. Championships bronze medal. They’ve never cracked the top two.

“It wasn’t our day, my day in particular,” said Hubbell, before getting a peck on the cheek from Donohue. “Just a funny, fluke moment. I just want to say thanks to Zach for being a really fabulous partner. … I thank my lucky stars to have a partner that can help me through a moment like that.”

The Shibutanis earned their first U.S. title in 2016, then took silver at the world championships last March and bronze at the Grand Prix Final last month. Despite the free dance scores, they are confident going into worlds in two months.

“The past year and a half, we’ve built so much momentum,” Alex Shibutani said. “We’re really coming into our own.”

The world’s two best couples are two-time reigning world champions Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron of France and Canada’s Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir.

Virtue and Moir took Olympic gold in 2010 and silver in 2014, then took two seasons off and returned this year to post the highest scores under the current system implemented in 2010.

The U.S., though, is unquestionably the deepest ice dance nation. The Shibutanis, Chock and Bates and Hubbell and Donohue made up half of the top six at the 2016 World Championships. All three couples qualified for each of the last two Grand Prix Finals, which take only six couples.

Meanwhile, Davis and White have watched the ascension while taking a three-year break from competition. They are running out of time to decide if they will attempt to defend their Olympic title in PyeongChang. A nation can send no more than three couples to the Olympics.

The U.S. Championships continue Saturday night with the women’s free skate (8 ET, NBC, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app).

Check out NBCsports.com/USFIGS for all-access coverage all weekend.

VIDEO: Tara Lipinski reflects on winning 1997 U.S. title at age 14

U.S. Championships Ice Dance
GOLD: Maia Shibutani/Alex Shibutani — 200.05

SILVER: Madison Chock/Evan Bates — 199.04
BRONZE: Madison Hubbell/Zachary Donohue — 191.42
4. Elliana Pogrebinsky/Alex Benoit — 170.29
5. Kaitlin Hawayek/Jean-Luc Baker — 160.06

Rewind: Australia’s Steven Bradbury gains gold and lasting fame after pileup takes out Apolo Ohno

Steven Bradbury
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Heading into the 2002 Winter Olympics, young American Apolo Ohno was a phenom with a legitimate shot at multiple medals in short-track speedskating.

The 1999 world junior champion and future “Dancing with the Stars” champion had finished first in the World Cup season standings in all three individual disciplines in the 2000-01 season. In the 2001 world championships, he took gold in the relay and the 3,000m (a non-Olympic event), silver in the 1,000m and fourth in the 1,500m.

Australia’s Steven Bradbury was at the other end of his career, enduring all sorts of misfortune in the years that followed — a 1995 accident in which he needed more than 100 stitches after a skate blade sliced his thigh, then a 2000 accident in which he broke two vertebra in his neck. 

The highlights of Bradbury’s career were relay world championships medals — gold in 1991, bronze in 1993, silver in 1994. He and his relay teammates also took Olympic bronze in 1994.

Bradbury barely advanced to one individual final, the 1,000m in 2002. He advanced from the quarterfinal when Canadian favorite Marc Gagnon was disqualified. He advanced from the semifinal when multiple skaters fell.

In the final, Bradbury was matched up against three outstanding skaters, including Ohno and Li Jiajun of China, who won this event and the overall title at the 2001 world championships. Ohno and Li had finished 1-2 in the 1,000m World Cup standings in 2001.

Bradbury couldn’t keep up. The other four skaters were in a pack, making dangerous passes among each other, while Bradbury fell further and further behind.

Those dangerous passes finally caught up to the rest of the field in the final turn. Li bumped into Ohno, which would lead to Li’s disqualification. After the lead pack jockeyed for position through the entire race, all four tumbled to the ice.

Bradbury, the last man standing, crossed the finish line first.

 

From the tangled pile-up, Ohno managed to fling himself, skate-first, across the finish line to take silver. Canada’s Mathieu Turcotte made it across for bronze.

Ohno wasn’t done in Salt Lake City. He won the 1,500m gold after the disqualification of Kim Dong-Sung, a controversial decision that made Ohno the object of South Korean derision.

Less controversially, Ohno won three more individual world championship events from 2005 to 2009, plus two relay golds, and the overall world title in 2008. In the Olympics, he took six more medals, including gold in the 500m in 2006 and silver in the 1,500m in 2010.

Bradbury missed the finals in the other two events in Salt Lake City, but his name lives on in the Urban Dictionary and elsewhere as a synonym for an improbable and even accidental victory. He embraced his unique place in history to carve out a career as a motivational speaker delivering more than 1,000 speeches in 19 countries, according to the International Skating Union and has even seen his win commemorated in Legos.

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Alexa Knierim, Brandon Frazier form new figure skating pair

Brandon Frazier
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A few weeks after her husband and skating partner, Chris Knierim, stepped away from competitive figure skating, Alexa Scimeca Knierim has a new partner.

Brandon Frazier, who was also looking for someone to form a new pair after longtime partner Haven Denney stepped away from competition, at least temporarily, will join Scimeca Knierim on the ice whenever they’re able to train and compete again.

Frazier is a longtime friend of Chris Knierem. Scimeca Knierim told U.S. Figure Skating’s FanZone that Frazier had played a pivotal role in kindling the Knierem’s off-ice romance.

Denney and Frazier won the U.S. championship in 2017 and finished 20th in the world championships that year. They finished third in their two Grand Prix assignments last fall — Skate America and the Internationaux de France. They were runners-up in the 2019 U.S. championships and fifth this year, when they revived their “Lion King” free skate.

The Denney-Frazier pair took an unusual path to figure skating, starting as roller skaters.

The Knierims won their third U.S. championship in January but handed their slot in the world championships to Jessica Calalang and Brian Johnson when Chris Knierim, struggling with his form and depression, decided he was unable to continue beyond the Four Continents Championship. The world championships were later canceled due to the spread of the coronavirus.

READ: Resilient Knierims withdraw from world championships

The couple had earned attention for their romance and for their inspirational returns from illness and injury. Their U.S. championship win earlier this year was their third.

Skate America, the first event on the Grand Prix circuit, is scheduled to start Oct. 23 in Las Vegas.

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