U.S. women struggle to open Four Continents Championships

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Three U.S. women dug considerable holes in Thursday’s short program at the Four Continents Championships, a tune-up for next month’s world championships.

Mirai Nagasu was fifth, botching a triple loop landing. Mariah Bell was seventh, stepping out of a triple flip landing and failing to perform a triple-triple combination. Karen Chen, the surprise U.S. champion, was 12th, falling on a double loop.

“It was definitely a rough performance,” Chen said, according to U.S. Figure Skating. “I came here with higher expectations, and I was hoping I would be able to put out my best. Unfortunately that didn’t happen.”

Canada’s Gabrielle Daleman scored 68.25 points to lead countrywoman Kaetlyn Osmond by .04 going into the free skate Saturday at the 2018 Olympic venue in Gangneung, South Korea. Full results are here.

The U.S. standings are concerning not only because worlds are in six weeks, but also because worlds results determine the number of Olympic entries each nation gets.

For the U.S. to earn the maximum three women’s spots at the Olympics, its top two of three skaters at worlds must have placements that add up to no more than 13. Last year, the top U.S. women at worlds were second and fourth, adding up to six, comfortably under 13.

The Americans aren’t looking anywhere near that strong this season.

Nagasu isn’t on the worlds team. Chen and Bell are after finishing first and third at nationals in January. As is U.S. silver medalist Ashley Wagner, who is skipping Four Continents to prepare for worlds.

The field will be much stronger at worlds than at Four Continents, with Europeans joining the mix. Russia will send three medal contenders to worlds. Italian Carolina Kostner, the Olympic bronze medalist, will be there. Japan’s best skater, Satoko Miyahara, is out of Four Continents with a hip injury.

The short dance at Four Continents went to form, with Canadians Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir topping the field with 79.75 points. They were followed by Americans Maia and Alex Shibutani with 76.59 and Madison Chock and Evan Bates with 74.67.

Virtue and Moir have been the top couple this season after taking two seasons off following their silver medal in Sochi. The Shibutanis and Chock and Bates rank Nos. 3 and 4 in the world behind France’s Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron, who are not at Four Continents.

The pairs short produced a surprise with Canada’s two-time world champions Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford in third after Radford fell on a triple Lutz. They trail China’s Sui Wenjing and Han Cong by 6.44 points going into Saturday’s free skate.

The top U.S. pair was Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Christopher Knierim in sixth in their first competition of the season. They’ve been out due to her unspecified abdominal issue that lasted from April to November and required three surgeries.

“It wasn’t our biggest score, but it’s the best we’ve ever felt skating,” Scimeca Knierim said, according to U.S. Figure Skating. “Health-wise, I’m back at 100 percent, and I’m getting close to 100 percent strength-wise. I feel like my body is almost back to where it used to be, and I’m sure by the time worlds comes around, I’ll be there.”

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At U.S. Open swim meet, teens make a splash with Olympic trials on horizon

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While Olympic and world champions Katie LedeckySimone Manuel and Chase Kalisz notched expected victories at the U.S. Open on Thursday, a trio of teenagers lowered personal bests to further establish their Tokyo Olympic hopes.

At the top domestic meet of the winter, Alex WalshCarson Foster and Kieran Smith each earned runner-up finishes, but their performances stood out in the big picture: looking at June’s Olympic trials, where the top two per individual event make the team.

Walsh, a rising Nashville high school senior, took 2.23 seconds off her 200m individual medley best. She clocked 2:09.01, overtaken by .17 by Melanie Margalis, the Rio Olympic and 2019 World Championships fourth-place finisher.

Full meet results are here.

Walsh moved from fifth-fastest in the U.S. this year to No. 2 behind Margalis, passing Olympic and world championships veterans Ella EastinKathleen Baker and Madisyn Cox. Of those swimmers, only Eastin was also in Thursday’s final.

Walsh joined her younger sister, Gretchen, in Olympic qualifying position based on 2019 times. Gretchen, 16, ranks fourth in the U.S. in the 100m free this year. The top six in that event at trials are in line to make the Olympic 4x100m free relay pool.

The Walshes could become the third set of sisters to make the same U.S. Olympic swim team, and the second to do it in pool swimming after Dana and Tara Kirk in 2004.

Foster, 18, continued his ascent Thursday in taking second to Kalisz in the men’s 200m IM. The world junior champion lowered his personal best in the prelims and the final, getting down to 1:57.59. Foster passed Ryan Lochte, who is nearly twice his age, in Thursday’s final and in the 2019 U.S. rankings. Only Kalisz and Michael Andrew have been faster among Americans this year.

Foster is trying to become the youngest U.S. Olympic male swimmer since 2000, when a 15-year-old Michael Phelps made his Olympic debut. Foster, who has been breaking Phelps national age-group records since he was 10, committed to the University of Texas in March 2018, two years before he graduates high school in Ohio.

Then there’s Kieran Smith, now a prime candidate to fill a huge void in the 400m freestyle. Zane Grothe is the only American ranked in the top 20 in the world this year.

Smith, a 19-year-old from the University of Florida, took 2.29 seconds off his lifetime best on Thursday to jump from outside the top 10 to No. 2 in the U.S. on the year. Smith was already ranked No. 2 in the country in the 200m free.

Two more runners-up in the 50m freestyles — Erika Brown to Manuel and Zach Apple to Brazilian Bruno Fratus — lowered personal bests to move to No. 3 in each U.S. ranking list this year.

The U.S. Open continues Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m. ET with live coverage on NBCSN and streaming on NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app.

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Nathan Chen distances Yuzuru Hanyu in Grand Prix Final short program

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A brilliant Nathan Chen outscored a flawed Yuzuru Hanyu for a fourth straight head-to-head program, taking a 12.95-point lead at the Grand Prix Final in Turin, Italy, on Thursday.

Chen, the two-time reigning world champion, tallied 110.38 points going into Saturday’s free skate. He landed a quadruple Lutz, triple Axel and quad toe loop-triple toe loop combination.

It’s the highest short program score in the world this season, leading the American to say “wow” in the kiss-and-cry area. His coach, the often-gruff Rafael Arutyunyan, banged his knee against his pupil’s.

Hanyu, the two-time reigning Olympic champion, hit a quadruple Salchow and triple Axel but then stepped out of a quad toe landing. He therefore failed to include a required jumping combination and ended up in second place.

“I wanted to do a great performance and do a good competition against [Chen], but that didn’t happen this time,” Hanyu, who was without longtime coach Brian Orser, or any other coach, said through a translator. Hanyu said Orser was busy last week, so he chose to use his lone accreditation on another coach who had travel delays.

Hanyu is not out of title contention. His world-leading free skate score this season is 16.61 points better than Chen’s best free skate from the fall Grand Prix Series.

Chen is undefeated since placing fifth at the PyeongChang Olympics, but this is just his second head-to-head with Hanyu in that span. Chen defeated Hanyu at March’s world championships, where the Japanese megastar was likely affected by an ankle injury.

After Thursday’s program, Chen repeated what he said before the competition: he still feels like he’s chasing Hanyu.

“Yuzu is like the goat, he’s the greatest of all time, really,” Chen said. “So, to have this opportunity to be able to share the ice with a guy like that, someone that I’ve looked up to for a long time, someone that I’ve watched grow up through the junior ranks when I was like a baby, it’s really cool to be able see him now. It’s really cool to even just be able to see him person.”

The Grand Prix Final, the biggest annual event outside the world championships, continues Friday with the rhythm dance, women’s short and pairs’ free skate. A full TV and live stream schedule is here.

Earlier in pairs, Chinese Sui Wenjing and Han Cong took their first step toward a first Grand Prix Final title. The Olympic silver medalists tallied 77.50, leading Russians Aleksandra Boikova and Dmitriy Kozlovskiy by .85 going into Friday’s free skate.

Sui and Han were imperfect, with Sui putting her hand down on a throw triple flip landing. They are undefeated in this Beijing Olympic cycle and own the world’s top total score this season.

The U.S. failed to qualify a pair for the six-team Final for the 11th time in the last 12 years.

Grand Prix Final
Men’s Short Program
1. Nathan Chen (USA) — 110.38
2. Yuzuru Hanyu (JPN) — 97.43
3. Kevin Aymoz (FRA) — 96.71
4. Dmitriy Aliyev (RUS) — 88.78
5. Alexander Samarin (RUS) — 81.32
6. Jin Boyang (CHN) — 80.67

Pairs’ Short Program
1. Sui Wenjing/Han Cong (CHN) — 77.50
2. Aleksandra Boikova / Dmitriy Kozlovskiy (RUS) — 76.65
3. Daria Pavliuchenko/Denis Khodykin (RUS) — 75.16
4. Anastasia Mishina/Aleksandr Galliamov (RUS) — 71.48
5. Peng Cheng/Jin Yang (CHN) — 69.67
6. Kirsten Moore-Towers/Michael Marinaro (CAN) — 67.08

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