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.”

MORE: Gracie Gold chooses new coaches

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

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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

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2022 Pan Pacific Championships canceled as swimming calendar shifts

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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.

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