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Surprising U.S. results in world championships short dance

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Canadians Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir reset their short-dance world record, while the three U.S. couples finished in a surprising order at the world figure skating championships in Helsinki on Friday.

Virtue and Moir, undefeated this season after taking two years off following a Sochi Olympic silver medal, tallied 82.43 points, beating their previous record by 1.97. Virtue and Moir now own the four highest short-dance scores of all time, achieved at their last four international competitions dating to November.

“I don’t think we’ve taken the ice at a world championship so prepared,” said Virtue, who seeks her third world title with Moir and first since 2012. “The reasons why we decided to come back, and it’s moments like that on the ice.”

They lead by 5.54 points over France’s Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron, who are seeking to become the first dancers to win three straight world titles in 20 years. The gap between first place and second place is greater than the gap between second and ninth.

The shakeup came after those first two couples.

Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue are the top-scoring U.S. couple for the first time in their careers. They received 76.53 points, just .36 behind the French and a personal best by nearly three points. The top three couples all train under the same coaches in Montreal.

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Hubbell and Donohue finished third at each of the last three U.S. Championships, but on Friday were better than Madison Chock and Evan Bates and Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani, the last two world silver medalists.

“We’re just ecstatic,” Hubbell said. “We really changed our mindset and didn’t limit ourselves in what we [thought we] were capable of and really wrapped our minds around the possibility of being the very best in the world.”

Chock and Bates are in fourth and the Shibutanis in fifth going into Saturday’s free dance (coverage on NBCSN, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app at 2:30 p.m. ET).

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Short Dance
1. Tessa Virtue/Scott Moir (CAN) — 82.43
2. Gabriella Papadakis/Guillaume Cizeron (FRA) — 76.89
3. Madison Hubbell/Zachary Donohue (USA) — 76.53
4. Madison Chock/Evan Bates (USA) — 76.25
5. Maia Shibutani/Alex Shibutani (USA) — 74.88

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.

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