Nathan Chen wins Skate America, apologizes (video)

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LAKE PLACID, N.Y. — Nathan Chen nodded, shook a mini stuffed tiger and patted his coach on the back after seeing his worst free skate score in 13 months.

“I’m sorry, Raf,” Chen told his coach, gruff Armenian Rafael Arutyunyan. “The fall, it was stupid. I need to work harder.”

Chen, the 18-year-old wunderkind of U.S. figure skating, won Skate America on Saturday to remain the only undefeated male skater this Olympic season.

But he looked very beatable. Chen fell once (nearly twice), singled an Axel and winced after his 4-minute, 30-second free skate at Herb Brooks Arena.

“We’ve worked really hard, and I definitely did not show it tonight,” Chen said later. “So I apologized.”

His score: 171.46 points for the free skate.

Adam Rippon, the 2016 U.S. champion but not an Olympic medal favorite like Chen, outscored his training partner by 5.65 points on Saturday.

But Chen’s 15-point lead from Friday’s short program, where he scored a personal best, allowed him to hang on for the title, comfortably by nine points overall.

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Arutyunyan said Chen is skating through many challenges, according to Icenetwork.com.

“Technique, and confidence, and blades and injuries, so many things around,” he said, according to the website. “We cannot talk about everything because it is very private, and we are working on it.”

Rippon incredibly hung on for silver after popping his dislocated right shoulder back into place following a near fall on his opening quadruple Lutz.

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Chen and Rippon are going to the Grand Prix Final in two weeks. There in Japan, the top six skaters per discipline from this fall’s Grand Prix series face off in the single biggest indicator of Olympic medal prospects.

They’ll be joined by world silver and bronze medalists Shoma Uno (Japan) and Jin Boyang (China), plus Russians Mikhail Kolyada and Sergey Voronov.

The men who won’t be at the Grand Prix Final are even more accomplished — all three 2014 Olympic medalists (including the injured Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan and three-time world champion Patrick Chan of Canada) and the 2015 and 2016 World champion Javier Fernandez of Spain.

Chan and Fernandez each struggled in the first of their two scheduled Grand Prix starts, with Chan pulling out of his second.

Their absences further open the door for Chen, who was sixth at last season’s worlds with boot problems, to notch the biggest win of his young senior career.

Then in February, Chen can become the youngest individual Olympic male figure skating medalist since Viktor Petrenko in 1988. Or the youngest gold medalist since Dick Button in 1948.

VIDEO: Skater dislocates shoulder in Skate America fall

Rippon, meanwhile, looks like a favorite to make his first Olympic team at age 28, after qualifying for his second straight Grand Prix Final.

Rippon came back from a broken foot in January to make the podium in both of his Grand Prix starts this fall. He stayed on his feet Saturday after dislocating his shoulder while putting his arm down on the landing of an opening quadruple Lutz.

Rippon joked that if that had happened in practice, he would “stop and call 911.” It actually did happen in practice two months ago.

It felt so nauseous I thought I was going to black out [in practice],” said Rippon, who is trying to become the oldest U.S. Olympic rookie singles skater since 1936, according to Olympic historians. “Now that I’ve done it again, it’s just get back in there buddy.

“You know what, I love drama, so I said, you know what, I can make it through this. I wanted to show my character, that I’m really tough, and I’m up for the challenge of anything, including the Olympic Games.”

Chen and Rippon, along with Jason BrownVincent Zhou and Max Aaron, are the leading contenders for the three-man Olympic team that will be named after nationals in January.

The Olympic team will be chosen based not only off nationals results, but also via a committee dissecting performances from the last year.

Chen is assumed to be a lock. His rivals are not domestic but foreign. Hanyu, Uno, Fernandez, Jin.

Only Uno has scored higher than Chen this season. Only Hanyu and Uno scored higher last season.

All have had bad days this season. Now, Chen joins them.

“This is a totally new experience for me,” Chen said of struggling in competition. “It’s always a good experience for me to have bad moments like this so I know how to prepare better for the next event.”

Earlier Saturday, Germans Aljona Savchenko and Bruno Massot won the pairs title, vaulting past two-time world champions Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford of Canada with a personal-best free skate score.

The Germans won with 223.13, followed by Chinese Yu Xiaoyu and Zhang Hao with 219.20. Duhamel and Radford, first after the short program, dropped to third with 215.68 after Duhamel fell on side-by-side jumps.

All three pairs qualified for the Grand Prix Final, where the clear favorites are Chinese world champions Sui Wenjing and Han Cong.

The top U.S. team was Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Christopher Knierim in fifth. No U.S. pair made a Grand Prix podium this season for the first time since 2011.

The Knierims are the clear favorites for the U.S.’ one Olympic pairs spot going into nationals in January. The only previous time that fewer than two U.S. pairs competed at the Winter Olympics was at the first Winter Games in Chamonix, France, in 1924.

U.S. champions Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier‘s 20th-place finish at worlds last season dropped the U.S. from its usual two Olympic pairs spots to one.

The Knierims, who missed most of last season due to Alexa’s life-threatening abdominal condition, were the top-scoring U.S. pair this Grand Prix season by 15 points.

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Skate America
Men
1. Nathan Chen (USA) — 275.88
2. Adam Rippon (USA) — 266.45
3. Sergei Voronov (RUS) — 257.49
7. Ross Miner (USA) — 219.62

Pairs
1. Aljona Savchenko/Bruno Massot (GER) — 223.13
2. Yu Xiaoyu/Zhang Hao (CHN) — 219.20
3. Meagan Duhamel/Eric Radford (CAN) — 215.68
5. Alexa Scimeca Knierim/Christopher Knierim (USA) — 189.07
7. Haven Denney/Brandon Frazier (USA) — 172.16
8. Deanna Stellato/Nathan Bartholomay (USA) — 165.00

Too early to say whether virus threatens Olympics, WHO says

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GENEVA (AP) — Despite a virus outbreak spreading from China, a top World Health Organization official said Tuesday it’s much too soon to say whether the Tokyo Olympics are at risk of being cancelled or moved.

Tokyo organizers and the International Olympic Committee have repeatedly said they have no contingency plans for the July 24-Aug. 9 Summer Games since the WHO declared a global health emergency last month.

The U.N. agency’s emergencies program director, Michael Ryan, said Tuesday the sporting event was “way too far” away to consider giving advice that would affect Tokyo’s hosting of the Olympics.

“We are not there to make a decision for that,” Ryan told The Associated Press on the sidelines of a news conference at WHO headquarters.

Geneva-based WHO has been in regular contact with the IOC in nearby Lausanne since the virus known as COVID-19 emerged in December.

“We don’t give them judgments,” Ryan said. “We assist them with their risk assessment. We will be working closely with them in the coming weeks and months.”

The death toll in mainland China due to the virus rose to almost 1,900 on Tuesday, with more than 72,000 confirmed cases.

The outbreak has caused numerous sports events in China to be canceled, postponed, or moved, including qualifying events for the Tokyo Olympics.

Chinese athletes and teams have also been unable to travel for some competitions. China sent a team of more than 400 athletes to the Rio Olympics. It won 70 medals, including 26 gold, to place second in total medal standings.

Around 11,000 athletes and many more team coaches and officials from more than 200 national teams are expected in Japan for the Olympics.

Japan has experienced the most significant outbreak of the virus outside of China, on the cruise ship Diamond Princess docked in quarantine at Yokohama in Tokyo Bay.

During a 14-day isolation that ends Wednesday, 542 cases have been identified among more than 3,700 passengers and crew.

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For Mike Eruzione, Al Michaels, it’s no miracle that 1980 Olympics endure

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Mike Eruzione has been reminded on a daily basis about the Miracle on Ice for nearly four decades. While playing celebrity golf tournaments. At speaking engagements. Or that time he auctioned his jersey and stick from the Soviet game to a 9-year-old boy named Seven.

Eruzione, now 65, likes to open conversations with one anecdote about meeting strangers, which he repeated in a call with reporters last week.

“The stories I hear, 40 years later, it’s depending on their age — I remember where I was when Kennedy was assassinated, I remember where I was on 9/11. I remember where I was when the Challenger blew up. And I remember where I was when we won,” Eruzione said. “And I always say, ‘We? I didn’t know you were on the team.’

“But people felt a part of it. … It’s nice to know that people remember and share some great stories about what we did so long ago.”

The captain of the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team owns a last name that means “eruption” in Italian. Eruzione scored the decisive goal in the U.S.’ 4-3 win over the Soviet Union en route to a shock gold medal during the Cold War in Lake Placid, N.Y.

NBCSN airs a 30-minute special marking the 40th anniversary of the Miracle on Ice on Wednesday at 11:30 p.m. ET. It will feature a conversation between Olympic primetime host Mike Tirico and Al Michaels, the play-by-play voice of the game dubbed by Sports Illustrated the greatest sports moment of the 20th century.

Eruzione has grandchildren now. Three of them skate at the Mike Eruzione Center in his hometown of Winthrop, Mass.

“They don’t even know who Mike Eruzione is,” Eruzione said of the 5-, 6- and 7-year-olds, “but they know about the Miracle.”

All credit to the U.S. Olympic team of 20 players between ages 19 and 25, back when the NHL did not participate in the Olympics. The Soviets were essentially a team of professionals. The nation won the previous four Olympics and throttled the U.S. 10-3 in a pre-Olympic exhibition at Madison Square Garden.

Enter Michaels, calling hockey at the Lake Placid Winter Games alongside Hall of Fame goalie Ken Dryden. Michaels, then 35, said he was assigned the sport because he had the most hockey experience on the ABC Olympic talent roster — one game. He called the 1972 Olympic hockey final by himself.

Feb. 22, 1980: As the U.S. led the Soviet Union 4-3 and the final seconds ticked down, one word came to mind: miraculous.

“It got morphed into a question and quick answer, and away we went,” Michaels said.

Eruzione said he didn’t learn of Michaels’ call — “Do you believe in Miracles? Yes!” — until two weeks after the Olympics. He didn’t watch the game broadcast until years later.

“I never thought it was a miracle, but it was a catchy phrase and it sounded right,” Eruzione said, noting he preferred Michaels’ call in the final comeback win over Finland to clinch the gold: “This impossible dream comes true.”

Team members since gathered often — to light the 2002 Olympic cauldron in Salt Lake City, for fantasy camps in Lake Placid and for coach Herb Brooks‘ 2003 funeral. Eighteen of the 20 players are scheduled to reunite this weekend in Las Vegas.

Absent will be Mark Pavelich, who was jailed last year on assault charges and ruled mentally incompetent to stand trial. And Bob Suter, who died in 2014 of a heart attack at age 57.

It was Suter’s death that motivated Eruzione and others to commemorate the 35th anniversary together in Lake Placid. It was believed to be the first time all living players were together in Lake Placid since the 1980 Winter Games.

Eruzione said that the 2004 film “Miracle” introduced the team to a new generation. Now at many of his speeches, the majority of Eruzione’s audience was born after 1980.

“I’ll say, how many people watched the movie ‘Miracle,’ and almost everybody raises their hand,” he said. “So I think what the movie did for us as a team was kind of rejuvenated our team as far as people knowing who we were and what we are and what we were about.”

NFL coaches set up “Miracle” viewings for their teams before games. Michael Phelps watched it for motivation at the 2004 Athens Olympics. Phelps told relay teammates, “This is our time,” before they beat rival Australia. An ode to Brooks’ pregame speech before the Soviet game.

Michaels, whose 13-year-old grandson won an October hockey tournament in Lake Placid, said he watched “Miracle” last week for the first time in about a decade. He helped do voiceovers in production more than 15 years ago, though the original Lake Placid audio was used for his signature call.

“The great thing is, in a way, when you watch it back or you watch highlights back, you almost become like in the third person, like somebody else is doing this and announcing this game,” Michaels said. “I exult the way I think most of the country did and do when they see highlights of it. So it’s kind of an out-of-body experience in a way, but it’s a beautiful thing.”

After Eruzione shared his tale of strangers’ memories, Michaels added one of his own.

“One of my favorite stories is Mike Eruzione calling me maybe eight to 10 years ago and saying, ‘The greatest thing about this is every time I come home and maybe I’m a little down, I need a little pick-me-up, I’ll put the tape in,'” Michaels said. “‘Every time I shoot, the puck goes in. It will forever.'”

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