AP

Jason Brown added as Grand Prix Final replacement

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U.S. men make up half of the field at the most exclusive event in figure skating, two months before the Olympics.

Jason Brown was added to next week’s six-skater Grand Prix Final after Jin Boyang of China withdrew, the International Skating Union said Friday.

Jin said before finishing fourth at last week’s Skate America that he had two sprained ankles, according to Icenetwork.com, but the ISU did not provide a reason for Jin’s withdrawal.

Brown, a Sochi Olympian and the 2015 U.S. champion, joins 2016 U.S. champion Adam Rippon and 2017 U.S. champion Nathan Chen in the Grand Prix Final at Nagoya, Japan.

The last time the U.S. had three men in the Grand Prix Final was 2009 — Evan LysacekJeremy Abbott and Johnny Weir, who went on to make up the Olympic team two months later.

The Grand Prix Final, usually the single biggest indicator of Olympic medal prospects two months before the Winter Games, is lacking serious star power this year.

Jin, who took bronze at the last two world championships, is the latest absentee.

Yuzuru HanyuJavier Fernandez and Patrick Chan, who combined to win the last seven world championships, won’t be in Nagoya, either.

Hanyu (ankle) and Chan withdrew from their second fall Grand Prix series starts. Fernandez was shockingly sixth in his Grand Prix opener, reportedly slowed by a stomach bug, denting his shot at making the Final even though he won his second start.

The Grand Prix Final field is headlined by world silver medalist Shoma Uno of Japan and Chen, who rank Nos. 1 and 2 in the world this season. Chen won silver at this event last season in his international breakout.

The 22-year-old Brown goes to his first Grand Prix Final after a few agonizing misses.

In 2014, Brown was the youngest U.S. Olympic male singles skater since 1976. Later that year, Brown missed the Grand Prix Final by .16 of a point. He took silver at his first qualifier but stumbled to fifth at his second event.

In 2015, Brown would have made the Grand Prix Final with a runner-up finish at the Grand Prix of Japan. But he withdrew before the event with a back injury.

Then last season, Brown would have made the Grand Prix Final by placing third at the Grand Prix of Japan. But he was seventh, slowed by right leg soreness that eventually developed into a stress fracture.

This season, Brown again set himself up well with a runner-up at his first Grand Prix. But he missed the podium at his second event and ended up the first alternate.

Russians Mikhail Kolyada and Sergei Voronov round out the Grand Prix Final field.

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Katie Ledecky wins race by 30 seconds, takes back No. 1 ranking

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In her last race of the year, Katie Ledecky ensured she would finish 2019 as the world’s fastest 1500m freestyler.

Ledecky clocked 15:35.98 at the U.S. Open in Atlanta, winning the longest event on the Olympic pool program by 29.97 seconds. Typical for Ledecky, who owns the nine fastest times in history. This one came in at No. 8. Full meet results are here.

Ledecky scratched the 1500m free final at the summer world championships due to illness. Italian Simona Quadarella went on to win that title in 15:40.89, which was the world’s fastest time this year until Saturday night.

“I didn’t have time on my mind at all today. I just wanted to have a consistent swim,” Ledecky, undefeated in 1500m free finals for nine years, said on NBCSN. “That’s probably the best mile that I’ve had in a while.”

The women’s 1500m freestyle debuts at the Olympics in Tokyo. Ledecky is expected to add that to her Rio Olympic individual lineup of 200m, 400m and 800m frees, assuming she is top two in each event at the June Olympic trials.

In other events Saturday, Erika Brown handed Simone Manuel a rare defeat in the 100m freestyle. Brown, a University of Tennessee senior, clocked 53.42 and lowered her personal best by .71 between prelims and the final. Brown moved from sixth to fourth in the U.S. rankings this year, upping her stock as a contender to make the Olympic 4x100m free relay pool via a top-six finish at trials.

Brown previously lowered her personal best in the 50m free on Thursday. She ranks third in the U.S. this year in that event.

Emily Escobedo dealt Lilly King a rare domestic defeat in the 200m breaststroke. Escobedo lowered her personal best by .87 and clocked 2:22.00, moving to seventh fastest in the world this year and remaining fourth among Americans.

In the men’s 200m breast, Olympic champion Dmitriy Balandin of Kazakhstan was beaten by Cody Miller, the Olympic 100m breast silver medalist. Both were slower than their best times this year.

The next significant swim meet is a Tyr Pro Series stop in Knoxville, Tenn., from Jan. 16-19.

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Mikaela Shiffrin runner-up in Lake Louise downhill

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LAKE LOUISE, Alberta (AP) — Here’s a scary thought for her competition: Mikaela Shiffrin is still getting comfortable with the intensity and the speed of the downhill.

That’s why podium finishes are still a little surprising even to her.

The American three-time overall World Cup champion finished runner-up to Nicole Schmidhofer of Austria in a downhill race Saturday. Schmidhofer cruised through the course in 1 minute, 49.92 seconds to edge Shiffrin by 0.13 seconds. Francesca Marsaglia of Italy wound up third.

Schmidhofer has four career World Cup wins, with three of them arriving at Lake Louise.

Known as a tech specialist, Shiffrin is steadily getting up to speed in the speed events. This was Shiffrin’s fourth career World Cup podium finish in the downhill, which includes a Lake Louise win in 2017.

So, does Shiffrin anticipate this kind of downhill success?

“No, no, no,” the 24-year-old from Colorado said. “It’s certainly not normal (for a downhill podium). Even racing downhill doesn’t feel normal. But I feel every year like I have more experience and get more comfortable.”

Shiffrin currently sits at 62 World Cup wins, which ties her with Austrian great Annemarie Moser-Proell for second-most on the women’s side. Lindsey Vonn had 82 wins before her retirement.

“I’m certainly more comfortable with the long skis,” Shiffrin said of downhill racing. “Right now, it’s enjoying it, because speed is a little bit extra for me. My goal is to be able to succeed in speed as well. It’s making the transition and trying to have fun with it.”

Czech Republic skier and snowboarder Ester Ledecka finished fourth Saturday. She was the surprise winner of Friday’s season-opening downhill, which was delayed and shortened by heavy snowfall on the mountain. The race Saturday was restored to its full length.

Next up, a super-G on Sunday.

“It’s always been a little bit tricky for me from downhill skis to super-G skis and to change the timing a little bit,” Shiffrin said. “I’m going to have fun.”

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