Knierims top U.S. Championships pairs short program

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With just one Olympic pairs spot available, any mistake could cost a team dearly at the U.S. Championships.

Pre-event favorites Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Chris Knierim avoided a big one in the short program Thursday, taking the lead with 71.10 points.

The husband and wife tangled going into their throw triple flip. At least one of her skates appeared to scrape across his pant leg, and there was a hole in those pants afterward, according to figure skating expert Jackie Wong.

The Knierims, the highest-scoring American pair each of the last four seasons, still outpaced the competition in U.S. figure skating’s weakest discipline.

The 2016 U.S. champions Tarah Kayne and Danny O’Shea are in second, 2.17 points behind. Deanna Stellato and 2014 Olympian Nathan Bartholomay are in third, 3.26 back.

The pairs free skate is Saturday in San Jose, live on NBC and streaming on NBCOlympics.com from 4-6 p.m. ET.

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The Knierims could be beaten for the national title and still be named the U.S. Olympic pairs team on the strength of their results from the past year.

“Regardless of whether we’re the leading team and we’re supposed to go, whatever, we need to skate well,” Chris said, according to U.S. Figure Skating. “We can’t come in here and have two bad skates, get third place or fourth place or off the podium and still be named to the team and feel confident about that.”

They returned to competition in February after a lengthy absence due to Scimeca Knierim’s life-threatening illness. They also got married in that difficult period.

“We skate for each other rather than for a score or for the judges,” he said on NBCSN.

In five international competitions since, they posted the five highest scores by a U.S. pair over the last two seasons.

They were 10th at the world championships and rank 16th in the world this year. A U.S. pair last won an Olympic medal in 1988.

Kayne and O’Shea, who upset the Knierims for the 2016 U.S. title, impressed to take second in the short program Thursday. They entered nationals ranked seventh among American pairs this season, with just one event under their belt.

They withdrew from last season’s nationals after she slammed her head in a short program fall and suffered a concussion. Kayne then underwent unrelated knee surgery and was off the ice for five months.

Stellato and Bartholomay have to be the best story of any pair at nationals.

Stellato was the 2000 World junior silver medalist in singles but ended that career as a teen due to injuries.

After more than a decade away from competition, she teamed with Bartholomay last season. They finished fourth at nationals.

Bartholomay and former partner Felicia Zhang were 12th at the Sochi Olympics.

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2018 Rugby World Cup Sevens TV, streaming schedule

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The Rugby World Cup Sevens, held in the U.S. for the first time, airs live on NBC, NBCSN and Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA on Friday, Saturday and Sunday from San Francisco’s AT&T Park.

NBC Sports’ TV coverage totals more than 30 live hours. NBC Sports Gold will also stream live, commercial-free coverage of every match with its “Rugby Pass.”

NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app will stream all NBC Sports and Olympic Channel TV coverage.

The Rugby World Cup Sevens is the biggest standalone competition outside of the Olympics for an event that debuted at the Rio Games. Traditional 15-a-side rugby was played at the Olympics in 1900, 1908, 1920 and 1924.

Like the Olympics, the World Cup takes place every four years, now in the middle of every Olympic cycle, with men’s and women’s competitions at the same site.

New Zealand is the defending World Cup champion for men and women, though Fiji took the men’s Olympic title and Australia the women’s gold in Rio.

The U.S. finished fifth (women) and sixth (men) in this season’s World Series standings, though the U.S. men won the only World Series leg played in the U.S. in Las Vegas in March.

The U.S. men are led by Perry Baker, the 2017 World Player of the Year, and Carlin Isles, the 2018 World Series leader in tries. The U.S. women feature Naya Tapper and Rio Olympian Alev Kelter, two of the top scorers from the World Series.

The NBC Sports broadcast team includes U.S. Olympian and Super Bowl champion Nate Ebner as a studio analyst. Leigh Diffey and Bill Seward are on play-by-play, and Ahmed Fareed hosts on-site studio coverage.

Former USA Sevens captain Brian Hightower, U.S. Rugby Hall of Fame member Dan Lyle, former Premiership Rugby and English international prop Alex Corbisiero and World Rugby Hall of Famer Phaidra Knight will provide game and studio commentary.

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Day Time (ET) Network Coverage Highlights
Friday 1 p.m. NBC Sports Gold Men’s Qualifiers
4-7 p.m. Olympic Channel Men’s Qualifiers
7 p.m.-1 a.m. NBCSN Women’s Quarters/Men’s Round of 16
Saturday 12:25-3 p.m. Olympic Channel Women’s Semifinal 1
3-5 p.m. NBC Women’s Semifinal 2
5-6 p.m. Olympic Channel Men’s Challenge Quarters
6:30-11:30 p.m. NBCSN Men’s Quarters/Women’s Finals
Sunday 11:55 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Olympic Channel Men’s Bowl/Challenge Semifinals
2:30-5 p.m. NBC Men’s Semifinals
5-7 p.m. Olympic Channel Men’s Bowl Finals
7-10 p.m. NBCSN Men’s Finals

Denis Ten, Olympic medalist figure skater, dies

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Denis Ten, the 2014 Olympic figure skating bronze medalist from Kazakhstan, died after he reportedly was stabbed in Almaty on Thursday.

The International Skating Union and the Kazah Olympic Committee confirmed Ten’s death.

Ten, 25, competed in three Olympics and earned world championships silver and bronze medals in 2013 and 2015.

At 16, Ten was the youngest men’s competitor at Vancouver 2010 and finished 11th in his Olympic debut; he was also only the second singles skater Kazakhstan had ever sent to the Olympics.

Ten made unexpected history in 2013, becoming the first skater from Kazakhstan to win a world championships medal. After experiencing health setbacks at the start of his 2014 Olympic season, he was the biggest question mark among the top men in Sochi, but he surprised by becoming the first skater from Kazakhstan to earn an Olympic medal.

Ten struggled through health issues leading into his last Olympics in PyeongChang, where he placed 27th. Those Winter Games were nonetheless special to Ten, who was of South Korean descent; his great-grandfather was a famous general who fought for Korean independence, and there is a statue and memorial dedicated to him in Wonju, a town 35 miles southwest of PyeongChang.

Ten also played a significant role as an ambassador for his hometown Almaty’s bid for the 2022 Winter Games. Beijing got the Games over Almaty in an IOC members vote in 2015.

NBC Olympic Research contributed to this report.