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Hubbell and Donohue upset Shibutanis for 2018 national ice dance title, both make Olympic team

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Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue, the newly-crowned national ice dance champions for 2018, were named to their first Olympic team, U.S. Figure Skating announced Sunday evening.

Joining them are this year’s silver and bronze national medalists, Maia and Alex Shibutani and Madison Chock and Evan Bates. The Shibutanis competed in Sochi, finishing ninth, and Chock and Bates placed eighth in Sochi. Bates also competed in Vancouver with a different partner.

Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue made up a 3.23-point deficit from the short dance to overcome two-time national champions Maia and Alex Shibutani for the gold at the U.S. National Figure Skating Championships in San Jose, California on Sunday evening.

Hubbell and Donohue captured four national bronze medals before their first win in 2018, where their bluesy Beth Hart program scored 118.02 points for an overall score of 197.12. They’ve never competed at the Olympics, but will now be seen as the U.S.’ number one team heading into PyeongChang.

“It really puts us in line with what we intend to be, podium-wise, for PyeongChang,” Donohue said on the NBC broadcast. As he predicted after Thursday’s short dance: “This is our year to upset.”

In ice dance especially, an Olympic-year national title is seen as a reputation boost to enter the Olympics as their country’s national champion.

As reigning Olympic ice dance champion Meryl Davis (with partner Charlie White) said on Friday, “In particular in ice dance, you really want to be team number one out of your country. To go into the Olympic Games as the number one team from the United States is really a big statement. [The teams at nationals are] not just looking ahead to the Olympics, they really want to perform their best here so they can go into the Olympics as team number one.”

The “Shib Sibs,” as they’re affectionately known by fans and on their YouTube channel, were vulnerable after Maia got caught up and stumbled briefly on a step sequence. The Shibutanis’ “Paradise” by Coldplay free dance earned 114.60 points for a silver medal-winning overall score of 196.93 points. The Shibutanis most recently earned the bronze medal ahead of Hubbell and Donohue at the Grand Prix Final. They competed at the Sochi Olympics four years ago, placing ninth.

Rounding out the podium for bronze were Chock and Bates, whose “Imagine” by John Lennon cover free dance earned 118.99 points, and 196.60 points overall.

A quick study of the numbers: (full results here)

  • Chock and Bates actually won the free dance by 0.97 points
  • Gold and silver medals were separated by 0.19 points
  • Silver and bronze medals were separated by 0.33 points
  • Hubbell and Donohue’s overall winning score of 197.12 puts them fifth among high-scoring nationals performances (the other scores belong to the Shibutanis, Chock and Bates, and Davis and White)

The U.S. can send three dance teams to the 2018 Olympics, and the heavy favorites for those spots are Hubbell and Donohue, the Shibutanis, and Chock and Bates. The Olympic team announcement is expected from U.S. Figure Skating on Sunday at 8:55 p.m. ET.

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MORE: U.S. athletes qualified for PyeongChang Olympics

Regan Smith swims another historic backstroke time at Pro Series meet

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Regan Smith, who last summer broke both backstroke world records, put up the fastest 100m back in history outside of a major international meet or trials competition on Saturday.

Smith, a 17-year-old Minnesota high school senior, clocked 58.26 seconds to win at a Pro Series meet in Knoxville, Tenn. It tied for the 12th-fastest time in history. None of the other fastest dozen came in January, six months out from when swimmers peak for the world’s biggest events like the Olympics.

Making it more impressive: Smith did it 27 minutes after finishing second in the 200m butterfly, which she’s also expected to contest at June’s Olympic trials in Omaha.

“It actually wasn’t as bad, as I was nervous it was going to be,” Smith, whose world record is 57.57, said of the double on NBCSN. Smith entered two events per day at the three-day Knoxville meet, in part to prepare for the trials, where she is slated to race six straight days in a bid to make the Olympic team in enough events to swim eight straight days in Tokyo.

On Saturday, Smith held off fellow 17-year-old Phoebe Bacon by six tenths. Bacon beat Smith at the U.S. Open in December, posting the second-fastest time among Americans in the event for 2019.

The teen emergence puts pressure on Kathleen Baker, the Rio Olympic silver medalist who had the world record before Smith took it at worlds.

Full Knoxville results are here. USASwimming.org live streams the last night of finals Sunday at 6:30 ET.

In other events Saturday, world silver medalist Hali Flickinger overcame Smith in the 200m fly, winning in 2:08.34. Smith, third-fastest among Americans last season, was .39 behind. The second-fastest American last year, Katie Drabot, was not in the field. The top two at trials make the Olympic team.

Erika Brown beat world champion Simone Manuel in a freestyle sprint for a second straight meet, taking the 50m free in 24.57 seconds.

Brown, a University of Tennessee senior, edged Manuel by .06 and took .01 off her personal best. Brown ranked third among Americans last year behind Manuel (24.05) and Abbey Weitzeil (24.47).

Brown also defeated Manuel in the 100m free at the U.S. Open in December, moving to fourth-fastest in the U.S. last year in that event. The top six in the 100m free at trials are in line to make the Olympic team, given relay spots.

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Mikaela Shiffrin nearly makes it three-way tie for World Cup win

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Mikaela Shiffrin came .01 shy of making it a three-way tie for a World Cup giant slalom win on Saturday, confirming GS has been the most up-for-grabs discipline for either gender in recent years.

Shiffrin, beaten in her last two slaloms, had the fastest second run to place third behind co-winners Italian Federica Brignone and Slovakian Petra Vlhova in Sestriere, Italy. The reigning Olympic and World Cup champion in the GS rallied from fourth place and .42 behind after the first run.

Shiffrin still leads the World Cup overall standings by 233 points over Vlhova. The American last won Dec. 29. Though she made the podium in three of her four races since, Shiffrin expressed a lack of confidence heading into this weekend’s races at the 2006 Olympic venue.

“The most exciting thing for me is that people have stopped asking me, like, are you unbeatable?” said Shiffrin, who won a record 17 World Cup races last season and has four victories nearly halfway through this season, tied with Vlhova for most on tour. “I feel really good in GS. It’s just been a long time since [the last GS on Dec. 28].”

Vlhova earned her third victory this month after beating Shiffrin those last two slaloms. Brignone leads the GS season standings by 61 points over Shiffrin, seeking to become the sixth different woman to win that discipline title in the last six years. There are four more GS races left this season.

It’s the second straight season with a World Cup GS tie. Last Feb. 1, Shiffrin and Vlhova tied in Maribor, Slovenia.

It’s the first time the top three finishers were separated by such a small margin since the last three-way tie for a win in 2006, when Lindsey VonnMichaela Dorfmeister and Nadia Styger had the same super-G time, and fourth-place Kelly VanderBeek was .01 behind.

“Last season, I had the lucky side of the hundredths many times, so sometimes I’m not going to be on the lucky side, too,” said Shiffrin, who had three victories by .16 or tighter last season.

World Cup racing continues with a parallel giant slalom on Sunday at 5:45 a.m. ET on Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA and streaming on NBC Sports Gold.

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