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Nathan Chen named to 2018 Olympic team alongside Vincent Zhou, Adam Rippon

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Nathan Chen, the U.S.’ best Olympic medal chance in men’s skating, was officially nominated to compete next month in PyeongChang, U.S. Figure Skating announced on Sunday. Joining Chen in PyeongChang will be 2018 nationals bronze medalist Vincent Zhou and 2016 national champion Adam Rippon.

While all three will be new to the Olympic experience, the age gap spans a decade. Chen, 18, and Zhou, 17, likely have more years in the sport, while Rippon, 28, has been through – and missed out on – two prior Olympic teams.

Chen’s resume most recently includes two national titles (2017, 2018), two gold medals on the Grand Prix circuit, plus the prestigious Grand Prix Final gold medal last month. He also won the 2017 Four Continents Championships; incidentally, those were held in the same venue that will host 2018 Olympic figure skating. He beat reigning Olympic and world champion Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan for that victory.

Chen, born in Salt Lake City, began skating on a practice rink designed for the 2002 Olympics. When he won a novice national title in 2010, he said on the NBC broadcast that he would be a factor in the 2018 Olympics. Back then, it wasn’t even known where the 2018 Olympics would be held.

“That was always the dream of mine,” Chen said on the NBSCSN broadcast after winning his national title. “That was always what I wanted to accomplish in 2018. And I think I’ve done that.”

And what does he think of the prospect of PyeongChang now?

“There’s another big step to the Games – more pressure, more media, all that,” Chen said. “This is exactly what I wanted my entire life, and I’m ready for it.”

Rippon didn’t make the 2010 Olympic team after finishing fifth at those nationals. He didn’t make the 2014 team when he was eighth at those nationals. The 2008 and 2009 world junior champion calls himself a “late bloomer” and won his first national title in 2016. But he broke his foot in January 2017 ago and spent 12 weeks off the ice. He finished fourth at the 2018 nationals, but his body of work boosted his Olympic selection criteria. He won two silver medals on the Grand Prix circuit in the fall and competed in the Grand Prix Final, where he was fifth.

Zhou captured a bronze medal at nationals on Saturday in front of a home crowd in San Jose. The Bay Area native went for five quads in his free skate at nationals, despite three under rotations and a downgrade on those jumps. Despite his rough Grand Prix season (fourth and ninth place finishes), he was the 2017 world junior champion.

“I definitely feel ready,” Zhou said in a press conference following the free skate Saturday night. “I have been training very well. I know I deserve to go to Korea. But that is not up to me, it is up to the selection committee.”

Jason Brown, who finished a disappointing sixth at nationals, was not named to the team. The 2014 Olympic team bronze medalist is instead the first alternate.

2018 national silver medalist Ross Miner very nearly threw off the process of Olympic selection. He had the skate of his life to capture the silver medal, but his international resume was lacking. Miner was named as an alternate for the Olympics, too.

Chen, Zhou and Rippon join the women newly-named to the PyeongChang Olympic team, Bradie Tennell, Mirai Nagasu and Karen Chen (no relation to Nathan).

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Penny Oleksiak edges Simone Manuel, Regan Smith sizzles again in Knoxville

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Penny Oleksiak and Simone Manuel nearly duplicated their Olympic gold-medal tie. The Canadian Oleksiak edged Manuel by .03 in the 100m freestyle at a Tyr Pro Series stop in Knoxville, Tenn., on Sunday night.

Oleksiak clocked 53.41 seconds, coming back from .37 behind Manuel at the 50-meter mark. The two tied for the Rio Olympic title in an Olympic record 52.70 seconds four years ago. Oleksiak was the surprise, a 16-year-old who came into the Games ranked eighth in the world for the year.

Since, Manuel swept the 2017 and 2019 World titles. Oleksiak was sixth at 2017 Worlds and withdrew before the 100m free at 2019 Worlds. She ranked 21st in the world last year. Oleksiak’s time Sunday was her fastest since 2017.

Full Knoxville meet results are here. The Pro Series’ next stop is Des Moines from March 4-7.

In other events Sunday, world-record holder Regan Smith won the 200m backstroke in 2:05.94, the fastest time ever outside of a national championships or major international meet. Smith, 17, achieved the same feat on Saturday in the 100m back, where she also broke the world record at last summer’s worlds.

Madisyn Cox won a matchup of the three fastest U.S. women in the 200m individual medley in 2019. She clocked 2:09.88, beating Alex Walsh by a half-second and Melanie Margalis by .54.

It was Cox’s fastest time since she took bronze at the 2017 World Championships. She missed the 2019 Worlds after failing a 2018 drug test over what she said was a contaminated multivitamin.

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Mikaela Shiffrin among favorites eliminated early in parallel giant slalom

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Mikaela Shiffrin was upset in the round of 16 of the first World Cup parallel giant slalom by unheralded Frenchwoman Clara Direz, who went on to earn her first win on Sunday.

Shiffrin had the fastest qualifying time but was bounced in the second round of head-to-head racing in Sestriere by Direz. Direz, 24, came into the day with a best career finish of seventh.

Direz was 16th-fastest in qualifying, 1.02 seconds behind Shiffrin combining times from two runs. Direz edged Shiffrin by .13 in their head-to-head run. Shiffrin appeared to be at a disadvantage being put on the red course, which produced just three winners among 20 one-run matchups.

“It is fun; I think I like the parallel GS actually more than the parallel slalom, but it’s a little bit difficult,” Shiffrin said. “I think there’s still a lot of work we have to do, and FIS [the International Ski Federation] has to do to really make the race as even as it can be because for sure you can see, there’s always a faster course. But today it’s like they’re not even the same course at all. Especially in the last four, five gates on the blue course, you can even see just looking up the hill that it’s straighter than the red course.

“Today I would say it’s a day where the luck [of which course you draw randomly] really plays a role.”

Direz eventually beat Austrian Elisa Moerzinger in the final. Direz was on the blue course for three of her four one-run rounds. Full results are here.

Higher-ranked racers used to be have their choice of courses in the parallel format.

“Maybe that wasn’t fair, either, but I think there must be a way to make it something that is more even, but at the same time, yeah, I don’t really have the answers on how to do that, either,” Shiffrin said. “It’s still in its infancy, this event.”

Shiffrin has a track record of success in parallel slaloms and similar city events, winning five of her last six starts. But the parallel GS proved problematic for the world’s best in slalom.

Swiss Wendy Holdener and Slovakian Petra Vlhova were also eliminated before the quarterfinals after being second- and third-fastest in qualifying. Holdener was also on the red course. Vlhova lost in the round of 32, when skiers were taking runs on both the blue and red courses.

Sestriere marked the last weekend of technical races (slaloms/giant slaloms) until mid-February. The next three weekends feature downhills and super-Gs. Shiffrin is expected to travel to Bansko, Bulgaria, for the first set on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

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