U.S. Olympic figure skating team looking at 3 medals in PyeongChang

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The face of U.S. women’s skating missed the Olympic team. The only male singles skater with prior Olympic experience is out, too.

And ice dance — usually the most predictable discipline — was the one event at the U.S. Championships with an underdog champion.

After a whirlwind few days in San Jose, the team is set with the same Olympic medal expectations as it had before nationals.

The U.S. is looking at three figure skating medals in PyeongChang — which would match its highest total in more than 50 years — though one of those three would come from the team event that debuted in 2014.

It’s very likely the U.S. gets at least a bronze in both the team event and ice dance.

Their overall team is clearly ahead of every nation except Canada and Russia, which may battle closely for gold in PyeongChang.

In dance, the U.S. arguably has the world’s third-, fourth- and fifth-best couples going to PyeongChang. If one falters, the biggest beneficiary would be another U.S. couple.

The third probable medal seems like Nathan Chen‘s destiny. He has the best shot at gold of U.S. skaters, but he also may be more likely than the team and the ice dancers to finish off the podium altogether given the strength of the men’s field.

A look at the U.S. figure skating team’s prospects at the Olympics:

Men
Nathan Chen
U.S. champion
Grand Prix Final champion
World ranking: 2

The lone Olympic medal contender among the U.S. singles skaters. Chen is also the only undefeated male singles skater in the world this season. But Chen significantly trails the other two Olympic medal favorites from Japan in highest international score this season (Shoma Uno‘s 319.84 to Chen’s 293.79) and all time (Yuzuru Hanyu‘s 330.43 to Chen’s 307.46).

Vincent Zhou
U.S. bronze medalist
World junior champion
World ranking: 12

The 17-year-old picked himself up after a disastrous fall Grand Prix season to land four quadruple jumps in his free skate Saturday, though three were judged under-rotated, losing some points. Zhou is the highest-scoring junior skater of all time and attempts Chen-like totals of quads but usually does not land them clean. That’s what keeps him out of the top tier of medal contenders.

Adam Rippon
U.S. fourth-place finisher
Skate America silver medalist
World ranking: 7

The oldest U.S. Olympic rookie singles skater since 1936 at 28 years old. Rippon made the team over U.S. silver medalist Ross Miner on the strength of his fall Grand Prix season — two silver medals and qualifying fifth overall in the world for the Grand Prix Final. Rippon, known for his artistry, hasn’t landed a clean, fully rotated quadruple jump in competition in more than one year. He won’t be in the medal conversation without one.

Women
Bradie Tennell
U.S. champion
Skate America bronze medalist
World ranking: 14

The 19-year-old breakthrough (ninth at last year’s nationals) is in a class of her own in the U.S. with regards to jumping. She received positive grades of execution on 28 of her 30 jumping passes in her main three competitions this season. But her best scores — the top two scores among U.S. women internationally this season — are still more than 10 points behind the Olympic medal favorites from Russia, Japan, Canada and Italy.

Mirai Nagasu
U.S. silver medalist
2010 Olympics fourth-place finisher
World ranking: 23

Nagasu has the potential to outscore Tennell thanks to her triple Axel. She’s the only woman in the world going to the Olympics who is performing that jump. But she has yet to land it clean with a positive grade of execution and has trouble fully rotating her easier jumps.

Karen Chen
U.S. bronze medalist
Worlds fourth-place finisher
World ranking: 36

Chen, unrelated to Nathan, has never finished better than fifth in a Grand Prix but has now made the podium at nationals three times in four years. Plus that incredible fourth-place finish at worlds last season. As strong as that was, her point total from worlds would rank her 10th this season among the 2018 Olympic field.

Ice Dance
Madison Hubbell/Zachary Donohue
U.S. champions
Grand Prix Final fourth-place finishers
World ranking: 5

Hubbell and Donohue broke through at nationals after placing either third or fourth the previous six seasons. They upset the Shibutani siblings after losing to them in all 19 of their previous head-to-heads in significant competitions. Great timing, but does it make them the favorites for Olympic bronze behind French Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron and Canadians Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir? Internationally, their personal best is still nearly five points shy of the Shibutanis. Still work to do.

Maia Shibutani/Alex Shibutani
U.S. silver medalists
Three-time world championships medalists
World ranking: 3

The Shibutanis lost nationals by .19 of a point with Maia’s slight trip during a free dance step sequence proving costly (though Hubbell and Donohue were flawed in the free dance, too). It marked the first time a couple other than Papadakis and Cizeron and Virtue and Moir beat them in more than two years. The Shibutanis could have laid clear claim as bronze-medal favorites with a nationals three-peat. Instead, it’s up for grabs.

Madison Chock/Evan Bates
U.S. bronze medalists
Two-time world championships medalists
World ranking: 6

Chock and Bates ascended to the top U.S. couple after Meryl Davis and Charlie White stepped away from competition following their Sochi gold medals. Two years ago, they were passed by the Shibutanis. Now, they’ve lost both head-to-heads with Hubbell and Donohue this season. They can take solace in their free dance, having topped both the Shibutanis and Hubbell and Donohue in that program at the last two nationals and last month’s Grand Prix Final.

Pairs
Alexa Scimeca Knierim/Chris Knierim
U.S. champions
World championships 10th-place finisher
World ranking: 16

The Knierims have been the top-scoring U.S. pairs team each of the last four seasons. In 2015, they became the first U.S. pair to qualify for the Grand Prix Final in eight years. But as their world ranking shows, the U.S. pairs medal drought should extend to 30 years next month. In fact, this is the first time since the first Winter Games in 1924 that the U.S. will not have multiple pairs at the Olympics.

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Simone Biles returns to the gym, going from mental drain to physical pain

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For Simone Biles, this was supposed to be the stretch run of a legendary career.

Instead, she returned to her gym on May 18 with long-term thoughts of waiting 14 months until the Tokyo Olympics. And the immediate aches of a world-class gymnast who just missed nearly two months of regular training.

“After that amount of time off, it kind of sucks because your body hurts and then you get really sore,” Biles said in a pre-recorded ESPNW interview that aired Thursday. “So you just have to get back into the swing of things. But it felt nice to see my coaches, my teammates, and just to be back on the equipment and in the environment.”

In that same Texas gym three months ago, Biles had a far different outlook. One that would have put fear into any gymnast who still harbored ambition of ending her near-seven-year win streak.

“I never felt more ready this early in the season,” she said. “I was so ready for the Olympics to be this year.”

Biles repeated in interviews the last two months that the Olympic postponement to 2021 was devastating. Thoughts zig-zagged: How do I go on another year, at age 23, in a sport recently dominated by (but not limited to) teenagers?

“I’m getting pretty old,” she said in the interview published Thursday. “Will I be at the top of my game?”

Biles proved the last two years — after a year off — that she can win — and comfortably — while not at her best. She grabbed the 2018 World all-around title by a record margin — with two falls. Last year, she became the most decorated gymnast in world championships history. In Tokyo, she can become the first woman to repeat as Olympic all-around champion, and the only one older than 20, in more than 50 years.

This for a gymnast whose early goal was to earn a college scholarship. Biles did, to UCLA, but had to give it up by turning professional.

“So I’ve exceeded that,” Biles said. “And then I wanted to go to world championships and Olympics, and I’ve been to five worlds and one Olympic Games. So, I’d be more than happy [to walk away].”

After gymnastics, Biles has another goal — to be a voice for foster kids. She was in foster care multiple times before being adopted at age 6 by grandparents Ron and Nellie.

Those plans, along with so much else for Biles and so many others, have been pushed back a full year.

“I was already being mentally drained and almost, not done with the sport, but just going into the gym and feeling tired and being like, OK, I’m going to get my stuff [done], get out,” she said. “We have this one end goal, and now that it’s postponed another [year], it’s just like, how are we going to deal with that? We’re already being drained, and so it’s to keep the fire in the sport within yourself alive.”

MORE: Top U.S. gymnasts disagree with Tokyo Olympic age rule

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2022 Pan Pacific Championships canceled as swimming calendar shifts

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The Pan Pacific Swimming Championships, a quadrennial major international meet, will not be held in 2022 “out of respect for the recent changes to the international sporting calendar,” according to a press release.

The Pan Pacs’ charter nations — the U.S., Australia, Canada and Japan — agreed to the move. The 2026 event will be held in Canada, which was supposed to be the 2022 host.

The decision came after the 2021 World Championships were moved to May 2022, following the Tokyo Olympics moving from 2020 to 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic. The quadrennial multi-sport Commonwealth Games — which includes Australia and Canada, but not the U.S. or Japan — are scheduled for July 27-Aug. 7, 2022.

“Organizing a third major championships in that window presented several challenges,” according to the Pan Pacs release.

Pan Pacs mark the third-biggest major international meet for U.S. swimmers, held in non-Olympic, non-world championships years.

MORE: Caeleb Dressel co-hosts a podcast. It’s not about swimming.

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