Nathan Chen, Bradie Tennell
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How the U.S. figure skating team is chosen for Olympic team event

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U.S. Figure Skating said its roster for the Olympic team event will be chosen in the same process as in 2014, which is a little complicated.

Basically, U.S. Figure Skating creates four sets of rankings.

First, a ranking of the four disciplines based on overall strength. That would likely be ice dance, then men, then women and finally pairs.

Then, a ranking is created within each discipline of each of the three individual skaters and dance couples, using the criteria for Olympic team selection earlier this month. (There is no ranking for pairs, because the U.S. only has one pair in PyeongChang)

This means that the U.S. champions in each discipline won’t necessarily get first choice on which team event program(s) they would like to skate.

U.S. Figure Skating could, for example, determine that national ice dance silver medalists Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani have a better overall resumé than gold medalists Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue.

Using those rankings, which U.S. Figure Skating does not make public, skaters pick the team event short and long programs, with input from team officials.

Keep in mind that the U.S. can sub out skaters between the short and long programs in two of the three disciplines other than pairs (U.S. pairs champs Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Christopher Knierim must skate both programs).

Use 2014 as an example. Skaters from that team detailed the selection process in interviews last spring.

Ice dance was the highest-ranked of the disciplines. The top ice dance couple was Meryl Davis and Charlie White, the world champions who chose to skate both programs.

“We had our best chance if we did not swap out our dance teams,” Gracie Gold said last spring. “We needed Meryl and Charlie [for medal hopes].”

The next highest-ranked discipline was the women, led by the U.S. champion Gold.

“They were like, we would have you do both [team event programs, but] we think that’s a lot for you to do, Opening Ceremonies, then both [team event programs] and have a week and a half and do both again [in the individual event],” Gold said. “They said, we want you to do the long program. So I said yes. That made sense for me.”

Who would skate the women’s short program in the team event? Surprise U.S. silver medalist Polina Edmunds or Ashley Wagner, who finished fourth at nationals but was the top American internationally that season?

Wagner. She skated the short program.

Then came the men. U.S. champion Jeremy Abbott chose the short program but left the free skate open.

“So then they asked me, Jeremy wants to do the short, will you do long?” U.S. silver medalist Jason Brown said. “Obviously, I wasn’t going to say no.”

Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir skated both pairs programs.

The U.S. earned bronze behind Russia and Canada. The U.S. is expected to take bronze again next week, with Russia and Canada battling for gold.

Some obvious questions:

If ice dance is again the top-ranked discipline, which couple gets first choice? Hubbell and Donohue after their first national title, or the three-time world medalists Shibutani siblings?

Will Nathan Chen choose to skate both programs or to rest up for the men’s competition the following week? If Chen doesn’t skate both, who is the second-ranked man – U.S. bronze medalist Vincent Zhou in his first senior international season or fourth-place Adam Rippon, a veteran?

The U.S. women’s rankings might also differ from nationals results since gold medalist Bradie Tennell has little senior international experience, while teammates Mirai Nagasu and Karen Chen finished fourth at previous Olympics and world championships, respectively.

Answers come next week.

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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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