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Autumn Classic Preview: Jason Brown’s road to Beijing Olympics begins

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When Jason Brown takes the ice for his short program at the Autumn Classic International in Oakville, Ontario on Friday, he doesn’t expect to be firing on all cylinders yet.

For Brown, it’s his first competition since he won a bronze medal at the 2018 Four Continents Figure Skating Championships in February. The 2015 U.S. champion declined an invitation to the 2018 World Figure Skating Championships in favor of a long vacation to mull his competitive future. Then, after trying out several different training sites, he moved to Toronto to train in Brian Orser and Tracy Wilson’s group at the Cricket Skating and Curling Club.

“Every day I work with them, learning their (jump) technique,” Brown said at U.S. Figure Skating’s Champs Camp last month. “It’s been harder than I thought it would be. You take what you think you know and they kind of change it all, to fit their method. I’m trying to learn it the best I can, but it’s a process.”

Brown possesses some of the sport’s finest skating skills and spins, but has not yet landed a clean quadruple jump in competition. Several missed jumps resulted in a sixth-place finish at the 2018 U.S. Figure Skating Championships last season, costing him a shot at a second Olympic team. In May, he announced he was leaving Colorado Springs and his coach of more than two decades, Kori Ade, to train under Orser and Wilson.

“They are picking apart everything, every triple jump,” Brown said. “We’re taking the time because we’re looking at it as a four-year thing… I want to peak in 2022 (for the Beijing Olympics). That’s where my head is. I want to start from the ground up.”

It hasn’t been all work for Brown in Toronto. He and another newcomer to the Cricket Club, two-time world champion Yevgenia Medvedeva of Russia, have become fast friends and spend much of their free time exploring the city.

“That was also something important to me, in a new training site,” Brown said. “I wanted to be in a city. If you look at it, I’m going to be here (for ages) 23 through 27, and I wanted to be living somewhere that I could grow and explore.”

Brown, like many of the other competitors, will show two new programs at the Autumn Classic, held today through Saturday. The event is the fifth of ten ISU Challenger Series events this fall. While considered a few notches below the ISU Grand Prix Series in prestige, the skaters competing in Oakville hold a combined 19 Olympic and world medals, including team medals. The event will stream live on Skate Canada’s Dailymotion page. Here’s what to watch for:

Hanyu, Hanyu, Hanyu: The two-time Olympic champion puts butts in the seats. The Oakville arena, which seats about 4,000, is sold out for his events, with hundreds of diehard “Fanyus” trekking the 6,500 miles from Tokyo to Ontario. Like Brown and Medvedeva, the Japanese star trains at the Cricket Club; at a press event there on Aug. 30, he announced his new programs: a short to Raúl di Blasio’s “Otonal” and a free skate called “Origin,” inspired by Yevgeni Plushenko’s “Tribute to Nijinsky” program first used during the 2003/2004 season.

With two Olympic golds and two world titles in his pocket, Hanyu told reporters that the pressure was off.

“(Before) I had to meet other people’s expectations and get good results,” Hanyu is quoted by International Figure Skating magazine. “But, I am satisfied that as a result (of my Olympic success) I have been released from the pressure that I have to produce results. I think, and feel, that I can skate for myself from now on. I want to go back to my skating origins.”

Still, Hanyu is famously competitive. In 2016 at this event, he landed the first quadruple loop in competition. He has been training a quadruple Axel, a jump featuring four-and-a-half rotations. It’s unlikely he will be ready to show it in Oakville, but there’s always a chance.

The “new” Medvedeva: Like Brown, the 18-year-old Russian seeks a fresh start in Toronto. She created her programs with Canadian David Wilson, marking the first time she has worked with non-Russian choreographer on competitive material.  In practice sessions in Oakville on Wednesday, she looked sharp, landing triple-triple combinations and joking easily with Orser and Wilson. She will be challenged in Oakville by Japan’s world silver medalist Wakaba Higuchi, as well as…

A “new” Bradie Tennell: The U.S. champion generated positive buzz this summer, skating well at a club competition and arriving at Champs Camp fit and prepared. Known mostly as a jumper, the 2018 Olympian wants to grow her artistry this season. She also has a new combination: triple Lutz-triple loop, the same element Alina Zagitova used to win Olympic gold in Pyeongchang.

“I’m definitely more confident in myself and what I’m doing,” Tennell says. “I believe in myself a lot more. I don’t think I’m as timid. I’m really working on not being as shy, just kind of letting my personality come through in everything.”

Tennell is joined by 17-year-old U.S. teammate Starr Andrews, competing in her second Challenger event of the season. Andrews is bidding to become the fourth U.S. lady, after Tonya Harding, Mirai Nagasu, and Alyssa Liu, to land the triple Axel in international competition. She included it in her free skate at the Asian Open early last month, but did not fully rotate the jump. Will it happen on Friday?

MORE: 12-year-old is third U.S. woman to land triple Axel internationally

Small, but interesting, pairs’ and ice dance fields: Canada’s reigning world bronze medalists Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje, who will sit out the Grand Prix this season, debut their new programs. Their next competition will be the 2019 Canadian Figure Skating Championships. In pairs, world bronze medalists Vanessa James and Morgan Cipres of France are favored, but will be challenged by Canada’s top pair, Kirsten Moore-Towers and Michael Marinaro.  2017 U.S. champions Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier, who train alongside James and Cipres in Florida, are on the comeback trail after a disappointing fifth-place finish at the U.S. Championships last season. A new U.S. pair, Jessica Calalang and Brian Johnson, make their debut.

MORE: Adam Rippon donates Olympic costume to Smithsonian

April Ross, Alix Klineman back atop Olympic beach volleyball qualifying

April Ross, Alix Klineman
FIVB World Tour
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Two-time Olympic medalist April Ross and new partner Alix Klineman moved back on top of the U.S. Olympic beach volleyball qualifying standings by winning an event in Itapema, Brazil this week.

Ross, who split from Kerri Walsh Jennings in 2017, and Klineman beat Canadians Sarah Pavan and Melissa Humana-Paredes 25-23, 18-21, 15-10 in Sunday’s final for their third title in 11 FIVB World Tour tournaments together.

“Every victory is important, but this counts for more,” Klineman said, according to the FIVB. “We want to send a message and we want to be consistently the best.

Ross and Klineman supplanted Walsh Jennings and her new partner, Brooke Sweat, for the lead in the early U.S. Olympic qualifying rankings with still more than a year of events ahead.

1. Ross/Klineman – 3,240 (5 events played)
2. Walsh Jennings/Sweat – 3,100 (7 events)
3. Day/Flint – 2,180 (5 events)
4. Hughes/Ross — 2,000 (4 events)
5. Larsen/Stockman — 1,840 (5 events)
6. Sponcil/Claes — 1,600 (3 events)

Each team’s 12 best results from Sept. 1, 2018, to June 14, 2020, go into the Olympic qualifying rankings. That means Ross and Klineman are comfortably in front, having played two fewer events than Walsh Jennings and Sweat, who lost in the quarterfinals in Itapema.

The top two U.S. pairs come June 15, 2020, provided they’re ranked high enough internationally, will qualify for Tokyo. Most of the qualifying events, including the ones with the most points available, are still to come this summer.

Ross, 36, picked up Klineman, 29, after Walsh Jennings didn’t join her in signing a domestic AVP contract in 2017. The 6-foot-5 Klineman primarily played indoor the previous decade, including at Stanford from 2007-10 after being the Gatorade National Player of the Year coming out of high school.

MORE: Brazil volleyball star faints during courtside interview

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Katie Ledecky extends 5-year win streak

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Katie Ledecky extended a five-year domestic win streak by taking the 200m freestyle at the Tyr Pro Swim Series at Bloomington on Saturday.

In her last full meet before July’s world championships, Ledecky clocked 1:55.80 to beat training partner Simone Manuel by 1.44 seconds for her second win in as many days. Ledecky is also entered in Sunday’s 800m free on the last day of the meet.

Ledecky, who also cruised to a 400m free victory on Friday, ranks third in the world in the 200m free this year, behind Australian Ariarne Titmus and Swede Sarah Sjöström (the Olympic silver medalist who is not expected to race the 200m free at worlds).

Ledecky, a five-time Olympic champion, hasn’t lost a 200m, 400m, 800m or 1500m free final at a domestic meet since Allison Schmitt beat her in a 200m free on Jan. 18, 2014 when Ledecky was 16 years old.

BLOOMINGTON: Full Results

But Ledecky lost the two biggest 200m frees of this Olympic cycle so far, at the 2017 World Championships and the 2018 Pan Pacific Championships. Italian veteran Federica Pellegrini handed Ledecky her first individual final defeat at a major international meet at 2017 Worlds.

Ledecky dropped to third in the 200m free at Pan Pacs in Tokyo last year, beaten by younger swimmers Taylor Ruck of Canada and Rikako Ikee of Japan.

Ruck, who like Ledecky trains at Stanford, is in Bloomington, but she chose not to swim the 200m free on Saturday. She instead swam the 200m backstroke about 45 minutes after the 200m free and was upset by 17-year-old Regan Smith. Smith won in 2:06.47, moving to No. 3 in the world this year.

In other events Saturday, Ella Eastin captured the 400m individual medley in 4:37.18, taking 1.25 seconds off her personal best and moving to fifth in the world this year. Eastin is not on the world championships team after an untimely bout with mono before qualifying meets last summer.

Blake Pieroni won the men’s 200m free in 1:47.25. No American ranks in the top 20 in the world this year. World silver medalist Townley Haas did not enter Bloomington.

MORE: Olympic breaststroke champion faces ban for missed drug tests

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