Nathan Chen wins Skate America by largest margin in history

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Nathan Chen scaled back the quadruple jumps, yet still won Skate America by the largest margin in the event’s history.

Chen, on a fall recess from Yale freshman classes, totaled 280.57 points between Friday’s short program and Saturday’s free skate, prevailing by 41.06 points over a field lacking any other Olympic or world medalists. It’s the largest gap in any discipline at Skate America under the 16-year-old points system.

It’s also the world’s top score on the young season. Yet Chen attempted four quads total in Everett, Wash., down from the eight he tried at the Olympics, to ease into the season.

“It’s a great start for me,” Chen told Andrea Joyce on NBCSN after landing three quads in a clean free skate. “I definitely had sort of lower expectations coming into this event, just because I’m in a completely new situation in life. … Watered down my programs a little bit, but I think it was definitely appropriate.”

Chen was a disappointing fifth in PyeongChang, then won the world title a month later by the largest margin in history.

He’s trying a new training arrangement as a college student, separated from California-based coach Rafael Arutunian by 3,000 miles. They communicate by video chats, which the 61-year-old Arutunian called “very difficult,” but it’s so far working.

With Saturday’s victory, Chen tied the U.S. men’s record of four Grand Prix series titles (Jeremy AbbottTodd EldredgeJohnny Weir, though Eldredge won more Grand Prix-level events before the series debuted in 1995).

The 19-year-old flies back to New Haven for school, returning to the Grand Prix during Thanksgiving break for Internationaux de France. That field includes two-time world bronze medalist Jin Boyang of China and Jason Brown, the top American from the Sochi Olympics.

Chen’s biggest competition are Japanese Olympic gold and silver medalists Yuzuru Hanyu and Shoma Uno. He would not face them until December’s Grand Prix Final at the earliest.

U.S. bronze medalist Vincent Zhou, sixth at the Olympics, was fifth at Skate America. The 17-year-old landed five quads between two programs but was dinged for several under-rotations.

Skate America continues later Saturday with the women’s short program, featuring U.S. champion Bradie Tennell.

SKATE AMERICA: Full Results | TV Schedule

Earlier Saturday, Russians Yevgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov won the pairs’ title by the largest margin at a Grand Prix in four years. The two-time world medalists totaled 204.85 points — 25.87 ahead of fellow Russians Alisa Efimova and Aleksandr Korovin — and topped the free skate by 16.27.

Tarasova and Morozov were fourth in PyeongChang but are the top returning active pair. None of the Olympic pairs’ medalists are competing in a Grand Prix.

Germans Aljona Savchenko and Bruno Massot are on an indefinite break. Chinese Sui Wenjing and Han Cong haven’t competed since the Games with Sui recovering from a stress fracture in her foot. Bronze medalists Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford of Canada retired.

Americans finished third (Ashley Cain, Timothy LeDuc), fourth (Olympians Alexa Scimeca Knierim, Chris Knierim) and sixth (Nica Digerness, Danny Neudecker), extending a drought of 12 years without a Grand Prix title for a U.S. pair.

The three teams combined for falls in five of their six programs. After, the Knierims said they split from coach Savchenko.

As a reminder, you can watch the ISU Grand Prix Series live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. GO HERE to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season…NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.

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Pole vaulter, 84, sets her sights on more records

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BURLINGTON, Vt. — An 84-year-old pole vaulter isn’t putting her pole down anytime soon.

Flo Filion Meiler left Thursday for the World Masters Athletics Championship Indoor in Poland, where she’ll compete in events including the long jump, 60-meter hurdles, 800-meter run, pentathlon and pole vault, for which she’s the shoo-in.

The petite, energetic woman from Shelburne, Vermont, said she feels more like 70 than nearly 85.

“But you know, I do train five days a week. And when I found out I was going to compete at the worlds, I’ve been training six days a week because I knew I would really get my body in shape,” she said last week, after track and field training at the University of Vermont.

But she literally won’t have any competition in the pole vault in the championships, which runs March 24-31 in Torun, Poland. She is the only one registered in her age group, 80-84, for the sport, for which she set a world record at age 80. In the men’s pole vault, nine men are listed as competing in that age group.

Meiler said she the events she likes the best are the hurdles and the pole vault – one of the more daring track and field events, in which competitors run while carrying a fiberglass or composite pole, brace it against the ground to launch themselves over a high bar, and land on a mat.

“You really have to work at that,” she said. “You have to have the upper core and you have to have timing, and I just love it because it’s challenging.”

Meiler is used to hard work. She grew up on a dairy farm, where she helped her father with the chores, feeding the cattle and raking hay. In school, she did well at basketball, took tap and ballroom dancing, and, living near Lake Champlain, she water skied.

Meiler, who worked for 30 years as a sales representative for Herbalife nutritional supplements, and her husband, Eugene, who was a military pilot and then became a financial analyst, together competed in water skiing.

“Many times when I did water ski competition I was the only gal in my age group,” she said.

She’s a relative newcomer to pole vaulting and track and field, overall. At age 60, she was competing in doubles tennis with her husband in a qualifying year at the Vermont Senior Games when a friend encouraged her to try the long jump because competitors were needed.

“That was the beginning of my track career,” she said, standing in a room of her home, surrounded by hundreds of hanging medals. She took up pole vaulting at 65.

Athletics has helped her though some hard times, she said. She and her husband adopted three children after losing two premature biological babies and a 3-year-old. Two years ago, their son died at age 51.

And she desperately misses her training partner, a woman who started having health problems about five years ago and can no longer train. It’s tough to train alone, she said, and she hopes to find a new partner.

“She’s incredibly serious about what she does,” said Meiler’s coach, Emmaline Berg. “She comes in early to make sure she’s warmed up enough. She goes home and stretches a lot. So she pretty much structures her entire life around being a fantastic athlete, which is remarkable at any age, let alone hers.”

And it has paid off, said Berg, an assistant track coach at Vermont.

Berg herself first started following Meiler 10 years ago while she was a student at New Hampshire’s Dartmouth College, watching her at the annual Dartmouth Relays.

“She was like a local celebrity,” she said.

Setting a record at age 80 with a 6-foot (1.8-meter) pole vault at the USA Track and Field Adirondack Championships in Albany, New York, while her husband watched, Meiler said, was one of her happiest days.

“I was screaming, I was so happy,” she said.

The overall world record for women’s pole vaulting is 16.6 feet (5.6 meters), according to the International Association of Athletics Federations.

Meiler turns 85 in June, when she’ll head to the National Senior Games in New Mexico.

That will put her in a new age group, in which she hopes to set even more records.

Meiler’s athletic achievements are remarkable and something to be celebrated, said Dr. Michael LaMantia, director of the University of Vermont Center on Aging.

Pole vaulting clearly isn’t for everyone of her age, but in general, activity should be, LaMantia said.

“She can serve as a role model for other seniors,” he said.

Amateur boxing president steps aside during IOC inquiry

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LAUSANNE, Switzerland — With Olympic boxing under investigation by the IOC, the president of the sport’s governing body said on Friday he was stepping aside to let an interim leader take charge.

Gafur Rakhimov sai d he was not resigning as AIBA president, however, and did not call for new elections.

Rakhimov’s status on a U.S. Treasury Department sanctions list as an alleged heroin trafficker is part of an inquiry by an International Olympic Committee-appointed panel.

The panel will update the IOC executive board next week in Lausanne, Switzerland. AIBA could be derecognized by IOC members in June.

The IOC halted planning for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic boxing tournaments and blocked AIBA officials from contacting organizers in Japan.

“The allegations against me were fabricated and based on politically motivated lies,” Rakhimov said. “I trust that the truth will prevail. Nevertheless, I have always said that I would never put myself above boxing, and as president, I have a duty to do everything in my power to serve our sport and our athletes.”

Under AIBA statutes, an interim president is picked from among the five vice-presidents, who include several Rakhimov supporters. The executive committee is due to meet by telephone this weekend. The interim leader can serve only a maximum 365 days before fresh elections, however, meaning that arrangement can’t last through to the Tokyo Olympics.

When Rakhimov was elected last year, his supporters pushed for a plan to allow the president to step aside while still retaining key influence and being able to return at any time, but that was defeated.

It’s not clear if Rakhimov’s departure would be enough to calm the IOC, which has also criticized AIBA over how fights are judged, anti-doping measures, and its debts.

The IOC could try to host an Olympic boxing tournament without AIBA, and some national boxing officials have tried to form a group which could help the IOC stage the event.