Kayne, O’Shea lead pairs’ short program at U.S. Championships

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DETROIT — 2016 national champions Tarah Kayne and Danny O’Shea lead the pairs’ short program at the U.S. Championships in Detroit on Thursday.

They skate under a new coach this year, Dalilah Sappenfield, and have said they understand the high stakes: only one U.S. pair will be sent to the world championships in March.

Kayne and O’Shea received positives Grades of Execution on each of their elements and totaled 71.83 points in the short program.

“So many times throughout my career I didn’t think I would get back to this place because I keep getting injured and it just seemed like I couldn’t catch a break,” Kayne said through U.S. Figure Skating. “So it means the world to me to be sitting here talking about
how this went well.”

Ashley Cain and Timothy LeDuc followed with 70.47 points in second place. They told reporters after their performance that they were happy just to be skating at nationals; they almost didn’t. Cain suffered a scary fall in December when she fell on her head coming out of a lift in competition.

“The fact that we put out a good performance like that just shows that we are strong competitors and that we trusted our training,” Cain said at the press conference. “I think the biggest part is that he was strong for me in all of this. I was able to count on him being there for me and he was able to count on me putting out my best effort today.”

Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier, theb 2017 U.S. champions, sit third going into Saturday’s free skate with 68.32 points. Fourth by just 0.14 are Deanna Stellato and Nathan Bartholomay, who debuted a new short program at nationals.

Husband and wife pair and two-time national champions Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Chris Knierim are seventh with 61.56 points after a short program that saw an unstable twist with a step out from Scimeca Knierm as well as as step out of the side-by-side triple jumps.

Results: Pairs’ short program

Earlier Thursday, Laiken Lockley and Keenan Prochnow held their lead from the short program and won the junior pairs’ division with 163.35 points. Kate Finster and Balazs Nagy earned silver with 149.49 points and Isabelle Martins and Ryan Bedard took the bronze with 141.97 points.

Results: Junior pairs’ final

MORE: 3 questions with the Knierims

As a reminder, you can watch the U.S. Championships live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. Go to NBCsports.com/gold/figure-skating 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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Bernard Lagat reminded of Atlanta Games at U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials

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ATLANTA — As 45-year-old Bernard Lagat sat inside a hotel overlooking Centennial Olympic Park, he spoke one sentence that prefaced the start of his Olympic journey more than two decades ago.

“We are doing this in a special place,” he said of the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials, which finish at the park on Saturday (12 p.m. ET, NBC, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app).

Lagat is an underdog, but has a chance to make a sixth Olympic team by placing in the top three. He can break his own record as the oldest U.S. Olympic runner in history.

Lagat was reminded this week of the Atlanta Olympics that got away.

In 1996, the Kenyan-born runner was coming off his freshman year at Jomo Kenyatta University Agriculture and Technology in Nairobi. He studied mathematics and computer science.

Lagat debuted at the Kenyan Olympic Trials. He remembered finishing seventh in the 1500m, having exhausted himself by clocking a 3:37 semifinal.

“They had fancy shoes, nice clothing,” he said of the pros. “Me, I was like hand-me-down spikes.”

Lagat’s coach at the time, Nganga Ngata, arranged for him to transfer to Washington State later that summer. But first, Lagat watched on TV the Olympic 1500m final — famous for then-world-record holder Noureddine Morceli and current world-record holder Hicham El Guerrouj making contact at the bell; El Guerrouj fell, Morceli won.

Days later, Lagat headed to Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi. He was to fly to the United States for the first time, embarking on a journey that would lead to U.S. Olympic teams in 2008, 2012 and 2016 after he represented Kenya in 2000 and 2004.

Before a 21-year-old Lagat boarded his flight, he encountered a reception. The Kenyan Olympic team was arriving back from Atlanta after collecting eight medals, including in every men’s distance-running event.

“They had all these celebrations, traditional milk and the gourds,” Lagat said. “Oh, it was amazing. … That fire, seeing them coming home with medals, and I thought, I want to be like those guys.”

Lagat went on to earn eight combined Olympic and world championships medals between the 1500m and 5000m. Lagat qualified for one last Olympics on the track in 2016, going from sixth place at the bell to win the trials 5000m. He was fifth in Rio.

Then he turned to the marathon. Lagat has raced two of them. He clocked 2:17:20 in New York City in 2018, saying he was “running blind” with inexperience. He ran 2:12:10 at the 2019 Gold Coast Marathon in Australia, ranking him outside the 20 fastest Americans in this Olympic cycle.

Lagat went back to Kenya last month to train for the trials with the likes of world-record holder Eliud Kipchoge. Lagat soaked up so much that he likened it to a six-week school term.

At one point, Lagat was part of a 30km training run with Kipchoge. By the end he rounded a bend and saw the Olympic favorite just 60 seconds ahead.

“You think about Eliud being 60 seconds ahead of you in a 30K?” an incredulous Lagat said. “I thought, I’m done. Now I can buy my flight and go back to USA. I’m ready.”

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MORE: Galen Rupp, after tumult, finds familiarity before Olympic marathon trials

Chris Lillis, after missing Olympics, back atop aerials podium

Andrey Kulagin
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U.S. men’s aerials skiers had gone four years between World Cup victories. Now, they’ve won back-to-back events.

Chris Lillis prevailed in Kazakhstan on Friday, six days after Justin Schoenefeld ended the U.S.’ longest men’s victory drought since aerials became an Olympic medal sport in 1994.

Lillis, the 21-year-old brother of 2017 World champion Jon Lillis, landed a double full-full-full in the super final to score 121.27 points. Full results are here. He beat a field that included Schoenefeld (sixth place) and his older brother (14th) but lacked the world’s best from China and Russia.

“That was definitely one of the best jumps of my career,” Chris Lillis said. “Moving forward I’m feeling deadly.”

Chris has earned back-to-back World Cup podiums, his first top-three finishes since missing the PyeongChang Olympics with a torn ACL.

Also Friday, American Megan Nick finished second in the women’s event for her second runner-up this season. The last U.S. woman to win a World Cup was Kiley McKinnon on Jan. 6, 2018.

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MORE: Olympic aerials champion retires to coach