Detroit, Little Caesars Arena
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Skaters’ ties to Detroit add local flavor to U.S. Championships

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By Colton Wood

DETROIT – When Hannah Miller was warming up for her short program on Thursday night at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships, she heard an assembly of recognizable voices.

“Cheesers! Clappies! Make it happen! You’re fantabulous! We love you!” the group chanted.

The voices Miller heard came from several of her teammates at the Lansing Skating Club, where she has trained most of her life. With nationals taking place just over an hour from the Lansing SC, it gave Miller’s teammates the opportunity to watch her skate on the national level in person.

What the group said to Miller was something they have all said to each other before competitions for about 12 years.

Around 15 people, Miller said, flocked to Little Caesars Arena – home of Detroit’s Red Wings in the NHL and Pistons in the NBA – in Detroit to cheer her on during her short program.

“It’s awesome,” Miller said. “My family has been so supportive throughout my entire career. I couldn’t have asked for a better location for nationals this year because they all get to come and watch and support. It’s a chance for my family and all my trainers and all my friends to come see what it’s really like to be in a national arena.”

But Miller isn’t alone.

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Numerous other skaters came to nationals with Michigan roots and were able to perform in front of countless family members and friends.

“It’s so nice to be home,” said pair skater Brian Johnson, a Farmington Hills, Michigan, native and member of the Detroit SC who trains in California. “I can’t describe it. I’m the kind of person who likes winter. I actually missed all the snow and stuff. I know it sounds crazy. I love the people. I just love being home.”

Not many of Johnson’s family and friends get to experience his performances in person. His mother has to watch most of his programs from afar but will occasionally get to watch him skate in person when she goes on work trips.

With his family and friends in the crowd watching him, Johnson feels less pressure at nationals this year.

“Most of my family is here; some came from Chicago,” he said. “All my friends are here. I would say it’s almost a little calmer.”

It’s been 25 years since Detroit last hosted nationals. Since then, Detroit underwent a city revival and constructed a multimillion-dollar arena to replace the decaying Joe Louis Arena.

“It’s cool to be in Detroit in this new facility,” said 2018 Olympic team event bronze medalist Nathan Chen. “Little Caesars Arena is a really cool rink. It’s really cool to be here.”

For Lansing, Michigan, native Madison Hubbell, her extended family has rarely been able to see her skate live. She added that her uncle and cousin are obsessive sports fans.

“For them, Little Caesars Arena calls for celebration,” Hubbell said. “This big arena, we’re gonna do it the way these other sports do it. They called the arena, everyone’s confirmed that this is possible to do a tailgate. They’re arranging it and they’re doing it with Kaitlin Hawayek’s parents and Evan Bates’ parents.”

The tailgate will take place on Saturday before the free dance.

“I’m just hoping that [our families] actually make it to the event,” Hawayek joked.

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Brigid Kosgei beaten as another world record smashed in Nike shoes

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Ethiopian Ababel Yeshaneh broke the half marathon world record by 20 seconds, beating new marathon world-record holder Brigid Kosgei in the United Arab Emirates on Friday.

Nike-sponsored runners lowered the men’s and women’s marathon and half marathon records since September 2018, each appearing to race in versions of the apparel giant’s scrutinized Vaporfly shoes.

Yeshaneh, a 28-year-old who finished 14th in the 2016 Olympic 5000m, clocked 1:04:31 for 13.1 miles to better Kenyan Joyciline Jepkosgei‘s world record from 2017.

Kosgei, a 26-year-old Kenyan, also came in under the old world record but 18 seconds behind Yeshaneh.

Kosgei took 81 seconds off Paula Radcliffe‘s 16-year-old women’s marathon world record on Oct. 13, clocking 2:14:04 to win the Chicago Marathon.

Nike Vaporfly shoes, including the prototypes worn by Kenyan Eliud Kipchoge when he ran a sub-two-hour marathon, were deemed legal by World Athletics’ new shoe regulations last month, according to Nike.

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Olympic, world champion lugers pull out of World Cup event over safety

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U.S. Olympic silver medalist Chris Mazdzer and other top lugers are skipping this weekend’s World Cup stop in Winterberg, Germany, citing unsafe track conditions and a growing frustration with the international federation over athlete concerns.

“This was brought to the attention of the FIL [International Luge Federation] and yet again we were told that everything is ok,” was posted on Mazdzer’s Instagram. “I realize that a boycott is a lose-lose situation and there are no winners. But I have no other option at this point. I feel personally that this track is not safe for doubles sleds or for athletes who do not have adequate numbers of runs.”

Mazdzer said by phone Friday that he noticed significant bumps on the track in his first training run earlier this week.

“I couldn’t drive because I’m being thrown everywhere,” he said. “When you’re going 130 kilometers an hour [80 miles per hour], you don’t really want the track to be bad.”

An FIL spokesperson said Friday that Mazdzer’s choice was “his individual decision” and declined further comment ahead of races scheduled Saturday and Sunday. Mazdzer said that he was told the race starts will be moved down.

USA Luge said in a Friday statement that it will not participate in the World Cup and would communicate its concern for athlete safety to the FIL.

Two-time U.S. Olympian Summer Britcher said she was boycotting via Instagram, calling it “a farce of a World Cup.” Top lugers said athletes suffered serious injuries in training runs.

“I love this sport, but after too many decisions too many times that disregard 1-the safety of the athletes, and 2- the integrity and fairness of our sport, I have grown a great disdain for the International Luge Federation, and those who make these decisions,” was posted on Britcher’s account. “I will not race this weekend. I do not believe the track is safe, I do not believe it has been prepared to a World Cup standard, and I do not believe that the International Federation and Winterberg World Cup organisers should get away from this with no consequences.”

Britcher’s post noted that her team notified coaches and the technical director that the track was unsafe after her first training run Wednesday.

“Our concerns, and the concerns of the rest of the athletes from other nations throughout the day were not taken seriously,” Britcher posted.

Britcher said that several coaches attempted to fix the track for several hours on Thursday after athletes refused to train.

Olympic champion David Gleirscher of Austria and World Cup standings leader Roman Repilov of Russia and the top doubles teams of Toni Eggert and Sascha Benecken and Tobias Wendl and Tobias Arlt of Germany also posted on Instagram that they’re skipping the Winterberg World Cup, the penultimate stop of the season, for safety reasons.

Mazdzer estimated a 20 percent crash rate in training, but that the track condition has improved since Wednesday. He still plans to race next week at the last World Cup in Königssee.

“There’s a lot of problems with Winterberg,” he said after detailing the situation between athletes and the FIL, “and it’s not just the track.”

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