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.

MORE: Behind the scenes from Day 2 at the U.S. Championships

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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Adam Jones, five-time MLB All-Star, becomes Olympic eligible

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Should the U.S. qualify for baseball’s Olympic return, a five-time MLB All-Star could be eligible for its roster in Tokyo. And he has interest.

Outfielder Adam Jones signed with the Orix Buffaloes of Japan’s domestic league, which, unlike MLB, will take an Olympic break next summer to allow players to take part in the first Olympic baseball tournament in 12 years.

Jones, 34, made no mention of Olympic eligibility in a social media post announcing the signing. His Instagram avatar is a photo of him in a Team USA jersey from the World Baseball Classic.

Jones’ agent later said that Jones does have interest in playing for the U.S. in Tokyo, should an American team qualify in the spring.

“To play over in Japan has always been a desire of Adam’s, and the timing worked out that the Olympics happens to be played in Tokyo the first year of his contract,” Jones’ agent wrote in an email. “It wasn’t one of the factors on his decision BUT more of a [sic] addition to the overall package to decide to go.”

Jones called being part of the U.S.’ 2017 WBC title, “probably the best experience of my life so far, especially with sports,” according to The Associated Press. He was one of five players to be on the U.S. team at each of the last two World Baseball Classics.

The U.S. still faces a difficult task to qualify for the Tokyo Games. It lost to Mexico last month in its first of up to three chances at qualifying tournaments, using a roster of mostly double-A and triple-A caliber players.

Major Leaguers are not expected to be made available for qualifying or for the Tokyo Games.

The next two qualifying tournaments will be in late March (an Americas qualifier in Arizona) and early April (a final, global qualifying event in Chinese Taipei). It remains to be seen how MLB clubs will go about releasing minor leaguers for a tournament that will take place during spring training.

Jones could become the third player with prior MLB All-Star experience to compete at the Olympics from any nation, joining Australian catcher Dave Nilsson and Canadian pitcher Jason Dickson.

Jones made five All-Star teams during an 11-year stint with the Baltimore Orioles from 2008-18 before playing for the Arizona Diamondbacks last season.

Many players competed at the Olympics before making an MLB All-Star team, including Stephen Strasburg and Jason Giambi.

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Russia boxers to boycott Olympics if sanctions not lifted

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Russian boxers will only take part in the Tokyo Olympics if doping sanctions forcing them to compete as neutral athletes are overturned, the general secretary of the Russian Boxing Federation told The Associated Press on Wednesday.

Umar Kremlev said he has spoken with the Olympic boxing team and they “unanimously” rejected the conditions laid out by the World Anti-Doping Agency as punishment for manipulating doping data.

The WADA sanctions, announced on Monday, ban the use of the Russian team name, flag or anthem at a range of major sports competitions over the next four years, including next year’s Olympics.

“They said we won’t go without our flag and anthem,” Kremlev said. “We aren’t going for medals, but for that feeling that I brought the highest honor home for my country.”

Separately, the speaker of Russia’s upper house of parliament said Russia could create an alternative to the Olympics.

“This ruling show the clear crisis in international sports institutions. I believe that Russia could host its own games at home,” Valentina Matvienko said in comments reported by the Interfax news agency.

There is a precedent. After the Russian Revolution of 1917, the Soviet Union refused to compete in the Olympics and hosted its own Spartakiads — named after the ancient rebel slave Spartacus — with a strong socialist slant. However, the Soviet Union began competing at the Olympics in 1952 and Russians generally take great pride in the country’s Olympic achievements since then.

If the sanctions aren’t overturned, Kremlev said Russian boxers would prefer to turn pro rather than compete at the Olympics.

“A world champion (in professional boxing) is better known than an Olympic champion,” Kremlev said, adding the Russian anthem would be played before pro title fights.

Kremlev said boxers are being asked to shoulder the blame for offenses committed in other sports. He said they would still stay at home even if Russia’s athletes in other sports decided to take part.

“If other sports are guilty and people have breached the WADA code, why are we punished?” he said. “We are for honest sport and against doping. We want our sport to be clean … If someone breaks the rules, we push them out.”

Russia is a major power in amateur and Olympic boxing. It hosted both men’s and women’s world championships this year, finishing at the top of the medals table at the women’s event and second in the men’s championships. The International Olympic Committee has taken direct charge of boxing at the Tokyo Olympics after criticizing chronic financial problems and infighting at the International Boxing Association.

Russian Sports Minister Pavel Kolobkov talked up Russia’s chances of overturning the WADA sanctions.

“I think that there is every basis to appeal the decision, because our experts have presented their position, and they have the same database as WADA does,” Kolobkov said in comments reported by state news agency TASS. “There is an answer to every question and the whole process is ahead of us.”

The official decision on whether to dispute the sanctions will be made on Dec. 19 by the Russian anti-doping agency’s supervisory board, but senior figures, including Russian President Vladimir Putin, have signaled their preference for taking the matter to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

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