Ashley Cain, Timothy LeDuc win first U.S. pairs’ title in event marred by major mistakes

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DETROIT — Ashley Cain and Timothy LeDuc, after being doubtful they would even compete at the championships a few weeks ago, won the U.S. pairs’ title on Saturday. It is the first title for the team, who have been together three seasons.

Cain suffered a concussion in December after falling on her head during a lift in a competition in Croatia.

Cain and LeDuc skated last in the session, finishing their free skate and falling to their knees.

“It just was a release and I think this medal isn’t just for us but for everyone who helped us get here,” Cain said after the free skate.

“We know that we’re fierce competitors,” LeDuc said, which he said afterward that he reminded the both of them before they took the ice.

All of the pairs’ elements received positive Grades of Execution.

Full pairs’ results

Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier, the 2017 U.S. champions, scored 133.32 points in the free skate for a total score of 201.64 and the silver medal.

Their softer, melodic program, set to selections from The Irrepressibles, was choreographed by 2014 Olympic ice dance champion Charlie White.

Deanna Stellato and Nate Bartholomay took home the bronze medal after scoring 131.74 in the free skate for a total score of 199.92 points. Their relatively clean skate stood out among the other teams.

“Well that’s a lesson learned,” she said in the mixed zone after being asked if she swore in disappointment after finishing the free skate. She appeared upset to have missed a feature in the team’s lift. “I was on the jumbotron, you could clearly see what I was [saying].

“That reverse lift, we win every competition with that lift. It’s fabulous. I move my arms, I’m not only balancing up there, I’m moving freely with my arms, in comparison with other teams who have been together for a decade and stay stationery. We always win with that lift and tonight I couldn’t do it. That was straight +5’s we left on the table and I knew it was going to matter.”

She said it wasn’t the placement they were looking for at the championships, but “we wanted to go to Four Continents because we desperately need points, so I’ll take the win.”

The Four Continents team announcement is expected Sunday morning.

2016 U.S. champions Tarah Kayne and Danny O’Shea, who held a lead after the short program, fell to fourth. They scored 126.81 points in the free skate for a total overall score of 198.64 points.

They received -1.90 GOE on their side-by-side jumps, triple Salchows, despite opening their program with a strong triple twist. Kayne and O’Shea bailed out of their third lift attempt, receiving zero credit.

“Sometimes you mess up when it counts most,” O’Shea said the skate. “It’s hard. There’s no reason. Why do you overthrow the ball in football? Why do you mess up the pass that goes right through your hands? That’s what it equates to… I lost us 8.5 points-ish, cost us a trip anywhere else this season.”

Husband and wife team Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Chris Knierim fell apart after a disappointing short program on Thursday. The two-time national champions (2015, 2018) received negative GOE for their side-by-side double Salchow combinations, were downgraded on their side-by-side double toe jumps, and received zero credit for their third lift when they bailed out early.

They scored 109.86 in the free skate for a total score of 171.42 for seventh place, their lowest ever as a team.

MORE: Excellent men’s event leaves Nathan Chen knocking on the door of third national title

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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Chad le Clos seeks Sun Yang’s Olympic gold medal for doping case

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NAPLES, Italy (AP) — Chad le Clos believes he has a claim on Sun Yang’s gold medal from the Rio Olympics, with a verdict imminent on the Chinese swimmer’s latest doping case.

“He should be banned. It’s as simple as that,” Le Clos said in an interview with The Associated Press this week. “Anyone who tests positive should be banned. I should get my gold medal back from Rio.

“Not for the moment. I lost that. I don’t really care about that,” Le Clos added on Wednesday. “It’s just for my record. If I break my leg and I can’t swim again I want my record to say, ‘Two individual golds, two individual silvers.’ Because that’s what it should be.”

Le Clos’ Olympic record currently contains one gold medal and three silvers — including a second-place finish to Sun in the Rio Olympic 200m free

Odds are, though, that Sun won’t lose any Olympic titles when the Court of Arbitration for Sport issues its ruling over his alleged refusal to provide blood and urine in September 2018 in a visit by sample collectors to his home in China. During the late-night confrontation, a security guard used a hammer to smash a container holding Sun’s blood as the swimmer lit the scene with his mobile phone.

The World Anti-Doping Agency appealed after swimming federation FINA merely warned Sun and cited doubts about credentials shown by three sample collection officials.

A three-time Olympic champion, Sun could be banished from the sport for up to eight years but any ban likely won’t be backdated before September 2018 — meaning all of his Olympic medals seem safe.

But there’s also the fact that international swimming authorities worked to protect Sun from being banned, according to a Swiss supreme court document.

FINA has faced criticisms in the past for favoring Sun during his career. It did not announce Sun’s three-month ban for doping imposed by Chinese authorities until after it ended in 2014.

“I just hope the system and whatever we have is really accurate,” said Hungarian swimmer Katinka Hosszú, who won three golds in Rio. “I just hope the decisions they are making is fair and is for the sport and not for other reasons.”

The medals that Sun risks losing most are the two golds that he won at last year’s world championships in the 200m and 400m frees. At the event in Gwangju, South Korea, fellow medalists Mack Horton of Australia and Duncan Scott of Britain refused to stand with him on the podium.

Sun has denied any wrongdoing. Any ban imposed in the coming days would likely prevent him from competing at this year’s Tokyo Olympics.

“I have nothing against anybody. It’s not personal,” Le Clos said. “It’s just how the world should be. If you cheat or if you do something wrong, like if you false start, you get disqualified. It’s simple as that.”

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MORE: 2004 Olympic swimming champion banned one year

U.S. Olympic luger Emily Sweeney looks forward from depression bout

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Luge’s World Cup campaign ends this weekend in Germany, where most of the best 100 sliders in the sport will be looking to close their international seasons on a high note.

Emily Sweeney won’t be among them.

Her season ended a couple weeks ago, on her terms.

The U.S. veteran is officially two years into her recovery from a crash at the PyeongChang Olympics that she walked away from — even with a broken neck and broken back — and two years away, she hopes, from being a medal contender at the Beijing Games.

She decided to listen to her body and step away from the frantic end of the season, heading home instead to meet her sister’s new baby and formulate a plan for her offseason.

Here’s what she has learned: Fractures heal, but everything else takes time. So while her body still betrays her from time to time on the track, an additional focus on the mental game is what Sweeney hopes will get her to the medal podium in Beijing in 2022.

“I am very comfortable about thinking about my weaknesses because I failed so much early on,” Sweeney said. “I didn’t make two Olympic teams right in a row. I constantly had to look at myself and say ‘What’s wrong? What am I not like?’ I had to be creative with my training and with the whole process. And so, I think I’m pretty comfortable with challenges.”

That’s why, this season, when she felt like her body couldn’t do it anymore she simply went home. The decision was not easy: Her team is still competing, she has plenty of friends on the circuit and her longtime boyfriend — Italian star Dominik Fischnaller — is a serious contender to win the men’s World Cup overall title.

But a setback right now could throw a serious wrench into her Olympic plans. The problem was pressure, not in the sense of what’s comes with the prospects of winning or losing in competition, but the massive gravitational force that sliders feel and fight through when they are on the ice at speeds often topping 80mph. It takes tremendous strength, and Sweeney’s neck still isn’t always up to the challenge. So, with wear and tear of the season taking a toll, she headed home.

“It’s not a question of if I’m good enough,” said Sweeney, who won a medal at last season’s world championships — cementing her status as one of the fastest women on ice. “I see it in my splits. I would have first-place splits, then get to the pressure and I ended up 15th. I just couldn’t keep going through this cycle of pushing it, pushing it, pushing it and then losing all my speed as soon as I can’t hold my head up anymore.”

So she’s working on her body and her mind.

Sweeney is one of the most-upbeat sliders on the luge circuit; always smiling, always happy, and most of the time her good mood is genuine. After the crash, however, the good mood wasn’t always there, and it took Sweeney some time to realize that there was more wrong than just the fractures in her neck and back.

“I went into a depression,” Sweeney said. “It’s weird saying that. But it feels foreign to me to say I broke my neck and my back two years ago. And it feels dramatic to say, which I guess I need to just get more comfortable with that. But I think that just the way I was raised was like, ‘All right, brush it off and move on.’ And that’s why I think I appear a lot of times like it’s just sunshine and rainbows, but this one forced me to stop. But you have to. And the alternative is to stay at that low and that just becomes miserable.”

From therapy came a plan: Do one thing a day to feel better toward the ultimate goal of medaling in 2022.

Most days, she succeeds. When Sweeney is right, especially in sprint events, few women in the world have a chance of catching her. Her sliding career is peaking. Her mental game, she thinks, is catching up.

And now she’s got two years to put the whole package together.

“Being an Olympian was my dream since I was 7 years old,” Sweeney said. “And then I became an Olympian, and I said, ‘Well, that’s not enough. I want a medal.’”

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