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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At U.S. Open swim meet, teens make a splash with Olympic trials on horizon

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While Olympic and world champions Katie LedeckySimone Manuel and Chase Kalisz notched expected victories at the U.S. Open on Thursday, a trio of teenagers lowered personal bests to further establish their Tokyo Olympic hopes.

At the top domestic meet of the winter, Alex WalshCarson Foster and Kieran Smith each earned runner-up finishes, but their performances stood out in the big picture: looking at June’s Olympic trials, where the top two per individual event make the team.

Walsh, a rising Nashville high school senior, took 2.23 seconds off her 200m individual medley best. She clocked 2:09.01, overtaken by .17 by Melanie Margalis, the Rio Olympic and 2019 World Championships fourth-place finisher.

Full meet results are here.

Walsh moved from fifth-fastest in the U.S. this year to No. 2 behind Margalis, passing Olympic and world championships veterans Ella EastinKathleen Baker and Madisyn Cox. Of those swimmers, only Eastin was also in Thursday’s final.

Walsh joined her younger sister, Gretchen, in Olympic qualifying position based on 2019 times. Gretchen, 16, ranks fourth in the U.S. in the 100m free this year. The top six in that event at trials are in line to make the Olympic 4x100m free relay pool.

The Walshes could become the third set of sisters to make the same U.S. Olympic swim team, and the second to do it in pool swimming after Dana and Tara Kirk in 2004.

Foster, 18, continued his ascent Thursday in taking second to Kalisz in the men’s 200m IM. The world junior champion lowered his personal best in the prelims and the final, getting down to 1:57.59. Foster passed Ryan Lochte, who is nearly twice his age, in Thursday’s final and in the 2019 U.S. rankings. Only Kalisz and Michael Andrew have been faster among Americans this year.

Foster is trying to become the youngest U.S. Olympic male swimmer since 2000, when a 15-year-old Michael Phelps made his Olympic debut. Foster, who has been breaking Phelps national age-group records since he was 10, committed to the University of Texas in March 2018, two years before he graduates high school in Ohio.

Then there’s Kieran Smith, now a prime candidate to fill a huge void in the 400m freestyle. Zane Grothe is the only American ranked in the top 20 in the world this year.

Smith, a 19-year-old from the University of Florida, took 2.29 seconds off his lifetime best on Thursday to jump from outside the top 10 to No. 2 in the U.S. on the year. Smith was already ranked No. 2 in the country in the 200m free.

Two more runners-up in the 50m freestyles — Erika Brown to Manuel and Zach Apple to Brazilian Bruno Fratus — lowered personal bests to move to No. 3 in each U.S. ranking list this year.

The U.S. Open continues Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m. ET with live coverage on NBCSN and streaming on NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app.

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Nathan Chen distances Yuzuru Hanyu in Grand Prix Final short program

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A brilliant Nathan Chen outscored a flawed Yuzuru Hanyu for a fourth straight head-to-head program, taking a 12.95-point lead at the Grand Prix Final in Turin, Italy, on Thursday.

Chen, the two-time reigning world champion, tallied 110.38 points going into Saturday’s free skate. He landed a quadruple Lutz, triple Axel and quad toe loop-triple toe loop combination.

It’s the highest short program score in the world this season, leading the American to say “wow” in the kiss-and-cry area. His coach, the often-gruff Rafael Arutyunyan, banged his knee against his pupil’s.

Hanyu, the two-time reigning Olympic champion, hit a quadruple Salchow and triple Axel but then stepped out of a quad toe landing. He therefore failed to include a required jumping combination and ended up in second place.

“I wanted to do a great performance and do a good competition against [Chen], but that didn’t happen this time,” Hanyu, who was without longtime coach Brian Orser, or any other coach, said through a translator. Hanyu said Orser was busy last week, so he chose to use his lone accreditation on another coach who had travel delays.

Hanyu is not out of title contention. His world-leading free skate score this season is 16.61 points better than Chen’s best free skate from the fall Grand Prix Series.

Chen is undefeated since placing fifth at the PyeongChang Olympics, but this is just his second head-to-head with Hanyu in that span. Chen defeated Hanyu at March’s world championships, where the Japanese megastar was likely affected by an ankle injury.

After Thursday’s program, Chen repeated what he said before the competition: he still feels like he’s chasing Hanyu.

“Yuzu is like the goat, he’s the greatest of all time, really,” Chen said. “So, to have this opportunity to be able to share the ice with a guy like that, someone that I’ve looked up to for a long time, someone that I’ve watched grow up through the junior ranks when I was like a baby, it’s really cool to be able see him now. It’s really cool to even just be able to see him person.”

The Grand Prix Final, the biggest annual event outside the world championships, continues Friday with the rhythm dance, women’s short and pairs’ free skate. A full TV and live stream schedule is here.

Earlier in pairs, Chinese Sui Wenjing and Han Cong took their first step toward a first Grand Prix Final title. The Olympic silver medalists tallied 77.50, leading Russians Aleksandra Boikova and Dmitriy Kozlovskiy by .85 going into Friday’s free skate.

Sui and Han were imperfect, with Sui putting her hand down on a throw triple flip landing. They are undefeated in this Beijing Olympic cycle and own the world’s top total score this season.

The U.S. failed to qualify a pair for the six-team Final for the 11th time in the last 12 years.

Grand Prix Final
Men’s Short Program
1. Nathan Chen (USA) — 110.38
2. Yuzuru Hanyu (JPN) — 97.43
3. Kevin Aymoz (FRA) — 96.71
4. Dmitriy Aliyev (RUS) — 88.78
5. Alexander Samarin (RUS) — 81.32
6. Jin Boyang (CHN) — 80.67

Pairs’ Short Program
1. Sui Wenjing/Han Cong (CHN) — 77.50
2. Aleksandra Boikova / Dmitriy Kozlovskiy (RUS) — 76.65
3. Daria Pavliuchenko/Denis Khodykin (RUS) — 75.16
4. Anastasia Mishina/Aleksandr Galliamov (RUS) — 71.48
5. Peng Cheng/Jin Yang (CHN) — 69.67
6. Kirsten Moore-Towers/Michael Marinaro (CAN) — 67.08

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