Papadakis, Cizeron lead rhythm dance; Americans within striking distance to podium

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Three-time World Champions Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron are on the verge of title No. 4, as they outscored the rest of the ice dance field after Friday’s rhythm dance by a margin of 4.48 points in Saitama, Japan.

Each of the French couple’s elements were awarded Level 4 and they notched a season’s best 88.42 points while skating to selections from Astor Piazzolla.

“We chose a more classical music to show the passion of the Tango without anything artificial,” Cizeron said, according to the ISU.

Russia’s Viktoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov also performed to selections from Piazzolla, earning Level 4s on all of their elements. They scored 83.94 points, good enough for second place.

“We haven’t had such a result in a while in Russian ice dance,” Katsalapov said, noting that the most recent Russian medal in ice dance at a World Championship came in 2013. “I hope that tomorrow everything goes well and we will show a high-quality skating.”

Their Russian teammates joined them inside the top three, as Alexandra Stepanova and Ivan Bukin scored a season’s best 83.10 points to vault them into third place. All of the elements in their rhythm dance were also called Level 4.

Neither of the Russian teams has ever won a world medal before. The last time no Americans were on an ice dance podium at a World Championships was 2014, when the event also took place in Saitama, Japan.

Full results are here.

Two-time U.S. champions Madison Hubbell and Zach Donohue scored a season’s best 83.09, a razor-thin 0.01 points out of third place, in their clean rhythm dance also set to selections from Piazzolla. All of their elements were called Level 4 and they are currently in fourth place ahead of Friday night’s free dance.

“We were pleased today to give out a strong performance,” Hubbell said through U.S. Figure Skating. “We got all Level 4s, which was our goal. It’s a great start to our competition.”

Hubbell and Donohue were fourth at the PyeongChang Olympics but weeks later captured silver medals at the 2018 World Championships.

February’s Four Continents gold medalists, Madison Chock and Evan Bates, skated a clean rhythm dance to the recognizable “Assassin’s Tango” from the 2005 movie “Mr. & Mrs. Smith.” Each of their elements was called a Level 4 and their rhythm dance scored a season’s best 82.32 points.

Chock and Bates own World Championship silver (2015) and bronze (2016) medals and are looking for a return to the podium in Saitama. They are currently in sixth place.

“Coming into the World Championships, we wanted to reset,” Chock said. “We’ve made some changes to our programs so we had a lot to focus on. The programs feel refreshed and new and different, so for us we were excited to come here and show them off. It felt great to perform for the audience today.”

A look at how tight the standings are behind the French team after the rhythm dance:

  1. Papadakis/Cizeron: 88.42
  2. Sinitsina/Katsalapov: -4.48
  3. Stepanova/Bukin: -5.32
  4. Hubbell/Donohue: -5.33
  5. Weaver/Poje: -5.58
  6. Chock/ Bates: -6.10

The third U.S. team in the field, Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker, made their second World Championships appearance with a 75.90-point rhythm dance. Hawayek’s twizzles were awarded a Level 3 and Baker’s a Level 4, and their first pattern and their midline step sequence got a Level 3. The rest of their program was called a Level 4 and they are in ninth place.

“It was a really good performance for us,” Hawayek said. “This program is a special program to us. It was a new style and we really enjoyed the challenge of the new style. I think we were happy with putting out another solid performance today.”

The free dance begins on Friday at 11:30 p.m. ET.

MORE: How to watch the World Figure Skating Championships | Sui Wenjing, Han Cong recapture world pair title | Nathan Chen, Jason Brown in first and second after men’s short | Alina Zagitova wins first world title

As a reminder, you can watch the world 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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Olympian Derrick Mein ends U.S. men’s trap drought at shotgun worlds

Derrick Mein
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Tokyo Olympian Derrick Mein became the first U.S. male shooter to win a world title in the trap event since 1966, prevailing at the world shotgun championships in Osijek, Croatia, on Wednesday.

Mein, who grew up on a small farm in Southeast Kansas, hunting deer and quail, nearly squandered a place in the final when he missed his last three shots in the semifinal round after hitting his first 22. He rallied in a sudden-death shoot-off for the last spot in the final by hitting all five of his targets.

He hit 33 of 34 targets in the final to win by two over Brit Nathan Hales with one round to spare.

The last U.S. man to win an Olympic trap title was Donald Haldeman in 1976.

Mein, 37, was 24th in his Olympic debut in Tokyo (and placed 13th with Kayle Browning in the mixed-gender team event).

The U.S. swept the Tokyo golds in the other shotgun event — skeet — with Vincent Hancock and Amber English. Browning took silver in women’s trap.

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Mo Farah withdraws before London Marathon

Mo Farah
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British track legend Mo Farah withdrew before Sunday’s London Marathon, citing a right hip injury before what would have been his first 26.2-mile race in nearly two years.

Farah, who swept the 2012 and 2016 Olympic track titles at 5000m and 10,000m, said he hoped “to be back out there” next April, when the London Marathon returns to its traditional month after COVID moved it to the fall for three consecutive years. Farah turns 40 on March 23.

“I’ve been training really hard over the past few months and I’d got myself back into good shape and was feeling pretty optimistic about being able to put in a good performance,” in London, Farah said in a press release. “However, over the past 10 days I’ve been feeling pain and tightness in my right hip. I’ve had extensive physio and treatment and done everything I can to be on the start line, but it hasn’t improved enough to compete on Sunday.”

Farah switched from the track to the marathon after the 2017 World Championships and won the 2018 Chicago Marathon in a then-European record time of 2:05:11. Belgium’s Bashir Abdi now holds the record at 2:03:36.

Farah returned to the track in a failed bid to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics, then shifted back to the roads.

Sunday’s London Marathon men’s race is headlined by Ethiopians Kenenisa Bekele and Birhanu Legese, the second- and third-fastest marathoners in history.

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