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Nathan Chen wins third Skate America title, Jason Brown joins podium with silver

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Nathan Chen won his third consecutive Skate America title on Saturday in Las Vegas, bringing down the house as the last skater, performing to the soundtrack from “Rocketman.”

His free skate — which included a hip hop dance break — scored 196.38 points. His total score, 299.09 points, out-distanced silver medalist Jason Brown by 44 points, the largest-ever margin of victory in the men’s field at the event. The Yale sophomore told media earlier in the week that his free skate would likely include three quadruple jumps, and that’s what he executed.

“I’m pretty happy with the performance today,” Chen said through U.S. Figure Skating. “Again, this is the first Grand Prix of the season — the first competition of the season since Worlds — so it was nice to be able to put out both programs. I’m pretty happy with the score. There are still a lot of things to improve on, but overall it’s a good starting point.”

Chen, the two-time and reigning world champion, has not lost a Grand Prix event since he earned a silver medal at the 2016 Grand Prix Final.

Skate America results are here.

Brown originally planned to debut his emotionally poignant “Schindler’s List” free skate at a competition earlier this season in Germany, but his plans were derailed when he was in a car accident and suffered a concussion over the summer. Instead, he showed this year’s free skate for the first time at Skate America, where it earned 171.64 points.

“It was my first debut of this program, Schindler’s List,” Brown said. “I’ve been working really hard on it all summer and getting into the emotion of it and working it through. I think I really tried to put my heart into it here. I had a rough go of it yesterday a little bit with confidence. I tried to put it behind me and focus on the performance and taking it one step at a time and really settling into it rather than getting ahead of myself.”

Brown won a bronze medal at the 2014 Sochi Olympics in the team event and followed that up with a national title in 2015. But he missed the 2018 Olympic team and is now in his second season training in Toronto under Brian Orser and Tracy Wilson. Brown’s free skate included no quads, though he said he intends to incorporate them as the season progresses.

The last time two U.S. men shared the Skate America podium was 2017, when training partners Chen and Adam Rippon earned gold and silver, respectively.

Russia’s Dmitri Aliev earned the bronze medal with 156.98-point free skate with 253.55 points overall.

China’s Jin Boyang, who finished fourth in PyeongChang, ultimately finished sixth in Las Vegas (224.98 points). His free skate included two falls on two quad attempts.

The third American man in the field, Alex Krasnozhon, finished ninth with 216.59 points.

MORE: How to watch Skate America

Earlier Saturday, China’s Peng Cheng and Jin Yang maintained their lead on the pairs’ field and won gold with a “Cloud Atlas” free skate that earned 128.16 points for an overall score of 200.89 points. It’s the team’s first-ever Grand Prix gold medal, despite Peng’s fall on a throw triple loop landing that sent her sliding into the boards.

Daria Pavliuchenko and Denis Khodykin from Russia earned silver with a 125.73-point free skate and 196.98 overall points. They were the 2018 world junior champions and skated to selections from “Tron Legacy.”

Americans Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier took the bronze with 192.70 total points, their first medal on the Grand Prix circuit since they won silver at Skate America in 2016. They actually placed second with their “Lion King” free skate which earned 127.73 points, but it didn’t make up for the deficit leftover from their short program.

“We know we have so much to bring to our team,” Denney said afterward through U.S. Figure Skating. “It’s not about winning or losing, we just want to show everyone what our potential is. This was the first baby step into building our foundation, so I’m very pleased and happy.”

“We know we have so much to bring to our team. It’s not about winning or losing, we just want to show everyone what our potential is,” Frazier added. “This was the first baby step into building our foundation, so I’m very pleased and happy.”

Jessica Calalang and Brian Johnson, also from the U.S., finished fourth in their Grand Prix debut (180.52 points). Reigning U.S. national champions Ashley Cain-Gribble and Timothy LeDuc, who won bronze at last year’s Skate America, finished fifth (177.54 points).

“We know we have so much to bring to our team,” LeDuc said. “It’s not about winning or losing, we just want to show everyone what our potential is. This was the first baby step into building our foundation, so I’m very pleased and happy.”

MORE: Hubbell, Donohue defend Skate America title | Shcherbakova lands two quads to win ladies’ event

As a reminder, you can watch the events from the 2019-20 figure skating season live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. Check out a free trial of the Figure Skating Pass during Skate America from Oct. 18-20. 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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Noah Lyles’ unbelievable time comes with an oops at Inspiration Games

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Noah Lyles may one day break Usain Bolt‘s world record, but Thursday wasn’t going to be that day. Even if, for about five minutes, Lyles was the first man to break 19 seconds over 200m.

Lyles registered 18.90 seconds, racing alone against competitors simultaneously sprinting on tracks in Europe. The time was unbelievable, given Bolt’s world record was 19.19 seconds. Turns out, it was too good to be true.

Minutes later on the broadcast, commentator Steve Cram said that Lyles only ran 185 meters, starting from an incorrect place on his Florida track.

“You can’t be playing with my emotions like this,” tweeted Lyles, who raced in Sonic the Hedgehog socks. “Got me in the wrong lane smh.”

Lyles, 22, has run 66 official 200m races dating to 2013, according to Tilastopaja.org. He is the reigning world champion and the fourth-fastest man in history with a personal best of 19.50 seconds.

But he had never experienced what came Thursday, with few spectators and nobody else in adjacent lanes for the Inspiration Games, a socially distanced meet with Olympians competing against each other on different continents.

Perhaps the setting played a role in the mistake.

“It actually felt pretty good besides getting that full gust of wind,” Lyles, who ran into a registered 3.7 meter/second headwind, said before he knew his time or that he was 15 meters short.

Christophe Lemaitre, the Olympic bronze medalist from France, got the win in 20.65 seconds.

Earlier Thursday, Allyson Felix had a succinct reaction to the strangest victory of her sterling career.

“That’s weird,” she said after running 150 meters alone, in front of few spectators on a track in Walnut, California.

Officially, Felix ran 16.81 seconds — impressive, especially if the reported 2.6 meter/second headwind reading was accurate — to defeat Olympic 400m champion Shaunae Miller-Uibo and world 200m bronze medalist Mujinga Kambundji.

Miller-Uibo raced alone in Florida. Kambundji was on her own in Zurich, the base of the Inspiration Games, a repurposed version of an annual Diamond League stop. The coronavirus pandemic is forcing meet organizers to get creative this summer.

Full meet results are here.

Felix, a 34-year-old mom with nine Olympic medals, called her event “very strange.”

“It feels sort of like practice, but not even because there’s really no teammates or anything,” she told 1996 Olympic decathlon champion Dan O’Brien at Mt. San Antonio College. “It’s hard to challenge yourself. I think that’s the big thing with running solo.”

Canadian Olympic medalist Andre De Grasse won a 100-yard race in 9.68 seconds, defeating French veteran Jimmy Vicaut (9.72) and Olympic 110m hurdles champion Omar McLeod of Jamaica (9.87). De Grasse, Vicaut and McLeod raced together, in every other lane at a Florida track.

The 100 yards is scantly contested in top-level meets. Nobody has broken nine seconds in a 100-yard (91.44-meter) race, according to World Athletics. But Usain Bolt‘s estimated 100-yard time en route to his 2009 world record in the 100m was 8.87 seconds.

The regular Diamond League calendar is scheduled to resume in August.

“This was fun,” Felix said. “I can’t wait until we can do it in person.”

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Jeff Gadley, Willie Davenport changed bobsled as Winter Olympic pioneers

Jeff Gadley
Photos courtesy Jeff Jordan
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Jeff Gadley‘s life changed when a stranger in a car tailed him on a decathlon training run in Plattsburgh, N.Y., in 1978.

The driver was Al Hachigian, a veteran U.S. bobsledder on the lookout for new talent.

Hachigian found the right man. Gadley had just won the first Empire State Games decathlon and set sights on the 1980 U.S. Summer Olympic Trials. Once Hachigian got his attention, he asked the 23-year-old Gadley if he ever considered pushing a bobsled.

“Of course,” Gadley said. “I grew up in Buffalo.”

Hachigian looked at Gadley — undersized for a bobsledder at 5 feet, 8 inches, and no more than 180 pounds — and decided he was worth extending an invitation to a trials event for the 1978-79 season.

“I think you could do well,” Hachigian told Gadley. “But there are no Black bobsledders, so you kind of have to be a little bit prepared for some things.”

No problem, Gadley said.

A year and a half later, Gadley and a later bobsled convert — Willie Davenport, the 1968 Olympic 110m hurdles champion — became the first Black men to compete on a U.S. Winter Olympic team in any sport.

“It was a huge story,” leading up to the 1980 Lake Placid Winter Games, Gadley said in a recent interview. “Since we were the first, people wanted to know how we felt. What you thought about the sport being traditionally white. My answer was always, look, I can’t attribute a particular color to playing out in the cold. To be the first African American ever to compete in the Winter Olympics, I think it’s nice. I think it broadens the thought process of people and maybe will bring, one day, stronger and faster athletes to the sport.”

Gadley and Davenport, push athletes in driver Bob Hickey‘s 12th-place sled at those Olympics, accelerated a line of accomplished athletes converting from track to bobsled. They were followed by, most famously, Edwin Moses, Renaldo NehemiahLauryn Williams and Lolo Jones. NFL players Willie Gault and Herschel Walker also pushed sleds.

“There is a myth in this country that says Blacks can’t make the American Winter Olympic team,” Davenport said, according to Jet magazine in 1980. “Jeff and I proved this to be wrong that you don’t have to be rich and white to make it.”

Back when Gadley joined the national team, it was all white and mostly men from around Lake Placid, home of the only Olympic-level bobsled track in the country.

“I’m sure a lot of these people had not been around African Americans before,” said Jeff Jordan, Gadley’s best friend from SUNY Plattsburgh who rounded out the four-man Olympic sled with Hickey, Gadley and Davenport.

Gadley excelled from the start, earning a spot at the 1979 World Championships. Not everyone on the team was excited about his quick rise. Gadley estimated that out of about 20 national team members, seven or eight didn’t like him because of his skin color. He knew about two definitively, witnessing a conversation at the worlds in Germany.

“The worst thing I heard is that someone didn’t want a Black guy on the back of their sled,” Gadley said. “The saddest part is knowing that, at the world championships, your own teammates don’t like you because of your color.

“I said, I’m not going to say anything. I’m not going to ride on the back of his sled anyway, even if I’m told to. I said, I don’t want to be on the back of your sled, either, and I just left it at that.”

Gadley competed in another sled at worlds, finishing 10th.

“It wasn’t all about skin color,” Gadley said. “Part of it was about you’re breaking up a culture.”

The next season, Hickey, a veteran driver from Upstate New York, was looking to fill his sled with push athletes. He chose the new group of Gadley, Jordan and Davenport. They won the Olympic Trials, despite Jordan and Davenport being rookies (Davenport reportedly pushed a bobsled for the first time a month or two before trials).

“They were the first real world-class athletes to hit bobsledding,” Jordan said of Gadley and Davenport. “We pretty much crushed them [the local bobsledders at Trials], and they did not like it. I don’t know if they would have liked it, period. It didn’t matter what nationality or color.

“The only thing they knew was they were getting their butts kicked. I can’t say we were mistreated other than they would rather have their buddies on the Olympic team.”

Davenport, at 36, was 12 years removed from his Summer Olympic title and the oldest U.S. bobsledder in Lake Placid. While his speed was an asset, his lack of experience was evident, his teammates said.

“Willie was on the other side of his career,” Jordan said. “He brought a lot of notoriety. We were in People magazine, on Good Morning America. None of that would have happened without Willie’s presence. He wasn’t there for the same reason Jeff [Gadley] was there.

“If Willie had just been another Jeff Gadley, would we have gotten that attention? Maybe, eventually, but there was quite a bit of attention early on.”

Gadley, Hickey and Jordan, in recent interviews, remembered the buzz at the Lake Placid Games. Curt Gowdy, the Hall of Fame sportscaster, called bobsled for ABC. President Jimmy Carter‘s 12-year-old daughter, Amy, showed up one day.

The Americans finished more than six seconds behind the winning East German quartet, but were slowed to an unknown degree by inferior equipment. Hickey said that the East German driver, 39-year-old Meinhard Nehmer, told Gowdy that the Americans would have won if they had his sled.

“They came and went quick,” Hickey said of the Olympics. “We weren’t prepared.”

It marked the end of the Olympic careers for Davenport and Gadley. Davenport died in 2002.

Gadley gave up the decathlon after the U.S. boycott of the Moscow Games was announced. He now lives in Texas with his wife.

Most of his Olympic mementos and photos were discarded or lost over the last 40 years. But Gadley was glad for the experience and feels fortunate for the opportunity, back when bobsled was a regional, if not local, sport.

“I would say pioneers would be a good word to use,” for Davenport and I, he said. “It was just a matter of exposure where I was and what I was doing [at the time]. It made an example to others that, hey, as a Black guy, if he’s doing it, I can do it, too.”

MORE: Elana Meyers Taylor’s claims of racism in bobsled being investigated

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Jeff Gadley