‘Desperado’ Nathan Chen leads after Skate America short program

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Nathan Chen was his typically superb self in his first top-level competition program in nine months, topping the Skate America short by a sizable 11.81 points in Las Vegas on Friday night.

Chen, undefeated since placing fifth at the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics, tallied 111.17 points on the strength of two quadruple jumps. His program is to a Latin piece, including music from “Desperado.”

“I’ve never done this style of program,” Chen said. “There’s still a lot of work and improvement to be done.

“I did the best that I can, considering that this is still very new to me.”

Vincent Zhou, an Olympic teammate and 2019 World bronze medalist, was second, followed by Canadian Keegan Messing.

Earlier Friday, U.S. silver medalist Mariah Bell topped the women’s short program while wearing her free skate costume. Bell, a 24-year-old, 2018 Olympic alternate, seeks the biggest win of her career. More on the women’s short here.

Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue, seeking a third straight Skate America title, led after the rhythm dance. The new team of Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Brandon Frazier topped a pairs’ field that included two other past national champion teams.

All of the free programs are on Saturday.

SKATE AMERICA: TV, Live Stream Schedule | Results

The Grand Prix season-opening competition usually boasts top skaters from around the world. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, it is restricted to Americans and international skaters who train in the U.S. and being held without ticketed spectators at Orleans Arena.

“As soon as you step on the ice, I think you notice the lack of audience,” Chen said. The skaters performed in front of cardboard cutouts.

Chen, on a break from Yale classes through the 2022 Beijing Olympics, can tie the record four straight Skate America titles currently shared by Michelle Kwan, Todd Eldredge and ice dancers Meryl Davis and Charlie White.

Chen hasn’t been outscored in full competition by a countryman in four years. He will likely not face his rival, two-time Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan, until the world championships in March. Hanyu is sitting out the abbreviated Grand Prix Series.

Zhou, who has the ability to challenge Chen’s jumping repertoire, rebounded Friday with two quads after a rough morning practice, when he took a hard fall.

“I’ve been trying to find my groove, to find my center of balance, and it has felt a little off sometimes,” in Las Vegas, said Zhou, who in the last year has lived in Rhode Island, Toronto and now Colorado Springs. “I got off the ice after this morning’s practice, thoughts racing through my head and not really in the best state of my mind. I took a nap and slept it off and psyched myself up and came here, told myself I have one job to do, and I know I’m capable of doing it.”

Jason Brown, the other top U.S. male skater and favorite to make the 2022 Olympic team, was to compete at Skate Canada next week, but that event was canceled due to the pandemic. Brown trains in Toronto.

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Elena Fanchini, medal-winning Alpine skier, dies at 37

Elena Fanchini
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Italian skier Elena Fanchini, whose career was cut short by a tumor, has died. She was 37.

Fanchini passed away Wednesday at her home in Solato, near Brescia, the Italian Winter Sports Federation announced.

Fanchini died on the same day that fellow Italian Marta Bassino won the super-G at the world championships in Meribel, France; and two days after Federica Brignone — another former teammate — claimed gold in combined.

Sofia Goggia, who is the favorite for Saturday’s downhill, dedicated her win in Cortina d’Ampezzo last month to Fanchini.

Fanchini last raced in Dec. 2017. She was cleared to return to train nearly a year later but never made it fully back and her condition grew worse in recent months.

Fanchini won a silver medal in downhill at the 2005 World Championships and also won two World Cup races in her career — both in downhill.

She missed the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics because of her condition.

Fanchini’s younger sisters Nadia and Sabrina were also World Cup racers.

USA Boxing to skip world championships

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USA Boxing will not send boxers to this year’s men’s and women’s world championships, citing “the ongoing failures” of the IBA, the sport’s international governing body, that put boxing’s place on the Olympic program at risk.

The Washington Post first reported the decision.

In a letter to its members, USA Boxing Executive Director Mike McAtee listed many factors that led to the decision, including IBA governance issues, financial irregularities and transparency and that Russian and Belarusian boxers are allowed to compete with their flags.

IBA lifted its ban on Russian and Belarusian boxers in October and said it would allow their flags and anthems to return, too.

The IOC has not shifted from its recommendation to international sports federations last February that Russian and Belarusian athletes be barred, though the IOC and Olympic sports officials have been exploring whether those athletes could return without national symbols.

USA Boxing said that Russian boxers have competed at an IBA event in Morocco this month with their flags and are expected to compete at this year’s world championships under their flags.

“While sport is intended to be politically neutral, many boxers, coaches and other representatives of the Ukrainian boxing community were killed as a result of the Russian aggression against Ukraine, including coach Mykhaylo Korenovsky who was killed when a Russian missile hit an apartment block in January 2023,” according to the USA Boxing letter. “Ukraine’s sports infrastructure, including numerous boxing gyms, has been devastated by Russian aggression.”

McAtee added later that USA Boxing would still not send athletes to worlds even if Russians and Belarusians were competing as neutrals and without their flags.

“USA Boxing’s decision is based on the ‘totality of all of the factors,'” he said in an emailed response. “Third party oversite and fairness in the field of play is the most important factor.”

A message has been sent to the IBA seeking comment on USA Boxing’s decision.

The women’s world championships are in March in India. The men’s world championships are in May in Uzbekistan. They do not count toward 2024 Olympic qualifying.

In December, the IOC said recent IBA decisions could lead to “the cancellation of boxing” for the 2024 Paris Games.

Some of the already reported governance issues led to the IOC stripping IBA — then known as AIBA — of its Olympic recognition in 2019. AIBA had suspended all 36 referees and judges used at the 2016 Rio Olympics pending an investigation into a possible judging scandal, one that found that some medal bouts were fixed by “complicit and compliant” referees and judges.

The IOC ran the Tokyo Olympic boxing competition.

Boxing was not included on the initial program for the 2028 Los Angeles Games announced in December 2021, though it could still be added. The IBA must address concerns “around its governance, its financial transparency and sustainability and the integrity of its refereeing and judging processes,” IOC President Thomas Bach said then.

This past June, the IOC said IBA would not run qualifying competitions for the 2024 Paris Games.

In September, the IOC said it was “extremely concerned” about the Olympic future of boxing after an IBA extraordinary congress overwhelmingly backed Russian Umar Kremlev to remain as its president rather than hold an election.

Kremlev was re-elected in May after an opponent, Boris van der Vorst of the Netherlands, was barred from running against him. The Court of Arbitration for Sport ruled in June that van der Vorst should have been eligible to run against Kremlev, but the IBA group still decided not to hold a new election.

Last May, Rashida Ellis became the first U.S. woman to win a world boxing title at an Olympic weight since Claressa Shields in 2016, taking the 60kg lightweight crown in Istanbul. In Tokyo, Ellis lost 3-0 in her opening bout in her Olympic debut.

At the last men’s worlds in 2021, Robby Gonzales and Jahmal Harvey became the first U.S. men to win an Olympic or world title since 2007, ending the longest American men’s drought since World War II.

The Associated Press and NBC Olympic research contributed to this report.

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