Led by Chen and Tennell, Team Tara wins Las Vegas Invitational

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Tara Lipinski said she likes to have a clean competitive record, and six of this season’s top U.S. singles skaters helped ensure the 1998 Olympic champion and 1997 world champion maintain that record as Team Tara won the first, and potentially only, Las Vegas Invitational, which aired Sunday on NBC. The competition was recorded two days after Skate America ended, using the same venue, on Oct. 26.

The event, created by U.S. Figure Skating and HomeLight to present skaters with an additional opportunity to compete and earn prize money during the pandemic, pitted Team Tara against two-time Olympian Johnny Weir’s Team Johnny with three men and three women per team.

Each skater performed their free skate. All performances were scored using the same components factor of 1.6, so ever score would carry the same weight in the composition of the overall team score. Men are typically scored using a 2.0 component factor score; the regularly factored scores are included in parentheses below.

Team Tara totaled 828.95 points and led Team Johnny’s 774.98 by 53.97 points.

The competition featured Lipinski and Weir giving their team members pep talks throughout, including Weir telling Mariah Bell to “ABBA like you’ve never ABBA-ed before,” referring to her program set to a medley of four ABBA songs, and Lipinski asking Alex Krasnozhon for a quadruple loop and jokingly encouraging Nathan Chen to pull out a quad Axel.

“The pep talk really amped us up, we did really well because of that,” Chen said on the broadcast.

Athletes also had whiteboards and wrote messages to cheer on their teammates.

Team Johnny led after the first two skaters – Team Tara’s Starr Andrews and Team Johnny’s Karen Chen – but Team Tara pulled ahead after Audrey Shin skated on her behalf and Alysa Liu represented Weir; Team Tara held on to that lead the rest of the way.

Lipinski’s squad was highlighted by two-time world champion Chen, who anchored the event and had the highest score among the men with a 182.20 (200.63), and 2018 Olympian Bradie Tennell, who led the women with a 140.14. Chen’s 200.63 is 12.65 points higher than his score from Skate America.

Continuing their neck-and-neck competition from last month’s Skate America, where Bell won by a two-program margin of 1.66, Tennell narrowly edged Bell by 0.72 points at the Las Vegas Invitational.

Andrews and Krasnozhon, both on Team Tara, were the surprise performers of the event.

The 19-year-old Andrews, who was the 2017 U.S. junior silver medalist, improved her Skate America score by 6.2 points to a 120.70. Weir said her performance was the best he had seen from her in three seasons.

Krasnozhon nailed the quad loop – saying he did not want to disappoint Lipinski – for a 138.58 (153.87). The latter is 17.32 points higher than his Skate America score. At Skate America, he had the lowest score among the six men who would compete at the Las Vegas Invitational; two days later, he had the third-highest score.

Chen also landed a quad loop, including it in his program for the first time since the 2017 Japan Open.

“I was a little stressed about that, but I saw Alex pull it off, so I figured I have to do it myself,” Chen said.

Shin, who was the surprise bronze medalist at Skate America in her senior Grand Prix debut, continued to impress with a 132.65, the third-highest women’s score.

Meanwhile, Liu, the two-time reigning U.S. women’s champion at age 13 and 14, continues to struggle so far this season. She finished fourth at the virtual ISP Points Challenge in early October and had the lowest women’s score (110.80) at the Las Vegas Invitational.

Full results are below.

Team Tara:
Starr Andrews, 120.70
Audrey Shin, 132.65
Bradie Tennell, 140.14
Alex Krasnozhon, 138.58 (153.87)
Ilia Malinin, 114.68 (128.04)
Nathan Chen, 182.20 (200.63)
Total: 828.95

Team Johnny:
Karen Chen, 122,43
Alysa Liu, 110.80
Mariah Bell, 139.42
Camden Pulkinen, 129.46 (145.29)
Tomoki Hiwatashi, 131.40 (147.80)
Vincent Zhou, 141.47 (158.54)
Total: 774.98

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated Chen attempted a quad loop at the 2017 Grand Prix Final.

Kendall Gretsch wins six gold medals at Para Nordic Ski Worlds

Kendall Gretsch
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Kendall Gretsch, who won Paralympic titles at the last Summer and Winter Games, added another six gold medals at the World Para Nordic Skiing Championships in Sweden last week.

Gretsch, 30, earned seven total medals in seven days between biathlon and cross-country skiing.

Gretsch won gold medals in three different sports across the last three Paralympics: biathlon and cross-country skiing in 2018 (two years after taking up the sports), triathlon in 2021 and biathlon in 2022.

She plans to shift her focus back to triathlon after this winter for 2024 Paris Games qualification.

Gretsch, born with spina bifida, was the 2014 USA Triathlon Female Para Triathlete of the Year. Though triathlon was added to the Paralympics for the 2016 Rio Games, her classification was not added until Tokyo.

Also at last week’s worlds, six-time Paralympian Aaron Pike earned his first Paralympic or world championships gold medal in his decade-plus career, winning a 12.5km biathlon event.

Oksana Masters, who won seven medals in seven events at last year’s Paralympics to break the career U.S. Winter Paralympics medals record, missed worlds due to hand surgery.

The U.S. also picked up five medals at last week’s World Para Alpine Skiing Championships in Spain — three silvers for five-time Paralympian Laurie Stephens and two bronzes for 17-year-old Saylor O’Brien.

Stephens now has 18 career medals from world championships, plus seven at the Paralympics.

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World champion skier Kyle Smaine dies in avalanche at age 31

Kyle Smaine
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Kyle Smaine, a retired world champion halfpipe skier, died in an avalanche in Japan on Sunday, according to NBC News, citing Smaine’s father. He was 31.

Smaine, a 2015 World champion in ski halfpipe, had been doing ski filming in Japan, sharing videos on his Instagram account over the past week.

The native of South Lake Tahoe, California, finished ninth in ski halfpipe at the 2016 Winter X Games in Aspen, Colorado.

In 2018, Smaine won the fifth and final U.S. Olympic qualifying series event in ski halfpipe but did not make the four-man team for PyeongChang. His last sanctioned international competition was in February 2018.

Late Sunday, two-time Olympic champion David Wise won the X Games men’s ski halfpipe and dedicated it to Smaine.

“We all did this for Kyle tonight,” Wise said on the broadcast. “It’s a little bit of an emotional day for us. We lost a friend.”