Comebacks, foes, timing: Star athletes’ obstacles to Tokyo Olympics

Carli Lloyd, LeBron James, Laurie Hernandez, Ryan Lochte
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Star U.S. athletes who, for various reasons, face a challenge to compete at the Tokyo Olympics in 2021 …

Jordan Burroughs
An Olympic gold medalist and four-time world champion over the last decade. Burroughs, at 32, appears set for his toughest challenge yet at the Olympic Trials in April. That’s because Kyle Dake, the 2018 and 2019 World champion at the non-Olympic 79kg division, is moving to Burroughs’ 74kg class. Only one U.S. wrestler per weight class qualifies for Tokyo.

Allyson Felix
The nine-time medalist was fit enough to make the national team in 2019 when, eight months post-life threatening childbirth, she was sixth in the USATF Outdoor Championships 400m. Athletes must finish top three at the Olympic Trials in June to qualify in an individual event, but in the 400m, the top six usually go to fill out the relay pool. It’s possible more than six could go to Tokyo with the addition of the mixed-gender 4x400m. But Felix will want to make it in the open 400m and/or the 200m and become the oldest U.S. woman to win an Olympic track and field medal.

Laurie Hernandez
Last competed in Rio, taking team gold and balance beam silver as the youngest U.S. female Olympian across all sports (16). She began a comeback in earnest in 2019, attending a national team camp that November. The extra year gives Hernandez time to get her skills back, but also allows younger gymnasts to enter the picture for one of up to five Olympic spots.

LeBron James
Automatic for the team if he wants to play for Gregg Popovich. But James, who passed on Rio, has not made a public commitment, leaving the possibility he withdraws from roster consideration to rest up after an NBA season that will likely end in July for the Los Angeles Lakers, a week or two, or even days, before the Opening Ceremony. If USA Basketball determines participation in an early July training camp mandatory for Olympic consideration, then it’s likely any player on a team that makes the conference finals will not go to Tokyo.

Carli Lloyd
Lloyd, who turns 39 in July, is older than any previous U.S. Olympic soccer player. A one-year postponement would not seem to benefit older athletes, but Lloyd will get one more year to prove herself to new U.S. coach Vlatko Andonovski. Before he took over, Lloyd was primarily a reserve at the 2019 World Cup. After his hiring, she was in the starting XI for the crucial match of Olympic qualifying in January and two of the three matches of the SheBelieves Cup in March. Making the Olympic roster will be more difficult than the World Cup team, given the number of players is reduced from 23 to 18.

Ryan Lochte
The most decorated active athlete with 12 medals is now 36 and bidding to become the oldest U.S. Olympic male swimmer in history. After two suspensions in this Olympic cycle, he ranks fifth in the U.S. in his best event, the 200m individual medley, since the start of 2019. The top two at the Olympic Trials in June qualify for the team.

Kerri Walsh Jennings
The most decorated Olympic beach volleyball player in history (three golds, one bronze) would qualify for a sixth Games if current qualifying standings hold. But Walsh Jennings, 42, and new partner Brooke Sweat, 34, must hold off Kelly Claes, 25, and Sarah Sponcil, 24, once international tournaments resume in 2021 for the second and final U.S. spot in Tokyo behind April Ross and Alix Klineman.

Venus Williams
Four American women will play singles in Tokyo. The 40-year-old Williams is outside the top 10 in U.S. Olympic qualifying. But she has a safety net: doubles. The U.S. can send two more players per gender to the Olympics for doubles only, and they could end up discretionary selections. Venus has a pretty strong resume in that case — the most decorated Olympic tennis player in history with a natural doubles partner, her little sister, who will likely already be on the team in singles.

Tiger Woods
The only person on this list who has zero gold medals (and hasn’t competed at an Olympics). Woods, who is 45 and older than all but three golfers from the Rio Games, entered 2020 ranked fifth in U.S. Olympic qualifying for four spots in Tokyo. He’s since tumbled outside the top 20 after just one top-25 finish in the abbreviated tournament calendar. If this was almost any other nation, Woods would still be in Olympic contention. But, in the deep U.S., he needs a spectacular start to 2021 to get back into the mix.

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Alexa Knierim, Brandon Frazier win U.S. figure skating pairs’ title in possible final nationals

Alexa Knierim, Brandon Frazier
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Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier haven’t decided if they’ll compete beyond this season, so Saturday may have been their farewell to the U.S. Figure Skating Championships.

If so, they went out as dominant winners, the first pair in their 30s to win nationals in more than 50 years.

Knierim, 31, and Frazier, 30, took their second U.S. title together, totaling 227.97 points to prevail by 31.11 over Emily Chan and Spencer Howe. They led by a gaping 15.1 points after Thursday’s short.

Knierim and Frazier were solid after errors on their opening jumping combination in Saturday’s free skate. They broke their own pairs’ margin of victory record from the 2021 U.S. Championships under a scoring system implemented in 2006. Knierim appeared to wipe away tears backstage.

“As I get older, the longer I’m in this sport, the more gratitude I have for it,” Knierim, the oldest woman to win a U.S. figure skating title since 1995 (Renée Roca), said on USA Network. “After that music ended, I’m just thankful that Brandon’s by my side and I’m able to do what I love.”

Ellie Kam and Danny O’Shea bagged bronze to likely round out the three-pair team for March’s world championships.

FIGURE SKATING NATIONALS: Full Scores | Broadcast Schedule

Knierim and Frazier considered retiring after last season, after they missed nationals due to Frazier’s COVID-19, petitioned onto the Olympic team and posted the best Olympic finish for a U.S. pair (sixth) in 20 years.

They then became the first U.S. pair to win a world title since 1979, beating a field that didn’t include any of the top five from the Olympics.

They returned in part to compete as world champions and rank second in the world this season (during which the top Olympic pairs also haven’t competed). They will likely go into March’s worlds in Japan as underdogs to Japan’s Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara, who won their lone head-to-head this past fall at the Grand Prix Final.

Back in October, Knierim said this will probably be their last season competing together, though the pair also thought they were done last spring. They don’t expect to make a final decision until after a Stars on Ice tour this spring.

“This U.S. Championships for us was extra special because you’re just reflecting on the journey, and you know that there’s a good chance that this will be your last one,” Frazier said.

Knierim won her fifth U.S. title, tying the record for a pairs’ skater since World War II, joining Kyoka InaTai BabiloniaRandy GardnerKarol Kennedy and Peter Kennedy. Knierim’s first three titles, and her first Olympics in 2018, were with husband Chris, who retired in 2020.

Silver medalists Chan and Howe continued their recent surge. After placing fourth at last season’s nationals, they rank sixth in the world this season. That’s despite summer injuries that left them unable to practice lifts (his shoulder) and throws (her foot) for a while.

Kam, 18, and O’Shea, 31, made the podium four months after becoming a pair and less than two months after a car Kim was riding in was hit by a drunk driver while crossing an intersection. The car was totaled, but Kim and O’Shea still competed days later in Croatia.

O’Shea won the 2016 U.S. title with Tarah Kayne, retired after they split in late 2020, then came back in 2021 with Chelsea Liu. They ranked sixth in the U.S. going into 2022 Nationals, but withdrew beforehand due to concussions both suffered in a November competition fall, according to Figure Skaters Online.

NBC Sports’ Sarah Hughes (not the figure skater) contributed to this report.

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2023 U.S. Figure Skating Championships scores, results

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Full scores and results from the 2023 U.S. Figure Skating Championships in San Jose …

Women
Gold: Isabeau Levito — 223.33
Silver: Bradie Tennell — 213.12
Bronze: Amber Glenn — 207.44
4. Starr Andrews — 188.24
5. Josephine Lee — 187.68
6. Lindsay Thorngren — 187.19
7. Clare Seo — 175.60
8. Gracie Gold — 173.98
9. Ava Ziegler — 167.70
10. Sonja Hilmer — 166.49
11. Gabriella Izzo — 166.40
12. Ting Cui — 161.27
13. Audrey Shin — 161.12
14. Lindsay Wang — 154.91
15. Michelle Lee — 145.28
16. Elsa Cheng — 138.13
17. Alexa Gasparotto — 129.41
WD. Hanna Harrell

Men’s Short Program
1. Ilia Malinin — 110.36
2. Jason Brown — 100.25
3. Tomoki Hiwatashi — 85.43
4. Liam Kapeikis — 82.27
5. Andrew Torgashev — 78.78
6. Maxim Naumov — 77.71
7. Jimmy Ma — 73.88
8. Goku Endo — 73.45
9. Samuel Mindra — 71.36
10. Yaroslav Paniot — 70.87
11. Camden Pulkinen — 69.47
12. Matthew Nielsen — 67.98
13. Joonsoo Kim — 67.45
14. Daniel Martynov — 64.04
15. Will Annis — 63.46
16. Dinh Tran — 60.63
17. Mitchell Friess — 59.14
18. Joseph Klein — 58.38

Pairs
Gold: Alexa Knierim/Brandon Frazier — 227.97
Silver: Emily Chan/Spencer Howe — 196.86

Bronze: Ellie Kam/Danny O’Shea — 184.01
4. Sonia Baram/Danil Tioumentsev —- 179.08
5. Valentina Plazas/Maximiliano Fernandez — 176.34
6. Katie McBeath/Nathan Bartholomay —- 172.74
7. Maria Mokhova/Ivan Mokhov —- 148.84
8. Nica Digerness/Mark Sadusky — 137.98
9. Grace Hanns / Danny Neudecker — 135.30
10. Nina Ouellette/Rique Newby-Estrella — 132.07
11. Linzy Fitzpatrick/Keyton Bearinger — 129.80

Ice Dance
Gold: Madison Chock/Evan Bates — 229.75
Silver: Caroline Green/Michael Parsons — 207.46
Bronze: Christina Carreira/Anthony Ponomarenko — 198.45
4. Emilea Zingas/Vadym Kolesnik — 198.13
5. Emily Bratti/Ian Somerville — 189.84
6. Lorraine McNamara/Anton Spiridonov — 189.15
7. Katarina Wolfkostin/Jeffrey Chen — 183.05
8. Eva Pate/Logan Bye — 182.61
9. Oona Brown/Gage Brown — 181.89
10. Isabella Flores/Ivan Desyatov — 177.31
11. Angela Ling/Caleb Wein — 167.87
12. Leah Krauskopf/YuanShi Jin — 133.93
13. Cara Murphy/Joshua Levitt — 129.85
14. Caroline Depietri/TJ Carey — 123.40
WD. Raffaella Koncius/Alexey Shchepetov

FIGURE SKATING NATIONALS: Broadcast Schedule | New Era for U.S.

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