Chris Lillis honors ‘Speedy’ Peterson, joins Ashley Caldwell with aerials silver at worlds

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Chris Lillis honored Jeret “Speedy” Peterson in aerials at the world freestyle skiing championships as part of a double silver medal day for the U.S.

Earlier Wednesday, Ashley Caldwell also took silver, becoming the most decorated U.S. woman in her discipline at the biennial worlds.

Lillis became the first American since Peterson to perform a quintuple twisting triple backflip in competition — a back double full-full-double full for second place at worlds in Almaty, Kazakhstan.

Peterson performed his signature quint, “the Hurricane,” to take silver at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. Peterson killed himself a year and a half later. He was 29. The Speedy Foundation was established later in 2011 for mental health education and suicide prevention.

“Speedy was just a larger-than-life icon in my eyes growing up,” Lillis, 22, said. “It shows me that I’m jumping well enough to maybe have the same kind of success that he had in his career, but also a tremendous honor to be put in the same sentence as someone I grew up in awe of.”

Lillis, who missed the PyeongChang Olympics after an ACL tear, took silver with 133.5 points on Wednesday behind Russian Maksim Burov, who repeated as world champion with 135 points. Another Russian, Pavel Krotov, took bronze as all three men on the podium performed the same jump in the super final, the maximum degree of difficulty allowed under the current rules.

Lillis, who expects all six super finalists at the Beijing Olympics to throw a quint (including Chinese medal threats who didn’t compete this season), graded his effort on Wednesday an A.

“Considering where I was and the limited amount of experience with it that I have,” he said. “In general, I feel like I’ve got more in the tank. I feel like I can perfect it and do it better. I don’t feel like that was necessarily the best one I could have done, but given the moment, given the amount of pressure I was under and it being the first time I was competing it, I was really happy.”

Lillis did 100 of the jumps into a pool in offseason training.

“Definitely nervous to go do it,” he said before the season. “Kind of feels like jumping on a plane.”

Lillis’ older brother, Jonathon, won the 2017 World title. He has stepped away from competing, but the brothers still live together in Park City and conversed daily this season while Chris competed in Europe.

“The season as a whole has been a rough and interesting ride,” said Lillis, who suffered deep bone bruises and cracked ribs in January, when he caught an edge in training shortly before hitting the kicker, smacked his body into the face of it, shot off it and landed on a knoll. “I definitely have made a step up into that next echelon of jumping and just looking for that consistency. I made a large step to where I ultimately want to be. Now it’s just how do I live there, be more consistent and be more comfortable with these kinds of tricks.”

Caldwell, a three-time Olympian, landed a back full-full-full — a triple, in aerials lingo — for 101.74 points as the last competitor in the women’s super final. Caldwell decided last season to back off on triples, but brought them back this year.

“Being able to go out there and do my [high degree of difficulty] and do well is very gratifying,” she said. “A lot of it has to do with timing of the Olympics. I needed to do triples this season to feel good and confident about going in next year and doing triples, so that was a big push.”

Australian Laura Peel, the top aerialist this World Cup season, took gold with 106.46 points, landing the same trick. Russian Lyubov Nikitina earned bronze.

Caldwell added silver to her gold from the 2017 Worlds, surpassing 1998 Olympic champion Nikki Stone for the best medal record in women’s aerials for an American in world championships history.

Caldwell was the lone American to reach the six-skier super final. Four Americans, including Caldwell, follow Peel in the World Cup season standings, but the other three (Winter Vinecki, Megan Nick and Kaila Kuhn) did not compete in Almaty.

“Unfortunately COVID-19 protocols prevented several aerials athletes from participating,” a U.S. Ski and Snowboard spokesperson said when asked about their absences.

Caldwell noted her own stress from traveling across Europe during the pandemic.

“It’s one thing to be worried about getting sick in your own country, and it’s another to be worried about getting sick in a foreign country and doing a high-risk sport that might lead you to the hospital,” she said. “A lot of information that athletes really didn’t think about before. Now they have to actually make the decision about whether or not to take additional risks when you’re traveling abroad and competing.”

Caldwell, who was the youngest U.S. athlete at the 2010 Winter Olympics at age 16, said going into the PyeongChang Olympics in 2018 that they might be her final Games. Now she’s on the verge of matching 1998 Olympic champion Eric Bergoust‘s national record four Olympic starts in aerials.

“I also have a different perspective being older and seeing kind of the end of my career could be around the corner,” said Caldwell, trying to become the second American woman to win an Olympic aerials medal after Stone. “I definitely appreciate every event a lot more, even when the results aren’t as I wish.

“I definitely see myself wanting to do other things [after the 2022 Olympics], but I don’t know if that means that I will totally stop aerials or maybe just take a year or two off. I really don’t know yet.”

Freestyle skiing worlds continue with mixed team aerials on Thursday. A full TV and live stream schedule is here.

NBC Olympics researcher Rachel Thompson contributed to this report.

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2023 U.S. Figure Skating Championships TV, live stream schedule

U.S. Figure Skating Championships
U.S. Figure Skating
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The U.S. Figure Skating Championships, in some ways marking a new era in the sport, air live from San Jose, California, on NBC Sports, USA Network and Peacock.

After last February’s Olympics, U.S. figure skating saw its greatest turnover from one season to the next in more than 20 years.

Nathan Chen and Vincent Zhou, the top two men last season, are not competing this season and may be done altogether. Alysa Liu and Mariah Bell, the top two women, retired. As did the top ice dance couple of Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue. Ashley Cain and Timothy LeDuc, last year’s national pairs’ champions, also left the sport.

So, for the first time since 1993, the U.S. Championships feature a reigning national champion in just one of the four disciplines.

Amid all that, U.S. skaters performed well in the fall Grand Prix Series and made the podium in all four disciplines at December’s Grand Prix Final for the first time. Note the absence of Russian skaters, banned from international events due to the war in Ukraine.

At nationals, skaters are vying for spots on the team — three per discipline — for March’s world championships in Japan.

Ilia Malinin, an 18-year-old from Virginia, is the headliner after becoming the first skater to land a quadruple Axel, doing so at all four of his events this season. He ranks second in the world by best total score, a whopping 38.28 points ahead of the next American (Camden Pulkinen).

Jason Brown is the lone Olympian in the men’s field, competing for the first time since placing sixth at the Games.

Isabeau Levito, 15 and a reigning world junior champion like Malinin, took silver at the Grand Prix Final against the world’s other top skaters. She enters nationals with a best score this season 18.13 points better than the next American, Amber Glenn. Bradie Tennell, a 2018 Olympian coming back from foot and ankle injuries, is also a threat to gain one of the three women’s spots at worlds.

Ice dancers Madison Chock and Evan Bates are the lone defending national champions and will likely make the podium for an 11th consecutive year, which would be one shy of the record.

Bates, who last year at 32 became the oldest U.S. champion in any discipline in decades, has made 12 career senior nationals podiums with Chock and former partner Emily Samuelson. It is believed that a 13th finish in the top three would break the U.S. record for a single discipline he currently shares with Michelle Kwan, Nathaniel Niles and Theresa Weld Blanchard.

In pairs, Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier return after missing nationals last year due to Frazier contracting COVID-19 the week of the event. Since, they posted the best U.S. pairs’ finish at an Olympics in 20 years, the first world title for a U.S. pair in 43 years and the first Grand Prix Final medal ever for a U.S. pair.

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2023 U.S. Figure Skating Championships Live Broadcast Schedule

Day Event Time (ET) Platform
Thursday Pairs’ Short Program 3:30-5:45 p.m. Peacock | Skate Order
Rhythm Dance 6:30-9 p.m. Peacock | Skate Order
Rhythm Dance 7-9 p.m. USA Network | STREAM LINK
Women’s Short Program 9:10 p.m.-12 a.m. Peacock | Skate Order
Women’s Short Program 10 p.m.-12 a.m. USA Network | STREAM LINK
Friday Men’s Short Program 4:10-7 p.m. Peacock | Skate Order
Men’s Short Program 5-7 p.m. USA Network
Women’s Free Skate 7:45-11 p.m. Peacock
Women’s Free Skate 8-11 p.m. NBC
Saturday Free Dance 1:45-4:30 p.m. Peacock | Skate Order
Free Dance 2:30-4:30 p.m. NBC
Pairs’ Free Skate 7:30-10 p.m. Peacock | Skate Order
Pairs’ Free Skate 8-10 p.m. USA Network
Sunday Men’s Free Skate 2:30-6 p.m. Peacock
Men’s Free Skate 3-6 p.m. NBC

*All NBC and USA Network broadcasts also stream on NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app for subscribers.

Peter Sagan to retire from road cycling, eyes mountain bike at 2024 Paris Olympics

Peter Sagan
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Peter Sagan said 2023 will be his final year as a professional road cyclist and that he will target the 2024 Olympics in mountain bike.

The Slovakian made the announcement on his 33rd birthday in a social media video. He said he made the decision “quite some time ago.”

“I always said I would like to finish my career on the mountain bike, because I started my career on the mountain bike,” Sagan said in a press conference, according to Cyclingnews.com. “It gives me some pleasure at the end of my career because I’m doing something I really enjoy.

“It’s important for me to spend time with my son Marlon and to see life from different angles, and not just as a cyclist. It was never my dream to race or to be a professional rider until 40 or 50. I think it’s time now. And if I am going to be able to finish my career in Paris at the Olympics Games, that’s going to be something nice for me.”

Sagan is a record seven-time Tour de France green jersey champion as best sprinter. He has 12 individual stage wins (the last in 2019), second-most among active riders behind Mark Cavendish‘s record-tying 34.

At the Olympics, Sagan was 34th in the road race in 2012 and 35th in the mountain bike in 2016. He missed the Tokyo Games after surgery to treat an infection in his right knee stemming from a 2021 Tour de France crash.

Sagan won the world junior title in mountain biking at age 18 in 2008 before his road racing career, which included three consecutive world road race titles from 2015-17.

Of qualifying for Paris in the mountain bike, he said, “We’ll see whether it is even possible, but I think it can be another nice adventure.”

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