Russians in position to end pairs’ drought at figure skating worlds; U.S. best in years

2020/21 ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating Rostelecom Cup: pairs' short program
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A young pairs’ team from Russia is in position to win at the world figure skating championships, potentially ending an eight-year gold-medal drought.

Aleksandra Boikova and Dmitry Kozlovsky topped Wednesday’s short program in Stockholm with 80.16 points, edging two-time world champions Sui Wenjing and Han Cong of China by 2.54.

Boikova, 19, and Kozlovsky, 21, were sixth in their senior worlds debut in 2019, then won both the 2020 European title and Russia’s Grand Prix Series event this past autumn.

The last duo from once dominant Russia to win a world title was Tatyana Volosozhar and Maksim Trankov, who ended an eight-year drought in 2013. Technically, skaters aren’t representing Russia this week, but the Russian Skating Federation, as the nation’s flag and anthem are barred from major international sporting events due to doping issues.

American pairs Ashley Cain-Gribble and Timothy LeDuc and Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier were sixth and seventh, respectively. Their combined results after Thursday’s free skate must add up to no more than 13 (sixth and seventh, for example) for the U.S. to earn the maximum three pairs’ spots at the 2022 Olympics.

The U.S. last put two pairs in the top 10 at worlds in 2012. The U.S. last put two pairs in the top seven in 2002.

Competition continues Thursday morning with the men’s short program.

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Boikova and Kozlovsky can become the youngest pairs’ world champions since the legendary Russians Ekaterina Gordeeva and Sergey Grinkov, who won four titles from 1986-90 while Gordeeva was a teenager.

Sui and Han, undefeated in scattered competition since taking silver at the 2018 Olympics, are working their way back from Han’s hip joint surgery last April. They last competed at the February 2020 Four Continents Championships, skipping a Grand Prix in China in November due to his recovery.

The Chinese went back to an old short program in part out of comfort, given Han’s challenge coming back from the surgery.

“Though we only trained for a short time we did manage to perform well,” Han said, according to the International Skating Union.

The American pairs, after early mistakes, recovered and are in position to secure three Olympic spots. It comes four years after the U.S. earned just one spot for the PyeongChang Olympics, its fewest since the first Winter Games in 1924.

Cain-Gribble fell on their triple Salchows. LeDuc called Cain-Gribble’s performance, rising to execute the rest of an otherwise strong program, “the mark of a champion.”

Cain-Gribble and LeDuc, third at January’s nationals, replaced Jessica Calalang and Brian Johnson on the world team a few weeks ago after the U.S. silver medalists withdrew for personal reasons unrelated to the coronavirus pandemic.

Knierim and Frazier, U.S. champions in their first season together, lost points when he doubled their planned triple toe loops. They both called it a fluke.

“I was so proud of him because the moment he skated away from that jump, he held himself so strong and put together, and the rest of the program he gave it as if he nailed his jump,” Knierim said.

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Olympian Derrick Mein ends U.S. men’s trap drought at shotgun worlds

Derrick Mein

Tokyo Olympian Derrick Mein became the first U.S. male shooter to win a world title in the trap event since 1966, prevailing at the world shotgun championships in Osijek, Croatia, on Wednesday.

Mein, who grew up on a small farm in Southeast Kansas, hunting deer and quail, nearly squandered a place in the final when he missed his last three shots in the semifinal round after hitting his first 22. He rallied in a sudden-death shoot-off for the last spot in the final by hitting all five of his targets.

He hit 33 of 34 targets in the final to win by two over Brit Nathan Hales with one round to spare.

The last U.S. man to win an Olympic trap title was Donald Haldeman in 1976.

Mein, 37, was 24th in his Olympic debut in Tokyo (and placed 13th with Kayle Browning in the mixed-gender team event).

The U.S. swept the Tokyo golds in the other shotgun event — skeet — with Vincent Hancock and Amber English. Browning took silver in women’s trap.

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Mo Farah withdraws before London Marathon

Mo Farah

British track legend Mo Farah withdrew before Sunday’s London Marathon, citing a right hip injury before what would have been his first 26.2-mile race in nearly two years.

Farah, who swept the 2012 and 2016 Olympic track titles at 5000m and 10,000m, said he hoped “to be back out there” next April, when the London Marathon returns to its traditional month after COVID moved it to the fall for three consecutive years. Farah turns 40 on March 23.

“I’ve been training really hard over the past few months and I’d got myself back into good shape and was feeling pretty optimistic about being able to put in a good performance,” in London, Farah said in a press release. “However, over the past 10 days I’ve been feeling pain and tightness in my right hip. I’ve had extensive physio and treatment and done everything I can to be on the start line, but it hasn’t improved enough to compete on Sunday.”

Farah switched from the track to the marathon after the 2017 World Championships and won the 2018 Chicago Marathon in a then-European record time of 2:05:11. Belgium’s Bashir Abdi now holds the record at 2:03:36.

Farah returned to the track in a failed bid to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics, then shifted back to the roads.

Sunday’s London Marathon men’s race is headlined by Ethiopians Kenenisa Bekele and Birhanu Legese, the second- and third-fastest marathoners in history.

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