Shocking U.S. failures and awesome Japanese successes in men’s short program at figure skating worlds

ISU World Figure Skating Championships - Stockholm: Day Two
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Shock.

Nathan Chen of the United States opened his short program at the World Figure Skating Championships Thursday by falling on a jump in an individual competition for the first time after having stayed upright on 120 straight dating to 2018. That meant he lost a program after winning 19 straight live individual competitions since the 2018 French Grand Prix short. Now in third place, 8.13 points behind the leader, Chen will be hard pressed to win a third straight world title.

Vincent Zhou of the United States, the reigning world bronze medalist, made an utter hash of all three short program jumping passes and finished 25th, one place below what was needed to advance to Saturday’s free skate. That complicates U.S. hopes for three men’s spots at the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics.

And awe.

Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan may not have been fully content with his skating, but the two-time Olympic champion finished first after making no mistakes in an electric performance that fulfilled the title of his music, “Let Me Entertain You,” by Robbie Williams.

Yuma Kagiyama of Japan, a 17-year-old in his senior worlds debut, skated fearlessly at Mach 2, collected the highest combined scores of the day for two jumping passes with quads and a huge personal best score (100.96) while finishing second to his countryman, Hanyu (106.98).

And awwwwwwwwwww.

Keegan Messing of Canada skated charmingly to an Ed Sheeran romantic ballad, then tapped his wedding ring to acknowledge his wife, Lane Hodson, who is expecting the couple’s first child in July. Messing wound up a solid fifth, just .01 behind Mikhail Kolyada of Russia.

So the men’s short program Thursday in Stockholm was as packed with a variety of surprises as the women’s had been Wednesday.

FIGURE SKATING WORLDS: Results | TV, Stream Schedule

And there were, naturally, nits to pick about the scoring, as the judges were quite generous with Chen’s component marks and parsimonious with those of his teammate, Jason Brown, even though Brown’s seventh place (but just 2.27 from fourth) owed equally to his not having a quadruple jump.

Brown’s striking, angular interpretation of Nina Simone’s powerful version of “Sinnerman,” inspired by the Alvin Ailey ballet to that music, somehow got a lower PCS score than Chen’s unremarkable performance to Latin-themed music. And Chen lost only 1.53 PCS points to the masterful Hanyu, even though Chen had a sloppy combination spin.

Nearly all the point difference between Chen (98.85) and Hanyu came from the minus-5.75 grade of execution and the minus-1.00 fall deduction from Chen’s botched quad lutz. Coincidentally, his last fall, at the 2018 Grand Prix Final, also was on that jump.

“I was a little bit shocked,” Chen admitted. “As soon as I took off, I was like, `This isn’t going well.’”

Chen said he felt fortunate the lutz wasn’t meant to be the opener of the required jump combination so he didn’t have to revamp the rest of the 2-minute, 50-second program on the fly. Simply regrouping after a big error is hard enough.

“In a clean program, when you pick off the first couple jumps, the rest of the program kind of goes on autopilot, whereas when you make a mistake, you have to really, really think about what you are doing to prevent further mistakes,” Chen said.

Chen did make one more mistake, on the spin, but he had strong execution of his final two jumping passes, a triple Axel and quad flip-triple toe combination. The latter got the highest score of the day (19.86) for the jump combination.

Based on the base values for the elements each programmed in his winning free skates at their respective 2021 national championships, Chen would start Saturday’s free skate with an approximately eight-point advantage over Hanyu before GOE and PCS are added.

That difference assumes five quads for Chen, four for Hanyu. It would shrink considerably if Chen jettisons the quad lutz, which he has now botched two straight times (a landing step out and minus-4.14 GOE at nationals), which he said Thursday was possible if it didn’t go well in practices the next couple days.

Post-2018 rules allowing repetition of just one type of quad and Chen’s justifiable reluctance to try a quad loop, which he does not land consistently, mean he cannot realistically hope to do five without the lutz.

“At this point in time, the risk isn’t always worth it,” Chen said. “There’s a fine line between what you are capable of doing and what you have to push to do.”

Hanyu put himself in a strong position to win a third world title and beat Chen for the first time in their three meetings since the 2018 Olympics by not making a huge error in the short program, as had happened at the 2019 World Championships and 2019 Grand Prix Final.

“Overall, I’m very satisfied, but there is still a lot of room for improvement, that I know,” said Hanyu, 26, who has had eight higher short program scores in a career remarkable for both its achievement and longevity.

Kagiyama, coached by his father, Masakazu, a two-time Olympic figure skater, credited insouciance for the way he attacked his short program. The seeming successor to Hanyu (should he ever retire) blasted into a quad salchow-triple toe and quad toe to open, getting high GOEs, and he kept the energy and performance level high throughout.

“Because it was my first [senior] worlds, I had nothing to lose, and I could just go and enjoy myself,” Kagiyama said. “There was some tension, but I was so excited I really wanted to get onto the ice.”

Zhou, sixth in the 2018 Olympics, let the tension get to him despite years more experience – or maybe because of it, because he knew what was at stake.

“I was really nervous,” Zhou said. “I had stomach butterflies in my whole body.”

Zhou tried to convince himself he would be fine, but that didn’t work. He fell on the opening jump, a quad lutz that was downgraded; did not fully rotate either jump of a quad salchow-triple toe combination; and fell on a triple axel that also was not fully rotated.

“I bombed my [2018] Olympic short program, so I know how tough that feels,” Chen said. “He’s going to learn from this competition, I’m sure of that.”

Chen also was aware Zhou’s failure to make the free skate muddles the process for the United States to get a third Olympic spot.

Even though Chen and Brown are likely to have final placements good enough to earn the third spot (adding up to 13 or fewer), a rule passed after the 2018 Olympics no longer makes that automatic.

If a country with three skaters at the pre-Olympic worlds does not get all three into the free skate, it must send a skater to a qualifying event next fall. If, as is likely, that becomes the case for Team USA, neither Chen nor Brown could be chosen to do that qualifier.

“This is certainly not a result I even wanted to consider coming into this competition,” Zhou said. “I feel like I let down my teammates, my country and myself.

Ow.

Philip Hersh, who has covered figure skating at the last 11 Olympic Winter Games, is a special contributor to NBCSports.com/figure-skating.

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Eliud Kipchoge breaks marathon world record in Berlin

Eliud Kipchoge Berlin Marathon
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Kenyan Eliud Kipchoge broke his own world record in winning the Berlin Marathon, clocking 2:01:09 to lower the previous record time of 2:01:39 he set in the German capital in 2018.

Kipchoge, 37 and a two-time Olympic champion, earned his 15th win in 17 career marathons to bolster his claim as the greatest runner in history over 26.2 miles.

His pacing was not ideal. Kipchoge slowed in the final miles, running 61:18 for the second half after going out in an unprecedented 59:51 for the first 13.1 miles. He still won by 4:49 over Kenyan Mark Korir.

“I was planning to go through it [the halfway mark] 60:50, 60:40,” Kipchoge said. “My legs were running actually very fast. I thought, let me just try to run two hours flat, but all in all, I am happy with the performance.

“We went too fast [in the first half]. It takes energy from the muscles. … There’s still more in my legs [to possibly lower the record again].”

MORE: Berlin Marathon Results

Ethiopian Tigist Assefa won the women’s race in 2:15:37, the third-fastest time in history for somebody who ran one prior marathon in 2:34:01. Only Brigid Kosgei (2:14:14 in Chicago in 2019) and Paula Radcliffe (2:15:25 in London in 2003) have gone faster.

American record holder Keira D’Amato, who entered as the top seed, was sixth in 2:21:48. D’Amato, who went nearly a decade between competitive races after college, owns the American record of 2:19:12 and now also the 10th-best time in U.S. history.

“Today wasn’t my best day ever, but it was the best I could do today,” she said in a text message, according to Race Results Weekly, adding that she briefly stopped and walked late in the race.

The last eight instances the men’s marathon world record has been broken, it has come on the pancake-flat roads of Berlin. It began in 2003, when Kenyan Paul Tergat became the first man to break 2:05.

The world record was 2:02:57 — set by Kenyan Dennis Kimetto in 2014 — until Kipchoge broke it for the first time four years ago.

The following year, Kipchoge became the first person to cover 26.2 miles in under two hours, clocking 1:59:40 in a non-record-eligible showcase rather than a race.

Kipchoge’s focus going forward is trying to become the first runner to win three Olympic marathon titles in Paris in 2024. He also wants to win all six annual World Marathon Majors. He’s checked off four of them, only missing Boston (run in April) and New York City (run every November).

Kipchoge grew up on a farm in Kapsabet in Kenya’s Rift Valley, often hauling by bike several gallons of the family’s milk to sell at the local market. Raised by a nursery school teacher, he ran more than three miles to and from school. He saved for five months to get his first pair of running shoes.

At 18, he upset legends Hicham El Guerrouj and Kenenisa Bekele to win the 2003 World 5000m title on the track. He won Olympic 5000m medals (bronze in 2004 and silver in 2008), then moved to the marathon after failing to make the 2012 Olympic team on the track.

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2022 FIBA Women’s World Cup schedule, results

FIBA Women's World Cup
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The U.S. goes for its fourth consecutive title at the FIBA World Cup in Sydney — and eighth global gold in a row overall when including the Olympics.

A’ja Wilson, a two-time WNBA MVP, and Breanna Stewart, the Tokyo Olympic MVP, headline a U.S. roster that, for the first time since 2000, includes neither Sue Bird (retired) nor Diana Taurasi (injured).

The new-look team includes nobody over the age of 30 for the first time since 1994, before the U.S. began its dynasty at the 1996 Atlanta Games. The Americans have won 52 consecutive games between worlds and the Olympics dating to the 2006 Worlds bronze-medal game.

The field also includes host Australia, the U.S.’ former primary rival, and Olympic silver medalist Japan.

Nigeria, which played the U.S. the closest of any foe in Tokyo (losing by nine points), isn’t present after its federation withdrew the team over governance issues. Spain, ranked second in the world, failed to qualify.

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2022 FIBA Women’s World Cup Schedule

Date Time (ET) Game Round
Wed., Sept. 21 8:30 p.m. Puerto Rico 82, Bosnia and Herzegovina 58 Group A
9:30 p.m. USA 87, Belgium 72 Group A
11 p.m. Canada 67, Serbia 60 Group B
Thurs., Sept. 22 12 a.m. Japan 89, Mali 56 Group B
3:30 a.m. China 107, South Korea 44 Group A
6:30 a.m. France 70, Australia 57 Group B
8:30 p.m. USA 106, Puerto Rico 42 Group A
10 p.m. Serbia 69, Japan 64 Group B
11 p.m. Belgium 84, South Korea 61 Group A
Fri., Sept. 23 12:30 a.m. China 98, Bosnia and Herzegovina 51 Group A
4 a.m. Canada 59, France 45 Group B
6:30 a.m. Australia 118, Mali 58 Group B
Sat., Sept. 24 12:30 a.m. USA 77, China 63 Group A
4 a.m. South Korea 99, Bosnia and Herzegovina 66 Group A
6:30 a.m. Belgium 68, Puerto Rico 65 Group A
Sun., Sept. 25 12:30 a.m. France 74, Mali 59 Group B
4 a.m. Australia 69, Serbia 54 Group B
6:30 a.m. Canada 70, Japan 56 Group B
9:30 p.m. Belgium vs. Bosnia and Herzegovina Group A
11:30 p.m. Mali vs. Serbia Group B
Mon., Sept. 26 12 a.m. USA vs. South Korea Group A
2 a.m. France vs. Japan Group B
3:30 a.m. China vs. Puerto Rico Group A
6:30 a.m. Australia vs. Canada Group B
9:30 p.m. Puerto Rico vs. South Korea Group A
11:30 p.m. Belgium vs. China Group A
Tues., Sept. 27 12 a.m. USA vs. Bosnia and Herzegovina Group A
2 a.m. Canada vs. Mali Group B
3:30 a.m. France vs. Serbia Group B
6:30 a.m. Australia vs. Japan Group B
Wed., Sept. 28 10 p.m. Quarterfinal
Thurs., Sept. 29 12:30 a.m. Quarterfinal
4 a.m. Quarterfinal
6:30 a.m. Quarterfinal
Fri., Sept. 30 3 .m. Semifinal
5:30 a.m. Semifinal
11 p.m. Third-Place Game
Sat., Oct. 1 2 a.m. Final