Olympic wrestler Frank Molinaro retires at Trials by leaving shoes on mat

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Frank Molinaro, a Cinderfella of the 2016 U.S. Olympic Wrestling Trials, took off his shoes and placed them on the center of the mat after being eliminated from Olympic contention at the Trials for Tokyo on Friday, the sport’s symbolic act of retirement.

Molinaro, 32, first retired in March 2020, after the Tokyo Games were postponed to 2021, but made a surprise return for the Olympic Trials in Fort Worth, Texas.

He won his first match over Evan Henderson 10-1, then lost to Yianni Diakomihalis 10-0 in the 65kg freestyle challenge tournament quarterfinals on Friday.

Molinaro, an assistant coach at Arizona State, fully committed to Trials after the Pac-12 Championships ended Feb. 28. He said he had to lose 28 pounds, including 15 pounds in the last week, to make weight.

He hoped to compete at one last Olympic Trials at his alma mater, Penn State, but the Trials were moved from that location, the originally planned 2020 host site, to Fort Worth, announced earlier in February.

“I didn’t want to retire in my basement over Covid,” Molinaro said. “I think I would have regretted it more if I didn’t try.

“I’m happy with my career. I reached all my goals. No regrets.”

MORE: Olympic Wrestling Trials broadcast schedule

Molinaro’s plans post-second retirement?

“I’m going straight to Buffalo Wild Wings after this tournament and eating 50 buffalo wings,” he said.

In 2016, Molinaro made a stunning run as the No. 9 seed at Trials, knocking off top seed Brent Metcalf in the quarterfinals. He lost the opening match in the best-of-three finals to 19-year-old Bellator MMA signee Aaron Pico, then rallied to win the tournament.

Molinaro still needed to qualify for the Olympics, though. He failed at both international qualifiers but received an Olympic spot after several spots were reallocated due to meldonium doping violations. The initially banned athletes were later reinstated, but the U.S. was allowed to keep its spot.

In Rio, Molinaro was famously bitten by Andriy Kvyatkovskyy of Ukraine in a repechage match that he won. Molinaro then lost the following bronze-medal match to world champion Frank Chamizo of Italy.

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Alexa Knierim, Brandon Frazier top pairs’ short at U.S. Figure Skating Championships

Alexa Knierim, Brandon Frazier

World champions Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier lead after the pairs’ short program in what may be their last U.S. Figure Skating Championships.

Knierim and Frazier, who last March became the first U.S. pair to win a world title since 1979, tallied 81.96 points to open the four-day nationals on Thursday.

They lead by 15.1 over Emily Chan and Spencer Howe going into Saturday’s free skate in San Jose, California. The top three teams from last year’s event — which Knierim and Frazier missed due to him contracting COVID-19 — are no longer competing together.

After nationals, a committee selects three U.S. pairs for March’s world championships in Japan.

FIGURE SKATING NATIONALS: Full Scores | Broadcast Schedule

Before the fall Grand Prix Series, the 31-year-old 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.

“I don’t like to just put it out there and say it is the last or not going to be the last because life just has that way of throwing curveballs, and you just never know,” Frazier said this month. “But I would say that this is the first nationals where I’m going to go in really trying to soak up every second as if it is my last because you just don’t know.”

Knierim is going for a fifth U.S. title, which would tie the record for a pairs’ skater since World War II, joining Kyoka Ina, Tai Babilonia, Randy Gardner, Karol Kennedy and Peter Kennedy. Knierim’s first three titles, and her first Olympics in 2018, were with husband Chris, who retired in 2020.

Knierim is also trying to become the first female pairs’ skater in her 30s to win a national title since 1993. Knierim and ice dancer Madison Chock are trying to become the first female skaters in their 30s to win a U.S. title in any discipline since 1995.

After being unable to defend their 2021 U.S. title last year, Knierim and Frazier reeled off a series of historic results in what had long been the country’s weakest discipline.

They successfully petitioned for an Olympic spot and placed sixth at the Games, best for a U.S. pair since 2002. They considered retirement after their world title, which was won without the top five teams from the Olympics in attendance. They returned in part to compete as world champions and to give back to U.S. skating, helping set up younger pairs for success.

They became the first U.S. pair to win two Grand Prix Series events, then in December became the first U.S. pair to make a Grand Prix Final podium (second place). The world’s top pairs were absent; Russians banned due to the war in Ukraine and Olympic champions Sui Wenjing and Han Cong from China leaving competition ice (for now).

Knierim and Frazier’s real test isn’t nationals. It’s worlds, where they will likely be the underdog to home favorites Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara, who edged the Americans by 1.3 points in the closest Grand Prix Final pairs’ competition in 12 years.

Nationals continue with the rhythm dance and women’s short program later Thursday.

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

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2023 U.S. Figure Skating Championships scores, results

2023 U.S. Figure Skating Championships

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

Pairs Short Program
1. Alexa Knierim/Brandon Frazier — 81.96
2. Emily Chan/Spencer Howe — 66.86
3. Ellie Kam/Danny O’Shea —- 65.75
4. Valentina Plazas/Maximiliano Fernandez — 63.45
5. Sonia Baram/Danil Tioumentsev —- 63.12
6. Katie McBeath/Nathan Bartholomay —- 56.96
7. Nica Digerness/Mark Sadusky — 50.72
8. Maria Mokhova/Ivan Mokhov —- 46.96
9. Grace Hanns / Danny Neudecker — 46.81
10. Linzy Fitzpatrick/Keyton Bearinger — 45.27
11. Nina Ouellette/Rique Newby-Estrella — 43.99

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

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