Chen tops Hanyu in short program; Russia leads at World Team Trophy

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Russia leads six of the top figure skating nations with a total of 49 points after the first day of competition at the ISU World Team Trophy in Osaka, Japan.

In a three-country battle for podium positions between the powerhouses who took the medals at each of the past three World Team Trophy competitions – though always in varying order – the United States trails by only two points (47), followed by Japan with 42.

Nathan Chen topped the men’s field Thursday (109.65, less than a point from his IJS personal best), redemption after finishing an unexpected third in the short program at last month’s world championships with a score 10 points lower, with his best performance to date of his short program to “Asturias” by Frida Lopez and “Cancion del Mariachi” by Los Lobos. Helping move the U.S. from third to second, Chen was followed by two-time Olympic and world champion Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan (107.12), who had an error on his triple axel, and U.S. team captain Jason Brown (94.86).

“World Team Trophy for me is always a very enjoyable and very fun event, something that I feel more relaxed going into,” Chen, a three-time World Team Trophy participant, noted. “Training between worlds and now was very relaxed because I just need to make sure I stayed healthy and kept my energy going.

“I’m friends with all my fellow U.S. skaters and we have a good sense of camaraderie and team spirit, so to be able to have your best friends at a competition that you’re competing at together as a group is just really special, so just trying to enjoy myself as much as I can and still get my job done.”

Russia earned most of its points by having the top two women – reigning world gold and silver medalists Anna Shcherbakova (81.07) and Yelizaveta Tuktamysheva (80.35) – and top ice dance team in reigning world champions Viktoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov (76.79).

The rhythm dance kicked off the event, with Italy’s Charlene Guignard and Marco Fabbri following the Russians (82.93) and Americans Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker placing third in their World Team Trophy debut (76.79).

The women were next, with Japan’s Kaori Sakamoto (77.78) and Rika Kihira (69.74) sitting behind the Russians, followed by Team USA’s Bradie Tennell (67.40) and Karen Chen (62.48), who both had under-rotated jumps plus a fall by Chen on her opening combination.

World Team Trophy features an audience of fans – a first for many skaters this season – all at least one seat away from each other.

“It felt great to be able to skate for people; I felt a lot more energy than I did at worlds,” Nathan Chen said. “Having an audience for the first time in a while brought a completely different sense of energy and sense of fun with skating. I personally enjoyed that a lot. I was happy people were there. That being said, I know safety is the No. 1 concern. Everyone was obviously wearing masks and distancing, so hopefully that was enough to keep everyone safe.”

France, which replaced China after the fifth-ranked nation withdrew, is well back from podium position in fourth (26), followed by Italy (25) and Canada (23), which opted not to send any of its athletes who competed at worlds in late March due to the country’s mandatory two-week quarantine. Competition continues Friday with the pairs’ short program, free dance and men’s free skate, followed by the pairs’ and women’s free skates on Saturday. The biennial event is streamed live on Peacock with highlights airing on NBCSN.

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Diana Taurasi says 2024 Paris Olympics ‘on my radar’

Diana Taurasi
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Diana Taurasi said immediately after winning her fifth Olympic gold medal in Tokyo that she might try for a record sixth in Paris.

It’s still on her mind 17 months out of the 2024 Paris Olympics.

“It’s something that it’s on my radar,” Taurasi told The Associated Press in a phone interview Tuesday after the first day of a USA Basketball training camp in Minnesota, her first national team activity since Tokyo. “I’m still competitive, still driven, still want to play, I still love being a part of USA Basketball.”

Taurasi will be 42 at the time of the Paris Games — older than any previous Olympic basketball player — but said if she’s healthy enough she’d like to give it a go.

“If the opportunity comes to play and be a part of it, it’s something I’ve always taken a lot of pride in,” said Taurasi, who shares the record of five Olympic basketball gold medals with the retired Sue Bird. “When you get to my age at this point in my career, you just try to win every day. Right now this is a good opportunity to be part of this team moving forward we’ll see what happens.”

She said she would have played at the FIBA World Cup last year in Australia, but had a quad strain that kept her out of the end of the WNBA season.

“I got hurt a little bit before. I had a good conversation with Coach (Cheryl) Reeve and (USA Basketball CEO Jim) Tooley. I felt like I hadn’t played enough basketball to be out there and help,” Taurasi said. “That’s the biggest thing with USA Basketball is being able to help the team win.”

Reeve said Monday that when she succeeded Dawn Staley as head coach a few months after Tokyo, she wasn’t sure whether Taurasi would play for the national team again. That was before her conversation with Taurasi.

“I look forward to having a chance to have her be around and be, as I told her, a great voice,” Reeve said. “Obviously, the competitive fire that she competes with is something that we all do well with.”

In Tokyo, Taurasi started all six games and averaged 18.8 minutes per game, sixth-most on the team (fewer than backup guard Chelsea Gray). Her 5.8 points per game were her fewest in her Olympic career, though she was dealing with a hip injury.

Taurasi is an unrestricted free agent although she is expected to return back to Phoenix where she’s spent her entire career since getting drafted No. 1 overall in 2003.

“Phoenix still has things they need to work out,” the WNBA’s all-time leading scorer said.

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Alexis Pinturault wins world championships combined; American in fourth

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France’s Alexis Pinturault won the world Alpine skiing championships combined at his home venue after defending world champion Marco Schwarz blew a lead in the final seconds of his slalom run.

Pinturault, a 31-year-old who hadn’t won a race in nearly two years (the longest drought of his distinguished career), prevailed by one tenth of a second over the Austrian Schwarz in Courchevel, France.

“I hope to enjoy it because it was pretty difficult some months ago,” Pinturault said.

Austrian Raphael Haaser took bronze in an event that combined times from a morning super-G run and an afternoon slalom run, one day after his older sister took bronze in the women’s combined.

River Radamus was fourth, a quarter of a second from becoming the first U.S. man to win an Alpine worlds medal since 2015. Radamus’ best event is the giant slalom, which is scheduled for Feb. 17 at worlds.

“It’s nice, but honestly, you don’t come to world championships hoping to get fourth,” Radamus said.

Five skiers finished within 2.98 seconds of the winner in an event that has been dropped from the annual World Cup schedule and is under review to remain on the Olympic program.

ALPINE WORLDS: Results | Broadcast Schedule

Pinturault had the fastest super-G run by six hundredths over Schwarz. Schwarz, a slightly better slalom skier than Pinturault, erased that deficit early in the slalom and had a three tenths lead at the last intermediate split.

He gave it all away about six gates from the finish, slamming on the brakes. Moments later, he crossed the finish line one tenth behind Pinturault, who reacted by pumping his fists in the air.

The Frenchman earned his first race victory since the March 2021 World Cup Finals giant slalom, where he clinched his first World Cup overall title, the biggest annual prize in ski racing. Last season, Pinturault went winless on the World Cup for the first time since he was a teenage rookie in 2011, plus went medal-less at the Olympics.

Pinturault, who grew up in Courchevel and now co-owns the family’s five-star Hotel Annapurna there, had retirement cross his mind in the offseason, according to Eurosport. He skipped a pre-worlds Sunday press conference due to illness.

Nonetheless, Pinturault was on the front page of French newspapers this week, including L’Equipe on Tuesday. In a sports cover story for Le Figaro, Pinturault said that, given the circumstances, it would be almost a “nice surprise” to go for a medal at these worlds.

Olympic champion Johannes Strolz of Austria skied out of the slalom after tying for 29th in the super-G.

Olympic silver and bronze medalists Aleksander Aamodt Kilde of Norway and Jack Crawford of Canada were among the speed specialists who did not start the slalom. They essentially used the event as a training run for Thursday’s super-G.

Worlds continue Wednesday with the women’s super-G, where Mikaela Shiffrin is a medal contender but not the favorite. She can tie the modern-era records for individual world championships gold medals (seven) and total medals (12).

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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