Olympic champ Mack Horton misses Australia swim team in 400m freestyle

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Mack Horton, the Rio Olympic 400m freestyle champion, did not make the Australian swim team for Tokyo in the event.

Horton, a 25-year-old from Melbourne, finished third on the opening night of the Olympic Trials in Adelaide on Saturday. The top two made the team.

Elijah Winnington won in 3:42.65, prevailing by .62 over Jack McLoughlin. Horton, who won the Rio Olympics in 3:41.55, touched in 3:43.92.

“I was just on the wrong side of the pool, breathing the wrong way, I literally gave it everything,” Horton, who swam the final length of the pool breathing to the opposite side of Winnington and McLoughlin, said, according to the Sydney Morning Herald. “Every time you turn in the 300m, you always question if there is another 100m in there. That was the same today, clearly not enough.”

In 2016 in Rio, Horton became the first Australian man to win an individual Olympic swimming title since Grant Hackett in the 1500m freestyle at the 2004 Athens Games.

But Horton is known more for a feud with silver medalist Sun Yang of China, who might miss Tokyo altogether. Horton can still make the Australian team later at Trials in other events.

The Horton-Sun feud ignited at the Rio Olympics. Horton called Sun a “drug cheat” before the 400m free final. Sun had been suspended three months in 2014 for a banned stimulant, though the punishment wasn’t announced by Chinese officials until after he served the time.

The rivalry resumed at the 2019 World Championships. Sun won the 400m free, with Horton taking silver in a repeat of the 2017 Worlds podium.

Unlike 2017, Horton refused to stand on the podium for the Chinese anthem and appeared not to shake Sun’s hand. He stood a step away from Sun and bronze medalist Gabriele Detti of Italy for customary post-medal ceremony photos.

“Frustration, I think you know what respect,” Horton told media in Gwangju, South Korea. “I think you know what the rivalry is like. … His actions and, I guess, how it’s been handled, speak louder than anything I’ll ever say.”

At the time, Sun was competing ahead of a Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) hearing. There were reports that he and his security guard used a hammer to smash a vial of the swimmer’s blood in a clash with drug testers in September 2018.

Sun was suspended for eight years in February 2020, but in December a Swiss court lifted the ban and ordered the case back to the Court of Arbitration for Sport for a second time but with a different chairman of the judges.

The Swiss court ruling appeared to have swung on an objection by Sun’s lawyers to the chairman of the three-judge panel, former Italian foreign minister Franco Frattini.

Federal judges ruled the guilty verdict unsafe because Frattini showed anti-Chinese bias in social media comments.

The court set May 25-27 for the hearing to be held in private by video link. A new CAS verdict is expected before the Tokyo Olympics open on July 23.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Japanese pair edges Americans for historic Grand Prix Final figure skating title

Riku Miura, Ryuichi Kihara
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Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara won the biggest title ever for a Japanese figure skating pair, taking the Grand Prix Final and consolidating their status as the world’s top active team.

Miura and Kihara, last season’s world silver medalists, barely outscored world champions Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier in Turin, Italy, in both Thursday’s short program and Friday’s free skate to win the six-pair event that is a preview of March’s worlds.

The Japanese totaled 214.58 points, distancing the Americans by a mere 1.3 points after Frazier erred on both of their side-by-side jumping passes in the free skate. Italians Sara Conti and Niccolo Macii took bronze.

“We had a very late start to our season than initially planned, so as we have been performing at each event, I see us getting stronger, improving things,” said Frazier, who with Knierim had their best short program and free skate scores of the autumn.

Knierim and Frazier didn’t decide to continue competing together this season until July.

“I feel a little personally disappointed tonight just for myself for my jumps,” Frazier continued. “I was a little all over the place and, normally, I can execute better, so I feel a little bad, but I’m very proud of us overall. We’ve done a great job of improving each competition and looking forward to the second half of the season where we can start tapping into our best skating.”

GRAND PRIX FINAL: Results | Broadcast Schedule

Miura and Kihara, who partnered in June 2019 and train in Ontario, both waited with trepidation for their final score to be posted, worried that each’s separate mistake on jumps might cost them the title. When they learned they won, both burst into tears.

“This was the first time in eight years that I made a mistake with a Salchow, so I thought we might not get a good score, and it would be my fault,” Kihara said.

Miura and Kihara entered the competition ranked No. 1 in the world by best scores this season ahead of Knierim and Frazier, who in March became the first U.S. pair to win a world title since 1979.

Last season, Miura and Kihara became the second Japanese pair to make a Grand Prix podium and to earn a world championships medal. Their ascension helped Japan win its first Olympic figure skating team event medal in February (a bronze that could be upgraded to gold pending the Kamila Valiyeva case).

In Grand Prix Final history, Japan had won 11 gold medals and 40 total medals, all in singles, before this breakthrough.

Knierim and Frazier, already the first U.S. pair to compete in the Grand Prix Final since 2015, became the first U.S. pair to win a Grand Prix Final medal. The Final has been held annually since 1996, though it was canceled the last two seasons due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Miura and Kihara and Knierim and Frazier ascended to the top of the sport while the top five teams from the Olympics from Russia and China have not competed internationally since the Winter Games.

All Russian skaters are ineligible for international competition due to the war in Ukraine. China’s pairs, including Olympic champions Sui Wenjing and Han Cong, didn’t enter last March’s worlds and did not compete in the fall Grand Prix Series.

Later Friday, world champion Kaori Sakamoto of Japan led the women’s short program with 75.86 points, 1.28 ahead of countrywoman Mai Mihara. American Isabeau Levito, the 15-year-old world junior champion, was fifth of six skaters in her Grand Prix Final debut.

Canadians Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier topped the rhythm dance with 85.93 points, edging Americans Madison Chock and Evan Bates by .44. Both couples are bidding for the biggest international title of their careers. None of the Olympic medalists competed internationally this fall.

The Grand Prix Final ends Saturday with the men’s and women’s free skates and free dance, all live on Peacock.

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A Winter Olympic medal still being decided, 10 months later

Fanny Smith, Daniela Maier
It's still unknown whether Fanny Smith (green) or Daniela Maier (blue) is the Olympic ski cross bronze medalist. (Getty)
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There is a second Winter Olympic medal result still in question, 10 months after the Games.

While the figure skating team event results are still unknown due to the Kamila Valiyeva case, the bronze medal in women’s ski cross is also in dispute.

Originally, Swiss Fanny Smith crossed the finish line in third place in the four-woman final at the Winter Games in February. Upon review by the International Ski Federation (FIS) jury, she was minutes later demoted to fourth place after making contact with German Daniela Maier near the end of the course. Maier, who originally was fourth, was upgraded to bronze.

“I tried to be OK with the fourth place. I was very disappointed, I have to say, [then] the jury was like this,” Maier said then. “I am really sorry for Fanny that it’s like this right now. … The jury decided like this, so accept it and be happy with the medal.”

Smith and the Swiss ski federation appealed. FIS reinstated Smith as the bronze medalist nine days after the race and six days after the Closing Ceremony. A FIS appeals commission met four times and reviewed video and written documentation for several hours before deciding that “the close proximity of the racers at that moment resulted in action that was neither intentional or avoidable.”

But that wasn’t the end. The case ended up reportedly going to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), whose rulings are usually accepted as final. The CAS process is ongoing, European media reported this week.

CAS has not responded to a request for comment. A FIS contact said Friday, “There is currently no update to provide in regards to the bronze medal in ski cross. Should there be any update, we will inform you.”

Smith said there should be news soon regarding the case, according to Blick.

Maier still has the bronze medal at her home and enjoys looking at it, according to German media, which also reported that the German ski federation expects Maier to win the case and keep the medal. Smith and Maier spoke extensively about it in recent training sessions and cleared things up. Maier said the best outcome would be bronze medals for both of them, according to the report.

For now, FIS lists Smith as the bronze medalist. The IOC lists Maier as the bronze medalist.

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