Lilly King, Annie Lazor bonded by promise at Olympic Swimming Trials

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Lilly King, the world’s best breaststroker, qualified for the Olympics earlier this week. That was never in doubt.

But Annie Lazor, who finished third in the 100m breast on Tuesday to miss the team by one spot, had one final shot to make her first Olympics in Friday’s 200m breast final.

She delivered, leading a one-two with King, her training partner the last three years in Bloomington, Indiana. Lazor, at 26, is going to Tokyo along with King, who made it in both breaststrokes. They’re bonded by more than all those laps in the pool.

On April 25, Lazor’s father, David, died suddenly at home.

“He lavished love on his daughter Annie and encouraged her big dreams,” an obituary read. “They traveled together to many swim meets where he was her ardent cheerleader – win or lose, he always let her know that she is so much more than her athletic accomplishments.”

King drove five hours north to the visitation in Michigan. There, she made a promise to Lazor’s mom.

“That she was going to do everything it took to put me on the [Olympic] team, and she was going to pull me through practice every day,” Lazor told NBC Sports before Olympic Trials. “That meant the absolute world to me and to my mom.”

King followed through every day for the next two months. She pushed Lazor as a training partner. She distracted her as a friend with silly stories.

“She’s being authentically Lilly by doing that,” Lazor said of King, known for her brash comments and intimidation on the starting blocks, but also for teaching middle school PE, eating a Happy Meal each week in her college days and wearing Crocs everywhere. “That’s what’s really helped me kind of humanize her the last few months.”

At age 26, Lazor was trying to become the oldest American woman to qualify for her first Olympic team in the pool in 17 years.

SWIM TRIALS: Results | TV Schedule | Women’s Event Previews | Men’s Event Previews

She failed in her first chance Tuesday night, when King won the 100m breast and qualified to defend her Olympic title in Tokyo. The 17-year-old Alaskan Lydia Jacoby took second.

“I honestly felt kind of bad because I could tell Lilly was excited to make her second Olympic team, but she was just as heartbroken for me,” Lazor said. “That says everything that you need to know about our relationship, about how she wants me to be there with her for those amazing moments.”

Four years ago, Lazor was what they call a swammer. She quit after missing the Rio Olympic team in both breaststrokes, graduated from Auburn and took an operations internship in the Cal-Berkeley athletic department.

Lazor, feeling the itch to give it one more shot, returned to the pool after a year away in 2017. She eventually worked up the guts to ask if she could train with the world’s best breaststroker.

King and her coach, Ray Looze, welcomed Lazor into their training group in April 2018. By the end of the year, Lazor won a world short-course championship.

“I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for Lilly,” Lazor said in 2019, according to Swimming World. “Honestly, given what I thought I knew about her prior to that, I was pretty surprised. Lilly, obviously, has somewhat of a reputation. I would think if it were my competitor and she had this program that’s working really well for her, why would you want to share that with her other competitors?”

In 2019, Lazor took 1.86 seconds off her 100m breast personal best. She chopped 4.19 seconds off her best 200m breast time from before leaving the sport. She finished the year ranked Nos. 2 and 3 in the world in the events after never previously ranking in the top 10.

“I was good,” in the past, Lazor said on a podcast with retired Australian swimmer Brett Hawke, “but I wasn’t that name that everyone knew.”

After finishing third on Tuesday, Lazor allowed herself to be sad.

“I think it’s pretty valid for me to be upset given I swam the third-fastest time in the world but got third to two other people in my country. That sucks,” Lazor said Thursday. “It was time to turn a new leaf when I woke up this morning.

“This [200m breast] is my best event. I’m really protective over this event.”

In Rio, King failed to make the 200m breast final after winning the 100m breast. She made it a goal to improve in the longer distance. She was asked Thursday night, after swimming the top 200m breast semifinal time, how she prepared over the last year for one of the sport’s toughest events.

“Honestly, just keep racing Annie in practice,” she said. “She is a much, much better long-course breaststroke trainer than I am.”

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Alexa Knierim, Brandon Frazier win U.S. figure skating pairs’ title in possible final nationals

Alexa Knierim, Brandon Frazier
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Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier haven’t decided if they’ll compete beyond this season, so Saturday may have been their farewell to the U.S. Figure Skating Championships.

If so, they went out as dominant winners, the first pair in their 30s to win nationals in more than 50 years.

Knierim, 31, and Frazier, 30, took their second U.S. title together, totaling 227.97 points to prevail by 31.11 over Emily Chan and Spencer Howe. They led by a gaping 15.1 points after Thursday’s short.

Knierim and Frazier were solid after errors on their opening jumping combination in Saturday’s free skate. They broke their own pairs’ margin of victory record from the 2021 U.S. Championships under a scoring system implemented in 2006. Knierim appeared to wipe away tears backstage.

“As I get older, the longer I’m in this sport, the more gratitude I have for it,” Knierim, the oldest woman to win a U.S. figure skating title since 1995 (Renée Roca), said on USA Network. “After that music ended, I’m just thankful that Brandon’s by my side and I’m able to do what I love.”

Ellie Kam and Danny O’Shea bagged bronze to likely round out the three-pair team for March’s world championships.

FIGURE SKATING NATIONALS: Full Scores | Broadcast Schedule

Knierim and Frazier considered retiring after last season, after they missed nationals due to Frazier’s COVID-19, petitioned onto the Olympic team and posted the best Olympic finish for a U.S. pair (sixth) in 20 years.

They then became the first U.S. pair to win a world title since 1979, beating a field that didn’t include any of the top five from the Olympics.

They returned in part to compete as world champions and rank second in the world this season (during which the top Olympic pairs also haven’t competed). They will likely go into March’s worlds in Japan as underdogs to Japan’s Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara, who won their lone head-to-head this past fall at the Grand Prix Final.

Back in October, 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.

“This U.S. Championships for us was extra special because you’re just reflecting on the journey, and you know that there’s a good chance that this will be your last one,” Frazier said.

Knierim won her fifth U.S. title, tying the record for a pairs’ skater since World War II, joining Kyoka InaTai BabiloniaRandy GardnerKarol Kennedy and Peter Kennedy. Knierim’s first three titles, and her first Olympics in 2018, were with husband Chris, who retired in 2020.

Silver medalists Chan and Howe continued their recent surge. After placing fourth at last season’s nationals, they rank sixth in the world this season. That’s despite summer injuries that left them unable to practice lifts (his shoulder) and throws (her foot) for a while.

Kam, 18, and O’Shea, 31, made the podium four months after becoming a pair and less than two months after a car Kim was riding in was hit by a drunk driver while crossing an intersection. The car was totaled, but Kim and O’Shea still competed days later in Croatia.

O’Shea won the 2016 U.S. title with Tarah Kayne, retired after they split in late 2020, then came back in 2021 with Chelsea Liu. They ranked sixth in the U.S. going into 2022 Nationals, but withdrew beforehand due to concussions both suffered in a November competition fall, according to Figure Skaters Online.

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

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2023 U.S. Figure Skating Championships scores, results

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

Women
Gold: Isabeau Levito — 223.33
Silver: Bradie Tennell — 213.12
Bronze: Amber Glenn — 207.44
4. Starr Andrews — 188.24
5. Josephine Lee — 187.68
6. Lindsay Thorngren — 187.19
7. Clare Seo — 175.60
8. Gracie Gold — 173.98
9. Ava Ziegler — 167.70
10. Sonja Hilmer — 166.49
11. Gabriella Izzo — 166.40
12. Ting Cui — 161.27
13. Audrey Shin — 161.12
14. Lindsay Wang — 154.91
15. Michelle Lee — 145.28
16. Elsa Cheng — 138.13
17. Alexa Gasparotto — 129.41
WD. Hanna Harrell

Men’s Short Program
1. Ilia Malinin — 110.36
2. Jason Brown — 100.25
3. Tomoki Hiwatashi — 85.43
4. Liam Kapeikis — 82.27
5. Andrew Torgashev — 78.78
6. Maxim Naumov — 77.71
7. Jimmy Ma — 73.88
8. Goku Endo — 73.45
9. Samuel Mindra — 71.36
10. Yaroslav Paniot — 70.87
11. Camden Pulkinen — 69.47
12. Matthew Nielsen — 67.98
13. Joonsoo Kim — 67.45
14. Daniel Martynov — 64.04
15. Will Annis — 63.46
16. Dinh Tran — 60.63
17. Mitchell Friess — 59.14
18. Joseph Klein — 58.38

Pairs
Gold: Alexa Knierim/Brandon Frazier — 227.97
Silver: Emily Chan/Spencer Howe — 196.86

Bronze: Ellie Kam/Danny O’Shea — 184.01
4. Sonia Baram/Danil Tioumentsev —- 179.08
5. Valentina Plazas/Maximiliano Fernandez — 176.34
6. Katie McBeath/Nathan Bartholomay —- 172.74
7. Maria Mokhova/Ivan Mokhov —- 148.84
8. Nica Digerness/Mark Sadusky — 137.98
9. Grace Hanns / Danny Neudecker — 135.30
10. Nina Ouellette/Rique Newby-Estrella — 132.07
11. Linzy Fitzpatrick/Keyton Bearinger — 129.80

Ice Dance
Gold: Madison Chock/Evan Bates — 229.75
Silver: Caroline Green/Michael Parsons — 207.46
Bronze: Christina Carreira/Anthony Ponomarenko — 198.45
4. Emilea Zingas/Vadym Kolesnik — 198.13
5. Emily Bratti/Ian Somerville — 189.84
6. Lorraine McNamara/Anton Spiridonov — 189.15
7. Katarina Wolfkostin/Jeffrey Chen — 183.05
8. Eva Pate/Logan Bye — 182.61
9. Oona Brown/Gage Brown — 181.89
10. Isabella Flores/Ivan Desyatov — 177.31
11. Angela Ling/Caleb Wein — 167.87
12. Leah Krauskopf/YuanShi Jin — 133.93
13. Cara Murphy/Joshua Levitt — 129.85
14. Caroline Depietri/TJ Carey — 123.40
WD. Raffaella Koncius/Alexey Shchepetov

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

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