Alysa Liu, Vincent Zhou to compete for U.S.’ maximum Olympic figure skating spots

U.S. Figure Skating Championships
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The number of Olympic singles figure skaters the United States sends to the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics rests in the hands of Alysa Liu and Vincent Zhou.

U.S. Figure Skating announced Monday that Liu, a two-time national champion, and Zhou, the 2019 World bronze medalist, were chosen to compete at Nebelhorn Trophy in mid-September with the responsibility of confirming that the U.S. will send the maximum three men and three women to Beijing in five months.

The U.S. successfully qualified three men and three women for the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics – the only nation to do so – after sending just two men to Sochi in 2014 and two women to Vancouver in 2010.

Olympic figure skating quota spots for 2022 are primarily based on each nation’s results at the 2021 World Figure Skating Championships. If the results from the top two American finishers in a discipline add up to 13 (i.e. placing eighth and third would equal 11), the U.S. would send three athletes or teams to Beijing in that discipline; if the two top U.S. results in a discipline add up to 14 through 28, the U.S. sends two entries in that event.

Based on performances in Stockholm this past March, the U.S. is guaranteed to send two pairs teams – an improvement on the one in PyeongChang – and three ice dance teams, just as it has the past four Winter Olympics.

There is a caveat to the procedures this time around, though, stating that for a nation to qualify three spots in a discipline, that country must have had three entries in the free skate at Worlds.

Only two U.S. women competed in Stockholm – Karen Chen (fourth) and Bradie Tennell (ninth), and only two U.S. men qualified to the free skate – Nathan Chen (gold) and Jason Brown (seventh).

Enter Nebelhorn Trophy.

The Sept. 22-25 event in Oberstdorf, Germany, will award six men’s and six women’s Olympic spots to countries that have not yet earned any or those like the U.S. that need to confirm their placements earned at Worlds after having a disproportionate number of competitors there. If Liu or Zhou are not among the top six whose country is eligible for Olympic qualification, the U.S. will only send two athletes in their discipline.

Liu and Zhou were selected for the task after having the top scores at the Cranberry Cup International earlier this month, backing up their already impressive lists of accomplishments.

Liu became the youngest U.S. women’s champion in 2019 at age 13, repeated her win the following year then took bronze at the 2020 World Junior Championships. After a growth spurt and injury, she was fourth at the 2021 U.S. Championships. Now 16, the Olympic season marks Liu’s senior international debut.

Zhou, 20, was sixth at his Olympic debut three years ago, then earned bronze at the 2019 World Championships. The three-time U.S. silver medalist had a dismal short program performance at the 2021 Worlds, though, and finished 25th – just missing the cutoff for the free skate.

The athletes who actually compete at the Beijing Games will be announced after the 2022 U.S. Figure Skating Championships.

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Alpine skiing to test new format for combined race

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Alpine skiing officials will test a new format for the combined event, a race that is under review to remain on the Olympic program.

French newspaper L’Equipe reported that the International Ski Federation (FIS) will test a new team format for the combined, which has been an individual event on the Olympic program since 1988. L’Equipe reported that a nation can use a different skier for the downhill and slalom in the new setup, quoting FIS secretary general Michel Vion.

For example, the U.S. could use Breezy Johnson in the downhill run and sub her out for Mikaela Shiffrin in the slalom run, should the format be adopted into senior competition.

The format will be tested at the world junior championships in January in St. Anton, Austria, according to the report.

In response to the report, a FIS spokesperson said, “Regarding the new format of the combined is correct, and our directors are working on the rules so for the moment the only thing we can confirm is that there will be this new format for the Alpine combined that has been proposed by the athletes’ commission.”

Some version of the combined event has been provisionally included on the 2026 Olympic program, with a final IOC decision on its place coming by April.

This will be the third consecutive World Cup season with no combined events. Instead, FIS has included more parallel races in recent years. The individual combined remains on the biennial world championships program.

L’Equipe also reported that the mixed team parallel event, which is being dropped from the Olympics, will also be dropped from the biennial world championships after this season.

“There is nothing definitive about that yet, but it is a project in the making,” a FIS spokesperson said in commenting on the report.

Vion said the mixed team event, which debuted at the Olympics in 2018, was not a hit at the Beijing Games and did not draw a strong audience, according to L’Equipe.

The World Cup season starts in two weeks with the traditional opening giant slaloms in Soelden, Austria.

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Ironman Kona World Championships return, live on Peacock

Ironman Kona World Championship
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The Ironman Kona World Championships return after a three-year hiatus with a new format, live on Peacock on Thursday and Saturday at 12 p.m. ET.

The Ironman, held annually in Hawaii since 1978, and in Kailua-Kona since 1981, was not held in 2020 or 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The world championships made a one-time-only stop in St. George, Utah, on May 7 to make up for the 2021 cancellation. The winners were Norway’s Kristian Blummenfelt, the Tokyo Olympic triathlon champion, and Swiss Daniela Ryf, who bagged her fifth Ironman world title.

WATCH LIVE: Ironman Kona men’s pro race, Saturday, 12 p.m. ET — STREAM LINK

Both entered Kailua-Kona, where the races were now split between two days — Thursday for the women and Saturday for the men. Chelsea Sodaro won the women’s race, ending a 20-year American victory drought.

An Ironman includes a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike and a marathon — totaling 140.6 miles of racing. It takes top triathletes eight hours to complete. Very arguably, it crowns the world’s fittest man and woman.

Blummenfelt, 28 and in his Kona debut, will try to become the youngest male champion in Kona since German Normann Stadler in 2005. His top challengers include countryman Gustav Iden, the two-time reigning Half Ironman world champion, and German Patrick Lange, the 2017 and 2018 Ironman Kona winner.

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