Maame Biney, Kristen Santos lead U.S. short track world cup team

ISU World Cup Short Track
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Maame Biney and Kristen Santos lead the 10-member U.S. team that was named for the 2021-22 ISU Short Track Speed Skating World Cup season.

They also represent the U.S.’ best hopes at earning its first Olympic women’s short track medal in 12 years when the Beijing Winter Games start in some 130-plus days.

US Speedskating named the World Cup team of five men and five women this week. Results at this season’s four World Cup events will help determine how many athletes each country sends to Beijing, which can be up to three per gender if it does not qualify a relay team or five per gender if it does.

The World Cup will start at the Capital Indoor Stadium – the Beijing Olympic venue, Oct. 21-24, followed by stops in Nagoya, Japan (Oct. 28-31), Debrecen, Hungary (Nov. 18-21), and Dordrecht, Netherlands (Nov. 25-28).

The young U.S. women’s team includes Biney (21), Julie Letai (21), Kamryn Lute (17; Beijing and Nagoya only), Santos (26) and Corinne Stoddard (20).

The veteran Santos has been America’s top short track speed skater both of the past two seasons. She won her first individual World Cup medal in November 2019, a bronze in the 1000m, and finished fourth in the 500m at the 2021 World Championships.

Biney made herself known in December 2017 when she became the first Black woman to make a U.S. Olympic speed skating team. She finished no better than 14th in PyeongChang, but has since won the 500m gold medal at the 2019 World Junior Championships and an individual World Cup medal, 500m bronze in February 2019.

The last Olympic medals by U.S. women’s short track speed skaters came in 2010, when Katherine Reutter took silver in the 1000m and the relay team of Allison Baver, Kimberly Derrick, Alyson DudekLana Gehring and Reutter took bronze. That was the last time the U.S. qualified a women’s relay team.

Biney, Letai, Santos and Stoddard won World Cup relay bronze in December 2019, though, for the U.S.’ first World Cup medal in the event in eight years.

The U.S. men for this World Cup season are led by 2018 Olympian Ryan Pivirotto (26). He is joined by Adam Callister (28), Clayton DeClemente (22), Andrew Heo (20) and Brandon Kim (20).

The U.S. has won at least one men’s short track medal at each of the last five Winter Olympics, though none of the current athletes have won a World Cup or world championship medal, save a relay bronze for Pivirotto nearly seven years ago.

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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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