Nathan Chen stumbles to surprising fourth, while Vincent Zhou leads at Skate America

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LAS VEGAS — It was an unfamiliar scene during the men’s short program press conference at Skate America on Friday night.

2018 U.S. Olympian Vincent Zhou sat in the middle – in the lead halfway through the event – with Japan’s Shoma Uno to his left and fellow American Jimmy Ma on his right.

Nathan Chen was nowhere to be found.

It was the first time since the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympics that Chen was not in the top three following either the short program or free skate at an individual figure skating competition he’s entered.

The three-time reigning world champion is in fourth going into Saturday’s free skate.

His score of 82.89 points is 1.63 out of podium position and a far – but reachable for him – 14.54 from first.

“Of course I’m worried,” Chen said. “I’m human, I feel fear. I get anxious before events, but that’s normal. So far, fortunately, I’ve had enough experience dealing with that. Clearly it didn’t show today, and I think I have a lot to learn from this experience. I really enjoy what I do, so I think that overpowers everything.”

The 22-year-old fell on his opening quadruple lutz and stepped out on a quad flip that was intended to be a quad flip-triple toe loop combination.

The mistakes leave his undefeated streak that dates back to March 2018 – 13 in-person individual competitions – in jeopardy.

“I have a lot of events going forward this season,” Chen said of his short program to Benjamin Clementine‘s “Eternity” and “Nemesis.” “It’s not like this is the one opportunity I have to perform the short program, so I’ll prepare literally as much as I can and go forward.

“I’m human, I make mistakes and unfortunately it happened today. It happens; just learn from it, grow from it.”

Including the 13 aforementioned events, this is just the third time Chen is not leading after the short. He was third at the 2018 France Grand Prix and the 2021 World Championships.

Zhou, meanwhile, is having to get used to the spotlight.

“It’s pretty unexpected that I’m sitting in the middle,” he said to open the press conference. “I’m going to take this into tomorrow and move forward.”

Zhou’s score of 97.43 points included an opening quad lutz-triple toe loop combination, followed by a quad salchow in his performance to Josh Groban‘s “Vincent (Starry, Starry Night)” program, which he held on to from last season.

“I think I did a good job tonight performing the program and showing some of the great things we’ve been doing in training,” he said. “I can skate even better and I’ve been competing pretty consistently this season, so this is just another building block.”

Zhou won his two early season events – the Cranberry Cup International and Nebelhorn Trophy, his first Challenger Series victory, quickly redeeming himself from how he ended last season.

The 2019 world bronze medalist, who will turn 21 on Monday, placed 25th in Stockholm and was one spot out of even qualifying for the free skate.

At Nebelhorn Trophy in Oberstdorf, Germany, in early September, Zhou’s win helped ensure the U.S. will send three men to the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics in February.

Uno, who won the silver medal at the last Olympics, is on track to earn his first Grand Prix medal in three years. He had medaled at all of his Grand Prix assignments for four years in a row – plus the Grand Prix Final each of those seasons – before struggling in 2019 and placing eighth in France and fourth in Russia.

His short, which scored 89.07, started with a double flip instead of a quad.

Aside from Chen, Ma’s performance and score of 84.52 was one of the biggest surprises of the night.

The 26-year-old was at Skate America in both 2018 and 2020, his only two career Grand Prix assignments, and placed 12th and 10th.

“I definitely was not expecting to be up here tonight,” Ma said. “My main goal in this competition was to leave my heart out there. I didn’t want to have any regrets. … It’s great to be up here.”

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Chicago Marathon features Emily Sisson’s return, Conner Mantz’s debut, live on Peacock

Emily Sisson
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At Sunday’s Chicago Marathon, Emily Sisson makes her return, nearly three years after Olympic Trials disappointment. Conner Mantz makes one of the most anticipated U.S. men’s debuts in 26.2-mile racing.

It is not the norm, but an American will be one of the spotlight runners in both the men’s and women’s elite races at a major marathon. Peacock airs live coverage at 8 a.m. ET.

Sisson, 30, starts her first mass marathon since dropping out of the Olympic Trials on Feb. 29, 2020, her legs “destroyed” on the hilly Atlanta course where she started as arguably the favorite. She ran the virtual New York City Marathon later in 2020, but that was solo (and not in New York City). Her 2:38:00 isn’t recorded in her official results on her World Athletics bio.

Since, Sisson won the Olympic Trials 10,000m on the track and was the top American in Tokyo in 10th place. She moved back to the roads, winning national titles at 15km and the half marathon and breaking the American record in the latter.

Sisson vaulted into the elite group of U.S. female marathoners in 2019, when she clocked the second-fastest debut marathon in American history, a 2:23:08 on a windy day in London, where the early pace was slow.

At the time, it was the 12th-best U.S. performance all-time. In the last two years, Keira D’Amato, 37, and Sara Hall, 39, combined to run seven faster marathons. At Chicago, a flat course that produced a world record three years ago, Sisson can answer them and perhaps get close to D’Amato’s American record 2:19:12.

“I’m hoping sub-2:20,” coach Ray Treacy said, according to LetsRun.com. “With the [super] shoes and the training behind her, I would think that’s [worth] at least three minutes.”

It is less likely that Sisson can challenge for the win on Sunday given the presence of Kenyan Ruth Chepngetich, the 2019 World champion and defending champion in the Windy City. The 28-year-old mom is the fifth-fastest woman in history with a personal best of 2:17:08. And Ethiopian Ruti Aga, a podium finisher in Berlin, New York City and Tokyo with a best time of 2:18:34, though she has one marathon finish since the pandemic (a seventh place).

Like Sisson, Mantz has shown strong recent road racing form. The American men’s debut marathon record of 2:07:56 (Leonard Korir) is in play. If he can break that, Mantz will be among the five fastest U.S. marathoners in history.

Rarely has a U.S. male distance runner as accomplished as Mantz moved up to the marathon at such a young age (25). At BYU, he won NCAA cross-country titles in 2020 and 2021 and placed fifth in the Olympic Trials 10,000m, then turned pro and won the U.S. Half Marathon Championships last December.

“If everything goes as planned, I think sub-2:08 is realistic,” Mantz said in a Citius Mag video interview last month. “If everything goes perfect on the day, I think a sub-2:07, that’s a big stretch goal.”

The men’s field doesn’t have the singular star power of Chepngetich, but a large group of East Africans with personal bests around 2:05. The most notable: defending champion Seifu Tura of Ethiopia and 2021 Boston Marathon winner Benson Kipruto of Kenya.

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Alpine skiing to test new format for combined race

Alpine Skiing Combined
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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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