Russians prove they are back as two pairs’ teams lead the way at Skate America

ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating - Skate America
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Brandon Frazier sounded like a lot of the leading U.S. pairs’ skaters who have come before him over the years.

“We’re trying to push ourselves to be more competitive with the top teams in the world,” said Frazier, reigning U.S. champion with partner Alexa Knierim.

For six decades, that goal for U.S. pairs has primarily meant trying to be competitive with teams from Russia and its predecessor, the Soviet Union.

And, despite some unexpected Russian dry spells in the past 15 years, that is what it means again.

It certainly was the case Friday night at Skate America in Las Vegas, when two of the current top three Russian teams led the short program standings in the opening Grand Prix event of the season.

Yevgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov, Russian champions three of the past four seasons, led with 80.36, less than a point from their personal best.

Teammates Aleksandra Boikova and Dmitry Kozlovskiy, reigning world bronze medalists, were second at 75.43.

The Russians were the only teams in the eight-pair field who had positive grades of execution on all seven elements.

But the Japanese team of Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara, a fast-improving couple who have been an impressive surprise in the early part of this season, provoked a big positive crowd response with a performance to k.d. lang’s version of “Hallelujah” that had just one minor error.

Miura and Kihara’s 72.63 points topped the personal best they had tallied while winning the Autumn Classic Challenger Series event in Canada last month.

The U.S. teams, Jessica Calalang/Brian Johnson (68.87) and Knierim/Frazier (66.37), were fourth and fifth. Calalang and Johnson had just one small mistake in an electric skate, on their throw, but Frazier fell on his side-by-side jump.

After winning pairs’ gold in 12 straight Winter Olympics from 1964 through 2006 (plus silver in seven of those Games), Russian teams have faltered recently. They won no medals in both the 2010 and 2018 Olympics.

It has been clear since then the Russians are back – now and for the future. They have swept medals in the last three World Junior Championships, and the senior teams went 1-3-4 at last year’s World Championships and 2-3 in the previous one in 2019 (Covid forced cancellation of the 2020 senior worlds.)

Tarasova and Morozov, three-time world medalists frustrated by their fourths at the 2018 Olympics and the 2021 worlds, made a dramatic coaching change coming into this season.

They moved to the coaching team headed by Eteri Tutberidze, a former ice dancer known for her overwhelming success with the women’s singles skaters who now dominate that discipline.

“It has been very interesting working with Eteri and her team,” Morozov said. “Of course, she hadn’t worked before with pairs, but as an ice dancer she knows a lot about skating together.”

Tutberidze is focused on giving Tarasova and Morozov more jump consistency. She is getting pairs’ help from Maksim Trankov. He and skating partner (now wife) Tatyana Volosozhar were runaway Olympic champions in 2014.

That is the gap Russians usually had on their pairs’ rivals.

Philip Hersh, who has covered figure skating at the last 11 Winter Olympics, is a special contributor to NBCSports.com/figure-skating.

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U.S. men’s gymnastics team named for world championships

Asher Hong
Allison and John Cheng/USA Gymnastics
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Asher Hong, Colt Walker and world pommel horse champion Stephen Nedoroscik were named to the last three spots on the U.S. men’s gymnastics team for the world championships that start in three weeks.

Brody Malone and Donnell Whittenburg earned the first spots on the team by placing first and second in the all-around at August’s U.S. Championships.

Hong, Walker and Nedoroscik were chosen by a committee after two days of selection camp competition in Colorado Springs this week. Malone and Whittenburg did not compete at the camp.

Hong, 18, will become the youngest U.S. man to compete at worlds since Danell Leyva in 2009. He nearly earned a spot on the team at the U.S. Championships, but erred on his 12th and final routine of that meet to drop from second to third in the all-around. At this week’s camp, Hong had the lowest all-around total of the four men competing on all six apparatuses, but selectors still chose him over Tokyo Olympians Yul Moldauer and Shane Wiskus.

Walker, a Stanford junior, will make his world championships debut. He would have placed second at nationals in August if a bonus system for attempting difficult skills wasn’t in place. With that bonus system not in place at the selection camp, he had the highest all-around total. The bonus system is not used at international meets such as world championships.

Nedoroscik rebounded from missing the Tokyo Olympic team to become the first American to win a world title on pommel horse last fall. Though he is the lone active U.S. male gymnast with a global gold medal, he was in danger of missing this five-man team because of struggles on the horse at the U.S. Championships. Nedoroscik, who does not compete on the other five apparatuses, put up his best horse routine of the season on the last day of the selection camp Wednesday.

Moldauer, who tweeted that he was sick all last week, was named the traveling alternate for worlds in Liverpool, Great Britain. It would be the first time that Moldauer, who was fourth in the all-around at last fall’s worlds, does not compete at worlds since 2015.

Though the U.S. has not made the team podium at an Olympics or worlds since 2014, it is boosted this year by the absence of Olympic champion Russia, whose athletes are banned indefinitely due to the war in Ukraine. In recent years, the U.S. has been among the nations in the second tier behind China, Japan and Russia, including in Tokyo, where the Americans were fifth.

The U.S. women’s world team of five will be announced after a selection camp in two weeks. Tokyo Olympians Jade Carey and Jordan Chiles are in contention.

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Paris 2024 Olympic marathon route unveiled

Paris 2024 Olympic Marathon
Paris 2024
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The 2024 Olympic marathon route will take runners from Paris to Versailles and back.

The route announcement was made on the 233rd anniversary of one of the early, significant events of the French Revolution: the Women’s March on Versailles — “to pay tribute to the thousands of women who started their march at city hall to Versailles to take up their grievances to the king and ask for bread,” Paris 2024 President Tony Estanguet said.

Last December, organizers announced the marathons will start at Hôtel de Ville (city hall, opposite Notre-Dame off the Seine River) and end at Les Invalides, a complex of museums and monuments one mile southeast of the Eiffel Tower.

On Wednesday, the rest of the route was unveiled — traversing the banks of the Seine west to the Palace of Versailles and then back east, passing the Eiffel Tower before the finish.

The men’s and women’s marathons will be on the last two days of the Games at 8 a.m. local time (2 a.m. ET). It will be the first time that the women’s marathon is held on the last day of the Games after the men’s marathon traditionally occupied that slot.

A mass public marathon will also be held on the Olympic marathon route. The date has not been announced.

The full list of highlights among the marathon course:

• Hôtel de ville de Paris (start)
• Bourse de commerce
• Palais Brongniart
• Opéra Garnier
• Place Vendôme
• Jardin des Tuileries
• The Louvre
• Place de la Concorde
• The bridges of Paris
(Pont de l’Alma; Alexandre III;
Iéna; and more)
• Grand Palais
• Palais de Tokyo
• Jardins du Trocadéro
• Maison de la Radio
• Manufacture et Musées
nationaux de Sèvres
• Forêt domaniale
des Fausses-Reposes
• Monuments Pershing –
Lafayette
• Château de Versailles
• Forêt domaniale de Meudon
• Parc André Citroën
• Eiffel Tower
• Musée Rodin
• Esplanade des Invalides (finish)

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