For Japanese pair, Skate America silver medal is a joyous (and rare) surprise

ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating - Skate America
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In the 32 years since the redoubtable Midori Ito became Japan’s first world figure skating champion, her country has become one of the most decorated in the sport.

All the greatest success has been in singles, climaxed by Yuzuru Hanyu’s consecutive Olympic gold medals in 2014 and 2018.

That background is why the silver medalists were the story in the Skate America pairs’ event Saturday night in Las Vegas.

With their second personal best score in two days, skating with an exuberance and joy that delighted the crowd, Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara became the first Japanese team to win a medal on the Grand Prix circuit in 10 years, equaling the silver won by Narumi Takahashi and Mervin Tran at the NHK Trophy in 2011.

“We weren’t really hoping or aiming for a medal,” Miura said. “We just wanted to show what we were doing in training. We’re obviously surprised we came in second.”

Their medal was the highlight of a free skate that turned into the ice fallies, with an aggregate 10 falls among the eight teams, including one by the Japanese, who had been third in the short program. It came on a throw that left Miura with a bloody right knee after cutting it with her skate.

“We’re really happy, but it is regrettable we made a mistake,” she said.

Only the winners, Yevgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov of Russia, and the fourth-place team, Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier of the U.S., managed to stay upright in the free skate.

It was the second Skate America title for Tarasova and Morozov, who also won in 2018. They had 222.50 points to 208.20 for Miura and Kihara.

Knierim and Frazier, discouraged by their fifth in Friday’s short program, fulfilled their goal to “make a statement” with a second place in the free. It left them 2.56 points shy of passing Russians Aleksandra Boikova and Dmitry Kozlkovskiy (205.53) for the bronze.

Miura, 19, and Kihara, 29, are the first Japanese pairs’ medalists at Skate America, in its 39th international edition this year after being made a mostly domestic event last season because of the pandemic. This is just their third season (sort of) in a partnership that began in June 2019.

They became a team on the suggestion of Bruno Marcotte, the Canadian who had coached Takahashi and Tran, the latter born and raised in Canada.

Miura and Kihara, both native Japanese, had each taken up pairs’ before then with other partners in a country that has had little interest in the discipline.

Now their performances give Japan hope of contending for a team event medal at the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.

“We do talk about the team event a little, but my main message to them is to always try to achieve a personal best score and performance, to focus on their own growth as a team, and the rest will come together,” Marcotte said.

That has happened in both of their events this season, as they became surprise winners of last month’s Challenger Series event in Canada, Autumn Classic International and surprise silver medalists at Skate America.

“If we had been told a month ago that this would happen, we never would have believed it,” Miura said.

Japan has sent pairs skaters to five Olympics, with the best finish a 14th in 1992. Kihara, a singles skater until age 20, competed in the 2014 and 2018 Olympics with his two partners before Miura, failing to qualify for the free skate either time. Miura had won a Japanese junior title with her previous partner.

Serendipity brought them together.

In June 2019, Marcotte was doing a seminar in Japan, where he learned Miura and her former partner were not getting along. Kihara was helping at the seminar, and he and Miura did a training session together.

“It was good, but nothing happened out of it,” Marcotte said.

Until a month later, that is, when Kihara decided to end his previous partnership and agreed to give the idea of skating with Miura a try.

“Two weeks later, Riku and Ryuichi were on the plane and moving to Canada,” Marcotte said.

Within a few months of training in suburban Toronto, they had won the Japanese title. Of course, they were the only pair entered.

Then the Covid pandemic hit, canceling their chance to compete at the 2020 World Championships in Montreal and meaning they could not return to Japan for more than a year because of Covid travel restrictions. There were no pairs at the 2021 Japanese nationals.

“So they stayed with me, and they worked so hard,” Marcotte said.

Their first competition of the next season was the 2021 World Championships, where their 10th place was seven places higher than any Japanese team had finished at worlds since Takahashi and Tran’s bronze medal in 2012. Miura and Kihara also had earned Japan a 2022 Olympic pairs’ spot.

“I knew how good they were, but I don’t think they actually believed it,” Marcotte said. “Their confidence (at 2021 worlds) was not where it should have been, which is normal because they had so little experience competing.

“Placing top 10, qualifying for the Olympics and then doing quite well at the World Team Trophy really gave them the confidence they needed.”

Kihara hopes it will give other Japanese kids the desire to try pairs.

“I would tell them, ‘I didn’t do pairs’ until I turned 20, and I have made it this far,’” he said. “’So if I can do it, others can follow.’”

Philip Hersh, who has covered figure skating at the last 11 Winter Olympics, is a special contributor to

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Britton Wilson doubles like nobody else in track and field

Britton Wilson
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Sprinter Britton Wilson regularly updates a vision board in her apartment living room. As of last week, there were two numbers on it among a collage of pictures: 48 and 52.

The 48 is for the 400m. Wilson’s short-term goal is to become the third U.S. woman to break 49 seconds in the one-lap event after Olympic gold medalists Sanya Richards-Ross and Valerie Brisco-Hooks.

The 52 is for the 400m hurdles. She wants to become the 10th U.S. woman to break 53 seconds in that event.

They are not far-fetched ambitions. Wilson, a University of Arkansas junior, has already run 49.13 in the flat 400m and 53.08 in the 400m hurdles. She is the only woman to rank among the 25 fastest in history in both events. She is the fourth-fastest American all-time in the flat 400m, passing Allyson Felix last month.

At this week’s NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships in Austin, Texas, Wilson will bid to become the first person to win Division I titles in the same year in both the 400m and the 400m hurdles.

On Thursday night, she will race the 400m semifinals just after 9 p.m. local time. A half-hour later, she will race the 400m hurdles semifinals. If she advances, she will race the two finals Saturday with a scheduled 24 minutes in between.

In most cases, a runner would only race twice in that short of a turnaround for the 100m or 200m. Wilson is not only attempting a rarity, but she is also the clear top seed in both events.

Last year, Wilson won both at the SEC Championships with about an hour in between the finals, then entered only the hurdles at the NCAA Championships. She won all of those races. This year, Wilson again won both at SECs. Afterward, she met with coach Chris Johnson, who asked what she wanted to do at NCAAs. Wilson chose both.

“I wanted to see how much I can challenge myself and how far I can push myself,” she said.

Ask those who know Wilson best, and they will tell you that her plan, while unprecedented, is not audacious for her.

Her high school coach will tell you that Wilson ran a nation-leading 300m hurdles time on a Friday night in Richmond, Virginia. She got home around 11. The next morning, she went to another meet and ran the fastest flat 400m in Virginia high school history.

Her mom, who nicknamed her “baby giraffe” in middle school for her early running form, will tell you about the 2018 state championships. Wilson stopped en route to the meet at a CVS to pick up medication for a stomach virus. Once they arrived, nobody could find her. Wilson was in a portable bathroom. When she got out, she looked so out of sorts that adults told her not to race. She checked herself in anyway, then won the 400m and the 200m.

Wilson herself will tell you about the 2017 state championships race the family has come to call by the first two words of its YouTube title.

“So I run track, and if you’re wondering if I’m good or not, here’s one of my highlights,” she said, setting up the story in a TikTok video.

Wilson, then a sophomore, was desperately trying to catch a senior in the adjacent lane in the home stretch of the 400m final. Feet from the finish line, Wilson fell. She scraped her knee (above her tall, pink Victoria’s Secret socks), shoulder (there’s still a scar) and head. For a moment, her legs flung above her body. Wilson then crawled across the finish line to secure second place.

Mom LeYuani rushed from behind a fence to find her daughter under a tent. Nearly as quickly, the finish was already spreading on social media.

LeYuani watched the video in sight of her daughter, but didn’t tell her about it. Determined, Wilson said she was staying in the meet to race the 200m later that day. She did. She won in a personal-best time.

LeYuani remembers Wilson moaning in the backseat of the car on the two-hour drive home. Tylenol lessened the suffering, but didn’t eliminate it.

Wilson has athletic genes. Her mom, a second-grade teacher who has worked in classrooms for 26 years, was a long jumper in school. She taught her kids that event by sprinting from the dining room, through the kitchen, into the family room and then launching nearly into the fireplace.

Her dad, Vince, started at point guard for Virginia Commonwealth, then was the first American to play in the top Russian professional basketball league, according to a contact with the current iteration of the league. Wilson, while on an international exchange program in Russia, said he was asked to play for Spartak Leningrad in 1990 by its head coach, Vladimir Kondrashin. Kondrashin was also the head coach of the 1972 Soviet Olympic team that beat the U.S. in that infamous final.

Wilson, whom the family calls by her middle name, “Rose,” was all-state in track and all-county in chorus and taught herself how to play the guitar.

She first matriculated at the University of Tennessee in 2019. Her freshman year coincided with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, which wiped out the outdoor season. In her down time, she auditioned virtually for “American Idol” and made it as far as seeing Ryan Seacrest on a screen.

As a sophomore, she was running slower than she was in high school. Looking for solutions, Wilson stopped eating.

“A lot of things contributed to my mental health not being the best,” she said on a University of Arkansas athletics podcast. “I had a lot of physical issues. I was in and out of doctors.”

She confided in her parents and decided to transfer. She said that if it wasn’t for Arkansas, the first and only school that she visited, she probably would have quit the sport.

“You have athletes that compete at a very high level, but you also have those athletes that are so mentally strong, they can overcome a lot of things,” Vince said.

Wilson has thrived under coach Chris Johnson, whose older brother, Boogie, coaches 2016 Olympic 400m hurdles champion Dalilah Muhammad.

“[Johnson] is always listening to how we feel, and he hears us instead of just dismissing it,” Wilson said. “He knows he’s a great coach, and he knows his training works, but he’s also going to hear me out if something doesn’t feel right.”

Last year, Wilson’s first in Fayetteville, she chopped two seconds off her 400m personal best and three seconds off her 400m hurdles personal best. She capped a full NCAA indoor and outdoor slate by winning the NCAA 400m hurdles title. She then went eight tenths faster at the USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships, which is normally where collegians run slower after exhausting seasons. Wilson placed second to Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone to make the world championships team.

Then at worlds, Wilson was fifth in the 400m hurdles. Two days later, Wilson was thrilled to be picked for the women’s 4x400m relay the day of the final. She handed the baton to McLaughlin-Levrone — whom she raced once in high school, when Wilson was a sophomore and McLaughlin-Levrone was a senior — and won a gold medal.

“She admired and adored Sydney,” Scott said. “You remember the old commercial, ‘Be Like Mike?’ She wanted to be like Sydney.”

After this week’s NCAAs come the USATF Outdoor Championships in early July. There, the 400m final and 400m hurdles semifinals are 15 minutes apart. Told of that schedule, Wilson said running both is “doable,” but she’d probably race just one event this year. Her coach said they’ll decide after NCAAs.

Wilson is ranked second in the world in 2023 in both events.

At NCAAs, USAs and worlds (if she makes the team), Wilson will get into the blocks and look down. If she peeks inside her right hand, she will see a tattoo on the inside of one finger reading “24K.” Wilson and her mom both got that tattoo — the first for each — to commemorate the world championships relay gold medal.

After worlds, Wilson spent about two months in a boot and on crutches to alleviate stress reactions in both shins, pain that she raced through last summer. She had messed up her kidneys and stomach by taking four ibuprofen a day. She swam, biked and tread carefully on a treadmill while unable to run last fall.

This spring, she got another tattoo — the word “Baby” in memory of her half Pekingese, half poodle that died last summer. She got it on her left hand, “so when my hands are in the blocks, if somebody takes a picture of me, you’ll see it,” she said.

On Saturday, Wilson plans to put her hands on the track twice in a span of 25 minutes. Many will watch.

“She wants to accomplish something that’s never been done before,” Johnson said.

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2023 French Open men’s singles draw

Novak Djokovic, Carlos Alcaraz
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The French Open men’s singles draw is missing injured 14-time champion Rafael Nadal for the first time since 2004, leaving the Coupe des Mousquetaires ripe for the taking.

The tournament airs live on NBC Sports, Peacock and Tennis Channel through championship points in Paris.

Novak Djokovic is not only bidding for a third crown at Roland Garros, but also to lift a 23rd Grand Slam singles trophy to break his tie with Nadal for the most in men’s history.

FRENCH OPEN: Broadcast Schedule | Women’s Draw

But the No. 1 seed is Spaniard Carlos Alcaraz, who won last year’s U.S. Open to become, at 19, the youngest man to win a major since Nadal’s first French Open title in 2005.

Now Alcaraz looks to become the second-youngest man to win at Roland Garros since 1989, after Nadal of course.

Alcaraz missed the Australian Open in January due to a right leg injury, but since went 30-3 with four titles. Notably, he has not faced Djokovic this year. They meet in Friday’s semifinals.

Russian Daniil Medvedev, the No. 2 seed, was upset in the first round by 172nd-ranked Brazilian qualifier Thiago Seyboth Wild. It marked the first time a men’s top-two seed lost in the first round of any major since 2003 Wimbledon (Ivo Karlovic d. Lleyton Hewitt).

All of the American men lost before the fourth round. The last U.S. man to make the French Open quarterfinals was Andre Agassi in 2003.

MORE: All you need to know for 2023 French Open

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2023 French Open Men’s Singles Draw

French Open Men's Singles Draw French Open Men's Singles Draw French Open Men's Singles Draw French Open Men's Singles Draw