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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U.S. women win record 27th consecutive FIBA World Cup game

USA Basketball

SYDNEY — There’s been a long legacy of success for the U.S. women’s basketball team at the World Cup.

The names change over time, but the results don’t seem to.

Kelsey Plum scored 20 points, Chelsea Gray added 16 and the United States routed Bosnia and Herzegovina 121-59 on Tuesday to break the team record for consecutive wins at the World Cup.

The victory was the 27th in a row in World Cup play for the Americans, who haven’t lost since the 2006 semifinals against Russia. The U.S. won 26 in a row from 1994-2006 leading up to that game. The Soviet Union holds the World Cup record with 56 straight wins from 1959-86.

“It’s kind of amazing,” said Breanna Stewart, who has been part of the last three World Cup teams. “Obviously, been here for some of it, but you understand the legends before that who really kind of started the streak. It goes to show that no matter who is playing on USA Basketball, we’re always trying to chase excellence.

“This streak doesn’t mean much right now because we’re going into the quarterfinals and focusing on winning a gold medal, but it’s something to kind of hang your hat on later.”

What started with Sue Bird, Diana Taurasi and Sylvia Fowles has now been passed on to Stewart and A’ja Wilson. A legacy of excellence that doesn’t appear it will end anytime soon.

“The players change and, you know, there was a lot of concern about who’s next,” U.S. coach Cheryl Reeve said. “It was a concern when Dawn Staley and Lisa Leslie were playing and who was going to be next. Then it was Sue and (Taurasi) and then other great players, too. Now with this group they are saying, hey, we’re pretty good, too.”

MORE: FIBA World Cup Schedule, Results

The U.S. last lost a group play game in 1975, according to Bill Mallon of

“We know the responsibility when you put on this jersey. There’s a lot more than yourself,” Plum said. “Everyone puts pride to the side. We have a common goal. We have some amazing players on this team.”

The Americans (5-0) won their pool games by an average of 46.2 points and never trailed in any of them. Now they play Serbia in the quarterfinals.

The U.S. was coming off a record rout of South Korea in which the team broke the World Cup record for points with 145. While the Americans didn’t match that number, they put the game out of reach in the first 10 minutes, going up 33-15.

The lead ballooned to 63-31 at halftime. Bosnia and Herzegovina put together a small run to start the third quarter, but the U.S. scored the final 19 points of the period.

Once again they used a dominant inside performance, outscoring Bosnia and Herzegovina 84-28 in the paint led by Wilson, Stewart and Brionna Jones.

“It’s a huge part of our identity,” Reeve said. “Ninety-whatever we had yesterday and 84 today, we just know what we’re good at and we have players that are really understanding their opportunities for that.”

The U.S. was missing Jewell Loyd, whom the team said was resting. Kahleah Copper started in her place and finished with 11 points.

Nikolina Elez scored 19 points to lead the Bosniaks (0-5), who were playing in their first World Cup.

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2022 FIBA Women’s World Cup schedule, results

FIBA Women's World Cup

The U.S. goes for its fourth consecutive title at the FIBA World Cup in Sydney — and eighth global gold in a row overall when including the Olympics.

A’ja Wilson, a two-time WNBA MVP, and Breanna Stewart, the Tokyo Olympic MVP, headline a U.S. roster that, for the first time since 2000, includes neither Sue Bird (retired) nor Diana Taurasi (injured).

The new-look team includes nobody over the age of 30 for the first time since 1994, before the U.S. began its dynasty at the 1996 Atlanta Games. The Americans have won 52 consecutive games between worlds and the Olympics dating to the 2006 Worlds bronze-medal game.

The field also includes host Australia, the U.S.’ former primary rival, and Olympic silver medalist Japan.

Nigeria, which played the U.S. the closest of any foe in Tokyo (losing by nine points), isn’t present after its federation withdrew the team over governance issues. Spain, ranked second in the world, failed to qualify.

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2022 FIBA Women’s World Cup Schedule

Date Time (ET) Game Round
Wed., Sept. 21 8:30 p.m. Puerto Rico 82, Bosnia and Herzegovina 58 Group A
9:30 p.m. USA 87, Belgium 72 Group A
11 p.m. Canada 67, Serbia 60 Group B
Thurs., Sept. 22 12 a.m. Japan 89, Mali 56 Group B
3:30 a.m. China 107, South Korea 44 Group A
6:30 a.m. France 70, Australia 57 Group B
8:30 p.m. USA 106, Puerto Rico 42 Group A
10 p.m. Serbia 69, Japan 64 Group B
11 p.m. Belgium 84, South Korea 61 Group A
Fri., Sept. 23 12:30 a.m. China 98, Bosnia and Herzegovina 51 Group A
4 a.m. Canada 59, France 45 Group B
6:30 a.m. Australia 118, Mali 58 Group B
Sat., Sept. 24 12:30 a.m. USA 77, China 63 Group A
4 a.m. South Korea 99, Bosnia and Herzegovina 66 Group A
6:30 a.m. Belgium 68, Puerto Rico 65 Group A
Sun., Sept. 25 12:30 a.m. France 74, Mali 59 Group B
4 a.m. Australia 69, Serbia 54 Group B
6:30 a.m. Canada 70, Japan 56 Group B
9:30 p.m. Belgium 85, Bosnia and Herzegovina 55 Group A
11:30 p.m. Serbia 81, Mali 68 Group B
Mon., Sept. 26 12 a.m. USA 145, South Korea 69 Group A
2 a.m. France 67, Japan 53 Group B
3:30 a.m. China 95, Puerto Rico 60 Group A
6:30 a.m. Australia 75, Canada 72 Group B
9:30 p.m. Puerto Rico 92, South Korea 73 Group A
11:30 p.m. China 81, Belgium 55 Group A
Tues., Sept. 27 12 a.m. USA 121, Bosnia and Herzegovina 59 Group A
2 a.m. Canada 88, Mali 65 Group B
3:30 a.m. Serbia 68, France 62 Group B
6:30 a.m. Australia 71, Japan 54 Group B
Wed., Sept. 28 10 p.m. USA vs. Serbia
Thurs., Sept. 29 12:30 a.m. Canada vs. Puerto Rico
4 a.m. China vs. France
6:30 a.m. Australia vs. Belgium
Fri., Sept. 30 3 a.m. Semifinal
5:30 a.m. Semifinal
11 p.m. Third-Place Game
Sat., Oct. 1 2 a.m. Final