Kristen Santos mulls sitting out, then sweeps to open Olympic short track trials


Kristen Santos just missed the 2018 Olympic team. She’s leaving no doubt this time despite considering not racing the Olympic Trials.

Santos, the lone American short track speed skater ranked in the world top 20, won both races on the first of three days of the Olympic Trials at the 2002 Olympic Oval outside Salt Lake City. She took the 1500m, then shattered her American record in the 500m by nearly a half-second.

“I was debating racing this weekend because I have an issue with my boot,” said Santos, who if she sat out could have petitioned for an Olympic spot. “Just a pressure point that’s very, very sensitive. But it’s feeling a lot better today.”

If Santos wins either the second 1500m on Saturday or the second 500m on Sunday, she will qualify for her first Olympic team. There are many other paths to Beijing, but those are the simplest.

Four years ago, Santos finished fourth overall at Olympic Trials. The top three made the team. Santos was competing weeks after another skater’s blade sliced her hand and wrist, requiring surgery.

SHORT TRACK TRIALS: Broadcast Schedule

Santos used this quadrennium to become an Olympic medal contender. She made three World Cup podiums this fall, including the first individual victory for an American woman in nine years.

Thanks in part to Santos, the U.S. will have the maximum five women at the Olympics after qualifying a relay for the first time since 2010, the last time any U.S. woman won an Olympic medal.

Maame Biney, the lone skater at trials with Olympic competition experience, finished second to Santos in Friday’s 500m. Biney, a 21-year-old born in Ghana and raised in Virginia, is in good position to make the Olympic team come Sunday.

The U.S. has two men’s Olympic spots, its fewest since the sport’s medal-event debut in 1992. In another first since 1992, no prior Olympic medalists (men or women) are going out for the Olympic team.

Ryan Pivirotto, who made the 2018 Olympic team in the relay pool but didn’t compete, won the first men’s 1500m on Friday.

Brandon Kim, the highest-ranked U.S. man at No. 29 in the world, won the first 500m ahead of Pivirotto. Kim’s hopes took a hit when he crashed in the semifinals of the first 1500m.

The two U.S. male Olympic team members will not be known until the last day of trials Sunday.

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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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