Pairs’ champs Alexa Knierim, Brandon Frazier out of figure skating nationals due to COVID-19

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Pairs’ national champions Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier withdrew from the U.S. Figure Skating Championships due to Frazier testing positive for COVID-19 with severe symptoms, it was announced the night before senior competition begins.

They are still eligible for Olympic team selection through a petition process.

“Although my symptoms are pretty bad, nothing sucks more than not being able to compete,” Frazier said in an Instagram video posted Wednesday night.

Frazier tested negative before arriving in Nashville on Monday for the competition, then started developing severe symptoms late Tuesday evening and got a test as a precaution. He was not required by event rules to be tested again until four days after his arrival.

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Frazier is vaccinated and boosted against the virus, Knierim said on social media.

“We have taken all the necessary precautions leading up to these Championships, including but not limited to social distancing, the use of KN95 masks and canceling all holiday gatherings as well as private lessons at the rink, so it has been shocking and devastating for us to process what has happened,” she wrote.

Knierim said Wednesday night that they will petition to a selection committee for one of two pairs’ spots on the Olympic team, which will be decided after Saturday’s free skate and announced Sunday morning. Skater(s) who successfully petition must be able to prove the ability to perform full competition programs by a specified date and be medically approved to compete at the Olympics.

“Brandon and I have accumulated an extremely strong body of work that positions us at the top of the field nationally and we are not letting go of our Olympic dream,” Knierim said. “That said, we have the utmost respect for the selection committee and believe that they will make decisions based on the best interest of our team and our country.”

Knierim and Frazier, the highest-ranking U.S. pair this season, did not take part in official pairs’ practice on Wednesday afternoon in Nashville after doing so on Tuesday, figure skating reporter Jackie Wong said.

Olympic figure skating competition starts Feb. 3 with the team event.

The U.S. Figure Skating Championships are not an Olympic Trials. The Olympic figure skating roster is determined by a selection committee taking into account results from last January’s nationals through this week’s nationals.

Knierim and Frazier, in addition to winning last season’s nationals, were the better of two U.S. pairs at March’s world championships (seventh place) and had the highest score for a U.S. pair in the fall Grand Prix Series.

Knierim and Frazier were expected to battle with three other top pairs for the two Olympic spots — Ashley Cain-Gribble and Timothy LeDucJessica Calalang and Brian Johnson and Audrey Lu and Misha Mitrofanov.

Knierim, who finished 15th at the 2018 Olympics with since-retired husband Chris, and Frazier partnered last year and quickly ascended to the top of U.S. pairs.

Knierim and Frazier’s spot at the top was under pressure this season: Cain-Gribble and LeDuc put up a score at their last Grand Prix event in November that’s .18 shy of Knierim and Frazier’s best this fall.

Then, in their last competition before nationals, Knierim and Frazier struggled in their free skate and were outscored by another U.S. pair for the first time (Lu and Mitrofanov) at a lower-level event in December.

U.S. pairs’ skating has been so volatile that Knierim could be the first pairs’ skater to make back-to-back Olympics in 20 years (Kyoko Ina, also with different partners). The last U.S. Olympic pairs’ medal came in 1988.

The last figure skater to successfully petition for a spot on the U.S. Olympic team after not competing at nationals was Michelle Kwan in 2006. Kwan ultimately withdrew after arriving for the Torino Games, but before competition, due to a groin injury and was replaced by Emily Hughes.

The last time the Olympic pairs’ roster did not mirror nationals results was 1998, when three-time U.S. champions Jenni Meno and Todd Sand were named to the team after withdrawing before the free skate due to Meno’s ankle injury. Meno and Sand now coach Knierim and Frazier.

NBC Sports researcher Sarah Hughes (not the figure skater) contributed to this report from Nashville.

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Ilia Malinin wins U.S. Figure Skating Championships despite quadruple Axel miss

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One year ago, Ilia Malinin came to the U.S. Championships as, largely, a 17-year-old unknown. He finished second to Nathan Chen in 2022 and was left off the three-man Olympic team due to his inexperience, a committee decision that lit a fire in him.

After the biggest year of change in U.S. figure skating in three decades, Malinin came to this week’s nationals in San Jose, California, as the headliner across all disciplines.

Though he fell on his quadruple Axel and doubled two other planned quads in Sunday’s free skate (the most ambitious program in history), he succeeded the absent Chen as national champion.

Malinin, the world’s second-ranked male singles skater, still landed two clean quads in Friday’s short program and three more Sunday. He totaled 287.74 points and prevailed by 10.43 over two-time Olympian Jason Brown, a bridge between the Chen and Malinin eras.

“This wasn’t the skate that I wanted,” said Malinin, who was bidding to become the second man to land six quads in one program after Chen. The Virginia chalked up the flaws at least partially to putting more recent practice time into his short program, which he skated clean on Friday after errors in previous competitions.

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Brown, a 28-year-old competing for the first time since placing sixth at the Olympics, became the oldest male singles skater to finish in the top three at nationals since Jeremy Abbott won the last of his four titles in 2014. As usual, he didn’t attempt a quad but had the highest artistic score by 9.41 points.

Brown’s seven total top-three finishes at nationals tie him with Chen, Michael WeissBrian Boitano, David Jenkins and Dick Button for the second-most in men’s singles since World War II, trailing only Todd Eldredge‘s and Hayes Jenkins‘ eight.

“I’m not saying it’s super old, but I can’t train the way I used to,” Brown said after Friday’s short program. “What Ilia is doing and the way he is pushing the sport is outstanding and incredible to watch. I cannot keep up.”

Andrew Torgashev took bronze, winning the free skate with one quad and all clean jumps. Torgashev, who competed at nationals for the first time since placing fifth in 2020 at age 18, will likely round out the three-man world team.

Japan’s Shoma Uno will likely be the favorite at worlds. He won last year’s world title, when Malinin admittedly cracked under pressure in the free skate after a fourth-place short program and ended up ninth.

That was before Malinin became the first person to land a quad Axel in competition. That was before Malinin became the story of the figure skating world this fall. That was before Malinin took over the American throne from Chen, who is studying at Yale and not expected to return to competition.

Malinin’s next step is to grab another label that Chen long held: best in the world. To do that, he must be better than he was on Sunday.

“You always learn from your experiences, and there’s always still the rest of the season to come,” he said. “I just have to be prepared and prepare a little bit extra so that doesn’t happen again.”

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Mark McMorris breaks Winter X Games medals record; David Wise wins first title in 5 years

Mark McMorris
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Canadian snowboarder Mark McMorris broke his tie with American Jamie Anderson for the most Winter X Games medals across all sites, earning his 22nd medal, a slopestyle gold, in Aspen, Colorado.

On the final run of Sunday’s contest, McMorris overtook Norway’s Marcus Kleveland with back-to-back 1620s on the last two jumps. McMorris’ last three Aspen slopestyle titles were all won on his final run (2019, 2022).

“It’s something I never thought would ever come to me as a kid from Saskatchewan,” McMorris, 29, said on the broadcast. “Everything’s just been a bonus since I became a pro snowboarder.”

In a format introduced three years ago, athletes were ranked on overall impression of their best run over the course of a jam session rather than scoring individual runs.

McMorris won his record-extending seventh X Games Aspen men’s slopestyle title, one day after finishing fourth in big air.

“It just keeps getting crazier because I keep getting older,” he said. “People just keep pushing the limits, pushing the limits. Last night was such a downer, almost bums me out, like, dude, do I still have it? … To have one of those miracle wins where you do it on the last run and someone makes you push yourself, those are the best feelings.”

McMorris won slopestyle bronze medals at each of the last three Olympics and reportedly said last February that he was planning to compete through the 2026 Milan-Cortina Winter Games.

Canadian Max Parrot, the 2022 Olympic slopestyle champion, is taking this season off from competition.

Anderson, a two-time Olympic snowboard slopestyle champion, is expecting her first child.

Later Sunday, American David Wise earned his first major ski halfpipe title since repeating as Olympic champion in 2018. Wise landed back-to-back double cork 1260s to end his winning run, according to commentators.

“I wouldn’t still be out here if I didn’t think I had a chance,” Wise, 32 and now a five-time X Games Aspen champ, said on the broadcast. “I’m not going to be the guy who just keeps playing the game until everybody just begs me to stop.”

U.S. Olympian Mac Forehand won men’s ski big air with a 2160 on his last run, according to commentators. It scored a perfect 50. Olympic gold medalist Birk Ruud of Norway followed with a triple cork 2160 of his own, according to commentators, and finished third.

Canadian skier Megan Oldham added slopestyle gold to her big air title from Friday, relegating Olympic champion Mathilde Gremaud of Switzerland to silver.

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