U.S. Figure Skating Championships pairs’ preview: bunched battle for Olympic spots

ISU World Figure Skating Championships - Stockholm: Day Two
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This week’s U.S. Figure Skating Championships marks the last competition to determine the U.S. Olympic team. Two pairs’ teams will be chosen by a committee to compete in Beijing. A look at the contenders (listed in order of best single total score this season) …

The top two U.S. pairs are separated by .just .18 of a point by best total score this season in significant competitions. The top four pairs are separated by 7.65 points.

It has been 20 years since a U.S. pair finished in the top five at the Olympics, and 34 years since the last medal.

That doesn’t figure to change in Beijing — the top teams from Russia and China are in another echelon — but, as usual and unlike other disciplines, the battles for the national title and Olympic spots are really up for grabs.

Update: Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier withdrew Wednesday after Frazier tested positive for the coronavirus. They will petition for a spot on the Olympic team. More here.

Alexa Knierim/Brandon Frazier
2021 U.S. champions
Knierim: Three-time U.S. champion, 2018 Olympian with Chris Knierim
Frazier: 2017 U.S. champion with Haven Denney

Teamed up in 2020, after each skater’s previous partner retired, and quickly became the top U.S. pair, winning both Skate America and nationals. U.S. pairs skating has been so volatile that Knierim is trying to become the first pairs skater to make back-to-back Olympics in 20 years (Kyoko Ina, also with different partners). Knierim and Frazier’s spot at the top is under pressure: Ashley Cain-Gribble and Timothy LeDuc put up a score at their last Grand Prix event this fall 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 (Audrey Lu and Misha Mitrofanov).

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Ashley Cain-Gribble/Timothy LeDuc
2019 U.S. champions

Fourth at the 2018 U.S. Championships, when only one Olympic spot was at stake. Cain-Gribble and LeDuc won the national title the next year, then the season after that posted the highest international score by a U.S. pair. They have the most shared experience on the senior level of the top U.S. pairs and are right there with Knierim and Frazier this season. However, they have finished better than third at nationals just once, and it’s likely going to take first or second this week to be selected for Beijing. Both skaters came back from concussions in this Olympic cycle. Cain-Gribble contracted Covid in the summer, was briefly in the hospital and later learned she developed asthma from the virus. She uses an inhaler daily for training. LeDuc could become the first publicly out non-binary athlete to compete at a Winter Olympics.

Jessica Calalang/Brian Johnson
2020, 2021 U.S. silver medalists

Should make the Olympic team if they repeat their national championships finish the last two years. However, Calalang and Johnson have never competed at the world championships. The 2020 Worlds were canceled due to the pandemic, and they withdrew before 2021 Worlds due to Calalang testing positive for a banned stimulant. She was eventually cleared, several months later, after it was found that it can turn up in cosmetics that she used. Train with Knierim and Frazier.

Audrey Lu/Misha Mitrofanov
2021 U.S. Championships, fourth place

Have momentum after winning a lower-level event in Croatia in December, beating a field that included Knierim and Frazier and Calalang and Johnson. Still rank fourth in the U.S. this season by best score among significant events, but as noted not far out from the top pairs. At 19 and 24, they are the youngest of the top U.S. pairs. In the last Olympic year, they won the U.S. junior title, then placed fifth at junior worlds and moved up to senior the next season. They finished sixth, sixth and fourth at senior nationals in this Olympic cycle. In late December, Lu’s face caught Mitrofanov’s toe pick on a death spiral, resulting in four stitches in her left cheek.

NBC Olympic research contributed to this report.

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2023 French Open women’s singles draw, scores

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At the French Open, Iga Swiatek of Poland eyes a third title at Roland Garros and a fourth Grand Slam singles crown overall.

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

Swiatek, the No. 1 seed from Poland, can join Serena Williams and Justine Henin as the lone women to win three or more French Opens since 2000.

Turning 22 during the tournament, she can become the youngest woman to win three French Opens since Monica Seles in 1992 and the youngest woman to win four Slams overall since Williams in 2002.

FRENCH OPEN: Broadcast Schedule | Men’s Draw

But Swiatek is not as dominant as in 2022, when she went 16-0 in the spring clay season during an overall 37-match win streak.

She retired from her most recent match with a right thigh injury last week and said it wasn’t serious. Before that, she lost the final of another clay-court tournament to Australian Open champion Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus.

Sabalenka, the No. 2 seed, and Elena Rybakina of Kazakhstan, the No. 4 seed and Wimbledon champion, are the top challengers in Paris.

No. 3 Jessica Pegula and No. 6 Coco Gauff, runner-up to Swiatek last year, are the best hopes to become the first American to win a Grand Slam singles title since Sofia Kenin at the 2020 Australian Open. The 11-major drought is the longest for U.S. women since Seles won the 1996 Australian Open.

MORE: All you need to know for 2023 French Open

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2023 French Open Women’s Singles Draw

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2023 French Open men’s singles draw, scores

French Open Men's Draw
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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 could meet in the semifinals.

Russian Daniil Medvedev, who lost in the French Open first round in 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020, is improved on clay. He won the Italian Open, the last top-level clay event before the French Open, and is the No. 2 seed ahead of Djokovic.

No. 9 Taylor Fritz, No. 12 Frances Tiafoe and No. 16 Tommy Paul are the highest-seeded Americans, all looking to become the first U.S. man to make the French Open quarterfinals since Andre Agassi in 2003. Since then, five different American men combined to make the fourth round on eight occasions.

MORE: All you need to know for 2023 French Open

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2023 French Open Men’s Singles Draw

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