Cain-Gribble, LeDuc set U.S. Figure Skating Championships pairs’ record

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Ashley Cain-Gribble and Timothy LeDuc showed their determination to earn one of two Olympic spots available for American pairs’ teams Thursday when they set a U.S. Figure Skating Championships record to lead the field.

Cain-Gribble and LeDuc earned 79.39 points for their short program set to “The White Crow,” besting the rest of the field by almost two points and their previous U.S. Championships record by nearly nine.

“We’re grateful to be doing something that we love,” LeDuc said. “We’re really pleased with our effort today, we feel like we did what we do in practice. Just looking forward to a great effort in the free skate.”

Jessica Calalang and Brian Johnson are in second with 77.48 points, followed by Audrey Lu and Misha Mitrofanov (68.11).

They compete next in Saturday’s pairs’ free skate before the Olympic team is announced Sunday.

FIGURE SKATING NATIONALS: Full Results | Broadcast Schedule

The previous U.S. Championships record was 77.46, set last year by champions Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier; the current scoring system has been in place since the 2018-19 season.

Knierim and Frazier entered the week as favorites to win a second title in Nashville, a dream that was halted on Wednesday when they withdrew after Frazier tested positive for Covid-19.

The team intends to petition for a spot on the Olympic team, which is selected based on athletes’ bodies of work from last January’s U.S. Championships through this week’s, and in that year Knierim and Frazier have continued to be the top U.S. pairs’ team at each level.

In their absence, though, it was Cain-Gribble and LeDuc who stood out as they work to make their Olympic debuts next month in Beijing.

If they are named to the team, LeDuc will become the first publicly out non-binary athlete to compete at a Winter Olympics.

ON HER TURF: Cain-Gribble, LeDuc Break Heteronormative Mold

The last time Cain-Gribble and LeDuc led after the short program at a U.S. Championships was five years ago, when they ultimately finished third in their debut season as a pair.

They have had a roller-coaster career since, winning the U.S. title in 2019, when LeDuc became the first openly gay athlete to win gold in a U.S. pairs’ event, before finishing fourth and third at the event in the years that followed.

Cain-Gribble has notably had her fair share of health struggles in that time. She fell on her head while exiting a lift during a December 2018 performance, suffering a concussion. Leading into this season, she contracted Covid-19 in August and developed asthma as a result.

“Every day I have to take a steroid and I have to use my inhaler twice a day in order to get through training,” Cain-Gribble said. “It’s definitely been something very new I’ve had to learn to deal with, but at this point it does feel very normal.”

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Diana Taurasi says 2024 Paris Olympics ‘on my radar’

Diana Taurasi
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Diana Taurasi said immediately after winning her fifth Olympic gold medal in Tokyo that she might try for a record sixth in Paris.

It’s still on her mind 17 months out of the 2024 Paris Olympics.

“It’s something that it’s on my radar,” Taurasi told The Associated Press in a phone interview Tuesday after the first day of a USA Basketball training camp in Minnesota, her first national team activity since Tokyo. “I’m still competitive, still driven, still want to play, I still love being a part of USA Basketball.”

Taurasi will be 42 at the time of the Paris Games — older than any previous Olympic basketball player — but said if she’s healthy enough she’d like to give it a go.

“If the opportunity comes to play and be a part of it, it’s something I’ve always taken a lot of pride in,” said Taurasi, who shares the record of five Olympic basketball gold medals with the retired Sue Bird. “When you get to my age at this point in my career, you just try to win every day. Right now this is a good opportunity to be part of this team moving forward we’ll see what happens.”

She said she would have played at the FIBA World Cup last year in Australia, but had a quad strain that kept her out of the end of the WNBA season.

“I got hurt a little bit before. I had a good conversation with Coach (Cheryl) Reeve and (USA Basketball CEO Jim) Tooley. I felt like I hadn’t played enough basketball to be out there and help,” Taurasi said. “That’s the biggest thing with USA Basketball is being able to help the team win.”

Reeve said Monday that when she succeeded Dawn Staley as head coach a few months after Tokyo, she wasn’t sure whether Taurasi would play for the national team again. That was before her conversation with Taurasi.

“I look forward to having a chance to have her be around and be, as I told her, a great voice,” Reeve said. “Obviously, the competitive fire that she competes with is something that we all do well with.”

In Tokyo, Taurasi started all six games and averaged 18.8 minutes per game, sixth-most on the team (fewer than backup guard Chelsea Gray). Her 5.8 points per game were her fewest in her Olympic career, though she was dealing with a hip injury.

Taurasi is an unrestricted free agent although she is expected to return back to Phoenix where she’s spent her entire career since getting drafted No. 1 overall in 2003.

“Phoenix still has things they need to work out,” the WNBA’s all-time leading scorer said.

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Alexis Pinturault wins world championships combined; American in fourth

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France’s Alexis Pinturault won the world Alpine skiing championships combined at his home venue after defending world champion Marco Schwarz blew a lead in the final seconds of his slalom run.

Pinturault, a 31-year-old who hadn’t won a race in nearly two years (the longest drought of his distinguished career), prevailed by one tenth of a second over the Austrian Schwarz in Courchevel, France.

“I hope to enjoy it because it was pretty difficult some months ago,” Pinturault said.

Austrian Raphael Haaser took bronze in an event that combined times from a morning super-G run and an afternoon slalom run, one day after his older sister took bronze in the women’s combined.

River Radamus was fourth, a quarter of a second from becoming the first U.S. man to win an Alpine worlds medal since 2015. Radamus’ best event is the giant slalom, which is scheduled for Feb. 17 at worlds.

“It’s nice, but honestly, you don’t come to world championships hoping to get fourth,” Radamus said.

Five skiers finished within 2.98 seconds of the winner in an event that has been dropped from the annual World Cup schedule and is under review to remain on the Olympic program.

ALPINE WORLDS: Results | Broadcast Schedule

Pinturault had the fastest super-G run by six hundredths over Schwarz. Schwarz, a slightly better slalom skier than Pinturault, erased that deficit early in the slalom and had a three tenths lead at the last intermediate split.

He gave it all away about six gates from the finish, slamming on the brakes. Moments later, he crossed the finish line one tenth behind Pinturault, who reacted by pumping his fists in the air.

The Frenchman earned his first race victory since the March 2021 World Cup Finals giant slalom, where he clinched his first World Cup overall title, the biggest annual prize in ski racing. Last season, Pinturault went winless on the World Cup for the first time since he was a teenage rookie in 2011, plus went medal-less at the Olympics.

Pinturault, who grew up in Courchevel and now co-owns the family’s five-star Hotel Annapurna there, had retirement cross his mind in the offseason, according to Eurosport. He skipped a pre-worlds Sunday press conference due to illness.

Nonetheless, Pinturault was on the front page of French newspapers this week, including L’Equipe on Tuesday. In a sports cover story for Le Figaro, Pinturault said that, given the circumstances, it would be almost a “nice surprise” to go for a medal at these worlds.

Olympic champion Johannes Strolz of Austria skied out of the slalom after tying for 29th in the super-G.

Olympic silver and bronze medalists Aleksander Aamodt Kilde of Norway and Jack Crawford of Canada were among the speed specialists who did not start the slalom. They essentially used the event as a training run for Thursday’s super-G.

Worlds continue Wednesday with the women’s super-G, where Mikaela Shiffrin is a medal contender but not the favorite. She can tie the modern-era records for individual world championships gold medals (seven) and total medals (12).

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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