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.
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.
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.”
A year from now, they hope to vie for medals in the City of Light. But on this day, four U.S. hopefuls for the 2024 Paris Olympics and Paralympics competed on “Top Chef” World All-Stars at the foot of the Eiffel Tower, the first cross-promotional moment across NBC Universal’s One Platform for the Games.
As Parisians and tourists traversed the Champ de Mars, Olympic champions gymnast Suni Lee and sprinter Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone and Paralympic champion swimmer Mallory Weggemann and medalist sprinter Hunter Woodhall bundled and huddled and did everything possible to stay warm between rain showers.
Then came the 30-minute frenzy. Each athlete was paired with a cheftestant for what the Bravo series calls a wall challenge: the chef and the athlete each attempted to make the same dish while separated by a divider, unable to see what the other was doing. The duo whose dishes have the closest appearance and taste win.
It’s little surprise that Weggemann prevailed. At 33 on the day of filming, she’s a decade older than the rest of the athletes.
When she was 18, Weggemann lost movement from the waist down while receiving epidural injections to treat shingles. Four years later, she swam at her first Paralympics and won her first gold medal.
“I understand that when I go onto a [filming] set like today, and I’m rolling rather than stepping, that looks different,” she said. “Not everyone who’s going to watch ‘Top Chef’ is a sports fanatic, and so they maybe don’t watch the Olympics and Paralympics, but in that moment, we got to bring them into the movement in a way that we maybe otherwise wouldn’t. I’m not oblivious to the fact that as a woman with a disability in that moment, I also have the power to change perceptions because not everyone in our society has exposure to disability.”
Weggemann has already been to three Paralympics and earned five medals. She did the “Top Chef” competition while three months pregnant. Baby Charlotte arrived March 16. Her goal is to be on the podium in Paris and be able to see her husband and daughter in the stands.
Woodhall, who won three medals in Tokyo in his Paralympic debut, visited the French capital with his then-fiancée Tara Davis, who placed sixth in the Tokyo Olympic long jump. Their Texas wedding was a month after the “Top Chef” filming.
“In Tokyo, we weren’t able to be there for each other,” said Woodhall, referring to COVID-19 travel restrictions for those Games not allowing spectators. “Paris is so exciting because we’ll both be able to really be in the moment and support each other through both the Olympic and Paralympic Games.”
McLaughlin-Levrone had husband Andre Levrone Jr., a former NFL practice squad wide receiver, by her side in Paris. Before “Top Chef,” she had a whirlwind spring and summer, getting married in May and then twice breaking her world record in the 400m hurdles. At the top of her sport, McLaughlin-Levrone had a decision to make in the fall and winter offseason: continue in the hurdles, where she has accomplished everything, or venture into another event, the 400m without hurdles, to test herself.
“That world record has stood for so long, and no one’s come even close to it,” she said of the flat 400m, and its 37-year-old world record, while in Paris. “So we definitely want to be able to try that and see what we can do there as well.”
Now, McLaughlin-Levrone is set to return to Paris next week for her first outdoor race since August. It will be a flat 400m. She also plans to race the 400m at the USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships in July, and possibly at August’s world championships in lieu of the hurdles.
The gymnast Lee became one of the unexpected golden stories of the Tokyo Games. After Simone Biles withdrew from the meet, the Hmong American from Minnesota seized the all-around title, the biggest prize in her sport.
She hasn’t performed in international gymnastics since. Lee matriculated at Auburn and competed for the Tigers. But NCAA gymnastics involves different routines, competitions and scoring than Olympic gymnastics. It’s such a contrast that, traditionally, joining a college team has often meant retirement from the Olympic level.
The afternoon before the “Top Chef” filming, Lee walked inside the Accor Arena in the Bercy neighborhood, the site of the 2024 Olympic gymnastics events. A competition was taking place that included the Brazilian who took silver behind Lee in Tokyo.
“I am a little nervous to get back out on the bigger stage,” Lee said then. “Going to that meet actually was really important to me because I think I needed the help of re-motivating myself and seeing what I’m getting back into, watching the competition, just getting used to that atmosphere again.”
Two months after that experience, Lee announced she would leave Auburn after her sophomore year to return to elite training for a 2024 Paris Olympic bid.
The “Top Chef” integration helps launch summer Paris Games-related fanfare, including national and world championships in many Olympic and Paralympic sports and events to mark the one-year-out dates from the Opening Ceremonies (July 26 for the Olympics, Aug. 28 for the Paralympics).
“Top Chef,” in its 20th season, previously featured Olympians before the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Games and then again before Tokyo. Host Padma Lakshmi noticed a common trait.
“Their attention to detail is extraordinary,” she said. “Having that Olympic training, and really listening to what your coaches want, and what the parameters of the contest is, is something that they’re skilled at doing day in and day out.”
The French Open crowd was not happy with American player Taylor Fritz after he beat one of their own — indeed, their last man in the bracket — so they booed and whistle relentlessly. Fritz’s response? He told them to shush. Over and over again.
Fritz, a 25-year-old from California who is seeded No. 9 at Roland Garros, got into a back-and-forth with the fans at Court Suzanne Lenglen after his 2-6, 6-4, 6-3, 6-4 comeback victory over 78th-ranked Arthur Rinderknech in the second round on Thursday night.
Rinderknech attempted a lob that landed long on the last point, and Fritz, who had been running toward the baseline to chase the ball, immediately looked up into the stands and pressed his right index finger to his lips to say, essentially, “Hush!”
.@Taylor_Fritz97 fights off Rinderknech and the French crowd to earn a 2-6 6-4 6-3 6-4 win!
He held that pose for a bit as he headed back toward the net for a postmatch handshake, then spread his arms wide, wind-milled them a bit as if to egg on the rowdiness, and yelled: “Come on! I want to hear it!”
During the customary winner’s on-court interview that followed, more jeers rained down on Fritz, and 2013 Wimbledon champion Marion Bartoli kept pausing her attempts to ask a question into her microphone.
So Fritz again said, “Shhhhh!” and put his finger toward his mouth, while Bartoli unsuccessfully tried to get the spectators to lower their decibel level.
More boos. More whistles.
And the awkwardness continued as both Bartoli and a stadium announcer kept saying, “S’il vous plaît” — “Please!” — to no avail, while Fritz stood there with his arms crossed.
A few U.S. supporters with signs and flags drew Fritz’s attention from the front row, and he looked over and said to them, “I love you guys.”
But the interview was still on hold.
Bartoli tried asking a question in English, which only served to draw more boos.
So Fritz told her he couldn’t hear her. Bartoli moved closer and finally got out a query — but it didn’t seem to matter what her words were.
Fritz, who has been featured on the Netflix docuseries about tennis called “Break Point,” had his hands on his hips and a message on his mind — one reminiscent of Daniil Medvedev’s contretemps with fans at the 2019 U.S. Open.
“I came out and the crowd was so great honestly. Like, the crowd was just so great,” Fritz said, as folks tried to drown out his voice. “They cheered so well for me, I wanted to make sure that I won. Thanks, guys.”