Brilliance at nationals unsurprisingly not enough to earn Ilia Malinin an Olympic spot

2022 U.S. Figure Skating Championships - Day 4
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Nathan Chen won his sixth straight national figure skating championship Sunday, a feat unmatched since Dick Button won his sixth of seven straight in 1951.

Ilia Malinin finished second, but he upstaged Chen and everyone else in the competition, both in the short program and the free skate.

That Malinin’s two stunning performances still did not earn the 17-year-old a place on the U.S. team for next month’s Winter Olympics in Beijing was not really surprising, given selection criteria that broadly favored results in senior level events the past two seasons.

In a decision complicated by the free skate performances in Nashville, the U.S. Figure Skating selection committee gave the three men’s singles spots to Chen, Vincent Zhou and Jason Brown.

“I think all three of us have really shown over the past two years why we deserve this spot,” Chen said.

Chen, 22, and Zhou, 21, finished fifth and sixth, respectively, at the 2018 Olympics. Brown, 27, was ninth in 2014 but did not make the team in 2018. They were 1-2-3 at last year’s nationals, and each has been on senior international podiums this season.

Malinin competed as a junior internationally early this season, had a mediocre performance at his only senior international event and missed last season’s U.S. Championships with an injury.

Because the selection process includes a group of numerical criteria but also a large amount of subjectivity, controversy was guaranteed after Sunday’s competitive denouement no matter what the committee decided.

That debate can rage in the background (and it undoubtedly will, probably for years).

The future – and Sunday’s foreground – should still belong to Malinin, who was making his senior national debut. He had needed to compete at a minor event in Austria two months ago just to achieve (and not by much) the technical minimum to qualify for the Olympics if he had made the team. No wonder Malinin expressed surprise over how well he skated.

“It’s amazing to see how he has progressed,” Chen said.

Malinin became the men’s first alternate for the Olympics, a position that gains significance given the chance Covid could sideline one of the other three. He was given a spot on the U.S. team at the World Championships in March – along with Chen and Zhou – pending his getting the technical minimum for worlds, which is higher than that for the Olympics.

“I’ve been in the sport for 20 years, and I’ve been through what seems like every possible scenario,” Brown said. “I’ve been the young kid that makes it, the person left off the team.

“I so feel for him (Malinin). To watch him grow and just shine – he was unbelievable tonight. There’s nothing I can say that can encompass how he might be feeling at this moment. What I can say is he is beyond out of this world, and U.S. figure skating is so lucky to have such a bright future with Ilia.”

Zhou was so impressed with Malinin during a practice session that he asked to get a picture with him.

“I asked his dad, `Can I get a photo of the future men’s U.S. champion?’” Zhou said. “Ilia was, indeed, nothing short of spectacular.”

Malinin was the only one of the 13 men who completed the free skate to perform two clean programs, taking third in the short with two quadruple jumps and second in the free with four more quads. They included a quad toe-half loop-triple salchow combination in the free skate bonus period.

In his excitement soon after finishing, Malinin told NBC’s Andrea Joyce, “I definitely think I should deserve to go” to Beijing. In the media mixed zone a few minutes later, he was less definitive.

“I wasn’t expecting to skate this good and especially to place second,” Malinin said. “I was surprised at how easily everything went together. I think it gave me a better chance for them to send me to the Olympics, but it’s ultimately down to the committee.”

Malinin’s skating recalled Chen’s breakthrough performance at age 16 in the 2016 nationals, when he became the first U.S. man to land four clean quads in a free and first to land two fully credited quads (one clean) in a short.

Chen demurred.

“Ilia is miles ahead of where I was in 2016 based on quality and consistency,” Chen said. “He definitely has an amazing future ahead of him.”

Chen has been light-years ahead of the competition at nationals since 2017. That was the case Sunday even with two falls, one on a quad flip and one – a near face plant – while doing footwork late in a program to the Elton John medley program he had used two seasons ago and returned to in November.

“A couple silly mistakes,” Chen said.

With 328.01 points to Malinin’s 302.48, Chen’s winning margin was the smallest of his six titles. The three-time world champion landed four clean quads but the two falls contributed to making Chen’s performance scores low by his recent standards at nationals.

He would not commit to using the same free skate again at the Olympics, where Chen and two-time reigning champion Yuzuru Hanyu are the top two gold medal contenders.

Zhou totaled 290.16, a whisker ahead of Brown (289.78), whose coach, Tracy Wilson, tested positive for Covid Sunday morning. Brown, who tested negative, found out what had happened to Wilson just before his morning warmup.

Zhou’s free skate was a hot mess, with a fall and four botched jumping passes. He has had two poor free skates since ending Chen’s three-season winning streak at Skate America in October.

“I was so nervous my body just froze up on me,” Zhou said.

Brown overcame a fall on his opening jump, a quad salchow, and went on to maximize grade of execution points on everything but a wobbly final spin. He wound up in tears on the ice, exhausted and overcome by the four years of work he had done since the disappointment of failing to make the 2018 Olympic team.

Because he never has been able to land a clean quad, Brown has played with a short deck over the past seven seasons, hoping to overcome his ever-growing deficit in technical points with his command of skating’s fine points – gliding, expressiveness, performance skills.

“It has been a really tough go to get here, and I don’t mean just the past 72 hours,” Brown said before the team decision came down Sunday, referring to a travel odyssey from Toronto that lasted 33 hours and two days and then having to skate without Wilson nearby.

“There are aspects of skating I wish I had mastered earlier in my career. I think I gave it my all. I have no regrets, and I’m really proud of that.”

And, a couple hours later, proud to be an Olympian again.

Philip Hersh, who has covered figure skating at the last 11 Winter Olympics, is a special contributor to

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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.

Having turned 22 on Wednesday, 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 last pre-French Open match with a right thigh injury 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, is her top remaining challenger in Paris.

No. 3 Jessica Pegula, the highest-seeded American man or woman, was eliminated in the third round. No. 4 Elena Rybakina of Kazakhstan, who has three wins over Swiatek this year, withdrew before her third-round match due to illness.

No. 6 Coco Gauff, runner-up to Swiatek last year, is the top hope 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, the No. 2 seed, was upset in the first round by 172nd-ranked Brazilian qualifier Thiago Seyboth Wild. It marked the first time a men’s top-two seed lost in the first round of any major since 2003 Wimbledon (Ivo Karlovic d. Lleyton Hewitt).

All of the American men lost before the fourth round. The last U.S. man to make the French Open quarterfinals was Andre Agassi in 2003.

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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