Nathan Chen wins sixth U.S. figure skating title, Olympic team decided

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Just like four years ago, Nathan Chen won the U.S. figure skating title ahead of the Olympics. He hopes the Winter Games go much different this time.

Chen fell twice in Sunday’s free skate (once in a choreographic sequence) but still easily earned his sixth national title — the second man to achieve the feat in the last 70 years. Like the others, it was a rout.

“Today went OK,” said Chen, who might not be able afford those errors against two-time gold medalist Yuzuru Hanyu next month. “I made a couple of silly mistakes.”

He landed six quadruple jumps between two programs, totaled 328.01 points and prevailed by 25.53 over a surprise, 17-year-old Ilia Malinin.

FIGURE SKATING NATIONALS: Full Results

Three U.S. men go to the Olympics, but Malinin was passed over for a spot by a selection committee. It instead chose Vincent Zhou and Jason Brown, the third- and fourth-place finishers more than 10 points behind Malinin.

It’s the second consecutive time the U.S. men’s silver medalist was left off the Olympic team. In 2018, Ross Miner was a surprise podium finisher at nationals, but the committee went with Zhou and Adam Rippon based on their recent body of work.

The national championships are not an Olympic Trials. The committee chooses the Olympic team based on results dating to the January 2021 U.S. Championships. Zhou and Brown were second and third at last year’s nationals and the second- and third-ranked U.S. men this season going into nationals.

“All three of us up here, over the past few years, have really showed why we deserve this spot,” Chen said while sitting next to Zhou and Brown after the team was named.

Malinin missed last January’s nationals due to injury. He was the top skater on the junior circuit this autumn. His best total score during the international season was more than 14 points shy of the worst score for Brown and Zhou, though comparing scores is tricky, especially between senior and junior (which has one fewer scoring element in the free skate, but not enough to make up a 14-point difference).

Malinin said after landing four quads in Sunday’s clean free skate that he felt he deserved to be on the Olympic team, but said it was ultimately up to the committee. In the end, he was named to the team for March’s world championships over Brown, pending his ability to record a minimum score at an international event between now and then.

“He is certainly the future of U.S. figure skating,” said Chen, adding he thought Malinin is “miles ahead” of where Chen was at age 17 (when Chen won his first national title).

Zhou, who handed Chen his lone defeat in this Olympic cycle at Skate America three months ago, was just 2.61 points behind after Saturday’s short program. But he unraveled in a free skate with five quad attempts, botching landings and falling on his last jump, a triple Axel.

“I was so nervous that my body froze up on me,” he said.

Up until this season, it was thought that only Hanyu could rival Chen at the Beijing Games (Chen, fifth at the 2018 Olympics, and Hanyu have not gone head-to-head this season). Zhou, ranked second in the world this season behind Chen, was challenging that notion. But not on Sunday.

Brown, 27, fell on his lone quadruple jump attempt but was otherwise strong to stay in fourth place, just .38 behind Zhou. Brown has struggled learning a quad for most of the last decade. Had he performed a clean triple instead of falling on the quad Salchow, he would have moved ahead of Zhou.

Fortunately for Brown, it didn’t matter when it came to Olympic selection. He will become the first U.S. male singles skater to go eight years between two Olympic appearances, according to Olympedia.org.

“A lot, a lot of tears,” Brown said more than an hour after learning he made the team. “Slowly it’s sinking in.”

He persevered not only after missing the 2018 team, but through a challenging week. He didn’t arrive in Nashville until Friday after 33 hours of travel from Toronto including five canceled flights, an overnight in Atlanta and a rental car drive.

Then on Sunday morning, Brown’s coach Tracy Wilson tested positive for the coronavirus in a previously scheduled test per event protocols. Wilson said she was feeling fine. Brown tested negative Sunday morning.

The rest of the U.S. Olympic team was named earlier this weekend — Mariah BellKaren Chen and Alysa Liu, pairs’ teams Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier and Ashley Cain-Gribble and Timothy LeDuc and ice dance couples Madison Chock and Evan BatesMadison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue and Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker.

The U.S. could win five medals with the best shots being Chen, either Chock and Bates or Hubbell and Donohue and in the team event behind favorite Russia.

Correction: An earlier version of this post misreported the point difference between Malinin and Zhou and Brown. It was more than 10 points, not more than 20.

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Iga Swiatek sweeps into French Open final, where she faces a surprise

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Iga Swiatek marched into the French Open final without dropping a set in six matches. All that stands between her and a third Roland Garros title is an unseeded foe.

Swiatek, the top-ranked Pole, swept 14th seed Beatriz Haddad Maia of Brazil 6-2, 7-6 (7) in Thursday’s semifinal in her toughest test all tournament. Haddad Maia squandered three break points at 4-all in the second set.

Swiatek dropped just 23 games thus far, matching her total en route to her first French Open final in 2020 (which she won for her first WTA Tour title of any kind). After her semifinal, she signed a courtside camera with the hashtag #stepbystep.

“For sure I feel like I’m a better player,” than in 2020, she said. “Mentally, tactically, physically, just having the experience, everything. So, yeah, my whole life basically.”

FRENCH OPEN DRAWS: Women | Men | Broadcast Schedule

In Saturday’s final, Swiatek gets 43rd-ranked Czech Karolina Muchova, who upset No. 2 seed Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus to reach her first major final.

Muchova, a 26-year-old into the second week of the French Open for the first time, became the first player to take a set off the powerful Belarusian this tournament, then rallied from down 5-2 in the third set to prevail 7-6 (5), 6-7 (5), 7-5.

Sabalenka, who overcame previous erratic serving to win the Australian Open in January, had back-to-back double faults in her last service game.

“Lost my rhythm,” she said. “I wasn’t there.”

Muchova broke up what many expected would be a Sabalenka-Swiatek final, which would have been the first No. 1 vs. No. 2 match at the French Open since Serena Williams beat Maria Sharapova in the 2013 final.

Muchova is unseeded, but was considered dangerous going into the tournament.

In 2021, she beat then-No. 1 Ash Barty to make the Australian Open semifinals, then reached a career-high ranking of 19. She dropped out of the top 200 last year while struggling through injuries.

“Some doctors told me maybe you’ll not do sport anymore,” Muchova said. “It’s up and downs in life all the time. Now I’m enjoying that I’m on the upper part now.”

Muchova has won all five of her matches against players ranked in the top three. She also beat Swiatek in their lone head-to-head, but that was back in 2019 when both players were unaccomplished young pros. They have since practiced together many times.

“I really like her game, honestly,” Swiatek said. “I really respect her, and she’s I feel like a player who can do anything. She has great touch. She can also speed up the game. She plays with that kind of freedom in her movements. And she has a great technique. So I watched her matches, and I feel like I know her game pretty well.”

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Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone’s defining race; Paris Diamond League TV, live stream info

Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
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For Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone, what happens in her first outdoor race of 2023 on Friday could dictate the rest of her season. It may impact her 2024 Olympic plans, too.

McLaughlin-Levrone strays from the 400m hurdles — where she is the reigning Olympic and world champion and four times broke the world record — to race her first flat 400m in two years at a Diamond League meet in Paris.

Peacock streams it live from 3-5 p.m. ET. CNBC airs coverage Saturday at 1 p.m. ET.

What we know is this: On Friday, McLaughlin-Levrone will race against the Olympic and world silver medalist in the 400m (Marileidy Paulino of the Dominican Republic) and the 2019 World champion (Salwa Eid Naser of Bahrain).

Next month, McLaughlin-Levrone will race the flat 400m at the USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships, the qualifying meet for August’s world championships. She is racing that flat 400m at USATF Outdoors at least in part because she already has a bye into the 400m hurdles at worlds as defending champion.

What we don’t know: which race McLaughlin-Levrone will enter at worlds. Her coach, Bobby Kersee, said last month that she will choose between the 400m and 400m hurdles for worlds, should she finish top three in the 400m at USATF Outdoors to qualify in that second event. She will not try a 400m-400m hurdles double at worlds.

McLaughlin-Levrone was asked Thursday which event she would pick if given the choice.

“Is it bad to say I don’t know?” she said in a press conference. “Honestly, ask me after tomorrow. I don’t know. I’ve got to run this one first and see how it feels.”

McLaughlin-Levrone also doesn’t know what she will try to race at the 2024 Paris Olympics. Next year, the 400m-400m hurdles double is more feasible given one could do both events without ever racing more than once per day.

“We’re still focused on 2023,” McLaughlin-Levrone said. “One step at a time, literally. Obviously that’s something as the season comes to an end we’ll kind of start to look and figure out what our plan is for next year.”

Here are the Paris entry lists. Here’s the schedule of events (all times Eastern):

12:57 p.m. ET — Women’s Shot Put
1:35 — Women’s High Jump
2:15 — Women’s Discus
2:20 — Women’s Pole Vault
3:04 — Men’s 400m Hurdles
3:15 — Women’s 800m
3:19 — Men’s Long Jump
3:24 — Women’s 5000m
3:42 — Women’s Javelin
3:52 — Men’s 110m Hurdles
4:02 — Women’s 400m
4:12 — Men’s 100m
4:22 — Women’s 200m
4:32 — Men’s 3000m Steeplechase
4:51 — Men’s 800m

Here are six events to watch:

Women’s Pole Vault — 2:20 p.m. ET
Olympic and world champion Katie Moon won the first two Diamond League meets and again faces some of her biggest domestic and international challengers in Paris. That includes fellow American Sandi Morris, who won the first three Diamond League meets last year, then took silver behind Moon at worlds on count back. Plus 34-year-old Slovenian Tina Sutej, who ranks second in the world this season.

Women’s 5000m — 3:24 p.m. ET
Includes the world record holders at 1500m (Kenyan Faith Kipyegon in her first 5000m since 2015), 3000m steeplechase (Kenyan Beatrice Chepkoech) and the 5000m and 10,000m (Ethiopian Letesenbet Gidey). Plus new American 10,000m record holder Alicia Monson, who is third on the U.S. all-time 5000m list at 14:31.11. Shelby Houlihan has the American record of 14:23.92.

Men’s 110m Hurdles — 3:52 p.m. ET
The three members of the U.S. Olympic team in Tokyo — Grant HollowayDevon Allen and Daniel Roberts — could face off for the first time in nearly a year. Holloway, who has a bye into worlds as defending champion, overcame a rare defeat in the Diamond League opener in Rabat to win his last two races. He is the fastest man in the world this year at 13.01 seconds. Allen isn’t far behind at 13.12, while Roberts has yet to race the hurdles this outdoor season.

Women’s 400m — 4:02 p.m. ET
Could very well determine the favorite for worlds. Reigning Olympic and world champion Shaunae Miller-Uibo of the Bahamas is on maternity leave. Paulino is the only other woman to break 49 seconds since the start of the pandemic, and she’s done it each of the last two years. Naser is the only other active woman to have broken 49 seconds, doing so in winning the 2019 World title (before she was banned for two years, through the Tokyo Olympics, for missing drug tests). McLaughlin-Levrone’s personal best from 2018 is 50.07 seconds, but she was just 18 years old then and focusing on the hurdles. Still, that time would have won the 2022 U.S. title. Last month, University of Arkansas junior Britton Wilson ran the fastest time by an American since 2009 — 49.13 — but she might bypass the flat 400m to focus on the hurdles this summer.

Men’s 100m — 4:12 p.m. ET
Could be a meeting between the reigning Olympic men’s 100m champion (Marcell Jacobs of Italy) and world men’s 200m champion (American Noah Lyles), which hasn’t happened since the 2009 World Championships 100m final, where Usain Bolt lowered the world record to 9.58 seconds and American Tyson Gay was second in a then-American record 9.71. Later in that meet, Bolt won his first world 200m title, a crown he held concurrently with his Olympic 100m titles through his 2017 retirement. But Jacobs, citing nerve pain, scratched out of the last two Diamond League meets, which were to be showdowns with world 100m champion Fred Kerley. Jacobs did show up for Thursday’s press conference. Lyles has a bye onto the world team in the 200m, but also wants to make the four-man U.S. team in the 100m. He ranks fifth among Americans by best time this season — 9.95.

Men’s 800m — 4:51 p.m. ET
The top five from the world championships are entered, led by Olympic and world champion Emmanuel Korir of Kenya. This event was in an international doldrums for much of the time since Kenyan David Rudisha repeated as Olympic champion in 2016, then faded away from competition. But the emergence of 18-year-old Kenyan Emmanuel Wanyonyi has injected excitement this season. Wanyonyi is the world’s fastest man this year. The second-fastest, Kenyan Wycliffe Kinyamal, is also in this field.

Correction: An earlier version of this post incorrectly reported the TV window for the meet broadcast. The CNBC broadcast begins at 1 p.m. ET on Saturday, not 3.

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