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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LA 2028, Delta unveil first-of-its-kind emblems for Olympics, Paralympics

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Emblems for the 2028 Los Angeles Games that include logos of Delta Air Lines is the first integration of its kind in Olympic and Paralympic history.

Organizers released the latest set of emblems for the LA 2028 Olympics and Paralympics on Thursday, each with a Delta symbol occupying the “A” spot in LA 28.

Two years ago, the LA 2028 logo concept was unveiled with an ever-changing “A” that allowed for infinite possibilities. Many athletes already created their own logos, as has NBC.

“You can make your own,” LA28 chairperson Casey Wasserman said in 2020. “There’s not one way to represent Los Angeles, and there is strength in our diverse cultures. We have to represent the creativity and imagination of Los Angeles, the diversity of our community and the big dreams the Olympic and Paralympic Games provide.”

Also in 2020, Delta was announced as LA 2028’s inaugural founding partner. Becoming the first partner to have an integrated LA 2028 emblem was “extremely important for us,” said Emmakate Young, Delta’s managing director, brand marketing and sponsorships.

“It is a symbol of our partnership with LA, our commitment to the people there, as well as those who come through LA, and a commitment to the Olympics,” she said.

The ever-changing emblem succeeds an angelic bid logo unveiled in February 2016 when the city was going for the 2024 Games, along with the slogan, “Follow the Sun.” In July 2017, the IOC made a historic double awarding of the Olympics and Paralympics — to Paris for 2024 and Los Angeles for 2028.

The U.S. will host its first Olympics and Paralympics since 2002 (and first Summer Games since 1996), ending its longest drought between hosting the Games since the 28-year gap between 1932 and 1960.

Delta began an eight-year Olympic partnership in 2021, becoming the official airline of Team USA and the 2028 Los Angeles Games.

Athletes flew to this year’s Winter Games in Beijing on chartered Delta flights and will do so for every Games through at least 2028.

Previously, Delta sponsored the last two Olympics held in the U.S. — the 1996 Atlanta Games and the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Games.

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Eliud Kipchoge’s marathon world record was the product of pain, rain

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When Eliud Kipchoge broke the marathon world record in Berlin on Sunday, he began his celebration near the finish line by doing the same thing he did upon breaking the record in Berlin four years earlier.

He hugged longtime coach Patrick Sang.

The embrace was brief. Not much was said. They shook hands, Kipchoge appeared to stop his watch and Sang wiped his pupil’s sweaty face off with a towel. Kipchoge continued on his congratulatory tour.

“It felt good,” Sang said by phone from his native Kenya on Thursday. “I told him, ‘I’m proud of you and what you have achieved today.'”

Later, they met again and reflected together on the 2:01:09 performance, chopping 30 seconds off his world record in 2018 in the German capital.

“I mentioned to him that probably it was slightly a little bit too fast in the beginning, in the first half,” Sang said of Kipchoge going out in 59 minutes, 51 seconds for the first 13.1 miles (a sub-two-hour pace he did not maintain in the final miles). “But he said he felt good.

“Besides that, I think it was just to appreciate the effort that he put in in training. Sometimes, if you don’t acknowledge that, then it looks like you’re only looking at the performance. We looked at the sacrifice.”

Sang thought about the abnormally wet season in southwestern Kenya, where Kipchoge logs his daily miles more than a mile above sea level.

“Sometimes he had to run in the rain,” said Sang, the 1992 Olympic 3000m steeplechase silver medalist. “Those are small things you reflect and say, it’s worth sacrificing sometimes. Taking the pain training, and it pays off.”

When Sang analyzes his athletes, he looks beyond times. He studies their faces.

The way Kipchoge carried himself in the months leading into Berlin — running at 6 a.m. “rain or shine,” Sang said — reminded the coach of the runner’s sunny disposition in the summer of 2019. On Oct. 12 of that year, Kipchoge clocked 1:59:40 in the Austrian capital in a non-record-eligible event (rather than a traditional race) to become the first person to cover 26.2 miles on foot in less than two hours.

Sang said he does not discuss time goals with his students — “Putting specific targets puts pressure on the athlete, and you can easily go the wrong direction,” he said.

In looking back on the race, there is some wonder whether Kipchoge’s plan was to see how long he could keep a pace of sub-two hours. Sang refused to speculate, but he was not surprised to see Kipchoge hit the halfway point 61 seconds faster than the pacers’ prescribed 60:50 at 13.1 miles.

“Having gone two hours in Monza [2:00:25 in a sub-two-hour attempt in 2017], having run the unofficial 1:59 and so many times 2:01, 2:02, 2:03, the potential was written all over,” Sang said. “So I mean, to think any differently would be really under underrating the potential. Of course, then adding on top of that the aspect of the mental strength. He has a unique one.”

Kipchoge slowed in the second half, but not significantly. He started out averaging about 2 minutes, 50 seconds per kilometer (equivalent to 13.2 miles per hour). He came down to 2:57 per kilometer near the end.

Regret is not in Kipchoge’s nature. We may never know the extent of his sub-two thoughts on Sunday. Sang noted that Kipchoge, whose marathon career began a decade ago after he failed to make the London Olympic team on the track, does not dwell on the past.

“If you talk to him now, he probably is telling you about tomorrow,” Sang joked.

The future is what is intriguing about Kipchoge. Approaching 38 years old, he continues to improve beyond peak age for almost every elite marathoner. Can Kipchoge go even faster? It would likely require a return next year to Berlin, whose pancake-flat roads produced the last eight men’s marathon world records. But Kipchoge also wants to run, and win, another prestigious fall marathon in New York City.

Sang can see the appeal of both options in 2023 and leaves the decision to Kipchoge and his management team.

‘If we can find the motivation for him, or he finds it within himself, that he believes he can still run for some time, for a cause, for a reason … I think the guy can still even do better than what he did in Berlin,” Sang said. “We are learning a lot about the possibilities of good performance at an advanced age. It’s an inspiration and should be an inspiration for anybody at any level.”

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