LeDuc becomes first publicly out non-binary athlete on a winter Olympic team as U.S. pairs’ team named

2022 U.S. Figure Skating Championships - Day 3
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Recently crowned national champions Ashley Cain-Gribble and Timothy LeDuc and Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier, who withdrew from the 2022 U.S. Figure Skating Championships before it started when Frazier contracted Covid-19, were named to the U.S. Olympic team Sunday morning.

At an average age of 29.6 years old, they make up the oldest U.S. Olympic pairs’ figure skating team in 90 years.

LeDuc, 31, became the first openly gay athlete to win gold in a U.S. pairs’ event in 2019 and this year the first publicly out non-binary athlete to win a U.S. Championships event in any discipline. Next month they will become the first publicly out non-binary athlete to compete at a Winter Olympics.

The U.S. returns to fielding two Olympic pairs’ teams for next month’s Beijing Winter Olympics after only qualifying one — Knierim and her husband Chris — for PyeongChang in 2018. Though this week was expected to see a battle between Cain-Gribble/LeDuc, Knierim/Frazier and two-time reigning U.S. silver medalists Jessica Calalang and Brian Johnson, who again finished second on Saturday, the teams selected represent the two most recent U.S. champions and the top U.S. pairs’ teams at the two most recent world championships. It is an impressive squad, with seven of the last eight U.S. titles captured between the four skaters.

Calalang and Johnson were named first alternates, with Audrey Lu/Misha Mitrofanov second alternates and Emily Chan/Spencer Howe third, following the order of results at nationals.

A strong finish by either team at the Olympics could produce the first top-five finish by Americans in pairs in 20 years.

FIGURE SKATING NATIONALS: Broadcast Schedule | Full Results

Unable to contend for the title in Nashville, Knierim and Frazier petitioned onto the team and were chosen based on a body of work over the past year that includes seventh at the 2021 World Championships in their first season together and Grand Prix finishes of third and fourth this fall, the best for any U.S. team.

Knierim is the only member of the team with Olympic experience and the first U.S. pairs’ skater to return to an Olympics in 20 years. She and Chris were 15th in 2018 and helped the U.S. to a bronze medal in the team event. In Beijing she will become the oldest U.S. women’s pairs’ Olympian in 30 years.

U.S. champions in 2015, 2018 and 2020, the Knierims ended their competitive skating partnership in 2020, just when 2017 U.S. champs Frazier, 29, and Haven Denney ended theirs. The longtime friends then teamed up for one of the fastest rising U.S. pairs’ teams in history. Chris is now one of the team’s coaches.

Cain-Gribble, 26, and LeDuc are in their sixth season competing together and have consistently placed in the top four at the U.S. Championships, winning in 2019 and 2021 plus taking bronze in 2017 and 2021. They were ninth at their 2019 and 2021 world championships appearances.

The pairs’ teams join Mariah BellKaren Chen and Alysa Liu on the U.S. Olympic figure skating team. The three ice dance teams and three men will be named later Sunday.

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As Ilia Malinin ponders quintuple jump, figure skating may face an urgent matter

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SAN JOSE, California – The subject of a five-revolution jump was sure to come up, now that Ilia Malinin has become the first person to land a fully rotated quadruple Axel, which has four and one-half revolutions in the air.

And, in Malinin’s case, to land it cleanly not only once but three times this fall, the most recent with stunning command at December’s Grand Prix Final.

Rafael Arutunian, who coaches Malinin intermittently, said via telephone that he and the skater talked about a quintuple when they were working together in California during the high school senior’s recent holiday break.

“I was basically saying a five-revolution toe loop can be done,” Arutunian said. “He agreed and was smiling.”

“It is definitely in the back of my mind right now,” Malinin, 18, said in media conference call last week. “It’s very hard to think of it at this moment because it’s still pretty much the middle of the middle of the season. I think after the season I’ll think about it, and maybe we will see one.”

FIGURE SKATING NATIONALS: Broadcast Schedule | New Era for U.S.

With a laugh, Arutunian described the impish plan he is dreaming of for Malinin to make the attempt.

The jump would come out of the blue.

This is the scenario: Arutunian would ask Malinin, favored to win his first senior U.S. Championship title this weekend in San Jose, not to publicize his practicing a quint on social media, as he had done with the quad Axel and many of the unprecedented jump combinations he tries.

“He would just come out and do it in a competition, and that would be a shock, right?” said Arutunian, who guided Nathan Chen to the 2022 Olympic title. “Imagine what the officials would do then.”

As it turns out, the officials would do literally nothing. Under current rules, Malinin would get zero points for the jump, as quintuple jumps are not yet recognized or given a value in the sport’s Scale of Values (SOV).

That is something U.S. Figure Skating president Sam Auxier plans to discuss with Fabio Bianchetti, head of the International Skating Union’s singles and pairs technical committee, when the two are to meet at next month’s Four Continents Championships in Colorado Springs.

“I believe Fabio and the technical committee will update the SOV soon, and if anyone is practicing (a quint) and may try it, they will get the change in before it is done in competition,” Auxier said in a text message. “With Ilia, I think that needs to be urgent!”

Even before such a rules change is made, Auxier said, if competition officials were aware a skater was planning to attempt a quint, they would ask for an emergency ruling and have the tech team add a value into the computer system used to calculate scores.

“We wouldn’t let it be zero,” Auxier said. “However, if someone did it with no warning … that would be a problem.”

Bianchetti does not feel the same sense of urgency.

“So far the prospect of executing quintuple jumps seems remote,” Bianchetti said in an email. “We are not aware of any quintuple jump correctly executed and full rotated having been done even in practice.

“Therefore there is not an urgent need to add quintuple jumps in the SOV. In any case it is something we will discuss in the near future.”

For now, then, everyone can continue to marvel at Malinin’s quad Axel. He said the jump has not become a burden and isn’t worried about fans being disappointed if he doesn’t attempt one, as Malinin has in all five of his competitions so far this season.

“Some people might think that (it is a burden),” he said. “My priority is focusing on what I’m doing in practice. I have been sticking with it, and I am planning to attempt it (in the free skate at nationals.)”

The irony is the risk on the jump seems greater than the reward, given the quad Axel’s surprisingly low base value as compared to its difficulty and uniqueness.

“I have always prided myself on looking for a challenge,” Malinin said.

At 12.5 points, the jump is worth just one point more than a four-revolution quad Lutz. Yet 23 men and women have been credited with a fully rotated quad Lutz a total of 228 times in international competition, according to skatingscores.com.

Until the SOV revision for the 2018-19 season, when no one had landed a quad Axel, it was worth 15.0. All quads had their base values lowered in 2018, but the Axel had the biggest percentage drop.

“It should definitely be worth more, and we will ask that be considered also,” Auxier said. “(A base value of) 12.5 doesn’t reflect the true difficulty of the jump.”

Bianchetti sees it differently. His perspective is affected by a general feeling many in the sport share that jump pyrotechnics have become too big a factor in determining results.

“As to the value of the quad Axel, the matter to change its value is not on the agenda at the moment,” Bianchetti wrote. “A discussion to make some changes on the value of the jumps should include a general evaluation on all the jumps, not only the quad Axel, to have a more correct proportion between the various jumps but taking also into consideration the fact that the weight of the jump elements in total is already too high with respect to the other not jumping elements and the components marks.”

Philip Hersh, who has covered figure skating at the last 12 Winter Olympics, is a special contributor to NBCSports.com.

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2023 U.S. Figure Skating Championships TV, live stream schedule

U.S. Figure Skating Championships
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The U.S. Figure Skating Championships, in some ways marking a new era in the sport, air live from San Jose, California, on NBC Sports, USA Network and Peacock.

After last February’s Olympics, U.S. figure skating saw its greatest turnover from one season to the next in more than 20 years.

Nathan Chen and Vincent Zhou, the top two men last season, are not competing this season and may be done altogether. Alysa Liu and Mariah Bell, the top two women, retired. As did the top ice dance couple of Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue. Ashley Cain and Timothy LeDuc, last year’s national pairs’ champions, also left the sport.

So, for the first time since 1993, the U.S. Championships feature a reigning national champion in just one of the four disciplines.

Amid all that, U.S. skaters performed well in the fall Grand Prix Series and made the podium in all four disciplines at December’s Grand Prix Final for the first time. Note the absence of Russian skaters, banned from international events due to the war in Ukraine.

At nationals, skaters are vying for spots on the team — three per discipline — for March’s world championships in Japan.

Ilia Malinin, an 18-year-old from Virginia, is the headliner after becoming the first skater to land a quadruple Axel, doing so at all four of his events this season. He ranks second in the world by best total score, a whopping 38.28 points ahead of the next American (Camden Pulkinen).

Jason Brown is the lone Olympian in the men’s field, competing for the first time since placing sixth at the Games.

Isabeau Levito, 15 and a reigning world junior champion like Malinin, took silver at the Grand Prix Final against the world’s other top skaters. She enters nationals with a best score this season 18.13 points better than the next American, Amber Glenn. Bradie Tennell, a 2018 Olympian coming back from foot and ankle injuries, is also a threat to gain one of the three women’s spots at worlds.

Ice dancers Madison Chock and Evan Bates are the lone defending national champions and will likely make the podium for an 11th consecutive year, which would be one shy of the record.

Bates, who last year at 32 became the oldest U.S. champion in any discipline in decades, has made 12 career senior nationals podiums with Chock and former partner Emily Samuelson. It is believed that a 13th finish in the top three would break the U.S. record for a single discipline he currently shares with Michelle Kwan, Nathaniel Niles and Theresa Weld Blanchard.

In pairs, Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier return after missing nationals last year due to Frazier contracting COVID-19 the week of the event. Since, they posted the best U.S. pairs’ finish at an Olympics in 20 years, the first world title for a U.S. pair in 43 years and the first Grand Prix Final medal ever for a U.S. pair.

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2023 U.S. Figure Skating Championships Live Broadcast Schedule

Day Event Time (ET) Platform
Thursday Pairs’ Short Program 3:30-5:45 p.m. Peacock | Skate Order
Rhythm Dance 6:30-9 p.m. Peacock | Skate Order
Rhythm Dance 7-9 p.m. USA Network | STREAM LINK
Women’s Short Program 9:10 p.m.-12 a.m. Peacock | Skate Order
Women’s Short Program 10 p.m.-12 a.m. USA Network | STREAM LINK
Friday Men’s Short Program 4:10-7 p.m. Peacock
Men’s Short Program 5-7 p.m. USA Network
Women’s Free Skate 7:45-11 p.m. Peacock
Women’s Free Skate 8-11 p.m. NBC
Saturday Free Dance 1:45-4:30 p.m. Peacock
Free Dance 2:30-4:30 p.m. NBC
Pairs’ Free Skate 7:30-10 p.m. Peacock
Pairs’ Free Skate 8-10 p.m. USA Network
Sunday Men’s Free Skate 2:30-6 p.m. Peacock
Men’s Free Skate 3-6 p.m. NBC

*All NBC and USA Network broadcasts also stream on NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app for subscribers.