Olympic pairs’ champions not entered in world figure skating championships

Sui Wenjing, Han Cong
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No Chinese skaters are entered for the world figure skating championships, meaning Olympic pairs’ gold medalists Sui Wenjing and Han Cong will not compete in Montpellier, France, in three weeks.

Entry lists are here. The entry deadline was Monday.

Sui and Han earned China’s lone figure skating medal at each of the last two Olympics — silver in 2018 (missing gold by .43, the smallest margin in history) and gold last month by .63 (second-smallest margin in history).

Sui and Han also earned medals at each of the last five world championships they contested, including golds in 2017 and 2019.

Olympic medal-winning skaters often skip the post-Olympic world championships due to exhaustion, retirement or off-ice opportunities.

Two-time Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu previously withdrew from worlds, citing an ankle injury. All of the U.S. skaters named to the world team in January are still entered, though it’s believed that some are still deciding whether to participate. Nathan Chen said after winning the Olympic title that he was undecided on worlds.

The pairs’ field in Montpellier will look the most different of the four disciplines. With Russian athletes barred from competition, none of the top five teams from the Olympics are entered.

That means that Americans Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier, sixth at the Olympics, are the top team in the field by best total score this season. Another U.S. pair, Ashley Cain-Gribble and Timothy LeDuc, rank third in the field.

Pairs’ has been the weakest U.S. discipline over the last five Olympic cycles. The last U.S. pairs’ medal at worlds came in 2002. Its last gold medal at worlds came in 1979 (Tai Babilonia and Randy Gardner).

If Knierim and Frazier and Cain-Gribble and LeDuc’s finishing placements add up to no more than 13 — sixth and seventh, for example — the U.S. will qualify the maximum three pairs for the 2023 World Championships. The last time the U.S. had a full allotment of pairs was 2003.

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World champion skier Kyle Smaine dies in avalanche at age 31

Kyle Smaine
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Kyle Smaine, a retired world champion halfpipe skier, died in an avalanche in Japan on Sunday, according to NBC News, citing Smaine’s father. He was 31.

Smaine, a 2015 World champion in ski halfpipe, had been doing ski filming in Japan, sharing videos on his Instagram account over the past week.

The native of South Lake Tahoe, California, finished ninth in ski halfpipe at the 2016 Winter X Games in Aspen, Colorado.

In 2018, Smaine won the fifth and final U.S. Olympic qualifying series event in ski halfpipe but did not make the four-man team for PyeongChang. His last sanctioned international competition was in February 2018.

Late Sunday, two-time Olympic champion David Wise won the X Games men’s ski halfpipe and dedicated it to Smaine.

“We all did this for Kyle tonight,” Wise said on the broadcast. “It’s a little bit of an emotional day for us. We lost a friend.”

Ilia Malinin wins U.S. Figure Skating Championships despite quadruple Axel miss

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One year ago, Ilia Malinin came to the U.S. Championships as, largely, a 17-year-old unknown. He finished second to Nathan Chen in 2022 and was left off the three-man Olympic team due to his inexperience, a committee decision that lit a fire in him.

After the biggest year of change in U.S. figure skating in three decades, Malinin came to this week’s nationals in San Jose, California, as the headliner across all disciplines.

Though he fell on his quadruple Axel and doubled two other planned quads in Sunday’s free skate (the most ambitious program in history), he succeeded the absent Chen as national champion.

Malinin, the world’s second-ranked male singles skater, still landed two clean quads in Friday’s short program and three more Sunday. He totaled 287.74 points and prevailed by 10.43 over two-time Olympian Jason Brown, a bridge between the Chen and Malinin eras.

“This wasn’t the skate that I wanted,” said Malinin, who was bidding to become the second man to land six quads in one program after Chen. The Virginia chalked up the flaws at least partially to putting more recent practice time into his short program, which he skated clean on Friday after errors in previous competitions.

FIGURE SKATING NATIONALS: Full Results

Brown, a 28-year-old competing for the first time since placing sixth at the Olympics, became the oldest male singles skater to finish in the top three at nationals since Jeremy Abbott won the last of his four titles in 2014. As usual, he didn’t attempt a quad but had the highest artistic score by 9.41 points.

Brown’s seven total top-three finishes at nationals tie him with Chen, Michael WeissBrian Boitano, David Jenkins and Dick Button for the second-most in men’s singles since World War II, trailing only Todd Eldredge‘s and Hayes Jenkins‘ eight.

“I’m not saying it’s super old, but I can’t train the way I used to,” Brown said after Friday’s short program. “What Ilia is doing and the way he is pushing the sport is outstanding and incredible to watch. I cannot keep up.”

Andrew Torgashev took bronze, winning the free skate with one quad and all clean jumps. Torgashev, who competed at nationals for the first time since placing fifth in 2020 at age 18, will likely round out the three-man world team.

Japan’s Shoma Uno will likely be the favorite at worlds. He won last year’s world title, when Malinin admittedly cracked under pressure in the free skate after a fourth-place short program and ended up ninth.

That was before Malinin became the first person to land a quad Axel in competition. That was before Malinin became the story of the figure skating world this fall. That was before Malinin took over the American throne from Chen, who is studying at Yale and not expected to return to competition.

Malinin’s next step is to grab another label that Chen long held: best in the world. To do that, he must be better than he was on Sunday.

“You always learn from your experiences, and there’s always still the rest of the season to come,” he said. “I just have to be prepared and prepare a little bit extra so that doesn’t happen again.”

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