Knierim and Frazier first U.S. pairs’ team to lead at worlds in 43 years

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Two U.S. pairs’ teams lead the field after the short program at the World Figure Skating Championships, a statement never before uttered.

Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier were first with 76.88 points and fellow 2022 U.S. Olympians Ashley Cain-Gribble and Timothy LeDuc second with 75.85 points in Wednesday’s short program.

At the sport’s world championships, ‘small medals’ are awarded to the top three in the short program and the top three in the free skate.

This is the first time in 16 years that any American pairs’ team earned a small medal at worlds and the first time in 43 years that it was gold.

“I think it’s the result of a lot of hard work from the athletes, from the coaches and from the U.S. Figure Skating staff to help ensure that pairs can achieve such a high level of success at the world championships,” LeDuc said.

“I think, as well, we all really respect each other and we have a very healthy, competitive atmosphere around us,” Cain-Gribble added. “We both want to be the best but we’re also willing each other to have the space to do that, so I think it just comes from a lot of success.”

Knierim and Frazier’s score was a personal best — they earned 75.00 points in the Olympic team event last month — and clearly the best performance of their “The House of the Rising Sun” program this season.

“Alexa and I were very proud of what we put out,” Frazier said. “Every time we go out, we’re just trying to grow and grow these programs, so it was a great way to finish this program off for the season.”

FIGURE SKATING WORLDS: Results | Broadcast Schedule

Cain-Gribble and LeDuc’s score in Montpellier, France, is their highest of the season. Their only mistake came on the side-by-side triple loop when Cain-Gribble put her hand down on the landing.

“We’re super excited with our performance, super excited for our position right now and super excited about U.S. pairs,” LeDuc said.

The two U.S. teams are within a point of each other, with Japan’s Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara are over four points back after earning a 71.58. This is the first pairs’ medal for Japan.

The American and Japanese teams separated themselves from the rest of the pack and are expected to remain on the podium. Georgia’s Karina Safina and Luka Berulava are in fourth with 67.36 points, followed by Vanessa James and Eric Radford of Canada with 66.54.

The order of the podium will likely change after Thursday’s free skate: Miura and Kihara enter worlds with the highest free skate score of the season (141.04 from the Olympics), while Knierim and Frazier scored 138.45 points there and Cain-Gribble and LeDuc earned 132.04 points at NHK Trophy in November.

Knierim/Frazier, Miura/Kihara and Cain-Gribble/LeDuc were sixth, seventh and eighth at the Olympics but became podium favorites for Montpellier once Russian skaters were barred from the event, as a result of their country’s invasion of Ukraine, and China did not enter any skaters.

“I don’t care who’s here, who’s not here,” revered pairs’ coach Bruno Marcotte, who works with Miura and Kihara, said during the press conference. “These were all winning performances, no matter who was here.”

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World champion skier Kyle Smaine dies in avalanche at age 31

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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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