Japan men’s figure skaters in line for historic world championships medals sweep

Shoma Uno

Japanese men are in first, second and third after the world figure skating championships short program, looking for the first men’s medals sweep since 1956.

Shoma Uno, who owns five silver or bronze medals between the Olympics and worlds, is in position for his first gold going into Saturday’s free skate. Uno hit a quadruple flip and a quad toe loop-triple toe combination for a personal best 109.63 points.

Only Olympic champions Nathan Chen and Yuzuru Hanyu, who are missing worlds with injuries, have ever scored higher.

Uno is followed by Olympic silver medalist Yuma Kagiyama and Kazuki Tomono, a veteran who was fifth in his previous worlds appearance in 2018. Japan can become the first nation to sweep the men’s medals since Americans Hayes JenkinsRonnie Robertson and David Jenkins did so at the 1955 and 1956 Worlds, plus the 1956 Olympics.

Americans Ilia Malinin and Vincent Zhou are fourth and sixth. Each attempted two quads, like the Japanese.

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Malinin, 17 and the youngest U.S. man competing at a worlds since 1966, hit a quad Lutz and quad toe to break the 100-point barrier with a personal best by 18.85 points. He is .96 of a point behind Tomono. Four men broke 100 points in the same short program for the second time in history (2018 Olympics), according to SkatingScores.com.

In January, Malinin was second in his senior nationals debut but was left off the three-man Olympic team for the more experienced Zhou and Jason Brown.

“I definitely think that this [short program] gave everyone, to show, that I definitely was supposed to go to Beijing and that I was meant to be there,” said Malinin, who plans four quads in the free skate.

Zhou, who was forced out of the individual Olympic competition due to a positive COVID test, had one of his quads called under-rotated.

He repeated comments from before worlds, saying the recent weeks since returning from China have been “absolute hell,” that many days he couldn’t bring himself to put on skates to practice, and that when he did take the ice, he instantly felt crushed, helpless and like a failure.

He couldn’t get through a full program in practice last week — “couldn’t even do a good jump” — and nearly withdrew two or three days before flying to France.

“Once I made the decision to come, there was a bit of a mental switch,” Zhou said. “Since I got here I’ve been skating pretty well.

“Simply being here is a big win for me.”

Worlds continue later Thursday with the pairs’ free skate. Americans were first and second in the short program, looking to deliver the nation’s first pairs’ title since 1979.

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Kendall Gretsch wins six gold medals at Para Nordic Ski Worlds

Kendall Gretsch

Kendall Gretsch, who won Paralympic titles at the last Summer and Winter Games, added another six gold medals at the World Para Nordic Skiing Championships in Sweden last week.

Gretsch, 30, earned seven total medals in seven days between biathlon and cross-country skiing.

Gretsch won gold medals in three different sports across the last three Paralympics: biathlon and cross-country skiing in 2018 (two years after taking up the sports), triathlon in 2021 and biathlon in 2022.

She plans to shift her focus back to triathlon after this winter for 2024 Paris Games qualification.

Gretsch, born with spina bifida, was the 2014 USA Triathlon Female Para Triathlete of the Year. Though triathlon was added to the Paralympics for the 2016 Rio Games, her classification was not added until Tokyo.

Also at last week’s worlds, six-time Paralympian Aaron Pike earned his first Paralympic or world championships gold medal in his decade-plus career, winning a 12.5km biathlon event.

Oksana Masters, who won seven medals in seven events at last year’s Paralympics to break the career U.S. Winter Paralympics medals record, missed worlds due to hand surgery.

The U.S. also picked up five medals at last week’s World Para Alpine Skiing Championships in Spain — three silvers for five-time Paralympian Laurie Stephens and two bronzes for 17-year-old Saylor O’Brien.

Stephens now has 18 career medals from world championships, plus seven at the Paralympics.

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World champion skier Kyle Smaine dies in avalanche at age 31

Kyle Smaine

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.”