U.S. wins first figure skating worlds pairs’ title since 1979; Ashley Cain-Gribble hurt in fall

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Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier became the first U.S. pair to win a world figure skating title since 1979, competing immediately after fellow American Ashley Cain-Gribble fell three times and withdrew with partner Timothy LeDuc.

Knierim and Frazier, sixth at the Olympics, posted the highest scores in the short program and free skate to win by 21.54 points over Japanese Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara. Canadians Vanessa James and Eric Radford took bronze in Montpellier, France.

FIGURE SKATING WORLDS: Results | Broadcast Schedule

“I’ve dreamed about this moment for so many times, but this was even better,” said Frazier, a junior world champion in 2013 with previous partner Haven Denney who made his Olympic debut with Knierim last month. Knierim won three U.S. titles with husband Chris, and went to the 2018 Olympics, before he retired in 2020.

The last American pair to win worlds was Tai Babilonia and Randy Gardner in 1979.

The top five teams from the Olympics — all Russians and Chinese — were not entered at worlds, making both American teams medal favorites in the country’s weakest discipline over the last two decades. The U.S. last won a pairs’ medal in 2002. Russia was banned. China sent zero skaters overall.

Knierim and Frazier totaled personal bests in both programs and won by the largest pairs’ margin in either the Olympics or world championships since the points-based scoring system was introduced in 2006.

They did so minutes after Cain-Gribble fell on a pair of side-by-side jumps, a triple loop and a triple Salchow, and on a throw triple Lutz.

She lay on the ice after the Salchow, was tended to by LeDuc, then was standing before being taken off on a stretcher and to a hospital for evaluation, according to U.S. Figure Skating.

“I was startled because you remember how dangerous skating can be,” Knierim said. “Even when you’re most prepared, something can happen, but I knew there was nothing I could do in that moment to help them.”

Cain-Gribble and LeDuc were in second after the short, looking to give the U.S. its first one-two in any worlds event since Tara Lipinski and Michelle Kwan in 1997.

“Our hearts go out to our training mates, Ashley and Timothy,” Frazier said. “They’re our friends first, competitors second, so we wish them a very speedy recovery.”

Knierim and Frazier’s total score — 221.09 — would have placed fourth at the Olympics.

They suffered the biggest challenges of their career, separately, over the same year span.

In spring and summer 2016, Knierim came down with hard-to-diagnose stomach problems, including vomiting episodes, emergency room visits and three abdominal surgeries over an eight-month ordeal.

In March 2017, Denney and Frazier finished 20th in the world championships short program, failing to qualify for the 16-skater free skate and reducing the U.S. to one pairs’ spot at the 2018 Olympics.

Worlds continue Friday with the rhythm dance and women’s free skate.

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Noah Lyles runs personal best and is coming for Usain Bolt’s world record

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Noah Lyles ran a personal-best time in the 60m on Saturday, then reaffirmed record-breaking intentions for the 100m and, especially, the 200m, where Usain Bolt holds the fastest times in history.

Lyles, the world 200m champion, won the 60m sprint in 6.51 seconds at the New Balance Indoor Grand Prix in Boston, clipping Trayvon Bromell by two thousandths in his first top-level meet of the year. Bromell, the world 100m bronze medalist, is a past world indoor 60m champion and has a better start than Lyles, which is crucial in a six-second race.

But on Saturday, Lyles ran down Bromell and shaved four hundredths off his personal best. It bodes well for Lyles’ prospects come the spring and summer outdoor season in his better distances — the 100m and 200m.

“This is the moment I’ve been working, like, seven years for,” he said. “We’re not just coming for the 200m world record. We’re coming for all the world records.”

Last July, Lyles broke Michael Johnson‘s 26-year-old American record in the 200m, winning the world title in 19.31 seconds. Only Bolt (19.19) and fellow Jamaican Yohan Blake (19.26) have run faster.

Lyles has since spoken openly about targeting Bolt’s world record from 2009.

How does an indoor 60m time play into that? Well, Lyles said that his success last year sprung from a strong indoor season, when he lowered his personal best in the 60m from 6.57 to 6.56 and then 6.55. He followed that by lowering his personal best in the 200m from 19.50 to 19.31.

He believes that slicing an even greater chunk off his 60m best on Saturday means special things are on the horizon come the major summer meets — the USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships in July (on the same Oregon track where he ran the American 200m record) and the world championships in Budapest in August.

After focusing on the 200m last year, Lyles plans to race both the 100m and the 200m this year. He has a bye into the 200m at world championships, so expect him to race the 100m at USATF Outdoors, where the top three are in line to join world champ Fred Kerley on the world team.

Lyles’ personal best in the 100m is 9.86, a tenth off the best times from Kerley, Bromell and 2019 World 100m champ Christian Coleman. Bolt is in his own tier at 9.58.

Also Saturday, Grant Holloway extended a near-nine-year, 50-plus-race win streak in the 60m hurdles, clocking 7.38 seconds, nine hundredths off his world record. Olympic teammate Daniel Roberts was second in 7.46. Trey Cunningham, who took silver behind Holloway in the 110m hurdles at last July’s world outdoor championships, was fifth in 7.67.

Aleia Hobbs won the women’s 60m in 7.02 seconds, one week after clocking a personal-best 6.98 to become the third-fastest American in history after Gail Devers and Marion Jones (both 6.95). Hobbs, 26, placed sixth in the 100m at last July’s world championships.

Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone, the Olympic and world 400m hurdles champion competing for the first time since August, and Jamaican Shericka Jackson, the world 200m champion, were ninth and 10th in the 60m heats, just missing the eight-woman final.

In the women’s pole vault, Bridget Williams, seventh at last year’s USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships, upset the last two Olympic champions — American Katie Moon and Greek Katerina Stefanidi. Williams won with a 4.63-meter clearance (and then cleared 4.71 and a personal-best 4.77). Stefanidi missed three attempts at 4.63, while Moon went out at 4.55.

The indoor track and field season continues with the Millrose Games in New York City next Saturday at 4 p.m. ET on NBC, NBCSports.com/live, the NBC Sports app and Peacock.

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Birk Irving, last man on Olympic team, extends breakout season with Mammoth win

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One year ago, Birk Irving was the last man to make the four-man U.S. Olympic ski halfpipe team. Since, he continued to climb the ranks in arguably the nation’s strongest discipline across skiing and snowboarding.

Irving earned his second World Cup win this season, taking the U.S. Grand Prix at Mammoth Mountain, California, on Friday.

Irving posted a 94-point final run, edging Canadian Brendan Mackay by one point. David Wise, the two-time Olympic champion who won his fifth X Games Aspen title last Sunday, was third.

A tribute was held to 2015 World champion Kyle Smaine, a U.S. halfpipe skier who died in an avalanche in Japan last Sunday.

“We’re all skiing the best we have because we’re all skiing with Kyle in our hearts,” Irving said, according to U.S. Ski and Snowboard. “We’re skiing for him, and we know he’s looking down on us. We miss you Kyle. We love you. Thank you for keeping us safe in the pipe today.”

Irving also won the U.S. Grand Prix at Copper Mountain, Colorado, on Dec. 17. Plus, the 23-year-old from Colorado had his best career X Games Aspen finish last Sunday, taking second.

The next major event is the world championships in Georgia (the country, not the state) in early March. Irving was third at the last worlds in 2021, then fifth at the Olympics last February.

The U.S. has been the strongest nation in men’s ski halfpipe since it debuted at the Olympics in 2014. Wise won the first two gold medals. Alex Ferreira won silver and bronze at the last two Olympics. Aaron Blunck is a world champion and X Games champion.

Irving is younger than all of them and has beaten all of them at multiple competitions this season.

New Zealand’s Nico Porteous, the reigning Olympic gold medalist, hasn’t competed since the Games after undergoing offseason knee surgery.

In snowboarding events at Mammoth, Americans Julia Marino and Lyon Farrell earned slopestyle wins by posting the top qualification scores. The finals were canceled due to wind.

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