Jessica Calalang, Brian Johnson end skating partnership as he retires

FIGURE SKATING: JAN 06 US Figure Skating Championships
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Pairs’ figure skaters Jessica Calalang and Brian Johnson announced the end of their partnership on social media Sunday, with Johnson then announcing his retirement from the sport in a subsequent post.

Calalang, 27, and Johnson, 26, earned the silver medal at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships each of the past three seasons, though never competed at a world championships or Winter Olympics.

“The last 4 years have been the filled with so many unforgettable moments,” their joint Instagram post read. “Between our growing years as a team, our Free Skate performance at the 2020 U.S. Championships, the Covid-19 season, the USADA nightmare & everything else…we stuck by each other’s side every second of everyday.”

Calalang and Johnson teamed up leading into the 2018-19 season following mediocre careers with Zack Sidhu and Chelsea Liu, respectively.

After finishing fifth in their debut season together, the Irvine, California, based team had the highest scoring free skate at the 2020 U.S. Championships, elevating them to the silver medal. Set to compete at the 2020 World Championships, it was canceled days before the start when the Covid-19 pandemic broke out.

The 2020-2021 season was highlighted by the cancelation of many competitions due to the pandemic, but they did win the virtual ISP Points Challenge and finish second at the domestic Skate America and U.S. Championships, both times to training mates Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier. After once again making the world team, Calalang and Johnson had to withdraw when they learned she tested positive for 4-chlorophenoxyacetic acid (4-CPA) in January, the “USADA nightmare” mentioned in their statement.

Calalang fought to clear her name and had a breakthrough that summer when the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency determined that chlorphenesin, a non-prohibited substance found in certain shampoos and lotions, can metabolize into 4-CPA. Turned out it was Calalang’s makeup that caused her to test positive. She was finally cleared by both USADA and the World Anti-Doping Agency on Sept. 30, in time to finish fourth at Finlandia Trophy and fifth at Skate America in October for a solid start to the Olympic season.

They wrapped the season with a third consecutive U.S. silver medal, this time to Ashley Cain-Gribble and Timothy LeDuc, but both Cain-Gribble/LeDuc and Knierim/Frazier (who did not compete at the U.S. Championships after Frazier tested positive for Covid) were named to the Olympic and world teams ahead of them.

“I realize that many people will be shocked by this, but I feel the need to move on with life,” Johnson included in his retirement post. “Skating has been a wonderful, thrilling, emotional, and heartbreaking experience and is a time that I will reminisce upon with smiles and gratification.”

Of note, both skaters apologized to each other.

While he wrote to Calalang that he was sorry he could not go on, she included the below in a tribute to Johnson:

“Brian, I am so sorry for everything that caused you any sort of hurt. You didn’t deserve any of it. I am sorry that it didn’t go the way we wanted it to.”

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Kelly Cheng, Sara Hughes, beach volleyball’s new sensation, win World Tour Finals

Kelly Cheng, Sara Hughes

In just a few months since reuniting, Kelly Cheng and Sara Hughes have become not just the best women’s beach volleyball team in the U.S., but also, arguably, the world.

Cheng and Hughes, former partners who got back together for a 2024 Olympic run, won the World Tour Finals for the biggest title for a U.S. pair since April Ross and Alix Klineman took gold in Tokyo.

The 27-year-old Californians swept reigning world champions Duda and Ana Patricia of Brazil 21-18, 21-16 in Sunday’s final in Doha.

Cheng and Hughes have entered four tournaments since reuniting last fall and won all of them — once on the domestic AVP tour and now three international events.

They are rolling into the start of the 2024 Olympic qualifying window next week. It’s likely that the top two U.S. women’s pairs across international events over the course of the next 18 months qualify for the Paris Games.

Cheng and Hughes were previously NCAA champion teammates at USC, then the most promising, young U.S. pro team before splitting in 2018. Cheng made the Tokyo Olympics with Sarah Sponcil (lost in the round of 16), while Hughes’ Tokyo bid flamed out when partner Summer Ross suffered a back injury in 2019.

“It was a lot of the unknown and being young and kind of immature and listening to maybe outside forces and not really knowing how to deal with things as well,” Hughes said in October of their past breakup. “We’ve pretty much moved past that in our relationship. Moving forward with one another, we’re completely different players, and we’re a lot more mature. It feels like the right time. The past is past. We’re just moving forward.”

Cheng and Hughes have taken over from April Ross and Klineman as the top U.S. team. After winning Olympic gold, Klineman underwent shoulder surgery in January 2022 and last week announced she is pregnant and may return from childbirth for a “last-second” 2024 Olympic qualifying bid.

April Ross, a 40-year-old with an Olympic medal of every color, last competed in March, then withdrew before June’s world championships, where she was entered with Emily Day, with an unspecified injury. She has not announced if or when she plans to return to competition.

The U.S. earned at least one beach volleyball medal at every Olympics that the sport has been on the program (since 1996), and a men’s or women’s gold at all but one Olympics. Eighteen months out from the Paris Games, Cheng and Hughes are the best hope to keep the podium streak going.

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Germany opens bobsled worlds with double gold; Kaillie Humphries gets silver

Laura Nolte Bobsled

Germans Laura Nolte and Johannes Lochner dethroned the reigning Olympic and world champions to open the world bobsled championships in St. Moritz, Switzerland, this weekend.

Nolte, the Olympic two-woman champion driver, won the four-run monobob by four tenths of a second over American Kaillie Humphries, who won the first world title in the event in 2021 and the first Olympic title in the event in 2022. Another German, Lisa Buckwitz, took bronze.

In the two-man, Lochner became the first driver to beat countryman Francesco Friedrich in an Olympic or world championships event since 2016, ending Friedrich’s record 12-event streak at global championships between two-man and four-man.

Friedrich, defeated by 49 hundredths, saw his streak of seven consecutive world two-man titles also snapped.

Lochner, 32, won his first outright global title after seven Olympic or world silvers, plus a shared four-man gold with Friedrich in 2017.

Swiss Michael Vogt drove to bronze, one hundredth behind Friedrich. Geoff Gadbois and Martin Christofferson filled the top American sled in 18th.

Americans Steven Holcomb and Steven Langton were the last non-Germans to win a world two-man title in 2012.

Bobsled worlds finish next weekend with the two-woman and four-man events.

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