Johnny Weir previews figure skating season on new ‘Chasing Gold’ episode

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The season after the Olympics always brings changes in figure skating, but this may be unprecedented in the professional era.

The Grand Prix Series, the sport’s top-level circuit, opens next week with Skate America and an abundance of new faces to highlight.

NBC Sports analyst Johnny Weir set the stage in an interview for “Chasing Gold,” NBC Sports’ monthly Olympic and Paralympic show. The episode debuts Sunday at 12 p.m. ET on NBC, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app and is available on Peacock starting Monday.

None of the reigning Olympic gold medalists are currently competing.

Nathan Chen is on an indefinite, perhaps permanent, break while he resumes classes at Yale. French ice dancers Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron are sitting out at least this entire season. China’s pairs champions Sui Wenjing and Han Cong did not enter any Grand Prix event. Anna Shcherbakova, the women’s gold medalist, is from Russia, a nation banned indefinitely due to the war in Ukraine.

Enter Ilia Malinin, the 17-year-old world junior champion from Virginia. Malinin, the son of Uzbek Olympic skaters, last month became the first person to land a quadruple Axel in competition. The Axel is the hardest jump because it is the only one with a forward takeoff, adding an extra half-revolution. All of the other quad jumps had previously been done.

“It is just out of this world,” Weir said of Malinin’s new jump. “I never thought in my lifetime I’d see somebody do a quad Axel.”

Malinin will look to follow the same blueprint as Chen, building on his arsenal of quads with artistry leading up to the 2026 Winter Games in Italy.

Malinin headlines the Skate America men’s field. The women’s field also includes the reigning world junior champion: 15-year-old Isabeau Levito of New Jersey.

Levito was third at the U.S. Championships in January but too young for the Olympics. This is her senior international debut season.

“She skates as light as a hummingbird,” Weir said. “It’s almost like she’s whispering when she performs, but her jumps are so strong.”

In April, Levito became the first U.S. woman to win a junior world title in 14 years. The last U.S. woman to win a senior world title was Kimmie Meissner in 2006.

“It really has been a moment [since] we’ve seen an American woman that can challenge the rest of the world,” Weir said, “and I think [Levito] can do it.”

The U.S. also boasts top returning teams in pairs (world champions Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier) and ice dance (world bronze medalists Madison Chock and Evan Bates), who are also entered in Skate America.

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Jessie Diggins ties U.S. record for World Cup cross-country skiing wins

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Jessie Diggins tied Kikkan Randall‘s U.S. record with her 13th career individual cross-country skiing World Cup victory, taking a 10km freestyle in Lillehammer, Norway, on Friday.

Diggins, the most decorated U.S. Olympic cross-country skier with a medal of every color, prevailed by 3.8 seconds over German Katharina Hennig in the interval start event. Diggins trailed Hennig by one second at the 8.2-kilometer split, then made up 4.8 seconds over the final four minutes of the course.

“My fitness and brain were in a really good place,” Diggins said, according to U.S. Ski and Snowboard. “When I asked my body to go deep into the pain cave, it responded.”

Diggins tied the record of Randall, who in 2007 became the first U.S. woman to win a World Cup cross-country skiing race and ended her career by teaming with Diggins to win the first U.S. Olympic cross-country skiing title at the 2018 PyeongChang Games. (Another skier, Alison Owen-Spencer, won a race in 1978 that U.S. Ski and Snowboard counts as a World Cup, but the International Ski Federation does not.)

Diggins opened this World Cup season last weekend in Ruka, Finland, with a best finish of 10th among three races. She trended up each day, finishing that stop with the second-fastest time in last Sunday’s individual pursuit (where she started 19th).

Diggins, 31, has spread out her goals this season. One of the biggest is helping the U.S. win a relay medal for the first time at the world championships in three months. Diggins has been a part of relays that finished fourth at four different worlds.

She also eyes the World Cup overall title, the biggest annual prize in the sport that goes to the best all-around skier for the season. In 2020-21, Diggins became the second American — and first American woman — to win the overall in a season where Norway’s top skiers, including superstar Therese Johaug, skipped early season races and chances to gain points for the overall title.

Johaug retired after winning three individual golds at last February’s Olympics. Diggins is the top returning skier given the absence of reigning overall champ Natalya Nepryayeva, who cannot compete due to the ban on Russian athletes for the war in Ukraine.

The World Cup season continues with a freestyle sprint on Saturday and a classic 20km mass start on Sunday in Lillehammer.

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Katie Ledecky out-touches new rival at swimming’s U.S. Open, extends streak

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It was a rare sight: Katie Ledecky being matched stroke for stroke in a distance race in an American pool. She was up for the challenge.

Ledecky out-touched emerging 16-year-old Canadian Summer McIntosh by eight hundredths of a second in the 400m freestyle at the U.S. Open in Greensboro, N.C., on Thursday night.

Ledecky and McIntosh were tied at the 300-meter mark. Ledecky ended up clocking 3:59.71 to McIntosh’s 3:59.79 to extend a decade-long win streak in freestyle races of 400 meters or longer in U.S. pools.

“I know we’ll have a lot more races ahead of us,” Ledecky said on Peacock. “We bring the best out of each other.”

The U.S. Open continues Friday with live finals coverage on Peacock at 6 p.m. ET.

U.S. OPEN SWIMMING: Full Results

At the Tokyo Olympics, McIntosh placed fourth in the 400m free at age 14.

She accelerated this year, taking silver behind Ledecky at the world championships and silver behind Tokyo gold medalist Ariarne Titmus of Australia at the Commonwealth Games.

Then in October, McIntosh outdueled Ledecky in a 400m free — also by eight hundredths — in a short-course, 25-meter pool at a FINA World Cup meet in Toronto. Long-course meets like the Olympics and the U.S. Open are held in 50-meter pools.

McIntosh also won world titles in the 200m butterfly and 400m individual medley, becoming the youngest individual world champion since 2011.

A potential showdown among Ledecky, Titmus and McIntosh at the 2024 Paris Games is already being compared to the “Race of the Century,” the 2004 Olympic men’s 200m free where Australian Ian Thorpe edged Dutchman Pieter van den Hoogenband and Michael Phelps.

In other events Thursday, Regan Smith, an Olympic and world medalist in the backstroke and butterfly, won a 200m individual medley in a personal best 2:10.40, a time that would have placed fifth at June’s world championships. She beat 16-year-old Leah Hayes, who took bronze in the event at worlds.

Olympic 400m IM champ Chase Kalisz won the men’s 200m IM in 1:56.52, his best time ever outside of major summer meets. Frenchman Léon Marchand won the world title in 1:55.22 in June, when Kalisz was fourth.

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