Alexa Knierim, Brandon Frazier on brink of a first for U.S. pairs’ figure skating

Alexa Knierim, Brandon Frazier
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World champions Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier lead after the short program at Grand Prix England, moving one step closer to becoming the first U.S. pairs’ figure skating team to win multiple Grand Prix events in one season.

Knierim and Frazier, who won Skate America three weeks ago, tallied 75.88 points in a clean short on Friday in Sheffield. They lead by 7.19 over Italians Sara Conti and Niccolo Macii going into Saturday’s free skate, live on Peacock.

GRAND PRIX ENGLAND: Results | Broadcast Schedule

Last season, Knierim and Frazier placed sixth at the Olympics, the best result for a U.S. pair in 20 years. The next month, they became the first U.S. pair to win a world title since 1979, competing against a field that lacked the top five teams from the Olympics.

Those top five pairs from Russia and China are not competing in this fall’s Grand Prix Series, either. Russians are banned due to the invasion of Ukraine, and China has no pairs entered in any of the six competitions that are qualifiers for December’s Grand Prix Final.

Last month, Knierim and Frazier became the first U.S. pair to win a fully international Skate America since 2006 and the third U.S. pair to win any full-fledged Grand Prix event since the series started in 1995.

Now they’re poised to become the first U.S. pair to qualify for the six-pair Grand Prix Final since 2015. Pairs are ranked by their two results on the six-event Grand Prix Series. For Knierim and Frazier, a third-place finish or better this week should be enough to get them in.

Canadian Roman Sadovsky was the surprise leader after the men’s short program with 89.49 points, edging Italian Daniel Grassl by 2.64. Headliner Morisi Kvitelashvili of Georgia, who was fourth at March’s worlds, was 12th in the 12-man field in Friday’s short program.

The women’s and ice dance competitions start Saturday, marking the first event in 18 months for two-time U.S. champion Bradie Tennell.

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Rosie MacLennan, Olympic trampoline legend, retires

Rosie MacLennan
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Canadian Rosie MacLennan, the lone person to win two Olympic trampoline gold medals, announced her retirement at age 34.

“After 10 World Championships and 4 Olympic Games, it is time for me to hang up my shiny spandex,” she posted on social media. “Trampoline has been such an integral part of my life and sport will continue to be, even if my role in sport is changing. My experience as an athlete has exceeded even my wildest childhood dreams.”

MacLennan won Olympic titles in 2012 and 2016 in an event that debuted at the 2000 Sydney Games. She was fourth at her last Olympics in Tokyo. MacLennan, Canada’s flag bearer at the 2016 Olympic Opening Ceremony, also earned world titles in 2013 and 2018 among seven world medals overall.

MacLennan came back from two concussions in 2015 — over-rotating a jump in training and later when she was accidentally hit on the head by a car trunk — to win her second Olympic title. She came back from an April 2019 broken ankle to reach her fourth Olympics.

MacLennan, who qualified for her first world age group competition at age 11, spent more than 26 years in the sport.

NBC Olympic research contributed to this report.

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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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