Brandon Penny

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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Shoma Uno wins first skating world title as Vincent Zhou returns to podium


Shoma Uno finally claimed a long-awaited world title at the 2022 World Figure Skating Championships on Saturday.

After placing second at the event in 2017 and 2018, then fourth in 2019 and 2021, Uno now found himself atop the podium. He also has an Olympic silver medal from 2018 and bronze from this year’s Winter Games, making this gold all the sweeter.

“I’m very happy of this achievement, I worked very hard,” said Uno, whose winning free skate included five quadruple jumps, two of which were under-rotated. “I’m very excited to finally be first.”

The 24-year-old scored personal bests across the board with 109.63 in the short (previous: 109.50), 202.85 in the free (previous: 197.36) and 312.48 total. His prior personal best total was 293.00 from the Olympics.

The competition was missing both Nathan Chen and Yuzuru Hanyu, who combined to win the past three Olympic and five of the last seven world titles.

Uno was joined on the podium by Japanese teammate Yuma Kagiyama, who at age 18 repeats his silver-medal performance from his debut worlds last year, and American Vincent Zhou, who made an unexpected return to the medals after missing the Olympic men’s singles event.

Kagiyama’s total of 297.60 was 12.45 fewer than the score that earned him Olympic silver last month.

FIGURE SKATING WORLDS: Results | Broadcast Schedule

Zhou had a wild ride to this competition and an inconsistent history at worlds, to say the least, but it seemed to all pay off with a storybook ending in Montpellier, France.

The 2017 junior world champion was sixth at the 2018 Winter Olympics, where he was the first to land a quadruple lutz at the Games, then a disappointing 14th at his first senior worlds the following month.

He rose to bronze at the 2019 worlds, putting out the performances he had been seeking and marking himself as an Olympic medal contender. Later in the season he helped the U.S. win World Team Trophy with a combined personal score of 299.01 — the closest he has come to his goal of 300 points.

After worlds was cancelled in 2020 due to the pandemic, Zhou returned to that stage in 2021 with a shockingly poor short program performance that placed him 25th — one spot shy of even advancing to the free skate.

Now 21, Zhou worked to return to show he was still one of the best in the world for this year’s Olympics, but that opportunity was taken away from him. He helped the U.S. finish second in the team event, then tested positive for Covid the day after his free skate and was unable to compete in the men’s singles competition (or walk in the Closing Ceremony two weeks later).

After waiting approximately 45 more days to finally compete, Zhou’s patience, hard work and determination paid off, despite the mental struggles he battled during that time. He was sixth in the short program with 95.84 points and fourth in the free with 181.54, and both results were enough to give him the bronze medal overall with a 277.38 total.

“I feel very, very proud of myself,” Zhou said. “I couldn’t do anything in training leading up to this. I was mentally just in a very bad place, but I got myself on a plane, I got myself together, I took it one practice at a time, and now I put out two strong performances. I’m so proud of myself.”

Teammate and training mate Camden Pulkinen earned a ‘small medal’ for having the third-highest scoring free skate; it is his first senior international medal. He rebounded from placing 12th in the short program to finish fifth overall at his first worlds.

Pulkinen’s previous best free skate score was 155.73 from Skate Canada in 2019. In Montpellier, he earned 182.19 points for his free.

A 2016 Youth Olympian, Pulkinen was fifth at this season’s U.S. Championships. He was added to the world team after Chen withdrew with a nagging injury and two-time Olympian Jason Brown declined his first alternate spot.

Meanwhile, the third American – Ilia Malinin – who had the best chance to medal after sitting fourth from the short program, fell on his quad salchow and seemed to lose all momentum from there. With the 11th-best free skate, the 17-year-old dropped to ninth. He will finish his season next month at the junior world championships.

“I put pressure on myself wanting to skate good so badly, and it didn’t work out,” Malinin said.

Kazuki Tomono, who was third in the short program and hoping to be part of a historic Japanese sweep, ended in sixth after a handful of errors in the free skate that included a fall on his quad salchow as well.

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Kaori Sakamoto is latest Japanese skating world champ; Alysa Liu puts U.S. back on podium


Kaori Sakamoto became the first Japanese woman in eight years to win the World Figure Skating Championships after a women’s free skate that was full of emotion on Friday.

The other nations joining her on the podium — Belgium and the United States — had plenty of reason to celebrate as well.

In her one Olympic and two world championship appearances before this season, the 21-year-old Sakamoto had finished no higher than fifth; she now owns an Olympic bronze medal and worlds gold medal.

Sakamoto is the sixth woman from Japan to win the women’s singles world total, following in the footsteps of skating royalty Midori ItoYuka SatoShizuka ArakawaMiki AndoMao Asada. Ito, Arakawa and Asada are also Olympic medalists.

FIGURE SKATING WORLDS: Results | Broadcast Schedule

Sakamoto set personal best scores across the board in Montpellier, France with 80.32 points for her short program, 155.77 in the free and a 236.09-point total.

“Four years ago, and this year, I did everything for the Olympic Games, but it was well worth it,” Sakamoto said.

With Russia banned from sending skaters to worlds, it made way for a trio of first-time medalists.

Loena Hendrickx is the first Belgian women’s skater ever to medal at worlds and first Belgian to medal in any discipline in more than seven decades. She remained consistent from Wednesday’s short program, second both days, and took silver with 217.70 points.

Sakamoto won with the highest margin of victory (18.39 points) in the women’s event in nine years, since two-time Olympic medalist Kim Yuna won her second world title.

Meanwhile, Alysa Liu jumped from fifth in the short program to third overall on the merit of one of the best free skate performances of her life. At her first senior-level worlds, Liu earned the first U.S. women’s world medal in six years with a 211.19 total. Ashley Wagner‘s 2016 silver was the last for an American woman and the only other one since 2006.

“I’m speechless,” Liu said. “When I saw that I medaled, I was like, ‘What?!’ I’m still in shock.”

After enduring a roller-coaster span of less than three months that included testing positive for Covid and having to withdraw halfway through the U.S. Championships, making her long-awaited Olympic debut at age 16, facing public scrutiny after it was revealed last week that Chinese men had stalked and harassed her father allegedly on behalf of the Chinese government, then making her senior worlds debut, Liu ended her impressive free skate with tears and a clear release of emotions and heavy life experiences.

“I’m so tired,” she said as she left the ice.

U.S. Olympic teammate Mariah Bell finished fourth, falling from third in the short program.

She was still all smiles at the end of her mostly clean “Hallelujah” program in which she fought for every element and helped ensure the U.S. will send the maximum three women to worlds in 2023.

“I’m proud that I got fourth,” Bell said. “I could’ve been any place below fourth. Obviously I was close to a medal and I had the potential to do it, I just got a little tentative on the last few jumps, but I’m really happy for Alysa and that we got an American woman on the podium; I think that’s awesome.”

Competing for Georgia, Anastasia Gubanova had the most impressive second-day result, vaulting from 14th in the short program to sixth overall after getting the fifth-highest free skate score.

Two-time Olympian Karen Chen was eighth. She, too, finished her free skate with tears of joy and relief. Chen, an experienced skater who was fourth at both of her previous worlds appearances, said she had never been so terrified to take the ice after being unable to put out clean performances at last month’s Olympics.

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