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Piper Gilles, Paul Poirier
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Canadian ice dancers overcome hair-raising wardrobe malfunction

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Ice dancer Piper Gilles‘ hair got caught in partner Paul Poirier‘s costume during the Canadian Championships rhythm dance, but the couple still posted the top score in Mississauga, Ontario, on Friday.

As they spun together, Gilles’ hair appeared to catch on one of Poirier’s shirt buttons. It stayed that way for about five seconds as the couple nearly came to a stop before Poirier untangled it. What was Gilles thinking?

“Crap, crap, crap, crap, crap, crap,” she said later. “It’s probably more swear words to that, but crap at that moment.

“It was like one of those pure panic moments, like, what do I do? Do we stop? Do we keep going? Paul’s like, just keep moving.”

Gilles and Poirier scored 88.86 points, taking an 11.6-point lead into the free dance.

The couple eyes their first national title after finishing second or third seven times in the last eight years behind Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir and Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje.

Gilles and Poirier rank fifth in the world this season.

The panicky moment Friday was reminiscent of the PyeongChang Olympics, where French ice dancer Gabriella Papadakis‘ dress strap broke, exposing her breast. Papadakis and partner Guillaume Cizeron took silver and have been undefeated since.

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Allison Schmitt opens 2020 in fast form, bidding to join U.S. Olympic legends

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Allison Schmitt, after failing to qualify for world championships teams, revealing a battle with depression and taking nearly two years off competition post-Rio, has a chance to swim at her fourth Olympics this summer. And to do it in an individual event for the first time since 2012.

Schmitt won the 200m freestyle in 1:56.01 at the Tyr Pro Swim Series stop in Knoxville, Tenn., on Friday night.

The time would have ranked second among Americans in 2019 behind Katie Ledecky. Ledecky is not swimming in Knoxville, but the 2012 Olympic champion and American record holder Schmitt beat Simone Manuel by 1.24 seconds.

“Wish I could say I was tapered, would make it feel a lot easier,” Schmitt said on NBCSN. “Getting better every time I jump in the water and swim in finals.”

Schmitt’s time marked her fastest outside of a major summer meet since the 2012 London Games. She’s bidding to become the third U.S. woman in her 30s to swim an individual event at an Olympics, joining 12-time medalists Dara Torres (who swam in her 40s) and Jenny Thompson.

Full Knoxville results are here. Broadcast coverage of the meet continues Saturday at 6:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app.

Swimmers are preparing for June’s Olympic trials, where the top two per individual event qualify for the Tokyo Games, plus extra 100m and 200m free swimmers for relays.

In other events Friday, 18-year-old Carson Foster took the men’s 200m free in 1:47.74, beating the U.S.’ top 400m freestyler, Zane Grothe, by 1.33 seconds.

Foster, younger than any U.S. Olympic male swimmer since a group including Michael Phelps in 2000, is better known for his individual medleys. But the 200m free offers up to six Olympic spots when including the 4x200m free relay.

“Any event where there’s more spots on the line this summer is an event I want to train for,” said Foster, who ranked outside the top 10 in the U.S. in the 200m free in 2019 and beat a field Friday that included none of the six fastest.

Annie Lazor won the 100m breaststroke in 1:06.68, a time congruent with her No. 2 ranking in the U.S. last year behind Olympic champion and world-record holder Lilly King. King, who trains with Lazor, is not competing in Knoxville.

In the 100m butterfly, 29-year-old Amanda Kendall upset top-ranked American Kelsi Dahlia in 57.65 seconds. Regan Smith, the fastest backstroker in history, was second in a personal-best 57.86, followed by Dahlia.

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Mikaela Shiffrin fights fatigue as World Cup season hits turning point

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Mikaela Shiffrin has little free time these days — during the part of the season where she feels most fatigued — but she has noticed the reaction to her finishing second and third in her last two slaloms, sandwiched by a DNF in a combined race.

“It’s really funny to think that this would be what most people would consider like a bad season or poor results or something, but I’ve been on both [slalom] podiums [in 2020] and won multiple races [this season],” she said Thursday after getting edged in back-to-back World Cup slaloms for the first time since 2017. “It’s sort of like, OK, I’ll take that. … If this is what a bad season [is], then I’m going to take that and be grateful and keep working because the position I’m in is pretty incredible when you think about it.”

That position is a familiar one, leading the World Cup overall standings comfortably (by 273 points) as the season nears its midpoint. Shiffrin is on pace to become the second woman to win four straight overalls, joining Austrian legend Annemarie Moser-Pröll.

Competition continues this weekend. The women’s World Cup moves to Sestriere, Italy, for a giant slalom and parallel giant slalom on Saturday (8:05 a.m. ET) and Sunday (5:45 a.m.) on Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA and streaming on NBC Sports Gold.

It marks the culmination of a monthlong stretch of technical races — Shiffrin’s specialties — at six stops among five different countries. The racing, the traveling left her short on training and resting, common for her at the turn of January given the World Cup calendar is similar from year to year.

“It’s hard to totally find that fire when I’m kind of beating my head against the wall,” she said.

A difference this year: the improvement of fellow 24-year-old Petra Vlhova, the Slovakian who won the last two World Cup slaloms. Vlhova previously beat Shiffrin in back-to-back slaloms at the end of the 2016-17 season and beginning of the 2017-18 season, but Shiffrin reasserted her dominance after finishing fourth at the PyeongChang Olympics.

“It just seems to me like [Vlhova] has been gaining more and more confidence in her skiing,” Shiffrin said. “It’s taken her a while to get to the point where she really has the confidence to throw down in that sense.”

Still, Shiffrin leads the World Cup slalom standings — 80 points — from winning the first three slaloms this season. If Shiffrin finishes second in the final four slaloms this winter, Vlhova would have to win them all to take the title on a tiebreak.

Vlhova’s team has been known to film other skiers’ training sessions, a practice that is not illegal in the sport (and common when athletes from different nations train together). Back in November, Shiffrin expressed concern about being filmed during training by those whose athletes weren’t present, but she clarified Thursday that she was not referring to Vlhova’s team in that interview.

“[Vlhova] has gotten her skiing to a really incredible point,” Shiffrin said Thursday. “I absolutely respect that, and that’s it.”

After Sestriere comes three straight weekends of speed races: downhills and super-Gs. Shiffrin plans to head to the first set in Bulgaria next weekend, then take it day by day from there. She’s looking forward to the next technical events in Slovenia in mid-February, which she likened to “a new season.”

“I was skiing at 100 percent of my ability [in recent races], knowing that my ability was maybe not as high as it has been when I’ve come off a really good training session or a block of rest,” Shiffrin said. “I feel like I’m going to be able to raise my level of skiing again, but it’s just going to take a little bit of time.”

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