Alexa Scimeca

AP

Olympic pairs’ champs crush world record for world title; U.S. struggles

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Germans Aljona Savchenko and Bruno Massot added a world title to their Olympic gold with a world-record score, while U.S. pairs’ struggles continued with the Americans’ lowest-ever results at a world championships.

Savchenko and Massot broke the longest-standing record total in figure skating, extending their lead from Wednesday’s short program to win by 20.31 points over Russians Yevgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov.

“It was exactly the season that we wanted,” Massot said. “We reached our goal today.”

Vanessa James and Morgan Cipres took bronze, France’s second Olympic or world pairs medal in 86 years.

Full results are here.

Savchenko and Massot’s free skate — the first to eclipse 160 points under the current judging system — included a side-by-side triple Salchow-double toe loop-double toe loop combination and a throw triple flip and throw triple Salchow.

Their total score — 245.84 points — shattered 2014 Olympic champions Tatyana Volosozhar and Maksim Trankov‘s record of 237.71 set at 2013 Skate America. Their winning margin also broke Volosozhar and Trankov’s record for an Olympics or world championships under the 14-year-old points system.

Savchenko earned her 11th world medal — tying the female record held by Norwegian singles legend Sonja Henie — and sixth world title — tying Soviet Alexander Zaitsev for second on the all-time pairs’ list, four behind Irina Rodnina.

This was the French-born Massot’s first world title. Savchenko’s previous five world titles came with now-retired Robin Szolkowy.

Savchenko is 34, a five-time Olympian and the oldest pairs’ gold medalist in Winter Olympic history. The logical question — will she continue competing next season?

“Think about tomorrow,” she said, with Massot adding, “Ask again next week.”

The two U.S. pairs finished 15th and 17th, which means the U.S. drops to one pairs’ spot for the 2019 Worlds, its fewest since 1957.

U.S. champions Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Christopher Knierim dropped from 11th after the short program to 15th of 16 pairs after the free skate. Scimeca fell on their death spiral and a throw triple flip, looked distraught skating off the ice and tweeted 10 minutes later, “I’m sorry for losing us a spot” and “Bad day to have a bad day.”

The Knierims made the top 10 in their four previous world championships appearances with a best finish of seventh.

The other U.S. pair, 2000 World junior singles silver medalist Deanna Stellato and 2014 Olympian Nathan Bartholomay, were 17th in Wednesday’s short program, missing the cutoff for the free skate by one spot.

It’s the first time all U.S. pairs finished outside the top 11 at a worlds, granted worlds didn’t regularly have a field greater than 15 pairs before 1990.

It came on the heels of the U.S. having its smallest pairs’ contingent — one pair — at an Olympics since the first Winter Games in 1924. The Knierims were 15th in PyeongChang, marking the first time the U.S. sent a pair to an Olympics and put none in the top 10.

The last U.S. pairs’ medal at worlds came in 2002, making this the nation’s longest drought in any figure skating discipline. The last Olympic medal was in 1988.

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Olympic pairs’ champs lead after worlds short program

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Germans Aljona Savchenko and Bruno Massot backed up their Olympic pairs’ title by topping the world championships short program in Milan on Wednesday night.

Savchenko, seeking her sixth world title, and Massot, eyeing his first, tallied a personal-best 82.98 points with a clean program including side-by-side triple Salchows and a throw triple flip.

“We are Olympic champions, but the Olympics were yesterday,” Savchenko said, according to the International Skating Union. “We put our Olympic gold medals aside and focus on this competition.”

They lead Russians Yevgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov by 1.69 going into Thursday’s free skate.

Full results are here.

Savchenko can tie Norwegian Sonja Henie for the female record of 11 world championships medals. She can grab a share of second on the all-time pairs’ list of world titles with Soviet Alexander Zaitsev, four shy of Irina Rodnina‘s record.

The field lacks the Olympic silver and bronze medalists. China’s Sui Wenjing and Han Cong are not defending their world title due to Sui’s foot injury. Canadians Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford, the 2015 and 2016 World champions, retired after PyeongChang.

That made Savchenko and Massot and Olympic fourth-place finishers Tarasova and Morozov the pre-worlds favorites. Vanessa James and Morgan Cipres are in third, seeking France’s second Olympic or world pairs’ medal in 86 years.

U.S. champions Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Christopher Knierim are 11th with 69.55 points after placing 15th in PyeongChang. Scimeca’s elbow knocked Knierim’s eyebrow coming down from a lift Wednesday. The Knierims made the top 10 in their four previous world championships appearances with a best finish of seventh.

“We wish we could have broken 70 [points],” Scimeca said, according to U.S. Figure Skating. “That was a goal of ours.”

The other U.S. pair, 2000 World junior singles silver medalist Deanna Stellato and 2014 Olympian Nathan Bartholomay, were 17th, missing the cutoff for the free skate by one spot. Stellato, who retired from singles skating at 17 due to hip injuries, came back at age 32 in pairs in 2016 and took bronze with Bartholomay at nationals.

The last U.S. pairs’ medal came in 2002, making this the nation’s longest drought in any figure skating discipline.

Key Free Skate Start Times (Thursday ET)
Alexa Scimeca Knierim/Christopher Knierim (USA) — 2:51 p.m.
Natalya Zabiyako/Alexander Enbert (RUS) — 4:20 p.m.
Vanessa James/Morgan Cipres (FRA) — 4:28 p.m.
Aljona Savchenko/Bruno Massot (GER) — 4:37 p.m.
Yevgenia Tarasova/Vladimir Morozov (RUS) — 4:46 p.m.

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How the U.S. figure skating team is chosen for Olympic team event

Nathan Chen, Bradie Tennell
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U.S. Figure Skating said its roster for the Olympic team event will be chosen in the same process as in 2014, which is a little complicated.

Basically, U.S. Figure Skating creates four sets of rankings.

First, a ranking of the four disciplines based on overall strength. That would likely be ice dance, then men, then women and finally pairs.

Then, a ranking is created within each discipline of each of the three individual skaters and dance couples, using the criteria for Olympic team selection earlier this month. (There is no ranking for pairs, because the U.S. only has one pair in PyeongChang)

This means that the U.S. champions in each discipline won’t necessarily get first choice on which team event program(s) they would like to skate.

U.S. Figure Skating could, for example, determine that national ice dance silver medalists Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani have a better overall resumé than gold medalists Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue.

Using those rankings, which U.S. Figure Skating does not make public, skaters pick the team event short and long programs, with input from team officials.

Keep in mind that the U.S. can sub out skaters between the short and long programs in two of the three disciplines other than pairs (U.S. pairs champs Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Christopher Knierim must skate both programs).

Use 2014 as an example. Skaters from that team detailed the selection process in interviews last spring.

Ice dance was the highest-ranked of the disciplines. The top ice dance couple was Meryl Davis and Charlie White, the world champions who chose to skate both programs.

“We had our best chance if we did not swap out our dance teams,” Gracie Gold said last spring. “We needed Meryl and Charlie [for medal hopes].”

The next highest-ranked discipline was the women, led by the U.S. champion Gold.

“They were like, we would have you do both [team event programs, but] we think that’s a lot for you to do, Opening Ceremonies, then both [team event programs] and have a week and a half and do both again [in the individual event],” Gold said. “They said, we want you to do the long program. So I said yes. That made sense for me.”

Who would skate the women’s short program in the team event? Surprise U.S. silver medalist Polina Edmunds or Ashley Wagner, who finished fourth at nationals but was the top American internationally that season?

Wagner. She skated the short program.

Then came the men. U.S. champion Jeremy Abbott chose the short program but left the free skate open.

“So then they asked me, Jeremy wants to do the short, will you do long?” U.S. silver medalist Jason Brown said. “Obviously, I wasn’t going to say no.”

Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir skated both pairs programs.

The U.S. earned bronze behind Russia and Canada. The U.S. is expected to take bronze again next week, with Russia and Canada battling for gold.

Some obvious questions:

If ice dance is again the top-ranked discipline, which couple gets first choice? Hubbell and Donohue after their first national title, or the three-time world medalists Shibutani siblings?

Will Nathan Chen choose to skate both programs or to rest up for the men’s competition the following week? If Chen doesn’t skate both, who is the second-ranked man – U.S. bronze medalist Vincent Zhou in his first senior international season or fourth-place Adam Rippon, a veteran?

The U.S. women’s rankings might also differ from nationals results since gold medalist Bradie Tennell has little senior international experience, while teammates Mirai Nagasu and Karen Chen finished fourth at previous Olympics and world championships, respectively.

Answers come next week.

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