UPDATE: Graham’s feature has been moved to next week due to space constraints.
A month removed from the 2016 Summer Olympics and not even a week removed from the 2016 Summer Paralympics and my latest column is still full of Olympic sports updates. Such is September–summer sports and winter sports are overlapping.
Recent Shelley High graduate Mathew Graham is coming off the best finish he’s ever had at the U.S. Novice and Junior Challenge Skate in Salt Lake City, taking second in his second time at the event competing at the junior level. I’ll have a full feature on him for Sunday, as he has recently relocated to Ogden for the next step in his career.
What I didn’t have space to address in today’s column was Rome’s end to its 2024 Summer Olympics bid, which was announced yesterday. This is the second consecutive time Italy’s capital has withdrawn from a summer bid. Los Angeles, Paris and Budapest are the three remaining 2024 bid cities.
The Medal Stand: Graham takes second at Challenge Skate
Mathew Graham has been a regular at the U.S. Novice and Junior Challenge Skate since its debut in 2013 in Salt Lake City. On Sunday, he snagged his best finish at the invite-only event.
The 19-year-old competed at the event for the second consecutive season at the junior level and took second place with an overall score of 147.39 points. His previous best finish at the Challenge Skate was two years ago, when he placed third in men’s novice. He placed seventh last year upon making his debut at the junior level.
“I definitely think this is a career highlight so far,” Graham said in a phone interview Tuesday morning from Ogden, Utah, where he now lives. “I like skating under pressure. To be able to come out on the podium validates that I’m working hard and I’m where I need to be. I’m glad I was able to come out where I did.”
Graham, who graduated from Shelley High School in May, was in fourth place after receiving a score of 52.36 for his short program on Saturday. He entered Sunday’s free skate with the intent of making the podium. He ultimately received a 95.03, the second highest score of the day, for a new program he spent the summer fine tuning in Sun Valley.
“The level of performance this year of my free skate is the most dramatic program that I’ve ever had,” Graham said. “A lot of times, the performance kinda gets lost with trying to stay energized throughout the program. I definitely wanted to keep the energy high. I really wanted to prove myself.”
A fun moment for Graham was a familiar face on the podium with him. Mitchell Friess, who trains with Graham in Ogden, took third with an overall score of 146.11.
“That was really cool that we’re both training partners and we were able to get on the podium,” Graham said.
When he wasn’t skating, Graham had the opportunity to watch the senior men compete in the U.S. International Classic, which took place simultaneously and at the same venue as the Challenge Skate. He watched defending national champion Adam Rippon complete his short program and met Sean Rabbitt, a rising senior level skater.
“It’s really cool to be able to talk to them and know they respect you and you’re at the same event,” Graham said.
While the Challenge Skate doesn’t qualify skaters for another competition, it gives young skaters the opportunity to compete before international judges. It was the kind of start to the 2016-17 season Graham hoped for.
“Under the circumstances, the points were good in that way,” Graham said. “It’s still early in the season. I want to make sure I’m peaking at sectionals and nationals time.”
Team USA Update
Valeri Liukin, a four-time Olympic medalist at Seoul 1988 for the Soviet Union and father of 2008 Olympic women’s all around champion Nastia Liukin, was named women’s national team coordinator for USA Gymnastics last Friday. He is co-founder of World Olympic Gymnastics Academy in Plano, Texas, which has produced gymnasts Carly Patterson, Rebecca Bross and Madison Kocian, and has been USA Gymnastics’ elite developmental coordinator since 2013.
Liukin takes on the role upon the retirement of Martha Karolyi, who retired following last month’s Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The retirement ends a four-decade coaching career for Martha and her husband Bela, who got their start in their native country of Romania with 1976 Olympic all-around champion and recipient of the first perfect 10, Nadia Comaneci.
Nick Zaccardi of NBC OlympicTalk reported Monday that sprinter Tyson Gay will compete in the USA Bobsled National Push Championships, which began Wednesday and continue through Saturday in Calgary, Canada. Fellow sprinter Ryan Bailey switched to bobsled in late August. Hurdler Lolo Jones, who competed in bobsled at the 2014 Sochi Olympics alongside fellow sprinter Lauryn Williams, will also be competing.