Pikus-Pace winning again with family by her side

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SOCHI, Russia – American skeleton racer Noelle Pikus-Pace gave new meaning to “Mother Russia” with her win Saturday at the Sochi World Cup, held on the future Olympic track at Sanki Sliding Center. The Utah native has had a blazing comeback season — she retired after finishing fourth at the 2010 Olympics — but she says her success wouldn’t be possible without the support of her family.

With the exception of her trip to Russia, Pikus-Pace has traveled everywhere this season with her husband, Janson, and their two children, daughter Lacee (5) and son Traycen (turns 2 next month), in tow. The 30-year-old reached the podium at five straight World Cups this season, and also won silver at the World Championships last month in St. Moritz, Switzerland.

“Having my family with me has honestly made all the difference in the world,” she says. “I’m happy and just enjoying it. That’s what I attribute [my success] to.”

Pikus-Pace’s triumphant return to skeleton – in which racers slide headfirst down the bobsled track at more that 80 mph – was prompted by an emotional loss: She began to reevaluate her retirement after suffering a miscarriage last April.

“I didn’t feel emotionally or physically ready to get pregnant again,” she says. “It was actually June of last year when [Janson and I] said, ‘Why don’t we try to go for the Olympics one last time? Let’s make this a family affair.’ The only way we’d do this is if our whole family could go with us, because that’s my top priority. I just can’t leave them for months at a time.”

Pikus-Pace admits that balancing everything can take its toll, but she has the support of her coaches and team, as well as the help of her husband, who she says has taken on the role of “Mr. Mom.” The couple makes an effort to document everything, taking photos and videos so that the kids will remember their adventure, which Pikus-Pace says is already making its mark on their daughter.

“Sometimes when I come home from sliding, [Lacee] puts on my speed suit, my helmet, my gloves, and my spikes, and she pretends to run and jump on my sled,” Pikus-Pace says. “Then she just lays there like she’s going down the track and moves her body like I do.”

While Pikus-Pace says that she will support her daughter no matter what, she admits that she would prefer it if Lacee picked up a sport like tennis or softball.

“Something summer-related, so I can cheer her on in the sunshine.”

Yevgenia Medvedeva wins season opener in rout

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Olympic figure skating favorite Yevgenia Medvedeva, imperfect by her standards, still won her first international competition of the season by a whopping 36.74 points on Saturday.

The Russian tallied 146.72 points in her free skate at Nepela Trophy in Slovakia — lower than her median score over her two-year winning streak — and 226.72 points overall. 

Video is here. Full scores are here.

Medvedeva had a wrong edge call on her triple Lutz, stepping out of the landing. 

Judges gave her a negative grade of execution for it, snapping a streak of more than 60 straight jumps with positive grades dating to December.

No matter, the 17-year-old still had the highest free skate by 23.23 points.

It was 13.72 points shy of her world record set at the last competition of the 2016-17 season.

She distanced Japanese Rika Hongo and countrywoman Yelena Radionova, the only woman to beat Medvedeva in senior international competition in November 2015.

Medvedeva entered the free skate with a 13.51-point lead in the low-level event. That was via recording the second-highest short program tally under a 13-year-old judging system on Thursday.

Her flawed free skate still earned more points than any of her rivals racked up last season. 

All of her jumps except a double Axel were in the second half of her program to earn bonus points.

However, another Russian posted a higher free skate score last week.

That’s 15-year-old training partner Alina Zagitova, who was .45 better at a low-level event in Italy. 

It’s not entirely fair to compare scores from different judging panels at these early season competitions, though.

The first of six Grand Prix series events is Rostelecom Cup in Moscow in four weeks, featuring Medvedeva and Radionova.

Medvedeva and Zagitova could go head-to-head at the Grand Prix Final in December and should definitely both be at the Russian Championships later that month.

The figure skating season continues next week with Nebelhorn Trophy in Germany, the final Olympic qualifying competition. 

North Korea could clinch its first spots in any sport for the Olympics in the pairs event.

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VIDEO: Nathan Chen makes more history at season opener

Yuzuru Hanyu opens Olympic season with record score

Yuzuru Hanyu
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A sore knee didn’t hold Yuzuru Hanyu back. A record score to open his Olympic season.

The Olympic and world champion from Japan hit a pair of quadruple jumps in his short program at the Autumn Classic, a lower-level event in Montreal.

He was rewarded with 112.72 points, the highest short program score recorded under the 13-year-old judging system. Video is here.

It looked like a home competition for Hanyu.

Upon finishing, he bowed toward one set of bleachers (maybe a dozen rows) at the Sportsplexe Pierrefonds. More than two dozen Japanese flags made it hard to see most of the faces.

He bettered Javier Fernández, a two-time world champion and training partner, by 11.52 points. Fernández also landed two quadruple jumps to tally 101.2.

Full scores will be here upon the conclusion of the short program. The free skate is Saturday at 8 p.m. ET. A live stream is here.

Hanyu now owns the three highest short program scores under the 13-year-old system. The other two were set in the 2015-16 season.

Showdowns like Hanyu-Fernández are usually reserved for, at the earliest, the Grand Prix series in late October and November.

Hanyu and Fernández are very familiar with each other, having shared a coach in Canadian Brian Orser, the 1988 Olympic silver medalist, since 2012. They train in Toronto.

In that time, Hanyu became the first Japanese man to win an Olympic title (and the second teen from any nation to do it). He followed it up with world titles later in 2014 and this year.

Fernández achieved unfathomable success for a Spanish skater — world titles in 2015 and 2016, overtaking Hanyu in the free skate both times.

In PyeongChang, Hanyu can become the first man to repeat as Olympic champion since Dick Button in 1952. Fernández can become the third Spaniard to earn a Winter Olympic medal of any color in any sport, and the first since 1992.

The figure skating season continues next week with Nebelhorn Trophy in Germany, the final Olympic qualifying competition. North Korea could clinch its first spots in any sport for the Olympics in the pairs event.

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