Tatiana Volosozhar, Maxim Trankov

Top Russian pairs skaters not fazed by impending Olympic pressure

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DETROIT — Russian figure skating isn’t what it once was: a nation responsible for 14 medals over three Olympics in the 1990s — and 12 straight pairs golds from 1964 and 2006 — may win one skating medal at the Sochi Olympics.

The best hope is the pairs team of Tatyana Volosozhar and Maksim Trankov, the reigning World Champions who reset their short program and free skate world records at Skate America in Detroit last weekend.

The Moscow-based skaters are motivated and not deterred by the immense pressure.

“We only have pressure for each other — we push each other every day,” Trankov said. “I think it’s most important to keep working. You never know, especially with the Olympics, what will happen. You cannot plan these competitions. You just work and hope that everything will be OK.”

It wasn’t OK for the Russians at the 2010 Games, when — for the first time since 1960 — no Russian (or Soviet) pair landed on the podium. Trankov was eighth with a different partner and Volosozhar, then competing for Ukraine, was ninth. China’s Shen Xue and Zhao Hongbo won gold.

“There is an old tradition for pairs skating in our country,” Trankov said. “The last Olympics were won by the Chinese, but they skated like Soviet pairs skaters; they were good and were champions. The way they skated was kind of Russian. We just want to win back a medal for our country in pairs.”

Volosozhar and Trankov can win a second medal with the debut of the Olympic figure skating team event. Trankov thinks he and Volosozhar will do the short program and give another Russian pair the opportunity to sub in for the free skate.

Volosozhar explained further, noting the turnaround from the team event free skate (Feb. 8) to the start of the pairs competition (Feb. 11).

“We want to skate,” she said. “We just don’t understand why it is before the main competition. Because for pairs, we start way earlier. There are only two days between the team competition and the main one.”

Volosozhar and Trankov are confident that the Russian team can win a medal — if not gold — particularly if they have three-time Olympic medalist and 2006 Olympic champion Yevgeny Plushenko. The U.S., Canada and Japan are considered medal favorites along with Russia.

Plushenko has battled injuries since winning silver at the 2010 Olympics and hasn’t competed since January. Russia earned one men’s spot at the Games. Plushenko is thought to be a lock to receive it if he proves healthy.

“He said he wants to skate for the team event for sure,” Trankov said. “He will skate both programs, and we’re very to happy to have him on our team. It’s a really good chance for us to win a medal.”

The Russians have a respectable team in Ekaterina Bobrova and Dmitri Soloviev in ice dancing, bronze medalists at the World Championships in March, and Adelina Sotnikova, ninth at Worlds at 16.

“Maybe not gold, but we for sure we can win a team medal,” Trankov said. “We have good girls and pairs and not bad ice dancers. I think we’ll do it. If Evgeni will help us, that will make it even better.”

And the eight years since a pairs gold in Russia?

“That helps us a little bit,” Volosozhar said. “Because we want to win a medal for Russia.”

Quad quandary for top U.S. men

World record smashed at Paris Diamond League

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PARIS (AP) — Olympic champion Ruth Jebet broke the women’s 3,000-meter steeplechase world record by six seconds at the Diamond League meeting in Paris on Saturday

Meanwhile, Kendra Harrison won the 100 hurdles without beating her own record.

The 19-year-old Jebet, born in Kenya and running for Bahrain, clocked 8 minutes, 52.78 seconds at Stade de France.

The previous record was 8:58.81 by Gulnara Samitova-Galkina of Russia at the 2008 Beijing Games.

“I tried many times to beat the world record,” Jebet said. “I was not expecting such a big difference with the record.”

Jebet’s performance was so dominant that she beat Diamond League rival Hyvin Kiyeng of Kenya by nearly 10 seconds, and Emma Coburn of the U.S. by almost 20.

Harrison won the 100 hurdles in 12.44 seconds, followed by American countrywoman Dawn Harper-Nelson (12.65).

“I felt all right even though I kicked a few hurdles, which made me a bit upset,” Harrison said. “The start wasn’t that great. Now I have a few days off, so I’m really looking forward to Zurich [on Thursday].”

Dutchwoman Dafne Schippers won the 200 in 22.13, and American Natasha Hastings won the 400 in 50.06.

Ben Youssef Meite of the Ivory Coast won the 100 in 9.96 seconds, followed by South African Akani Simbine and Dutchman Churandy Martina.

Frenchman Christophe Lemaitre, the Olympic bronze medalist in the 200 meters, pulled out after feeling a twinge when warming up.

“I didn’t feel well,” Lemaitre said. “There’s no point tempting the devil and getting injured.”

Kenyan Nicholas Bett won the men’s 400 hurdles, beating American Kerron Clement, while Kenyan Alfred Kipketer won the 800 meters.

Meanwhile, 19-year-old Kenyan Yomif Kejelcha won the men’s 3,000 in 7:28.19, the fastest time this year.

Olympic silver medalist Renaud Lavillenie of France won the pole vault with an effort of 5.93 meters, Czech Jakub Vadlejch won the javelin, and American Chris Carter won the triple jump in 16.92 meters, with Cuban Alexis Copello second in 16.90.

Tom Walsh of New Zealand just beat Ryan Crouser of the U.S., the Olympic champion, by one centimeter in the shot put.

Britain’s Laura Muir set the leading time this year to win the 1,500 in 3:55.22.

“I couldn’t believe the time, especially since I didn’t do one track session since Rio,” Muir said. “I knew I had to dig in and hold on during the third lap.”

Serbian Ivana Spanovic won the long jump, Spaniard Ruth Beitia won the high jump, and Croatian Sandra Perkovic clinched the discus.

David Ortiz weighed down by Aly Raisman’s medals (video)

David Ortiz, Aly Raisman
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David Ortiz called his good friend Aly Raisman on Thursday night. Raisman had one request for their scheduled meeting for Friday.

“I told him that he had to hold my medals while I threw out the first pitch,” Raisman said on NESN. “I told him he better not forget, but he remembered.”

Ortiz made it a highlight, wearing Raisman’s three Rio medals and plodding as if they were weighing him down before the Royals-Red Sox game at Fenway Park on Friday night.

It was reminiscent of Bryce Harper serving as a medal rack for Katie Ledecky on Wednesday night.

Ortiz and Raisman have come to know each other in the last four years, after Raisman’s first Olympic appearance in London. Raisman, a native of Needham, Massachusetts, has attended a gala and golf tournament benefitting Ortiz’s children’s charity.

She previously threw a first pitch at Fenway following the 2012 London Games. It didn’t faze Raisman that her pitch Friday bounced before reaching home plate.

“My pitch was horrible, but that’s OK,” Raisman said on NESN. “I’m good at gymnastics, so it doesn’t matter.”

Raisman will rejoin her Final Five teammates for a USA Gymnastics tour of 36 cities that begins Sept. 15. Whether she returns to competitive gymnastics is unknown.

MORE: Gymnastics royalty reacts to Biles and Raisman’s Olympic heroics