Yulia Lipnitskaia

Lipnitskaya, 15, skates to the lead at Russian Grand Prix

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At the end of her short program, 15-year-old Yulia Lipnitskaya of Russia draws a heart on the ice, then scoops shavings off the rink, sprinkling them over her to finish.

The fragile finish is an emotional one, but Lipnitskaya was anything but fragile Friday at the Rostelecom Cup, where she captured the arena’s hearts and the short-program lead with a strong and assured skate against a more experienced field at the final Grand Prix of the figure skating season.

Competing in just her fourth senior Grand Prix, Lipnitskaya seeks a fourth medal – and second gold this season – leading 2012 World Champion Carolina Kostner, a veteran, and two-time U.S. medalist Agnes Zawadzki.

In the pairs competition in Moscow, no team had a completely clean skate, but four-time world champions Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy of Germany had a safe lead over Russians Vera Bazarova and Yuri Larionov.

Lipnitskaya’s 72.24 was the second-best short program score of the season, behind 2010 Olympic silver medalist Mao Asada. Only Asada and Lipnitskaya have broken the 70-point mark so far this season.

Zawadzki, who had a disappointing seventh-place finish at the Cup of China earlier this month, skated a clean and decisive program herself, hitting her triple-triple combination and later a double Axel. Kostner was safely in second with a 67.75 while Zawadzki registered a 60.45.

Zawadzki eyes Sochi with a special friend by her side

The American’s score was just 0.01 better than 2008 U.S. champion Mirai Nagasu, who had a solid performance herself, edging ahead of Russia’s Elizaveta Tuktamysheva, who finished with a 60.16. Only 0.29 points separates third and fifth place.

Savchenko/Szolkowy, the bronze medalists at the Vancouver Games, skated beautifully through most of their short program, “When Winter Comes,” a piece they complement with icicle-like white-and-blue costumes.

But on their final element, a difficult throw triple Axel, Savchenko came down hard, two-footing her landing and then hitting the ice on her right upper thigh and buttocks. In the Kiss and Cry, the 29-year-old was seen grimacing as the scores came in, then began crying, her head in her lap.

There is no official report yet of whether or not Savchenko sustained an injury on the fall.

It was a season’s best for Bazarova/Larionov, who scored a 69.72 to Savchenko/Szolkowy’s 73.25. Canadians Kirsten Moore-Towers and Dylan Moscovitch were in third after Moscovitch fell on his triple toe jump. Alexa Scimeca and Chris Knierim were the highest American team, finishing in fifth.

Zawadzki, 19, was ecstatic with her performance, a wide grin beaming across her face following the program. She fist pumped as she made her way towards coach Tom Zakrajsek, saying, “That felt great!”

The American has been third the last two seasons at the U.S. Championships, and will look to place at least that high as Team USA has three ladies spots for the Sochi Games.

Russia, meanwhile, has two, one of which Lipnitskaya hopes she occupies. So far this season, she, Adelina Sotnikova and Anna Pogorilaya have won Grand Prix medals. Tuktamysheva is the reigning Russian national champion, and was third at the European Championships earlier this year, behind Sotnikova’s second-place finish.

Who will be the first U.S. gold medalist in Rio?

Katie Ledecky, Leah Smith
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The U.S. has no gold-medal favorites on the first day of the Olympics, which puts it in jeopardy of not reaching the top of the podium on Day 1 of the Games for the first time since 1996.

Who will be the first U.S. medalist and gold medalist in Rio? Let’s take a look.

The 12 Day 1 finals on Saturday, Aug. 6, in somewhat chronological order:

Shooting: Women’s air rifle
Shooting: Men’s air pistol
Cycling: Men’s road race
Fencing: Women’s epee
Archery: Men’s team event
Judo: Women’s 48kg
Judo: Men’s 60kg
Weightlifting: Women’s 48kg
Swimming: Men’s 400m individual medley
Swimming: Men’s 400m freestyle
Swimming: Women’s 400m individual medley
Swimming: Women’s 4x100m freestyle relay

The U.S. has a great shot at silver or bronze medals in some of these events. The men’s archery team took silver at the 2012 Olympics and fourth at the 2015 World Championships. In swimming, Chase Kalisz and Maya DiRado captured world championships bronze and silver medals in the 400m IMs last year, and the women’s 4x100m free relay has always made the podium (Australia is a heavy favorite though).

If the U.S. does not earn gold on Aug. 6, it will snap a streak of 20 straight days that it has made the top of a Summer Olympic podium dating to the 2008 Beijing Games.

The U.S. was all but assured a gold medal on the first day of the Olympics in 2004 and 2012 in the men’s 400m individual medley, with Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte, respectively. Neither are swimming it this year.

In 2008, fencer Mariel Zagunis led a U.S. sweep of the women’s sabre on the first day in Beijing. In 2000, U.S. shooter Nancy Johnson took gold in the first medal event of the Sydney Games.

On Day 2 in Rio, the U.S. is almost surely going to take gold.

There are 14 finals on Sunday, Aug. 7, in somewhat chronological order:

Shooting: Women’s air pistol
Shooting: Women’s trap
Cycling: Women’s road race
Diving: Women’s synchronized springboard
Weightlifting: Women’s 53kg
Judo: Women’s 52kg
Judo: Men’s 52kg
Archery: Women’s team
Fencing: Men’s foil
Weightlifting: Men’s 56kg
Swimming: Women’s 100m butterfly
Swimming: Men’s 100m breaststroke
Swimming: Women’s 400m freestyle
Swimming: Men’s 4x100m freestyle relay

One could argue the U.S. is a gold-medal favorite in one of these events — the women’s 400m freestyle. Katie Ledecky is the two-time reigning world champion, world-record holder and the fastest woman in the world this year by 1.67 seconds. The second-fastest woman this year is another American, Leah Smith, so it would be shocking if the U.S. does not finish the first weekend of the Olympics with at least one gold medal.

MORE: Complete U.S. Olympic team roster

Usain Bolt’s mom says faith, family, laughter keep him calm

BEIJING, CHINA - AUGUST 23:  Usain Bolt of Jamaica celebrates with mother Jennifer Bolt after winning gold in the Men's 100 metres final during day two of the 15th IAAF World Athletics Championships Beijing 2015 at Beijing National Stadium on August 23, 2015 in Beijing, China.  (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)
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NEW YORK (AP) — How does the mom of Usain Bolt help the world’s fastest man keep his cool?

“We say things that will make him laugh,” said Jennifer Bolt as her sprinter star offspring faces down what just may be his last Olympics.

At nearly 30, Bolt has six Olympic gold medals from the Beijing and London Olympics. Though he withdrew July 1 from Jamaica’s national meet with a slight tear in his left hamstring, the world record holder in the 100- and 200-meter dash proved his fitness July 22 in the 200 at the London Anniversary Games and deemed himself good to go for Rio.

A few days before the London event, his mom visited New York and said in an interview that she wasn’t worried, having long ago learned that calming her own nerves was the best way to soothe Usain.

“I know he’s going to get well and everything will be OK for the games,” said the soft-spoken Jennifer, who has been cheering him on since his speed first surfaced around 12 or 13.

“I tell him just stay focused, remember God, remember to pray and read your Bible,” she said.

Usain has come back from injuries before, including left hamstring problems. When it happened in 2004 at what was supposed to be his first Olympics, in Athens, he didn’t make it past the first round. He was just 17.

“It was a bit scary because we didn’t really understand and know what it was,” Jennifer said. “He had wanted so much to be at the Olympics and he just couldn’t make it.”

Jennifer and Usain’s dad, Wellesley, live in the same village along Jamaica’s northern coast where they ran a general store during his youth. They’ve been helping him, Jennifer said, “not get nervous” since 2002, when at age 15 he debuted at the World Junior Championships in Kingston.

He won the 200-meter — and that was the beginning for the 6-foot-5 sprinter, who had never been away from his parents or his modest village of Sherwood Content in Trelawny Parish before he left for Kingston to train professionally.

At 12, when he earned a scholarship to attend a high school known for turning out strong athletes, it all clicked for Jennifer. Bolt loved cricket and football growing up but he has said he settled on track because he was good at it.

As a child, she said, “he could not keep still. Even in the bed, you could see him tossing. When he started high school, that’s when we see that he’s really competitive.”

Over the years, Jennifer said, she has realized her best approach is to remain strong when her son falters.

“I learn to cope with it. I cannot feel down when I have to support him. I just pray and hope that everything will be good,” she said. “I know that he still depends on his mother.”

It’s just as he did as a teen.

“I can remember in 2002 for the world championships. At the time he was 15 and before the games he didn’t want to go. And he cries, and I had to try to comfort him, encourage him to go out and do his best because he didn’t feel that he could have done it,” she said. “I was really, really, really nervous and, you know, my legs shake. My heart beat.”

Then she listened to the crowd.

“The crowd was behind him. From then I don’t feel that nervous,” she said.

The scene plays out a bit in “The Boy Who Learned to Fly ,” a new short animated film produced by Gatorade and based on Usain’s life. The advice her animated self gives to her jittery teen before the 2002 junior worlds: “You can always go fast when you keep it light.”

Norman Peart, who handles finances for Usain, has been a mentor since he was 15. Peart accompanied him to Kingston when Usain first left home to train. Usain lived with him, and later his wife and kids, for three years.

There’s a saying in Jamaica that fits Usain perfectly, said Peart, 13 years his senior.

“We say, you have to have crocodile skin to handle the pressure, and he does,” he said.

So how do the two think the ebullient Usain’s retirement, maybe in the next year or so, will play out? Jennifer thinks he’d make a great TV analyst.

“He’d put a little vibes to the sports,” she laughed of her son’s reputation for his trademark “lightning bolt,” his love of flashing huge smiles and his party spirit.

Peart thinks the same of Usain’s future.

“I can see him as an analyst. And he’ll do stuff with Puma for years to come for sure,” said Peart of one of Usain’s biggest endorsement deals.

But before that: “The first thing he’ll do is take a little break. He’d love some time for himself.”

MORE: Usain Bolt lands in Rio for his final Olympics