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.

Anna Veith ends season early as Austrian injuries pile up

ST MORITZ, SWITZERLAND - FEBRUARY 07:  Anna Veith of Austria reacts at the finish during the Women's Super G during the FIS Alpine World Ski Championships on February 7, 2017 in St Moritz, Switzerland.  (Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images)
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Austrian Anna Veith, the best female Alpine skier in 2014 and 2015, will undergo left knee surgery Tuesday, ending an abbreviated comeback season following right knee surgery 16 months ago.

“This surgery is the only chance to continue living my dream. To ski the way I want to do it, competing and being part of the Olympics again,” was posted on Veith’s social media Friday, adding that she was skiing with pain due to patellar tendon problems.

The 27-year-old won super-G gold and giant slalom silver at the Sochi Olympics, then the World Cup overall title a month later and the following season.

Veith then had a drawn-out comeback from tearing the ACL and patellar tendon in her right knee in an Oct. 21, 2015 crash. She missed all of the 2015-16 campaign and was slow to return to form this season.

Her best finish was 19th in her first six races, but then Veith placed third in the last super-G before the world championships earlier this month. At worlds, she failed to finish the super-G and was 22nd in the giant slalom, two years after winning both events.

Veith is the third Austrian women’s star to bow out due to injury this year, following 2016 World Cup giant slalom champion Eva-Maria Brem and Cornelia Huetter, the top Austrian in last season’s World Cup overall standings in seventh place.

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Katie Ledecky’s latest American record faster than Ryan Lochte at same age

Katie Ledecky
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Katie Ledecky not only lowered another one of her American records on Thursday, but the 19-year-old also went faster in the 500-yard freestyle than Ryan Lochte ever did before the age of 22.

Ledecky, a Stanford freshman, clocked 4:25.15 at the Pac-12 Championships in Federal Way, Wash., cutting a chunk off her previous mark of 4:26.46 from October. She won by 14.54 seconds. Full results are here.

“I felt coming in that I could do something like that,” Ledecky, who owns the 10 fastest times in history in the event, according to Swimswam.com, said on the Pac-12 Network. “It felt like practice. Really relaxed.”

The 500-yard free is not an Olympic event, so it is not swum on the major international level. Lochte’s best time in the event in his teens was 4:25.54 from the 2001 Florida State Championships, when he was a 17-year-old senior at Port Orange Spruce Creek High. Lochte easily won that race and reportedly slowed in his final strokes.

Lochte didn’t swim the event in 2003 or 2004, when he made his first Olympic team at age 19, but came back in 2005 to clock 4:21.07, according to USA Swimming.

The 500-yard free was not one of Lochte’s best events, either.

When Ledecky broke the women’s 1500m freestyle world record for the third time at the August 2014 Pan Pacific Championships, her 15:28.36 was .01 faster than Lochte’s 1500m free time at the 2004 U.S. Olympic Trials (one of the rare instances Lochte swam a 1500m free).

Ledecky has since re-broken the women’s 1500m free world record twice more, bringing it down to 15:25.48.

“She swims like a guy,” Lochte said after training with Ledecky in Colorado Springs last March, according to Sports Illustrated. “I’ve never seen a female swimmer like that. … Her times are becoming good for a guy. She’s beating me now, and I’m like, What’s going on?

Ledecky’s 500-yard free time of 4:25.15 is still nowhere near Michael Phelps, who registered a 4:12.33 at age 18 in March 2004. Phelps was perhaps motivated at that meet by the U.S. Olympic Committee earlier that week awarding its Sportsman of the Year honor to Lance Armstrong in a close vote.

Ledecky’s time on Thursday would have won the men’s 500-yard free at the NCAA Championships as recently as 1974 (when John Naber clocked 4:26.855). Mark Spitz won in 1969 in 4:33.88.

The Pac-12 Championships continue Friday, with Ledecky expected to swim the 400-yard individual medley and the 200-yard freestyle, two events where she does not own NCAA or American records.

MORE: Chad le Clos still has nightmares of losing to Phelps