Julia Lipnitskaia

Lipnitskaya holds off Kostner, Savchenko/Szolkowy win at Grand Prix of Russia

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Battling nerves and an experienced foe, 15-year-old Yulia Lipnitskaya skated to a gold-medal win Saturday afternoon at the Rostelecom Cup in Moscow, becoming just the second woman this season to win two Grand Prix golds.

The home favorite’s 190.80 barely edged out 2012 world champion Carolina Kostner’s 190.12, advancing the teen to the Grand Prix Final in two weeks and putting her alongside 2010 Olympic silver medalist Mao Asada as the only double-gold winner of the 2013 season.

Mirai Nagasu of the U.S. had a strong free skate, vaulting herself from fourth to third and claiming her first Grand Prix medal in over a year. Third after the short program, American Agnes Zawadzki fell to sixth after a shaky and at times slow free skate.

With the Grand Prix stop in Russia the final one of the season, Lipnitskaya and Asada are unofficially into the Grand Prix Final in two weeks, joined by American Ashley Wagner and Russians Adelina Sotnikova, Anna Pogorilaya and Yelena Radyonova (who, because of age, isn’t eligible for the Olympics). The official list will be released by the ISU.

“I’m not satisfied with today. It was the worst skate of my career,” Lipnitskaya said bluntly after her win, according to Russian outlet R-Sport. “I was very nervy today, not like usual. I made a mistake on the first jump and then I wasn’t able to pull myself together.”

In the pairs competition, the short program held to form Saturday, four-time world champions and Vancouver bronze medalists Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy of Germany outdoing the Russian team of Vera Bazarova and Yuri Larionov by five points.

Canadians Kirsten Moore-Towers and Dylan Moscovitch held on for third place despite a bad fall on a lift and a solid free skate from Russians Ksenia Stolbova and Fyodor Klimov, the Canadian pair grabbing the bronze by less than a point overall.

Kovtun makes a statement in men’s short program

While the 26-year-old Kostner won the free skate by nearly four points, it wasn’t enough to overcome the youthful Lipnitskaya, who played the character of a searching young girl in her long program. Lipnitskaya barely saved an early fall on a triple Lutz, then skated with more vigor through the rest of her program.

Neither woman appeared to skate as cleanly as Nagasu, though the 20-year-old American was called for under-rotating one jump and taking off on the wrong edge of her skate (a half-point deduction) on two others. But it was a mental victory for Mirai, who was fourth at the Olympics in 2010 and since has lacked consistent results.

With her bronze medal, Nagasu joins Wagner and Gracie Gold as the only two American ladies to win a medal this Grand Prix season. Christina Gao (fourth and eighth) and Zawadzki (seventh and sixth) are thought to be the two other top contenders for one of three U.S. spots in Sochi.

Despite her win, Lipnitskaya, the 2012 junior world champion, was visibly disappointed with her free skate. She scored eight points lower than her total from her Skate Canada win a month ago. Lipnitskaya becomes just the second skater age in the last 15 years to win two Grand Prix medals in one season at the age of 15 or younger, her countrywoman Elizavita Tuktamysheva doing so in 2011.

Savchenko/Szolkowy skated convincingly throughout after a short program that saw Aliona fall hard and apparently injure herself. But the German of Ukranian descent showed no signs of pain, though she did two-foot her landing on a triple Salchow throw to close the free skate, playing it safe.

Unofficially, Savchenko/Szolkowy qualify for the Grand Prix Final with their gold medal in Moscow, following a first-place performance at the Cup of China earlier this month. Moore-Towers/Moscovitch are unofficially in, as well.

Eugenie Bouchard makes Olympic decision: ‘I didn’t want to watch on TV’

Eugenie Bouchard
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Canadian tennis player Eugenie Bouchard weighed the risks of the Zika virus and security and decided to play in the Olympics.

“I didn’t want to be sitting at home watching the Olympics on TV,” she said Sunday, calling it a “hard decision.” “Also knowing I might have two or three Olympics in my career, I felt that the decision to go is the right one.”

Last week, the 22-year-old said she would make a “last-minute” decision on whether to play.

“It’s just unfortunate because it would be my first Games, and to have a problem like this [Zika] kind of dampening the excitement of, potentially, your first Olympic Games, it really sucks, to be honest,” Bouchard said then. “It’s something that I haven’t been thinking about. I’m just going to, like, wake up and make a decision.”

Bouchard reached the semifinals of the 2014 Australian Open and 2014 French Open and the 2014 Wimbledon final. She struggled for much of 2015, then suffered a concussion slipping and falling in a locker room at the U.S. Open.

Bouchard is ranked No. 42 in the world. Several other top tennis players have withdrawn from the Olympics for various reasons, including Zika.

MORE: U.S. Olympic tennis team includes 546th-ranked singles player

USA Gymnastics agrees to buy Karolyi Ranch

Karolyi ranch
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The face at the top of U.S. women’s gymnastics will change next month when longtime national team coordinator Martha Karolyi retires following the Summer Olympics.

The address that doubles as the program’s heartbeat will not.

USA Gymnastics has reached an agreement with Karolyi and husband Bela to purchase the training facility the couple owns in Huntsville, Texas. Financial terms were not disclosed, but a closing date of Aug. 24 has been set, just three days after the closing ceremony in Rio de Janeiro and five days before Martha Karolyi’s 74th birthday.

“It has everything we could possibly ask for,” USA Gymnastics President Steve Penny told The Associated Press. “Along with what it represents to our heart and soul, as a physical facility, we couldn’t go out and build it. It’s been custom made what for what we want and need. You add up all the elements and it’s like ‘Dang, what an easy decision.'”

The Karolyis established the rustic estate in Sam Houston National Forest about an hour north of Houston in 1983, eventually expanding it to 2,000 acres. USA Gymnastics is buying 36.2 acres, including three training gyms, housing for up to 300 athletes and coaches as well as a dance studio, dining hall, medical and rehab facilities and recreational areas. The facility will also get a new name: the USA Gymnastics Athlete Development Center at the Karolyi Ranch.

The Karolyis will keep their residence, a hunting lodge Bela Karolyi built and the remaining acreage. USA Gymnastics will have right of first refusal if the Karolyis decide in the future to sell off other parcels of land.

The USA Gymnastics board of directors unanimously approved the sale, pointing to the amenities, the location and the unique aspects of the ranch — which includes a vast array of wildlife from camels to peacocks — that have helped turn the women’s national team into an international powerhouse. The five-woman team Karolyi will lead to Brazil next month is heavily favored to back up the team gold medal it won with ease in London four years ago.

“This place has stood the test of time,” Penny said. “There things we have to make sure we do a little bit differently, we have to fix some things. Nothing that is going to require significant work. It’s sturdy. It’s a sturdy place to be.”

Karolyi announced her decision to step down after the Rio Games last summer. The Karolyis are expected to maintain a presence at the ranch, and USA Gymnastics is considering turning an older portion of the main gym — one lined with pictures, medals and trophies from major competitions dating back to the 1980s — into a museum to honor the Karolyi legacy.

“They are still a part of us,” Penny said. “They will always be a part of USA Gymnastics. They’re still both going to play vital roles for us in the future. Martha will always want to drift into the gym and we’ll always want her to do that.”

Bela Karolyi joked the sale means “freedom for him” to do as he pleases on the ranch while his wife of 54 years travels to visit family in her native Romania. Though the deal has been in the works for a while, the formal exchange of power will mark the end of an era. The Karolyis defected from Romania to the U.S. in 1981 and the ranch played a vital part in the U.S.’s rise from also-ran to dominant force.

When Martha Karolyi was elevated to national team coordinator in 2001, she installed a centralized system that required national team members to make regular visits to the ranch for training and to foster a team environment that can be difficult to cultivate in an individual sport. The U.S. has produced the last three Olympic all-around champions — with reigning three-time world champion Simone Biles expected to make it four straight in Rio — while adding two Olympic team silvers to go with the gold from London.

“Once everybody sees that this system is working and producing world and Olympic champions, they believe in it,” Martha Karolyi said last fall. “We believe they will be hopefully following in a same direction down the road. We want to make sure this is safe for generation after generation.”

While Penny considers Aug. 24 as Karolyi’s official retirement date, there has been no decision yet on her replacement.

“I have yet to have a formal discussion with anyone that has expressed interest,” Penny said. “I’ve met with the coaches and told them our main goal is to get through Rio and not worry about making it a distraction.”

The Karolyis have pledged to donate $250,000 to USA Gymnastics after the sale.

“That’s how solid our relationship is with them,” Penny said. “This has been a very smooth and cooperative effort to get to a good place where everybody is comfortable with what we’re doing.”

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