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.

Pressure on Ashley Wagner at world championships

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Ashley Wagner‘s four-year plan has her peaking in 2018, not at the 2017 World Championships, but many call Wagner to carry the U.S. women at worlds in Helsinki next week.

“Next year is the year that I am, like, in it to kill,” she said. “This year is maintaining. This year is my chance to work out all of the kinks, figure out where I want to be mentally going into next year.”

Wagner, the 2016 World silver medalist, is the only skater of three American women on this year’s worlds team with prior worlds experience. She is the only one ranked higher than 20th in the world this season.

Normally, figure skating is an individual sport. But next week, the top two U.S. women’s results must add up to no greater than 13 (Wagner places third, and either U.S. champion Karen Chen or U.S. bronze medalist Mariah Bell places 10th or better, for example).

If not, the U.S. will have two rather than the maximum three women’s entries at the PyeongChang Olympics. The U.S. had three spots at four of the last five Olympics.

Anything less than three in 2018 would mean the U.S. is not keeping up with world power Russia and maybe even Canada and Japan. And it becomes that much harder for Wagner and everyone else to make the Olympic team.

“I know that I have a huge role in these three spots at these world championships,” Wagner said. “I need to set this team up as good as I possibly can, so that way the pressure’s off the other girls.”

The others are the 17-year-old Chen, the surprise winner at the U.S. Championships in January, who then placed 12th at February’s Four Continents Championships, an event that doesn’t include Europeans. Chen said she suffered from nerves, a flu and foot pain caused by broken boots at Four Continents.

And Bell, who took silver at October’s Skate America behind training partner Wagner. Bell, 20, finished sixth at Four Continents at the 2018 Olympic venue in South Korea, where she competed with an amount of pressure she had never before felt.

Of skaters entered at worlds, Bell has the 10th-best total score this season. The skater with the 12th-best total in the worlds field is more than nine points shy of Bell. Chen comes in seeded 16th.

“The tough thing about this worlds is that we have two rookies going into a very stressful event,” Wagner said. “So these two girls are in a really tough position, and I really feel for them. It’s kind of like you have to buckle up and deal with this, and that’s like your only option.”

There is reason for optimism, should Wagner put up something close to the performance of her life from last year’s worlds, where she became the first U.S. women’s medalist in a decade.

“Success in Finland is getting onto that podium,” Wagner said.

But Wagner is nearing the end of her (so far) least impressive season in probably six years. She is seeded eighth at worlds by this season’s top international scores.

She failed to qualify for December’s Grand Prix Final for the first time since 2011. She was beaten at nationals despite longtime rival Gracie Gold underperforming.

However, Wagner’s goal at nationals wasn’t to win, but to finish in the top three to make the worlds team. She called the runner-up result “perfect.” She focused the last two months on firming up the areas where she lost points.

“Even though to some on the outside looking in, it wouldn’t look like it was the most successful season for me,” Wagner said. “I think at the end of the day this season has been exactly what I needed it to be.”

The favorite in Helsinki is clearly Russian Yevgenia Medvedeva, who hasn’t lost since November 2015 and can become the first repeat world champion since Michelle Kwan in 2001.

Wagner said she hasn’t watched any of Medvedeva’s programs this season.

“The only thing that I know about is her long program music is not my favorite piece of music,” Wagner said, alluding to Medvedeva’s choice of sound from “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close,” a 2011 film relating to the 9/11 attacks. The music includes, at one point, the voice of George W. Bush declaring that two airplanes crashed into the World Trade Center.

But Wagner was effusive of Medvedeva, the latest in a string of Russian Olympic and world champions dating to the Sochi Olympics.

“She is a set bar that everybody is chasing after, and I think in years past that bar was always changing,” Wagner said. “Now it’s one set thing I know exactly the quality of skating I have to reach, I know exactly the technical program that I have to be able to accomplish.”

Wagner, a seasoned 25 years old, noted a key point this week. She is the only active women’s skater in her class, with her length of experience, who hasn’t taken a break.

Italian Carolina Kostner is 30, but she’s competing at worlds for the first time since 2014, following two seasons off. Japan’s three-time world champion Mao Asada is 26, but she took a season off after Sochi and this year failed to make the worlds team.

Wagner reflected on her world silver medal and her three national championships. She knows they mean nothing next week.

“I have to prove myself all over again,” she said.

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NBC Sports researcher Sarah Hughes contributed to this report.

More Russians retroactively disqualified from 2012 Olympics

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MOSCOW (AP) — Three Russian athletes have been disqualified from the 2012 Olympics after failing doping retests, the country’s track and field federation said.

Hammer throwers Maria Bespalova and Gulfiya Khanafeeva and triple jumper Viktoria Valyukevich were all disqualified. None were medalists.

The disqualifications of Bespalova and Khanafeeva mean all three Russian women who competed in the hammer throw in 2012 have tested positive for doping. Tatyana Lysenko was the original winner, but was stripped of her gold medal in October.

Valyukevich, a former European indoor champion, was eighth in the triple jump at the 2012 Olympics and finished two places ahead of Russian teammate Tatyana Lebedeva, who has been stripped of two medals from the 2008 Beijing Games for doping.

In Tuesday’s statement, Russian officials didn’t say which substances were involved. The International Olympic Committee had no immediate comment.

It is the third time Khanafeeva, who won European championship silver in 2005, has been found guilty of a doping offense. She previously served bans in 2002 for a positive test and in 2008 for providing someone else’s urine in a drug test sample.

Bespalova is currently serving a four-year ban after testing positive for a banned steroid in 2015.

Since the IOC started retesting samples from the 2008 and 2012 Games last year, more than 30 Russians in various sports have tested positive. That makes them the largest group out of more than 100 positive tests. Seven more Russians have been disqualified for other doping offenses.

Russia has lost 26 Olympic medals as a result, most of them in track and field. Many of the cases involve turinabol, a substance which former Moscow anti-doping laboratory director Grigory Rodchenkov has admitted supplying to athletes in a steroid cocktail.

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