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.

Ashley Wagner, Nathan Chen make for contrasting favorites at U.S. Championships

Ashley Wagner, Nathan Chen
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Ashley Wagner and Nathan Chen trained on the same ice for the last three years. They enter this week’s U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Kansas City as favorites, but took different routes to arrive there.

Wagner, 25, seeks her fourth national title, following the worst Grand Prix result of her 10-year career.

Still, Wagner is the 2016 World Championships silver medalist, which carries the most weight of all with the PyeongChang Olympics coming in 13 months.

Wagner, the most accomplished U.S. women’s singles skater in a decade, can become the oldest U.S. women’s singles champion in 90 years.

“Mentally, I’m feeling very confident,” Wagner said last week. “At this point in my career it is very easy for me to get mentally worn out and worn down, but I usually feel strongest when my training is backing me up and when I know that I am physically fit.”

Chen, 17, is an even bigger favorite in the men’s field. The Salt Lake City native is already one of the most accomplished young skaters in U.S. history, taking two novice and two junior national titles.

In this his first senior international season, Chen had the best fall series of a U.S. man since Evan Lysacek won gold at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. Chen’s autumn culminated with a silver medal at December’s Grand Prix Final, beating the reigning Olympic and world champions in the free skate.

This week, Chen can become the youngest U.S. men’s singles champion in 51 years. He would do it one year after taking bronze and suffering a hip injury later that day that required season-ending surgery.

“I never thought that I would get there that fast,” Chen said.

MORE: U.S. Figure Skating Championships broadcast schedule

Chen was already working with Armenian coach Rafael Arutyunyan in Los Angeles when Wagner joined the training group in the middle of 2013.

Chen was barely 14 years old at the time, but Wagner, by then already a two-time U.S. champion, had learned about him back in 2010.

Wagner saw Chen win the U.S. Championships novice division at age 10, beating skaters six and seven years older than him, including her younger brother, Austin.

“And my brother retired after that year because of Nathan Chen,” Wagner said with a hint of humor.

Under Arutyunyan, a noted jumping technician, Wagner developed into the top consistent challenger to the dominant Russians.

She endured failure — finishing fourth at the 2014 U.S. Championships and last-place programs at the Grand Prix Final. She experienced success — national and international feats not done by an American since Michelle Kwan.

Most of the U.S. skaters whom Wagner came up with have retired. Her closest recent domestic rivals — Olympic teammates Gracie Gold and Polina Edmunds — struggled with poor performances and injury, respectively, in the last year.

If Wagner prevails as she should in Kansas City, the next step is returning to the podium at the world championships in two months in Helsinki, where three Russians, three Japanese and a Canadian will try to keep her off of it. A second straight world medal would make Wagner the best U.S. hope for an Olympic women’s singles medal since 2006.

“The biggest thing about her is her mental toughness,” Chen said of Wagner, “especially when she goes to competitions and zones in on what she wants to do and comes out with the result she wants.”

MORE: Gracie Gold makes desperate move after rock bottom

Mental toughness is something Chen hopes to develop with experience. He already owns the physical tools, most notably an arsenal of quadruple jumps.

Chen, whose adorable 2010 U.S. Championships exhibition at age 10 aired on NBC, is now electrifying. He attempts six quads combined in two programs.

At his last event, the Grand Prix Final in December, Chen recorded the highest free skate score, bettering Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan and world champion Javier Fernandez of Spain, who both were off their game. He finished second overall behind Hanyu, becoming the second-youngest men’s medalist in the event’s 22-year history.

NBC Olympics analyst Tara Lipinski, who took 1998 Olympic gold at age 15, has, like Wagner, known about Chen since 2010. Lipinski was in Spokane, Wash., for those U.S. Championships seven years ago.

“I remember thinking, oh boy, this kid is so talented, but not really thinking much of it because he was itty-bitty,” Lipinski said of Chen, who has grown a foot since 2010, to 5 feet, 5 inches. “Over time and with growth spurts, everything can change. But that’s why he’s so special. Every year, he improves. You talk about this quad revolution. He’s leading it.”

Chen responded to critics of his artistic skills this season by spending weeks away from Arutyunyan, which the coach supported.

“There is a brain of an adult in this kid’s head,” Arutyunyan said.

Chen went from Los Angeles to work in Michigan under Marina Zoueva, a Russian known for coaching the last two Olympic champion ice dance teams.

NBC Olympic analysts Johnny Weir and Lipinski saw an upgrade in Chen’s artistic components in his fall competitions. If he can challenge the top international skaters artistically, he can beat them with his jumping strength.

“The way that men’s figure skating is progressing, it’s about the quad game and how many you can do,” Wagner said. “It’s starting to look a little bit like ping-pong on the ice. … Going into the next couple of years, the ones that are going to stand out are the ones that do quads and are able to have a full, well-rounded program.”

In Sochi, the U.S. earned no singles figure skating medals for the first time since 1936.

The U.S. hasn’t earned men’s and women’s figure skating medals in the same Olympics since 2002, but it’s certainly looking possible with 13 months until PyeongChang.

“Of course, my goal would be to win the Olympics,” Chen said. “I feel like that’s everyone goal. It’s still a goal for me, but we’ll see how realistic it becomes over the next season.”

MORE: Jason Brown again slowed by injury going into U.S. Championships

Los Angeles 2024 Opening Ceremony plan includes multiple venues

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The Los Angeles 2024 Olympic bid plans to use both the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum and a to-be-built NFL stadium for its Opening Ceremony.

The ceremony would start with a portion of the torch relay at the Coliseum, with the flame making its way to the NFL stadium for the rest of the Opening Ceremony, including the cauldron lighting.

The Coliseum “will be filled with 70,000 spectators for a Hollywood-produced program of live entertainment, top musical performances and a live viewing and virtual-reality experience of all ceremony events at the L.A. [NFL] stadium at Hollywood Park,” according to an LA 2024 press release.

The Closing Ceremony will be similar, but in reverse, with the Coliseum hosting the formal portion and the NFL stadium opening for a live viewing experience.

The Coliseum hosted the ceremonies in 1932 and 1984, the previous two times Los Angeles hosted the Olympics.

Opening Ceremonies generally have one venue, though a cauldron has been lit outside the venue, such as at Vancouver 2010 and Rio 2016.

Los Angeles is bidding against Budapest and Paris for the 2024 Olympics.

International Olympic Committee members will vote to choose the 2024 host city on Sept. 13.

MORE: 2024 Olympic bidding news