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Asada wins gold, Wagner third at Grand Prix Final

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Skating in a Grand Prix at home perhaps for the last time, Mao Asada claimed gold Saturday at the Grand Prix Final in Fukuoka, Japan, the 23-year-old rising above an error-prone finish in the ladies’ free skate.

Fifteen-year-old Russian Yulia Lipnitskaya skated cleanly to jump her way from fourth to second, claiming the silver medal. American Ashley Wagner, the reigning and two-time national champion, won bronze.

Asada, currently the only female skater to attempt the triple Axel, fell on her opening jump then two-footed the landing of another. But the silver medalist from the Vancouver Games was solid through the rest of her program, skated to “Piano Concerto No. 2. Asada executed precise footwork and landed five more triples to win the free skate and finish with a 204.02.

The two-time world champion is considered the main threat to reigning Olympic gold medalist Yuna Kim for the top of the podium in Sochi come February. Kim is making her season debut at a small event in Croatia this weekend.

Wagner looked down and out after her free skate in which she fell on a triple Lutz and was called for under-rotating her triple-triple combination, an element she’s made a campaign to add throughout the season.

But Russia’s Adelina Sotnikova, who was second after the short program, was disastrous in her free skate, popping a triple Lutz into a single and falling twice. The 17-year-old finished last in the long program marks, and fell from second to fifth overall in the six-woman field.

With the bronze, Wagner becomes the first American to win back-to-back Grand Prix Final medals since Sasha Cohen did so in 2002 and 2003. Wagner, 22, was second to Asada a year ago.

“I have a lot to go home and work on,” said Wagner in a U.S. Figure Skating press release. “Today was more about my mental strength after I make a mistake than anything else. I feel technically I’m stronger than I’ve ever been and that I need to go work on the mental part of it.”

It was a 14th Grand Prix gold for Asada, who has said she will retire after this Olympic season, passing Michelle Kwan’s haul of 13. Russian Irina Slutskaya is the only female skater with more, having won 17 Grand Prix gold medals in her career.

The win was a back-to-back effort for Asada at the Grand Prix final, marking the first time that has been achieved since Yuna Kim won in both 2006 and 2007. It’s the fourth Grand Prix Final title overall for Asada.

Davis/White wow with 15th consecutive Grand Prix gold

Final results – Ladies
1. Mao Asada (JPN) 204.02
2. Yulia Lipnitskaya (RUS) 192.07
3. Ashley Wagner (USA) 187.61
4. Yelena Radyonova (RUS) 183.02
5. Adelina Sotnikova (RUS) 173.30
6. Anna Pogorilaya (RUS) 171.88

U.S. adds another medal at cross-country skiing worlds

LAHTI, FINLAND - FEBRUARY 26:  Jessica Diggins (L) of USA celebrate with team mate Sadie Bjornsen winning 3rd place in the Men's and Women's Cross Country Team Sprint Final during the FIS Nordic World Ski Championship on February 26, 2017 in Lahti, Finland.  (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
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Cross-country skiers Jessie Diggins and Sadie Bjornsen made it three medals for the U.S. at the world championships on Sunday.

Diggins and Bjornsen earned bronze in the team sprint event, 18.38 seconds behind winner Norway and 12.8 seconds behind silver medalist Russia. Diggins and Kikkan Randall previously earned silver and bronze in the individual sprint on Thursday.

It’s the first worlds where the U.S. has earned medals in multiple cross-country events.

On Sunday, Diggins lunged at the line to beat Sweden to third place by a fifth of a second.

“I was double poling like a maniac,” Diggins said, according to the U.S. Ski Team. “I skied the downhill the best I knew how and was able to draft her and get into my own lane with the best line — I took the inside lane so I knew I would be able to pick my track going into the final 100 meters. Then I just double poled my heart out.”

Bjornsen fell after completing the second exchange and was struck in the face by Russian Yulia Belorukova‘s ski, but was able to continue.

The team sprint is a 6×1.3km relay, with each country’s skiers alternating to race three legs each. It will be contested at the 2018 Olympics in the freestyle technique. Sunday’s event was classic skiing, marking the first American medal in worlds in the classic technique since the two disciplines were established.

Russia won the men’s team sprint after a dramatic last-lap crash wrecked the chances of the two leading teams.

Norway’s Emil Iversen was fighting for the lead with Finland’s Iivo Niskanen but they collided as the Finn moved to overtake on the inside of the final bend.

Sergei Ustyugov took the win for Russia, overtaking Italian Federico Pellegrino on the final stretch to win by 2.2 seconds. Niskanen recovered to take third, 6.5 seconds further back.

It was the second win in two days for Ustyugov, who also won Saturday’s skiathlon, and his third medal of the championships.

Ustyugov’s teammate for Sunday’s race, Nikita Kryukov, said the win was “revenge for Sochi,” a reference to the 2014 Winter Olympics, when Finland beat Russia to gold in the men’s team sprint in front of a Russian home crowd.

Also Sunday, Germany won the men’s team Nordic combined normal hill event. The Germans dominated the ski jumping to take a 44-second advantage into the 4x5km cross-country ski stage, and preserved that margin to win by 41.7 seconds from Norway.

Austria won a close battle with Japan to take third, 22 seconds behind the Norwegians.

It was Germany’s second gold medal in Nordic combined at the world championships after Johannes Rydzeck led a 1-2-3 finish in the men’s individual normal hill event Friday.

The Germans added another gold medal with a dominant victory in the mixed team ski jumping.

They led after each of the eight rounds and racked up a winning score of 1035.5 points, with strong jumps from Markus Eisenbichler, who set the longest jump at 99.5 meters, and the newly crowned women’s world champion Carina Vogt.

Austria was second on 999.3 and Japan third on 979.7.

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Germany, with tie for gold, sweeps four-man bobsled medals to close worlds

INNSBRUCK, AUSTRIA - FEBRUARY 05:  Francesco Friedrich, Candy Bauer, Martin Grothkopp and Thorsten Margis of Germany compete during the final run of the 4-man Bobsleigh BMW IBSF World Cup at Olympiabobbahn Igls on February 5, 2017 in Innsbruck, Austria.  (Photo by Matthias Hangst/Getty Images For IBSF)
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With a tie for four-man gold, Germany notched the first-ever men’s bobsled medal sweep at an Olympics or world championships on Sunday.

Francesco Friedrich and Johannes Lochner tied for the four-man world title with identical times after four runs of 3:14.10 in Koenigssee, Germany. Countryman Nico Walther took bronze, .16 behind.

The top American was 2010 Olympic champion Steven Holcomb in fifth. Holcomb was .01 out of bronze going into the fourth and final run but ended up. 18 behind Walther.

“This is really hard to swallow for these guys,” U.S. coach Brian Shimer said, according to U.S. Bobsled and Skeleton. “Holcomb’s team is starting to show signs of greatness, and they’ve come a long way for such a young push crew, and Holcomb continues to get back to his old self after a couple of years of injuries. I know he’s got to be really disappointed, but this race showed we’re taking a big step in the right direction.”

Germany completed a dominant world bobsled and skeleton championships by taking eight of the 15 medals in Olympic-program events. Last weekend, Friedrich earned his fourth straight world title in two-man bobsled.

Earlier Sunday, Latvian Martins Dukurs won his fifth skeleton world title in the last six editions. Dukurs, who settled for silver at the 2010 and 2014 Olympics, beat German Axel Jungk by .37 after four runs in Koenigssee.

“I was really lucky, especially my fourth run was awful,” said Dukurs, who held on despite having the fourth-fastest third and fourth runs. “But that’s the past, luckily for me also the other guys made mistakes.”

Russian Olympian Nikita Tregybov took bronze. Olympic bronze medalist Matthew Antoine was the top American in seventh.

“I’m disappointed, seventh isn’t what I came here to achieve,” Antoine said, according to U.S. Bobsled and Skeleton. “I don’t think I slid all that poorly, but I didn’t push very well, and on a track like this, you can’t give up that much at the start and expect to have a good result. The reality is that I’m an Olympic medalist and results like this don’t mean anything to me.”

The race lacked one of the PyeongChang Olympic favorites, South Korean Yun Sung-bin, who skipped worlds to get more training time in South Korea.

The rest of the top bobsledders and skeleton sliders will join Yun in South Korea in March for training and the final World Cup stop at the 2018 Olympic venue.

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