Yulia Lipnitskaya, 15, wins European Championships


Fifteen-year-old Russian Yulia Lipnitskaya got the skate she wanted ahead of the Sochi Games at the European Championships Friday, earning her first-ever title there just weeks ahead of the Olympics.

Lipnitskaya cruised by defending champion Carolina Kostner, the Italian, who finished in third. Lipnitskaya’s teammate, 17-year-old Adelina Sotnikova was second, scoring a 202.36 to the winner’s 209.72.

Lipnitskaya’s score was the highest of the international season leading into the Sochi Olympics by over two points. Mao Asada, who won three Grand Prix golds, had previously held that mark with her 207.59 at the NHK Trophy in November. Only Lipnitskaya and Asada topped the 200-point mark on the international stage this year.

“I’m very, very happy right now, I don’t even know what to say,” Lipnitskaya told the crowd through a translator. “I hope that I will be able to go to the Olympics now. But as European champion I think I should make the team. I hope for the Olympics my emotions and my skating comes together, and I’ll just show clean skating.”

Skating to “Schindler’s List,” the teenager has found the right balance of elegance and seriousness in a challenging free skate that involves eight triple jumps. She landed all of them Friday evening in Budapest, sending the crowd to its feet when she finished.

Lipnitskaya won two Grand Prix gold medals on the circuit in 2013, bettering the results of teammate Sotnikova. They are both expected to be picked for the Russian Olympic team when that announcement is made shortly after the European Championships.

The pressure may have been higher on Sotnikova, who was seen to be battling for the second Olympic spot with veteran Alena Leonova. But the 23-year-old Leonova stumbled on a triple-double combination and looked tired in the middle of her “Carmen” free skate. She shrugged at the finish, knowing that her effort perhaps was not good enough for a trip to the Olympics. Leonova finished fourth overall.

Kostner, in a backless black dress that she was debuting in Budapest, was a crowd favorite but couldn’t deliver a third title in a row at this competition, falling on a triple toe that she was also called for under-rotating. Kostner won the European Championships in 2007, 2008, 2010, 2012 and 2013.

France’s Mae-Berenice Meite was fifth and Kostner’s teammate Valentina Marchei ended in sixth.

Lipnitskaya becomes the youngest European winner ever. Fellow Russian Irina Slutskaya was 16 when she won the first of her seven European Championships in 1996.

The men’s and pairs free skates are Saturday in Budapest. NBC will air a packaged show of the competition Sunday from 4 to 6 pm ET, which will also be streamed on NBCOlympics.com.

1. Yulia Lipnitskaya (RUS) – 209.72
2. Adelina Sotnikova (RUS) – 202.36
3. Carolina Kostner (ITA) – 191.39
4. Alena Leonova (RUS) – 178.15
5. Mae Berenice Meite (FRA) 173.37
6. Valentina Marchei (ITA) 165.25

Alina Zagitova eyes more gold at worlds; women’s preview

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Alina Zagitova hasn’t lost internationally in 18 months, and that doesn’t figure to change this week at the world championships in Milan.

The 15-year-old Russian is favored to become the youngest world gold medalist since Tara Lipinski (duplicating her feat from the Olympics) and make it five straight Olympic or world titles for Russian women, the longest streak for one country since American Carol Heiss won six straight Olympic/world titles from 1956 through 1960.

Zagitova would also become the first Olympic women’s champion to win worlds the following month since Kristi Yamaguchi in 1992. That’s largely because Olympic champions usually skip worlds in Olympic years. Since Yamaguchi, the only one to compete was Yuna Kim, who grabbed silver in 2010.

Zagitova may be young, but she may not have the longevity of Kim to make it to a second Olympics. Russia turns over a new class of elite women’s skaters every year.

Two weeks ago, 13-year-old Alexandra Trusova won the world junior title as the first woman to land two different quadruple jumps in one program. Trusova isn’t old enough to compete at the senior worlds until 2020.

Zagitova’s current rival and training partner, Olympic silver medalist and 2016 and 2017 World champion Yevgenia Medvedeva, withdrew from worlds due to injury.

WORLDS: TV Schedule | Pairs Preview | Nagasu’s Outlook

Which leaves the last two Olympic bronze medalists, Kaetlyn Osmond of Canada and Carolina Kostner of Italy, plus PyeongChang fourth-place finisher Satoko Miyahara of Japan as the top challengers this week.

None finished within seven points of Zagitova at any competition this season, the Russian’s first on the senior international level.

Zagitova set herself apart at the Olympics by putting all of her jumps in the second half of her programs for 10 percent bonuses and landing them all with positive grades of execution.

The U.S. contingent includes national champion Bradie Tennell, two-time Olympian Mirai Nagasu and Mariah Bell (replacement for 2017 U.S. champion Karen Chen).

It is the end of a challenging season for U.S. women. In the autumn, none qualified for the Grand Prix Final for a second straight year (after at least one had done so each of the previous seven seasons).

In PyeongChang, no U.S. woman finished in the top six for the first time in Winter Games history. Tennell, who emerged this season after placing ninth at 2017 Nationals, was the top U.S. Olympic finisher in ninth.

Tennell goes into worlds as the top seeded American — seventh — by best international scores this season.

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Olympic golf qualifying, format largely unchanged for 2020

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The Tokyo 2020 Olympic golf tournaments qualifying and format will remain largely the same as they were for the sport’s return to the Games in 2016, according to Golf Channel, citing a memo sent to PGA Tour players.

The format will again be four rounds of stroke play with 60 men and 60 women taken from the world rankings, according to the report.

The qualifying window to determine the rankings will be July 1, 2018 to June 22, 2020 for men and July 8, 2018 to June 29, 2020 for women. That’s a slight change, as for 2016 the dates were the same for men and women.

The 2016 process saw a maximum of two men and two women per country, or up to four if they were ranked in the top 15.

Then-PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said one month after the Rio Games that he hoped the Olympic golf format would be changed to have more medals awarded.

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