Yulia Lipnitskaya, 15, wins European Championships

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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.

Results
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

John Shuster, 30 pounds lighter, rallies for 4th Olympic curling berth

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John Shuster is going to a fourth Olympics. It’s one more chance to prove Urban Dictionary wrong.

Shuster, 30 pounds lighter since his second straight Olympic failure in Sochi, led a team that beat Heath McCormick‘s squad at the U.S. Olympic Trials finals in Omaha on Saturday night.

Shuster, Tyler GeorgeMatt Hamilton and John Landsteiner lost the opener of a best-of-three finals series on Thursday.

They came back to deliver in a pair of must-win games, 9-4 on Friday night and 7-5 on Saturday, after spending each day at the Omaha Zoo.

The new-look Shuster — leaner and, at least this weekend, clutch — would astonish those who know him by scenes at the last two Olympics.

After taking bronze in 2006 as a role player, he led the last two U.S. Olympic teams to 2-7 records in 2010 and in 2014. Last place in Vancouver, where he was benched after an 0-4 start. Next to last place in Sochi.

After the last Olympics, the former bartender from Chisholm, Minn., was left off USA Curling’s 10-man high performance team.

He took it as motivation to get in shape.

Shuster, a father of a 2- and a 4-year-old who once said, “If I don’t have pizza three or four times a week, I’m not happy,” now totes meal replacement shakes. He’s starting to enjoy Olympic lifting.

Shuster, George, Hamilton and Landsteiner, all absent from that USA Curling high performance list, formed their own team. They became Team USA in their first season together and represented the Stars and Stripes at worlds in 2015, 2016 and 2017.

Their results — fourth, third and fifth —  marked the best string of U.S. men’s or women’s finishes at that level in a decade.

Shuster is set to join Debbie McCormick as the only Americans to curl at four Olympics. The sport was part of the first Winter Games in 1924, then absent as a medal sport until 1998.

“I don’t think it’s about the four Olympics for me,” Shuster said on NBCSN. “What this is about — and what I’m about — is getting my teammates to now. I have two new Olympians on this team, and I know how special that is.”

George, the 35-year-old vice skip for Shuster, led a team that lost to Shuster in the 2010 Olympic Trials final. The liquor store manager from Duluth, Minn., is going to his first Winter Games.

As is the 28-year-old Hamilton, whose younger sister qualified for PyeongChang earlier Saturday.

Landsteiner, a 27-year-old corrosion engineer, played with Shuster since 2011, including in Sochi.

Alternate Joe Polo can go 12 years between Olympic appearances after taking bronze on that Torino team.

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MORE: U.S. Winter Olympic Trials broadcast schedule

Katie Ledecky wins race by 54 seconds, breaks record

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Katie Ledecky is back at Stanford and back to pulverizing distance races.

The sophomore and five-time Olympic champion won a 1,650-yard freestyle by 54.45 seconds at a meet at Texas A&M on Saturday night.

The runner-up was in a different heat; Ledecky won her heat by 1:02.16.

Ledecky lowered her own American record, clocking 15:03.31. She had the previous mark of 15:03.92 set last Nov. 20.

Ledecky had every swimmer lapped in the 25-yard pool before the halfway point and ended up lapping everyone twice.

The men also raced a 1,650 on Saturday. The winner clocked 15:18.95, which was 15.64 seconds slower than Ledecky’s time.

Full results are here.

The 1,650 is the longest race on the NCAA program, while the longest race at the Olympics and world championships is the 1500m.

The No. 2 woman all-time in the 1,650 is triple 2008 Olympic medalist Katie Hoff, a full 21.04 seconds slower.

Ledecky owns the 1500m world record, too, 13.4 seconds faster than any other woman in history.

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MORE: Michael Phelps’ discussion with Katie Ledecky after 2017 Worlds