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Forget the scoring for a moment, focus on the skating

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SOCHI, Russia – Sure it’s easy to get caught up in the scoring. Figure skating scoring is inscrutable and bizarre and it has a long history of corruption. It’s easy to get caught up in the numbers of Thursday’s ladies free skate because it’s possible, even likely, that your eyes and the scores did not matched.

But if you look too hard at the scores, you might miss something else.  Thursday night, a 27-year-old Italian named Carolina Kostner took to the ice. Eight years ago, she was the darling of the Torino Games, the great figure skating hope for Italy. She fell on her first jump and never contended. The last time she was at the Olympics – four years ago in Vancouver – she fell three times. And she broke down. There’s a YouTube video of an interview with her mother, and I dare you to watch it not to cry. There’s not a word of English in the entire video. I still dare you to watch it and not cry.

After Vancouver, Kostner got hurt, and she lost hope. “I thought, ‘I have reached my limit,’” she would say. “This is my limit.” She became a student. She tried to forget. But she missed skating. The Olympics are in her blood. Her father was a member of an Olympic hockey team. Her cousin Isolde Kostner won two bronze medals in alpine skiing. Carolina did not want to believe Vancouver was her limit. Instead she told herself to stop trying to be perfect and start skating for herself, for the joy.

VIDEO: Watch Kostner’s routine

She took the ice in Sochi, and “Bolero” began to play, and she landed her first jump, a triple lutz. From there, the music swept her away. She landed every jump. She skated with this big, beautiful smile on her face. The crowd – with hardly an Italian in the place – was mesmerized by her. When she finished the best performance of her life, the joy on her face was indescribable. She had done it.

Thursday, a 17-year-old Russian named Adelina Sotnikova took the ice. She had once been the skating prodigy of Russia. She won the national championship when she was 12. Around the Vancouver Games, when people first began talking of an Olympics in Russia, the feeling was that it would be Sotnikova’s Games. She was the future.

And then … she wasn’t. The fizzling phenom is a common story in sports. Sotnikova so dominated the junior ranks – she was junior world champion in 2011 – but her skating didn’t transfer easily to the next level. She would say that she wanted to prove her maturity, prove that she could skate like a woman and not just like a little girl. Instead, her performances were uneven. Her athletic brilliance – she skates one of the most difficult routines in the world – was often overshadowed by dramatic failures. She almost never skated a clean free skate.

VIDEO: Watch Sotnikova’s routine

Meanwhile, a new Russian skating prodigy – there’s always a new prodigy – named Yulia Lipnitskaya came along. It was Lipnitskaya, not the older Sotnikova, who skated for Russia in the team competition early in these Olympics. There, she skated so beautifully that the world fell in love with Yulia. Sotnikova steamed. “I was really angry,” she would say of not getting chose to skate at least once for the team. And, “it made me skate mad.”

By the time she stepped on the ice Thursday, Lipnitskaya had already skated … and fallen. The Russian crowd had invested so much in Yulia (and had gasped with the same shock when she fell for the second straight day) you wondered if they had anything left to give. Sotnikova began her skate. Her first jump sequence was a triple lutz into a triple toe loop … I’m told it’s the hardest two-jump combination in women’s skating. She landed both jumps perfectly.

VIDEO: Watch Lipnitskaya’s routine

And then she, like Kostner, seemed to light up. The Russian crowd, of course, helped her. They cheered every landing as if it was a hockey goal. When Sotnikova had her one slight bobble – a double loop that sort of spun her around – the crowd did not seem to notice. They had found their hero, and Sotnikova skated an inspired performance. They cheered her through it. She finished strong. And when she had finished the best performance of her life, she beamed and held her arms up in the air. Bouquets and teddy bears came flying in from everywhere in the crowd, and the sound was the loudest I have heard in Russia. She had done it.

Thursday, the last skater of the evening was a 23-year-old woman from South Korea named Yuna Kim. She had won the gold medal at the Vancouver Olympics with a performance so dazzling and flawless that many people believed even then she was the best figure skater who ever lived.

After Vancouver, she quit skating. Her heart was not in it. Before Vancouver, she would say, “I thought I would die for gold.” After winning under the most intense pressure, she no long felt that same motivation, that same hunger. There was probably no athlete on earth – maybe retired Indian cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar—who had the weight of a country so squarely on his or her shoulders as Yuna Kim at Vancouver. They called her “Queen Yuna” and expected her to get gold.

VIDEO: Watch Yuna Kim’s routine

When she won that gold, she became one of the most famous people in the country. She walked away from skating and hosted her own reality ice skating show. She did countless commercials (it is estimated she makes more than $10 million a year in endorsements). She performed as a singer on television from time to time. She was the headliner at her own ice skating shows. She was also a key reason why South Korea was awarded the 2018 Winter Olympics.

Skater Michelle Kwan, who accompanied Yuna Kim at times in South Korea, says it’s simply like nothing she has ever seen – the love people there feel for Yuna Kim.

After a year and a half away did she come back … at which point she promptly hurt her foot. For every other skater at the Olympics, there was a “Best season-to-date score” listed by her name on the scoreboard. But not for Kim. She had not skated all season. Nobody knew what to expect, least of all Kim. She would say that before her short skate Wednesday, she had never been more nervous.

She took the ice Thursday to the song “Adios Nonino,” and she, like Sotnikova, faced a triple lutz and triple toe loop to start. And she landed both easily. The Russian crowd undoubtedly had cold feelings because they wanted their Sotnikova to win gold. But they could not help but get caught up in the beauty of Kim’s skating. Nobody in the world skates quite like her. She is so smooth and graceful that you are never quite sure how she builds up so much speed. She skated a brilliant and clean performance. And when it ended, the cheers were not as loud as for Sotnikova, but loud enough and filled with the deepest respect for an artist. She, too, had done it.

VIDEO: Hamilton, Bezic, Wilson on the scoring debate

Sure, it’s easy to get caught up in the scoring. The three performances, all so brilliant, all achieved under the white hot line of a magnifying glass, won the skaters gold, silver and bronze … exactly as it should have been. But who deserved the gold? Who deserved the silver? Who deserved the bronze?

“My bronze feels like gold,” said the bronze medalist.

“I was just relieved I skated cleanly,” said the silver medalist.

“I didn’t believe my eyes,” said the gold medalist.

I prefer it like that, all of them as winners. But, of course, the Olymipcs are not like that. You know, I assume, the names behind those medals. You will know that Adelina Sotnikova did win the gold to Russia’s great joy. Yuna Kim won silver and many skating experts thought she deserved better. Carolina Kostner won bronze and there were those who thought she was better than one or the other or both.

There was a lot of heat in the moments after. There was crying. There were arguments. There was a lot of Twitter fury. Figure skating scoring will always be a story because people will always see figure skating with their hearts. That’s the messiness of the sport. Then, that’s also the point of it.

Paris 2024 Olympic bid logo unveiled on Arc de Triomphe

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The Paris 2024 Olympic bid logo was unveiled at the Arc de Triomphe at 20:24 (8:24 p.m.) on Tuesday.

The logo is a representation of the number 24 and a modern interpretation of the Eiffel Tower.

Paris, seeking to host the Olympics on the 100-year anniversary of its second time holding the Games, is bidding against Budapest, Los Angeles and Rome.

Paris hopes to become the second city to host the Olympics three times, joining London.

International Olympic Committee members will vote to choose the 2024 Olympic host city in September 2017.

MORE: 2024 Olympic bidding coverage

 

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Two years to Pyeongchang: Updates on Sochi Olympic medalists

The Army Capt. Fogt will go back on active duty in May, heading to Fort Huachuca in Arizona. He expects to spend six months there and then around a year and a half “wherever the Army sends me.”
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The Winter Olympic cycle reaches its halfway point this month, with Tuesday marking the two-years-out date from the Pyeongchang 2018 Opening Ceremony, the first Winter Games held in South Korea.

With that in mind, here’s what the 2014 U.S. Olympic medalists have been up to in the last two years:

Sage Kotsenburg (Gold, Snowboard Slopestyle): One of the surprise Sochi champions finished fifth at the 2015 Winter X Games and 10th at last month’s edition in Aspen. Kotsenburg, who made the X Games slopestyle podium once in seven tries, said he would like to compete in both slopestyle and the new event of big air in Pyeongchang.

Jamie Anderson (Gold, Snowboard Slopestyle): The first female U.S. Olympic medalist in Sochi placed second at the 2015 and 2016 Winter X Games, doing so in the most recent edition two months after breaking her collarbone.

Kaitlyn Farrington (Gold, Snowboard Halfpipe): Announced her retirement on Jan. 15, 2015, after a doctor told her she can never snowboard again due to a congenital spine condition she learned of in fall 2014. Farrington will be the first Olympic women’s halfpipe champion who will not attempt to defend her title.

Joss Christensen (Gold, Ski Slopestyle): A dog bit him while in Sarajevo shooting a ski film in 2014. He needed 30 to 40 injections, including rabies and tetanus shots. Christensen came back to earn his first X Games medal, a silver, in 2015, and finished ninth last month.

Meryl DavisCharlie White (Gold, Figure Skating): The first U.S. Olympic ice dance champions haven’t competed since Sochi but haven’t retired, either. White said in October they would probably have to return no later than halfway through the 2016-17 season if the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Games are their target.

David Wise (Gold, Ski Halfpipe): Wise and his wife welcomed their second child in summer 2014. In competition, he followed up his three straight X Games titles from 2012 through 2014 with a fourth-place finish in 2015 and an eighth last month, when he competed after separating his collarbone the week before.

Ted Ligety (Gold, Alpine Skiing): The man known as Mr. GS finished the 2014 Olympic season by earning his fifth World Cup giant slalom season title on a tiebreaker. He three-peated as World giant slalom champion last year, but injuries have slowed him on the World Cup circuit, including a January torn ACL that ended his current season.

Maddie Bowman (Gold, Ski Halfpipe): Ran her X Games winning streak to four with victories the last two years, coming back after knee surgeries in May 2014 and February 2015.

Mikaela Shiffrin (Gold, Alpine Skiing): The youngest Olympic slalom champion ran her World Cup slalom title streak to three in 2014 and 2015. She also repeated as World champion last year. This season, Shiffrin suffered an MCL tear and bone fracture in a Dec. 12 crash but hopes to return to competition Monday.

Devin Logan (Silver, Ski Slopestyle): Fourth and seventh at Winter X Games the last two years. Logan, who also competes in ski halfpipe, returned after dislocating a shoulder at the Dew Tour Mountain Championships in December.

Gus Kenworthy (Silver, Ski Slopestyle): Earned his first X Games Aspen medals, silver in ski halfpipe and ski slopestyle, in January after coming out as gay Oct. 22.

Noelle Pikus-Pace (Silver, Skeleton): Retired after her emotional silver medal in Sochi.

Andrew Weibrecht (Silver, Alpine Skiing): Earned his first career World Cup podium in his 117th start on Dec. 5 and added a second Jan. 22 after coming back from a 2014 preseason crash and concussion.

Elana Meyers Taylor (Silver, Bobsled): Became the first U.S. woman to pilot a World Championships-winning bobsled last February. Sidelined by long-term concussion effects in December but won in her World Cup return Saturday.

Lauryn Williams (Silver, Bobsled): Announced her retirement Feb. 12, 2015, after coming back from Sochi to do four World Cup races that season.

U.S. Women’s Hockey Team (Silver): Exacted revenge from rival Canada by winning the 2015 World Championship, 7-5, after squandering a 5-2 lead. Sochi stars Hilary KnightMeghan Duggan and goalie Jessie Vetter were part of that team. Amanda Kessel sat out nearly two years after Sochi due to a concussion she sustained before the Winter Games and returned to play for the University of Minnesota last Friday.

U.S. Men’s Short Track Speed Skating Team (Silver): From the 5000m relay team, Eddy Alvarez and Jordan Malone retired, with Alvarez moving up the Chicago White Sox minor-league system. J.R. Celski took the 2014-15 season off, returned this season, suffered a knee injury at the U.S. Championships in January and was not on the announced team for the remaining World Cups and World Championships this winter. Chris Creveling continues to compete.

Hannah Kearney (Bronze, Moguls): Retired after tying the record for most World Cup moguls victories with her 46th on March 16 and earning the World Cup season title.

Jeremy Abbott (Bronze, Figure Skating): Changed his plans to retire after the 2013-14 season after placing a career-best-matching fifth at the March 2014 World Championships. Was fifth at the 2015 U.S. Championships and chose to take the 2015-16 season off from competition.

Gracie Gold (Bronze, Figure Skating): Fifth at the March 2014 Worlds, fourth at the 2015 Worlds and reclaimed her U.S. title last month. Expects 2018 to be her final Olympic run.

Ashley Wagner (Bronze, Figure Skating): Seventh at the March 2014 Worlds, captured her third U.S. title in January 2015 and then was fifth at the March 2015 Worlds. Along with Gold and Polina Edmunds, hopes to become the first U.S. female singles skater to earn an Olympic or Worlds medal since 2006 at this year’s Worlds in Boston next month.

Marissa CastelliSimon Shnapir (Bronze, Figure Skating): Ended their pairs partnership after placing 11th at the March 2014 Worlds. Castelli now skates with Mervin Tran, and they finished third at the U.S. Championships last month. Shnapir paired with DeeDee Leng last season, after which he retired.

Julia Mancuso (Bronze, Alpine Skiing): Cut her 2014-15 season short due to hip pain and the underwent surgery in November, keeping her out for the entire 2015-16 season.

Erin Hamlin (Bronze, Luge): Fourth and eighth at the 2014 and 2015 World Luge Championships, after becoming the first U.S. Olympic singles medalist in Sochi. Hamlin won her first two-run World Cup race on Dec. 5 in Lake Placid, N.Y.

Kelly Clark (Bronze, Snowboard Halfpipe): Second to teenage sensation Chloe Kim at the 2015 Winter X Games and fifth this year, her worst finish in nine years.

Nick Goepper (Bronze, Ski Slopestyle): Won his third straight X Games ski slopestyle title in 2015 and was 11th this year.

Matthew Antoine (Bronze, Skeleton): Fourth in last year’s World Cup standings and sixth this year. Struggled with depression after Sochi, almost walking away from the sport.

Bode Miller (Bronze, Alpine Skiing): Competed once since Sochi, severing his right hamstring tendon in a 2015 World Championships super-G crash. Sitting out this season and called a sixth Olympics at age 40 in 2018 “really unlikely” before saying there’s a “good likelihood” he races again.

U.S. Men’s Bobsled Team (Bronze, Two-Man and Four-Man): Steven Holcomb piloted a sled to a World Cup podium finish for the first time in nearly two years with a win Jan. 8. The 2010 Olympic four-man champion was slowed last season by a torn Achilles from Sochi and this season by a quadriceps strain that rendered him unable to push his sled. Fellow two-time Sochi bronze medalist Steven Langton retired, as did four-man bronze medalist Curt Tomasevicz. Army Capt. Chris Fogt, also part of the four-man team, said in April 2014 he expected to spend at least the next two years on active duty.

Alex Deibold (Bronze, Snowboard Cross): Eliminated in the semifinals and quarterfinals of the 2014 and 2015 Winter X Games.

Jamie Greubel Poser (Bronze, Bobsled): Made the podium in 10 straight World Cup races in 2015 and 2016 and looks to earn her first World Championships medal on Saturday.

Aja Evans (Bronze, Bobsled): Said in Sochi she would switch to heptathlon and later had ACL surgery.

MORE: 16 Olympic sports events to watch in 2016 (before the Rio Games)