sotnikova21AP

Amid controversy, Adelina Sotnikova only focused on winning ‘new golds’

3 Comments

SOCHI, Russia – The day after a judging controversy swirled around figure skating, newly-crowned Olympic champion Adelina Sotkinova had her mind on one thing: more gold medals.

The 17-year-old registered the second-highest free skate score in Olympic history, besting 2010 Olympic champion Yuna Kim for the gold medal. Italy’s Carolina Kostner was third.

“This isn’t the end. There are new golds to win,” a smiling Sotnikova told a packed press room. “There are the World Championships – I want to win there. I only have a silver at the European Championships; I want to win gold there. I want all the gold that there is.”

Sotnikova’s win has been questioned by fans and insiders alike, but experts point to one important factor: the Russian completed one more triple jump than Kim. She also skated unharnessed in a free skate where Kim and Kostner were clean, yet safe and restrained in their performances, giving Sotnikova a higher component score.

VIDEO: Compare routines of Adelina Sotnikova and Yuna Kim

“For me yesterday Adelina was the champion,” said Eteri Tutberidze, the coach of Yulia Lipnitskaya, Sotnikova’s teammate. “It all goes into a package. If you look at all of the components of the skating, she was the champion. Yuna Kim is a strong skater, a strong person. But for me, Adelina won the skating.”

Sotnikova’s coach, former world medalist Elena Buyanova, said the Russian coaches came together in 2010 after the figure skating team won just two medals, its lowest count since the 1976 Innsbruck Games.

“After Vancouver we had to sit down with all the coaches and analyze what was happening,” Buyanova said. “We could not imagine any better training conditions now; we have had the full support of the Russian sporting bodies.”

MORE: Petition to investigate judging exceeds 1 million signatures

Sotnikova becomes the first Russian woman to win gold at the Olympics. Ladies had won a total of just three silvers and bronzes, most recently by Irina Slutskaya (silver in Salt Lake and bronze in Torino).

It was a disappointing end of the Games for the 15-year-old Lipnitskaya, who had won the ladies’ portion of the team event – in which Russia claimed gold – yet faltered to fifth place in the singles event.

“After the end I was very disappointed,” Lipnitskaya said. “I just couldn’t focus during it because I was so tired. I felt sad. It was just too much. Last night I cried and cried. But still, No. 5 in the world is not something very many people can do.”

Calls have been renewed for figure skating’s judges to be identified. A panel of nine judges is named, though just five of their scores are used after each skate. Those five judges are not identified.

“We play by the rules that this game is offering us,” said Peter Chernyshov, Sotnikova’s choreographer. “I don’t think we’re in the position to promote new ideas. At this point we’re focused at following the rules and doing our best.”

“It’s hard to find the ideal system that would work for everyone,” he continued. “It’s not track and field where you run faster than someone. It’s very subjective.”

Both Lipnitskaya and Sotnikova said they’re looking forward to the World Championships next month in Japan. It will be Lipnitskaya’s first, while Sotnikova was ninth there a year ago.

VIDEO: Watch Sotnikova’s routine

With her gold, she becomes the first Olympic champion not to have medaled at Worlds before her win.

The teenagers credit one another for pushing Russian skating to the next level.

“It’s good to have someone on the team that makes you go forward,” Sotnikova said of Lipnitskaya. “I have to say thanks to Yulia because she is my rival. It’s not over yet. This season took a lot of nerve, but there are still World Championships, and I want to win there.”

Kerri Walsh Jennings, April Ross win World Series of Beach Volleyball

1 Comment

Rio bronze medalists Kerri Walsh Jennings and April Ross bounced back from an Olympic upset to win the biggest annual tournament in the U.S. on Sunday.

Walsh Jennings and Ross captured the Asics World Series of Beach Volleyball title in Long Beach, Calif., for the second time in three years. They beat Spanish pair Liliana Fernández and Elsa Baquerizo 21-16, 21-16 in the final.

“We love those girls so much, they are dear friends of ours,” Walsh Jennings said. “We wanted to beat them down.”

Absent from Long Beach were Olympic gold medalists Laura Ludwig and Kira Walkenhorst of Germany and silver medalists Ágatha and Bárbara of Brazil.

Walsh Jennings and Ross, who lost to Ágatha and Bárbara in the Olympic semifinals, dropped a total of two sets in seven undefeated matches this past week.

They earned their fifth international title of the year after winning none in 2015, last season shortened by Walsh Jennings’ fifth right shoulder surgery.

In the men’s final, Brazil’s No. 2 pair, Pedro and Evandro, beat top U.S. pair Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena 19-21, 21-17, 15-9.

Olympic champions Alison and Bruno of Brazil did not compete in Long Beach.

The beach volleyball season continues with the FIVB World Tour Finals in Toronto in two weeks.

MORE: Tough for Misty May-Treanor to watch Kerri Walsh Jennings in Rio

Monica Puig’s unlikely Olympic tennis gold reminded her of ‘Miracle’ scene

Monica Puig
Getty Images
Leave a comment

NEW YORK (AP) — Monica Puig gazed out at her fellow Puerto Ricans jamming the parade route, and in their eyes she saw hope.

They hailed her with “a sense of satisfaction,” she recalled Saturday, “and a sense of belief that things are going to get better.”

Throughout her stunning run to the Olympic tennis gold medal, Puig embraced the symbolism of each upset victory. An economic crisis is devastating the island of her birth, and she appreciated that if she could prove the impossible is possible, that message would reverberate far beyond sports.

“If Puerto Rico channels that same energy and belief that things will get better and working for the better of the island, the better of the community, things will improve,” Puig said four days after the U.S. territory honored its Olympic team and, above all, its first gold medalist.

“I really hope I gave them a lot of confidence moving forward,” she added, “that things will actually get better.”

The world’s 34th-ranked women’s tennis player met with a roomful of reporters Saturday, exactly two weeks after she beat Australian Open champ Angelique Kerber in three sets in the final in Rio de Janeiro. Poised and philosophical in ways that bely her age, the 22-year-old realizes some people deem her gold medal “a fluke.”

After all, Puig has never made it past the round of 16 at a major. And at the U.S. Open, which starts Monday, she’s never advanced beyond the second round. Puig is already bracing herself for the reality that her run at Flushing Meadows could fall well short of what took place in Rio.

“I’m 22 years old. There’s still a long way for me to go, a long stretch of career,” she said. “If anything happens, any kind of slip-up, it’s not really going to be a big deal, because I have a process and I have a long-term view of where I want to go.”

Which isn’t to say she expects a slip-up.

“I know that the Olympics wasn’t a fluke for me, because I have worked very hard to get to where I am,” Puig said. “I know the hours and the tears and the sweat and everything that’s been put into my practices. It’s been very difficult for me.

“But that moment, nobody will be able to take away.”

Even she considers that Olympic moment to be like something out of a movie script. When spectators chanted “Si se puede!” (“Yes you can!” in Spanish) during the final against the second-ranked Kerber, Puig flashed back to a scene from the film “Miracle” about the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team.

With fans roaring “U-S-A!” coach Herb Brooks tells his players: “Listen to them. That’s what you’ve done.” As Puig said Saturday, “I needed to listen to the crowd.”

Her gold might not have been quite as unlikely as the Miracle on Ice, but it wasn’t too far off. The night after her victory, Puig slept with the medal on her nightstand, waking up every few hours to make sure it was real. She still feels the need to check up on it during the day.

“I see the videos and I’m like, ‘Did this really just happen?'” Puig said.

When they showed the clip of her medal ceremony when she was honored in Puerto Rico, she started crying again. Through it all, she insisted Saturday, she felt she kept her focus, knowing the U.S. Open was looming.

After Rio, Puig spent some time with her family in Miami, where she lives. Then it was on to the island “where the big party was waiting.” It’s been hard to squeeze in sleep and alone time and practice — all the things she needs to recover from one big event and prepare for another.

Puig faces 60th-ranked Zheng Saisai, who upset Agnieszka Radwanska at the Olympics, in the first round Monday. She originally wasn’t seeded at Flushing Meadows, which meant she could have faced a top player in her opening match, but she moved up to the final seed when Sloane Stephens withdrew because of an injury Friday.

It’s the first time Puig has been seeded at a major, and in what was a breakthrough season even before her golden moment, she’s starting to grow comfortable with those sorts of roles.

“I feel like I finally understand what I’m doing when it comes to tennis,” she said.

MORE: U.S. goes one-two in Olympic mixed doubles