Worlds preview: U.S. ladies aim to break eight-year slump

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With two Olympic medal winners out of the World Figure Skating Championships and three top-10 finishers for the U.S. heading there this week, a long-standing streak could be broken in Saitama, Japan.

No American woman has landed on the podium at Worlds since Kimmie Meissner and Sasha Cohen won gold and bronze, respectively, in 2006, a dry spell that could end if things go the way of the red, white and blue beginning Thursday.

Gracie Gold, the reigning national champion, presents the country’s best shot of ending that streak, the 18-year-old having finished fourth at the Olympic Games last month. Ashley Wagner (seventh in Sochi) and Polina Edmunds (ninth) have outside shots at medals, as well.

More: Full Worlds schedule and streaming times | Entry list

“I want to skate two great, clean programs – that’s always my goal,” the 15-year-old Edmunds told NBCSports.com in a phone interview last week. “Above that, I want to be in a good placement. At the Olympics I was top 10 and I hope to place higher at Worlds.”

A higher placement is highly likely for Edmunds as both the reigning Olympic champion Adelina Sotnikova and silver medalist Yuna Kim will not make the trip to Worlds. Sotnikova is said to be resting and preparing for the 2014-15 season at home. Kim, meanwhile, announced her retirement at the conclusion of the Sochi Games.

The ladies event is nonetheless packed with intrigue as host Japan will hope to send Mao Asada, the 2010 Olympic silver medalist, into retirement with another world title, the 23-year-old having won this event in 2008 and 2010.

Asada crashed out of medal contention last month in Sochi with a devastating short program that left her in 16th place. She rebounded in the free skate, performing flawlessly and finishing sixth overall.

Like Asada, Olympic bronze medalist and fellow former world champ (2012) Carolina Kostner will look for a golden swan song in Saitama, the Italian having had a career-crowning performance in Sochi.

More: World Figure Skating Championships men’s preview | Pairs preview

The American Gold has been steadily improving on the ice since joining forces with legendary coach Frank Carroll in October. The Los Angeles-based Chicago native’s fourth-place finish in Sochi landed her just off the medal stand a year after making her senior debut at the U.S. Championships in 2013.

It was last year at Worlds that Wagner and Gold finished fifth and sixth respectively, helping the U.S. earn a third spot for the Sochi Games. The U.S. women should secure the same third place at Worlds again this year with the burgeoning star in Edmunds, the surprise silver medalist at Nationals in January.

“I’m excited, but this is just another competition for me. I’m really comfortable headed into Worlds,” said Edmunds, adding that her eyes are fixed on the 2018 Pyeongchang Games. “I think that every competition I go to throughout the next four years is a step leading up to the next Olympics and it’s my goal to get there again. I know that anything can happen but I just want to keep moving forward with my skating.”

Gold and Wagner, 22, have expressed that they’ll both make an effort to qualify for the Pyeongchang Olympics, as well. Neither were available for interviews with NBCSports.com.

With Sotnikova out of the picture, 15-year-old Yulia Lipnitskaya will look to take her place atop the world’s medal stand after faltering in the ladies’ individual event in Sochi. Lipnitskaya was the toast of Russia after skating impeccably in the team event (helping Russia win gold) only to fall in both her short and long programs and finish fifth overall, far behind Sotnikova.

The flexible teen is joined by countrywoman Anna Pogorilaya, a talented if not hot-and-cold skater at the age of 15.

Other names to watch include home favorites Akiko Suzuki (eight in Sochi) and Kanako Murakami (12th) as well as France’s Mae Berenice Meite (10th) and Valentina Marchei of Italy (11th).

Controversy continues to swirl around the sport as the Korean Skating Union and the Korean Olympic Committee announced last week that they would file an official complaint over Kim’s silver medal at the Olympics last month.

Asada, Kostner, Gold, Lipnitskaya, Wagner and Pogorilaya are all legitimate shots to medal. Asada and Kostner are both looking for their fifth World Championship podium appearance.

But for Edmunds, the Sochi experience has the teenager buzzing for more success.

“I have a lot of great memories from Sochi,” she said. “I know that throughout the years I’m going to have more and more great memories from big events. It’s really exciting to move forward with that under my belt. It was amazing – I’m never going to forget that.”

Icenetwork.com will provide live coverage for subscribers. Ladies skate Thursday for the short program (2:45 a.m. ET) and Saturday for the free skate (4:15 a.m. ET). NBC will air a World Championships recap show April 13 from 3-6 p.m. ET.

Nina Roth’s team wins Olympic Curling Trials despite violation (video)

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Nina Roth harbored hopes of curling in the Olympics ever since the sport returned to the Winter Games in 1998, when she was a Girl Scout.

It took nearly 20 years, but she’s now on her way.

Roth, a 29-year-old nurse from Wisconsin, led a four-woman team to win the U.S. Olympic Trials finals against Jamie Sinclair‘s rink in Omaha on Saturday.

Roth, the skip, plus vice skip Tabitha Peterson, second Aileen Geving and lead Becca Hamilton make up the U.S. Olympic women’s curling team. They’re all Olympic rookies. A fifth curler, an alternate, is expected to be added later.

Roth and Sinclair traded overtime wins Thursday and Friday, forcing a winner-goes-to-PyeongChang decider Saturday to end the three-game series.

In the ninth of 10 ends, Roth committed a hog-line violation that cost her the lead, failing to let go of her last stone before it passed a line that entered it into play.

But Roth scored two in the last end to win 7-6, thanks to Sinclair missing on her last throw.

One day when Roth was 10, and her mom was her Girl Scout troop leader, the troop tried curling at the local club in McFarland, Wis.

“I loved it and signed up for junior league immediately,” said Roth, whose dad was a recreational curler.

Roth showed early promise, winning two junior national titles. After watching the 2006 Olympic Trials in her hometown as a high schooler, she competed in the 2010 Olympic Trials when she was 20 (very young for a curler).

She has a tattoo of a curling stone and an American flag on her right foot.

Roth’s team is new and relatively young compared to the most recent U.S. Olympic women’s teams. They’re all between 27 and 30 years old.

USA Curling’s high performance program matched them together in June 2016.

Since, Roth and Hamilton regularly drove four hours northwest from Southern Wisconsin to Blaine, Minn., to meet Geving and Peterson for practices. They passed the time on Interstate 94 by singing along to early 2000s punk rock.

“Our favorite song, this is embarrassing, Weird Al [Yankovic‘s] ‘Albuquerque,'” Roth told NBC Olympic research in September of the 11-minute, 22-second epic. “Becca knows all the words already.”

Roth’s team lost to Sinclair at last season’s nationals but earned the worlds berth over Sinclair via better season-long results.

Roth’s team would finish fifth out of 12 teams at worlds. Not bad considering the last three U.S. Olympic women’s teams combined to go 5-22 at the Games.

Peterson, a 28-year-old pharmacist, is going to PyeongChang after being on the runner-up team at the 2014 Olympic Trials.

Geving, 30, made her first Olympic team at her fourth Trials.

Hamilton, 27, will be hoping older brother Matt will join her in PyeongChang. Matt is on John Shuster‘s team that plays a winner-goes-to-PyeongChang game Saturday night in Omaha (NBCSN, 7:30 ET).

The Hamiltons can also qualify for the Olympics in mixed doubles, a new event at the Winter Games. So can Roth with Kroy Nernberger. Those trials are in December in Blaine.

The U.S. has earned one Olympic curling medal, a 2006 men’s bronze. The best U.S. women’s finish was fourth in 2002. Curling was part of the first Winter Olympics in 1924 and every Olympics since 1998.

Canada, Sweden, Switzerland, Norway and Great Britain are the world powers in curling.

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MORE: It’s all about family as curling Hamiltons vie for Olympics

Papadakis, Cizeron break ice dance world record (video)

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The Olympic ice dance favorite is very much up for debate.

Canadians Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir may be undefeated in their comeback, but French Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron have now broken the world record total score twice in three weeks.

Papadakis and Cizeron, the 2015 and 2016 World champions, tallied 201.98 points to win Grand Prix France on Saturday.

GP FRANCE: Full Results | TV Schedule

Two weeks ago, they became the first couple to break 200 points under an eight-year-old system (though scores have inflated overall during this stretch).

Now, Papadakis and Cizeron head into December’s Grand Prix Final for their first head-to-head with Virtue and Moir since last spring’s world championships.

Virtue and Moir, the 2010 Olympic gold medalists and 2014 Olympic silver medalists, took the 2014-15 and 2015-16 seasons off before returning to competition last season.

The Canadians went undefeated in 2016-17, including relegating Papadakis and Cizeron to silver in all three of their head-to-heads. The French haven’t lost to anybody else in nearly three years.

They will be joined at the Grand Prix Final by two-time world medalists Madison Chock and Evan Bates of the U.S.

They’re likely to be joined at the six-couple Grand Prix Final by more Americans — three-time world medalists Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani and Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue.

At this point, it looks like those three U.S. couples will battle for bronze in PyeongChang.

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MORE: Figure skating season broadcast schedule

Internationaux de France
Ice Dance
1. Gabriella Papadakis/Guillaume Cizeron (FRA) — 201.98 WR
2. Madison Chock/Evan Bates (USA) — 181.85
3. Alexandra Stepanova/Ivan Bukin (RUS) — 177.24
7. Elliana Pogrebinsky/Alex Benoit (USA) — 154.14