Gracie Gold, Ashley Wagner and Polina Edmunds. Getty Images.

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.

Rory McIlroy worried Olympic golf may be done after 2020

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Rory McIlroy believes golf may not remain in the Olympics after 2020 following a string of major champions announcing they will skip the sport’s return at the Rio Games.

“Because of how [Olympic golf is] being approached in golf circles … I’m not sure if we’re going to have another opportunity to win a gold medal after [Tokyo 2020],” McIlroy said ahead of the Wells Fargo Championship in Charlotte, N.C., on Wednesday.

In 2009, the International Olympic Committee voted to re-add golf and rugby to the Olympic program for the 2016 Olympics, with a review in 2017 if they would remain for the 2020 Olympics.

In 2013, Tokyo was elected host city for the 2020 Olympics with a plan that includes golf.

Beyond 2020, golf does not yet have a place in the Olympics. Its chances for the 2024 Olympics could come into focus when that host city is chosen in September 2017.

McIlroy, ranked No. 3 in the world, has repeated he will play for Ireland in the first Olympic golf tournament since 1904 in Rio in August.

Fellow major champions Adam ScottLouis OosthuizenCharl Schwartzel and Vijay Singh said last month they will not play in the Rio Olympics.

MORE: Golf Channel’s Olympic broadcast schedule

Abby Wambach to cover Olympics for ESPN

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Retired U.S. soccer star Abby Wambach is joining ESPN as an analyst and a contributor.

Wambach, the leading goal scorer of all time, will cover the European Championships in France and the Rio Olympics in August.

But her role won’t be limited to soccer: She will work across multiple platforms including ESPN Films and shows including “Outside the Lines,” according to the network.

“Talking and reporting on thing that I’m passionate about really, really was the selling point to me,” Wambach told The Associated Press. “Because I don’t want the rest of my life to be based on the fact that I played soccer. I want to be able to venture and learn about different things.”

Wambach also will produce a podcast, “Fearless Conversation with Abby Wambach,” which she promises won’t shy away from controversy. Among her first topics will be foreign players on the U.S. national team. Wambach drew criticism when she blasted U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann for bringing in “a bunch of these foreign guys” in December.

Oslo-born midfielder Mix Diskerud subsequently posted a message to Wambach on Instagram.

“I know we’re not quite equal. From ‘your group of people’ the country’s Commander in Chief need to be selected. However, other than that — you and I share something not unique, but constitutionally earned, a birthright to defend this nation as an American. Wherever we go. Led by whoever has earned, by democratic process, his/her right to lead, on or off the field, in peace, in war, in practice, or in any other kind of pursuit of your happiness,” he wrote.

Wambach said she’s willing to re-examine those comments.

“Why not? I think people tend to steer away from stuff that has caused controversy in their lives. For me, what better place to start? To be quite honest, it’s been few and far between in my career, the reason being that I’ve been speaking for 23 other women, so I kind of towed the party line during that time.”

Wambach, the FIFA Player of the Year in 2012, scored 184 career goals, more than any other player, male or female. She played 15 years with the U.S. women’s national team.

She capped her career last summer with the sport’s most prestigious championship when the United States defeated Japan 5-2 in Canada at the World Cup. It was the third World Cup title for the U.S. women and first since 1999.

Wambach appeared in four World Cups with the national team. She also has a pair of Olympic gold medals, from the 2004 Games in Athens and the 2012 Games in London. She did not compete in the Beijing Games because of a broken leg.

Wambach announced her retirement in October and played her final match in December.

Since she stepped away from the team, she has made several appearances at charity events and campaigned for Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

During the course of her career, Wambach has been active in fighting for equal rights for female athletes. She led a group of players in protest of FIFA’s decision to play the 2015 World Cup on artificial turf, which is considered by many to be inferior to grass.

She made headlines last month when she was pulled over for driving under the influence in Portland, Ore., where she lives. After posting a public apology on her Facebook page, she pleaded guilty and entered a diversion program for first-time offenders.

MORE: Five Olympic questions with Abby Wambach