Savchenko and Szolkowy. Getty Images.

Savchenko/Szolkowy capture fifth world championship pairs crown

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Sometimes in sport, momentum means nothing.

So was the case in the pairs portion of the World Figure Skating Championships in Saitama, Japan, over the last few days as two teams left the competition with very different feelings than they came in with.

It was elation for Germans Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy, the pair having entered into Worlds after what was considered to be a markedly disappointing Olympic effort, in which they placed third.

But here the veterans were on their game in both programs, Thursday morning finishing off what they had started by capturing their fifth World Championship gold medal with a steely performance to “The Nutcracker” (a follow up to their eye-catching “Pink Panther” short), the same routine that they faltered on in Sochi.

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It was a feeling of disappointment for Russians Ksenia Stolbova and Fyodor Klimov, however. After placing second at the Olympic Games last month, the pair came into Worlds with the opportunity to take hold of the mantle held by compatriots (and Olympic gold medalists) Tatyana Volosozhar and Maksim Trankov.

But it was not to be for the 22 and 23-year-old, Stolbova barely holding onto a landing in their opening triple flip throw and the pair looking shaky throughout their “Addams Family” free skate.

Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford, Canadians who had placed a disappointing seventh in Sochi, shook off their bad fortune for a second straight World Championship bronze.

It was the opposite for Americans Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir, the two-time U.S. champions having continuously gotten better through four programs (two team, two individual) at the Olympics only to come out flat in Saitama. Ninth in Sochi, the pair was 11th here and clearly disappointed with the result.

The other American pair, Felicia Zhang and Nathan Bartholomay, were 14th overall.

“This is a disappointment for us,” Shnapir said in a statement via U.S. Figure Skating. “This obviously was not representative of what we do at home. It is frustrating especially [after] how Nationals and the Olympics went. It’s a tough way to end the season.”

It is a bittersweet gold for Savchenko/Szolkowy, who at 30 and 34, respectively, may have missed their window to win an Olympic gold. Their five World Championship titles have bookended the 2010 and 2014 Games: 2008, 2009, 2011, 2012 and 2014. They won bronze in both Vancouver and Sochi.

“Being world champion feels really great,” Szolkowy told the crowd after their win, a first since 2012. “It was a pleasure for us to skate here in our last competition of the season.”

Castelli/Shnapir were again flat on the ice in their free skate, Castelli falling hard on the team’s attempt of the quadruple Salchow throw, an element that Castelli held on to in both programs at the Olympics.

Castelli/Shnapir were 13th a year ago at Worlds. No U.S. pair has finished inside the top five at the World Championships since Rena Inoue and John Baldwin were fourth in 2006.

Final results – Pairs
1. Aliona SAVCHENKO/Robin SZOLKOWY GER 224.88
2. Ksenia STOLBOVA/Fedor KLIMOV RUS 215.92
3. Meagan DUHAMEL/Eric RADFORD CAN 210.84
5. Cheng PENG/Hao ZHANG CHN 194.83
6. Wenjing SUI/Cong HAN CHN 192.10
11. Marissa CASTELLI/Simon SHNAPIR USA 170.90
14. Felicia ZHANG/Nathan BARTHOLOMAY USA 151.78

Mary Cain ‘back to basics’ after ‘disappointing year’

Mary Cain
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Mary Cain, who in 2013 became the youngest U.S. track and field athlete to make a World Championships team and turned pro at age 17 later that fall, is spending her run-up to next year and the 2016 Olympics home in New York rather than returning to Oregon where she went to college and trained last year.

In June, Cain finished eighth in the 1500m at the U.S. Championships, missing the top-four placement necessary to make the World Championships team.

“After a disappointing year, I knew that I needed a change,” Cain said in a blog post Tuesday. “For me, that meant returning home to New York (and its bagels) or where it all started. With 2016 being such an important year, it’s a blessing to be able to, as my mom says, ‘Go back to basics.'”

Cain, who was a freshman at the University of Portland last year, is still coached by three-time New York City Marathon champion Alberto Salazar with the aid of New Zealand 2004 Olympic 10,000m runner John Henwood, according to the blog.

“We’re trying to get [running] back to fun with her,” Henwood said, according to Runner’s World.

Cain moved from Bronxville, N.Y., to Portland after graduating high school last year, completing a decorated prep career filled with records and state and national titles. She trained with Salazar’s group, which includes Olympic 10,000m gold and silver medalists Mo Farah and Galen Rupp.

Cain won the World Junior Championships 3000m in 2014 and became the youngest woman to make a senior World Championships 1500m final in 2013, when she finished 10th.

“I always said the key to running well was keeping the sport fun,” Cain said in the blog post. “With the help of this great NY running community, I am happy to say that I have found that love again! I’m looking forward to a rewarding Indoor and Outdoor season.

“Thanks to everyone who has supported me through the ups and downs! I hope to make 2016 a year to remember!”

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Brazil’s best tennis player: ‘tough to dream’ of Rio Olympic medal

Thomaz Bellucci
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Thomaz Bellucci admits playing at a home Olympics brings at least some pressure.

“To well represent Brazil,” the Sao Paulo native clarified at the U.S. Open in New York last month. “It’s tough to dream about having a medal.”

The 27-year-old Bellucci is the only Brazilian tennis player, man or woman, ranked in the world top 50. He sits at No. 31, having this season reached his first ATP final since 2012 and winning it at the Geneva Open in Switzerland in May.

Brazil’s Olympic Committee set a target of 27 to 30 medals in Rio, after earning 17 at London 2012. The added glory likely won’t come from tennis, a sport in which a Brazilian has never stood on an Olympic podium.

“For the Olympics, I don’t feel too many pressure,” Bellucci said, “because even if I play in Brazil, I know there are many players more favored than me because [Roger] Federer‘s going to play, [Novak] Djokovic, all these guys have so much more pressure than me because they have more chance to have a medal.”

Olympic tennis gained greater significance on the busy tour calendars among top players with recent Games.

On the men’s side, every medalist from 2008 and 2012 had already reached at least one Grand Slam final in his career. That group of six included Federer (2012 silver), Djokovic (2008 bronze), Rafael Nadal (2008 gold) and Andy Murray (2012 gold).

But if Bellucci and the Brazilians look back, they can find unexpected, inspiring runs. In 1996, Brazil’s Fernando Meligeni came to the Atlanta Games ranked No. 95 in the world, having never made it past the fourth round of a Grand Slam.

The charismatic Meligeni, a lefty who sometimes played wearing his cap backwards, reached the final four in Stone Mountain, twice playing for a medal, and hitting a tweener on the penultimate point of his semifinal against Spain’s Sergi Bruguera.

He lost both medal-round matches, including the bronze match to Indian Leander Paes, who won the U.S. Open mixed doubles last month with another 1996 Olympic singles tennis player, Swiss Martina Hingis. Hingis is attempting to return to the Olympics next year for the first time since 1996.

In 2004, Chile’s Nicolas Massu won singles and doubles gold in Athens having never reached the fourth round of a Grand Slam in singles.

Bellucci debuted at the Olympics in 2008 and hasn’t won a single Games match. He rose from a No. 85 overall ranking in Beijing to No. 42 going into the London 2012 Olympics, where he forced then-Wimbledon semifinalist Jo-Wilfried Tsonga to three sets. Bellucci and partner Andre Sa were the only doubles pair to take a set off Americans Bob and Mike Bryan at London 2012.

“Beijing I was very surprised, because I was very young and had no idea,” Bellucci said. “In London, I had a very tough draw against Tsonga. Let’s see if I can have more luck in Brazil to have a better draw.”

Not even the great Gustavo Kuerten could sniff an Olympic medal. The three-time French Open champion — the only Brazilian man to win a Grand Slam — couldn’t do better than the quarterfinals in 2000 and 2004.

The analysis of Bellucci in the scope of Kuerten, who is of a similar tall, thin build, has silenced in recent years.

“They used to say that when I was young, when I was starting to play well,” said Bellucci, whose four ATP titles came on Kuerten’s favorite surface, clay, while the Rio Olympic tournament will be on hard courts. “They want to compare me and Guga [Kuerten], but anyway they are not comparing anymore because Guga is so much bigger than me.”

As much as Bellucci tries to keep expectations low, he urges that his sport is one of the most popular in Brazil.

“I think soccer, for sure, is No. 1 and then volleyball is second and then tennis, I think,” he said. “I think we have more people playing tennis than volleyball because I think all the ages can play tennis.”

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