Seeking redemption, Asada leads with world record short program

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This time there was no room for tears, no room for dreams dashed on the world stage, no regretting what she had done as soon as it was over.

Just a month after veteran Mao Asada skated herself out of medal contention at the Sochi Olympics, the two-time world champion brought her A-game – and set a new world record – at the World Figure Skating Championships Thursday in Saitama, Japan.

The 23-year-old home favorite didn’t shy away from the triple Axel that abandoned her in Sochi and left her in 16th place, instead attacking it with gusto to open her Chopin short program, then executing a triple flip and a triple-double combination to score a 78.66, topping Yuna Kim’s 78.50 record from the Vancouver Games.

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Asada, the Vancouver silver medalist, who ended up sixth after a brave free skate in Sochi, topped the leaderboard after an enthralling and emotional ladies short program in front of over 20,000 ardent fans at the Saitama Super Arena.

Fellow veteran Carolina Kostner, who at 27 won her first Olympic medal last month (bronze), continued her inspiring run at the twilight of her career, skating to a 77.24, a personal best by three points.

Kostner finished in second behind Asada while 15-year-old Yulia Lipnitskaya, the phenom who helped Russia to a team gold at the Olympics, was in third, skating to a 74.54.

Reigning national champion Gracie Gold was good if not great in her short program, scoring a 70.21 to land in fifth place. Ashley Wagner finished in seventh place while 15-year-old Polina Edmunds was 12th.

“That’s a pretty good score,” Gold said matter-of-factly to coach Frank Carroll after seeing the marks, her best-ever.

It wasn’t a best-ever for two-time U.S. winner Wagner, who appeared tired during her short program that left her in seventh. The 22-year-old was downgraded on her triple-triple combination, costing her valuable points and leaving her outside of the medal conversation.

San Jose-based Edmunds was ninth in Sochi, but sits just two points outside of eighth, five skaters separated by 2.33 points.

Gold, meanwhile, is still within striking distance of the podium at 4.23 points back from third place.

“I’m looking forward to skating it clean and being on my feet for all my jumps and really nailing the spins,” she said about her free skate in a U.S. Figure Skating statement. “Especially the last minute of my program when all the hard tricks are done and just enjoying myself at my second Worlds.”

“It’s been a long season and I’m exhausted,” Wagner said in the same statement. “Mentally, it’s tough to go out and compete after I’ve given all I could this season. I’m ready to wrap this season, go home and start working on some stuff next season when I want to come back stronger than ever.”

Reigning Olympic gold medalist Adelina Sotnikova pulled out of the event last week, the Russian skating federation saying the 17-year-old was resting and recuperating for the following season. Silver medal winner Yuna Kim has officially retired.

The controversy from Sotnikova’s win lingered in Saitama. The Japanese audience, ever supportive and knowledgeable, met Lipnitskaya with lukewarm applause as she took to the ice.

The crowd, however, roared for Asada, who has said this will be her last competitive event. She’ll skate Saturday in Japan for a third world title (2008, 2010) and in a much different position than in Sochi: she was 16th after the short program there. Here, she’s the frontrunner.

Ladies short program standings
1. Mao ASADA JPN 78.66
2. Carolina KOSTNER ITA 77.24
3. Yulia LIPNITSKAYA RUS 74.54
4. Akiko SUZUKI JPN 71.02
5. Gracie GOLD USA 70.31
6. Anna POGORILAYA RUS 66.26
7. Ashley WAGNER USA
12. Polina EDMUNDS USA 60.59

Kerri Walsh Jennings’ next partner is a familiar one

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Kerri Walsh Jennings is slated to play with with 2008 Olympian Nicole Branagh this summer, after she and Olympic bronze medal teammate April Ross split last month.

Walsh Jennings, a three-time Olympic champion with Misty May-Treanor before that bronze in Rio, and Branagh, who made the Beijing Games quarterfinals with Elaine Youngs, are entered in an FIVB World Tour event in Croatia the last week of June.

Walsh Jennings and Branagh are both 38 years old and briefly paired in 2010 when May-Treanor was uncertain about making a run for the London Olympics. When May-Treanor told Walsh Jennings she was all-in for London, Walsh Jennings split from Branagh.

Walsh Jennings and Branagh are hoping to play together through the World Tour Finals in late August, according to Volleyball Magazine.

That includes the world championships in Vienna, Austria, in late July and early August.

It’s not known if they will have the combined ranking points to earn an outright worlds spot. They could also receive a wild card for worlds. Entries will be announced next month.

Walsh Jennings, a mother of three, has said she hopes to play in the 2020 Olympics at age 41, when she will be older than any previous Olympic beach or indoor volleyball player, according to Olympic historians.

Branagh returned to competition this year after a one-year break to have her second child. She has played few international events since 2012 and last won internationally in 2010 (with Walsh Jennings).

Ross, an Olympic silver and bronze medalist and 2009 World champion, is now partnered with Lauren Fendrick, who played with Brooke Sweat in Rio. Ross, 34, said she will figure out her long-term partner plans for Tokyo 2020 after this season.

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Catching up with Ross Powers

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Ross Powers, now 38 years old and 15 years removed from his Olympic snowboarding title, is still out with halfpipe riders on the snow five days per week.

The difference now is that Powers is coaching. He runs the snowboarding program at Stratton Mountain School in Vermont, where he graduated from in 1997.

Powers spoke with OlympicTalk before last season, reflecting on 20 years of snowboarding in the Olympics, Shaun White and how he likes coaching.

OlympicTalk: The PyeongChang Winter Games will mark 20 years since snowboarding’s debut in Nagano. What was it like competing in the first Olympic halfpipe?

Powers (who won bronze in Nagano at age 19): It seemed kind of like a regular World Cup. We were up in the mountains. At the time, it was a really good halfpipe, but we ended up competing in some bad weather, some rain. I didn’t realize until I left Japan and got home how big the Olympics were. But looking back, it was a special time. And I really learned from the ’98 Olympics, like if I get this chance again, I’m going to go there, I’m going to do it all. I’m going to go to Opening Ceremonies, Closing Ceremonies, watch as many events as I can and just make the most out of the Games.

OlympicTalk: The Nagano halfpipe was about half the size of today’s superpipes (394 feet long with 11 1/2-foot walls vs. 590 feet with 22-foot walls in Sochi). Could today’s snowboarders compete with you guys back in 1998?

Powers: It was so different. At the time, I want to say it was the biggest pipe we rode, but compared to today’s standards, it’s small. The weather was tricky. I think a lot of those guys [today] could ride it, but it’s so much different than today’s halfpipe for sure.

OlympicTalk: In 2002, when you led a U.S. men’s halfpipe medal sweep, the rider who just missed the Olympic team was a 15-year-old Shaun White. What do you remember about him?

Powers: You kind of knew he was going to be the next guy. Where he took our sport and certain tricks. One thing that really impressed me about him is he’ll train really hard for an event, show up, even if the conditions are bad, he’s planned this trick he wants to do, and he’ll try it no matter what. Most of the time he’ll give it a go and land it. That actually hurt him in Russia [White attempted but couldn’t perfect the YOLO Flip 1440 in Sochi] because he probably could have stepped down a notch, gotten a medal and maybe even won the event.

OlympicTalk: Did Shaun ever beat you before you retired?

Powers: I had my run from 1998, ’99, ’00, ’01, all those times that I was doing really well. I tried to make the 2006 Olympics in Italy. I was the alternate, so I just missed that. He was definitely beating me up through those times.

OlympicTalk: Did you travel to the Torino Olympics as an alternate?

Powers: I did, yeah. I traveled over there and actually watched my buddy [Seth] Wescott win the gold in boarder cross. That night, he was like, you should try boarder cross. That kind of got me into doing that my next few years after that.

[Editor’s Note: Powers almost made the 2010 Olympic team in snowboard cross, even finishing third in a December 2009 World Cup.]

OlympicTalk: Which is tougher, coaching or competing?

Powers: I would say it is tougher coaching than competing. You just have so many responsibilities and so much work. The nice thing about coaching, though, compared to competing, is you can kind of push yourself and have fun [riding] on certain days but then also sit back and really work with the athletes on all other days. So when you’re feeling it, you can push yourself. So it’s not like an athlete, where you have to push yourself.

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