Mao Asada. AP Photo.

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.

More: Savchenko/Szolkowy win in pairs | Men’s short program review

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

Kayla Harrison begins MMA career

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 12:  (BROADCAST - OUT) Judoka Kayla Harrison of the United States poses for a photo with her gold medal on the Today show set on Copacabana Beach on August 12, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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Two-time Olympic judo champion Kayla Harrison has joined mixed martial arts promotion World Series of Fighting as a commentator, brand ambassador and potentially a fighter, but she isn’t 100 percent committed to competing and won’t set a first bout for at least one year.

“All signs point to a yes, but everything has to work out,” Harrison said. “I haven’t booked a fight.”

Harrison, 26 and all but retired from judo, has been asked time and again for years about her interest in pursuing MMA. That’s in part because of former training partner Ronda Rousey‘s overwhelming success after she switched from Olympic judo.

Harrison will serve as a commentator and brand ambassador before potentially getting into MMA competition. Her commentating debut will be at WSOF 34 in New York on Dec. 31 on NBC.

Harrison has taken boxing and jiu-jitsu lessons as far back as 2013, which should boost her MMA potential.

To compete in MMA, Harrison will require a weight cut from her Olympic judo class of 172 pounds.

Rousey competes at 135 pounds, the heaviest women’s weight class in UFC. WSOF, which has no women’s weight classes, plans to develop a women’s program as Harrison readies for a potential debut.

Harrison expects that if she fights, it will be at 145 pounds.

Harrison laughed about people tweeting at her to fight Brazilian Cristiane Justino, a former 145-pound title holder who is set to face Rousey, should Rousey win her comeback fight.

“I’ve never fought MMA before, so my first fight is not going to be for a belt,” Harrison cautioned. “I’m going to MMA 0-0, not as a two-time Olympic champion. People need to remember that.”

Harrison said she last conversed with Rousey one or two months ago. Rousey, a 2008 Olympic bronze medalist, congratulated Harrison on her second gold medal and told Harrison she was available if she needed anything.

Harrison said she might reach out to her former training partner early next year, after Rousey’s comeback fight, to pick her brain about MMA.

“And be like, hey, what do you got for me? Tell me everything,” Harrison joked.

MORE: Ronda Rousey sets comeback fight

U.S. men’s gymnastics program undergoes changes

ST. LOUIS, MO - JUNE 25: Members of the U.S. Men's National Gymnastics Team gather before day two of the 2016 Men's Gymnastics Olympic Trials at Chafitz Arena on June 25, 2016 in St. Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
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U.S. men’s national team coordinator Kevin Mazeika‘s contract will not be renewed at the end of the year as USA Gymnastics makes changes after missing the men’s team podium at a second straight Olympics.

Mazeika was the U.S. men’s head coach at the 2004 and 2008 Olympics, where the U.S. men earned team medals at a non-home Games for the first time. He then served as national team coordinator from 2009 through this year.

The U.S. men finished fifth at the last two Olympics.

USA Gymnastics will replace the national team coordinator role with a high-performance director “focused on sustained international success.”

“The coaches, committee members and staff did a thorough review of the existing structure and results, and then took a hard look at what is needed to prepare our athletes for success heading toward Tokyo and beyond,” USA Gymnastics president Steve Penny said in a press release.

MORE: U.S. women’s national team coordinator named