Yuzuru Hanyu. Getty Images.

Hanyu roars in comeback for world title, U.S. men earn third spot

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In the end, Yuzuru Hanyu stood alone once again – literally.

The reigning Olympic champion came into Friday’s free skate at the World Figure Skating Championships down seven points of compatriot Tatsuki Machida, the short program leader who turned in a solid free skate just minutes earlier.

But the 19 year old, Japan’s first-ever Olympic men’s champion, was undeterred. He took to the ice in Saitama and delivered a clean and thorough “Romeo and Juliet” free skate, launching himself to the top of the podium once again, his second major international crown in a matter of weeks.

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Hanyu, who is coached by former world champion Brian Orser, stood alone to celebrate as his score was announced, jumping up and pumping his fists over his head. Orser was already tending to his other world class pupil, Javier Fernandez, who skated next.

Fernandez ended up third, making up for his botched finish in Sochi last month, where he fell to fourth place because he miscalculated his points during the free skate.

Yet there was no miscalculation for the U.S. men in Saitama, who earned a third spot for the World Championships for the first time since 2011.

They did so thanks to an inspired skate from Jeremy Abbott, the four-time national champion with a history of international hiccups. The Colorado native skated with gusto in his long program and moved from eighth to fifth overall. 2013 U.S. champ Max Aaron placed eighth.

The U.S. needed the final skater of the competition, Takahiko Kozuka, to fall below Abbott. He did just that, putting his hand down on several jumps and moving tentatively on the ice.

Skating in what he’s said will be his last-ever competition, Abbott summoned the same free skate spirit he found in Sochi, connecting with the “Symphony Number 3” music as it seemed to sway him over the ice. Technically, Abbott lost little points from jump to jump, but overall the feeling of the program was one of triumph, Abbott’s final spin was not quite done when the capacity crowd rose to its feet to congratulate him.

“I have so many emotions going through my head. I’m happy with how I skated and that was exactly what I wanted to do here,” said Abbott in a U.S. Figure Skating statement. “That’s what I’ve been training for. That’s the best I’ve ever skated that program in competition. I’m so proud and honored to do it in Japan. I had such a warm welcome.”

More: Full men’s scores and standings

Aaron’s long program, meanwhile, was reflective of his entire season: he skated fast but messy, attacking his jumps aggressively but seemingly unable to find his skates underneath him. Just two of his eight jumps were marked as cleanly executed.

“I’m frustrated. I came out here and gave it my best,” Aaron said in the same statement. “I trained hard for this but obviously it didn’t go the way I trained it. It’s reality. I have to go back and see what I can do for next season.”

The U.S. men needed a combined finish of 13th to gain a third spot at Worlds next year. They got just that, with Abbott fifth and Aaron eighth. This is the first time the U.S. men will have three spots at a World Championships since 2011.

Hanyu wasn’t completely alone in the Kiss and Cry: He brought along a stuffed Winnie the Pooh bear, which has famously followed him around the world, garnering its own Twitter handle. He mocked shaking hands with the bear before his scores came in, a world champion already confident in what he had accomplished, yet still a playful teen at heart.

Overall, the men delivered a much more engaging, dramatic and technically sound free skate than in Sochi, where falls dominated the final two groups. Many argue that a day between the short and long programs allow for better rest and recovery and thus better skating. Saitama may have proved that.

Ice dancing
A surprising turn of events ended the short dance program of the ice dancing competition, which is without the two teams that have dominated the discipline over the last five years.

Italians Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte were the ones to step up Friday and take advantage of that, skating a near-flawless routine to score a 69.70 and sit a half point ahead of Canadians Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje.

It’s Weaver and Poje’s compatriots Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir who are skipping the World Championships, as are reigning Olympic gold medalists Meryl Davis and Charlie White of the U.S. The two teams own the gold and silver medals from the last two Olympic Games.

America was well represented in the short dance, however, where both Madison Chock and Evan Bates as well as Maia and Alex Shibutani put out strong performances, finishing fourth and sixth, respectively.

“We had the most fun today that we have all season performing [our short dance],” Bates said via U.S. Figure Skating. “Our goal was to pay tribute to the program and skate it well. It’s been a great program for us.”

Chock/Bates were eighth in Sochi, the Shibutanis ninth.

Chock/Bates sit just half a point off the podium behind veterans Nathalie Pechalat and Fabian Bourzat, who have medaled just once at Worlds (bronze in 2012) and were fourth at the Olympics last month.

Sochi bronze medalists Yelena Ilinykh and Nikita Katsalapov of Russia looked poised to continue their strong run before Katsalapov stepped out of a sequence of twizzles, costing the team valuable points and putting them in fifth heading into the free dance.

Men’s overall standings
1. Yuzuru HANYU JPN 282.59
2. Tatsuki MACHIDA JPN 282.26
3. Javier FERNANDEZ ESP 275.93
4. Maksim KOVTUN RUS 247.37
5. Jeremy ABBOTT USA 246.35
6. Takahiko KOZUKA JPN 238.02
7. Han YAN CHN 231.91
8. Max AARON USA 225.66

Ice dance standings – Short dance
1. Anna CAPPELLINI/Luca LANOTTE ITA 69.70
2. Kaitlyn WEAVER/Andrew POJE CAN 69.20
3. Nathalie PECHALAT/Fabian BOURZAT FRA 68.20
4. Madison CHOCK/Evan BATES USA 67.71
5. Yelena ILINYKH/Nikita KATSALAPOV RUS 65.67
6. Maia SHIBUTANI/Alex SHIBUTANI USA 63.55
7. Nelli ZHIGANSHINA/Alexander GAZSI GER 62.27
8. Victoria SINITSINA/Ruslan ZHIGANSHIN RUS 62.11
18. Alexandra ALDRIDGE/Daniel EATON USA 53.34

Jesse Owens, 1936 Olympians receive recognition at White House

Jesse Owens
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WASHINGTON (AP) — Shortly after Jesse Owens returned home from his snubbing by Adolph Hitler at the 1936 Olympics, he and America’s 17 other black Olympians found a less-than-welcoming reception from their own government, as well.

On Thursday, relatives of those 1936 African-American Olympians will be welcomed to the White House and will get to shake the president’s hand – an honor Owens and the others didn’t receive, the way some of their white counterparts did, after they returned home from Berlin 80 years ago.

U.S. Olympic Committee CEO Scott Blackmun announced the visit Wednesday night at a Team USA Awards ceremony.

“That is why I’m here 80 years later, to recognize the senselessness (of not inviting them to the White House), and to pay tribute to all the progress that has come since,” Blackmun said.

The announcement came on the same night the USOC invited Tommie Smith and John Carlos, who were booted from the 1968 Olympics for their gloved-fist protest on the medals stand, to be part of the awards show. Smith and Carlos hadn’t been involved in an official USOC event since being sent home from Mexico City. The gold- and bronze-medal-winning sprinters will be at the White House on Thursday, as well.

At the 1936 Olympics , Owens won four gold medals, but it was the message Owens’ victories sent by winning in Nazi Germany and undercutting Hitler’s white-supremacy dogma that stood as the lasting memory of those games.

Owens returned to a segregated America where he had trouble finding steady work and where, according to his interviews in later years, the president, Franklin Roosevelt, never sent him any words of congratulations or an invitation to the White House.

Decades later, Owens was acknowledged and honored at the White House. In 1976, President Gerald Ford presented him with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

The stories of the other 17 blacks on that team were less-widely known. Thursday’s event was meant to give a long-overdue White House recognition to those athletes, who accounted for 14 of America’s 56 medals in Berlin.

Owens’ daughter, Marlene Owens-Rankin, will be among the relatives at the White House.

“To be able to go to the White House 80 years later with Barack Obama as president and also with the other 1936 Olympians that really didn’t get the exposure that my grandfather did, for various reasons, I think it would make him so happy,” said Owens’ granddaughter, Marlene Dortch.

MORE: Michael Phelps, Katie Ledecky big winners at Team USA Awards

Simone Biles discusses her future

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 16:  Gold medalist Simone Biles of the United States celebrates on the podium at the medal ceremony for the Women's Floor on Day 11 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at the Rio Olympic Arena on August 16, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
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Simone Biles does not know where she will be next October, when the 2017 World Championships will be held. Understandable, considering it is hard enough for her to keep track of where she will be tomorrow.

She has been living out of a suitcase, a very organized suitcase with pants on one side and tops on the other, since winning four Olympic gold medals in Rio. Her whirlwind travel schedule is full of media appearances, sponsor visits and a USA Gymnastics tour of shows. More than once she has woken up in a hotel, unsure which city she was in.

“Everything has happened so fast,” she said in a phone interview from the Team USA Awards red carpet in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday. “But it’s definitely amazing.”

Biles, 19, reiterated that she plans on taking a break from competition for about a year.

“There’s no way I could train 100% and still do everything that I am doing now,” she said.

Biles is not ready to set a date for her return to competitive gymnastics. She is not planning on entering the 2017 P&G Championships, which will be held Aug. 17-20, almost exactly a year after the 2016 Olympics.

“Oh goodness, I think that still falls under a year,” she said. “We will see. I could always change my mind.”

The 2017 World Championships will be held next October in Montreal. None of the previous four U.S. Olympic women’s all-around champions competed at Worlds the year after their Olympic triumphs, but Biles has not ruled it out.

She was asked if she had thought about competing in Montreal.

“I have and I haven’t,” said Biles, the three-time defending world all-around champion. “I try not to think too far ahead.”

It remains to be seen who will coach her once she returns to training. Aimee Boorman, who coached Biles since she was 7, is moving from Texas for a new gymnastics job in Florida.

Biles “loves Florida” and “thinks the whole state is beautiful” based on her two visits to the Sunshine State. But she is not sure if she will follow her coach to Florida.

“Florida is quite a ways away, but anything can happen,” she said. “We will have to see whenever I decide to start up again.”

Biles was speaking on behalf DICK’s Sporting Goods, who pledged a $1,000 donation for every Olympic and Paralympic Games medal won by a U.S. athlete in Rio. By winning five Olympics medals, Biles was directly responsible for a $5,000 contribution.

There are six Olympic medals available for female artistic gymnastics. Biles did not compete in the uneven bars final in Rio, but that could change at the Tokyo Games.

“My bar just needs to be a little bit stronger,” she said. “We’ll have to see once I go back to training to up my difficulty if it’s possible for me to get a sixth.”

Until then, Biles is enjoying her celebrity status. Since Rio, she has met Beyoncé, Kim Kardashian and Usher, and even filmed a music video with Jake Miller.

“I have no idea when this whole process slows down,” Biles said. “That would be a question for the world, not me.”

MORE: Best photos from red carpet of the Team USA Awards