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.

More: Asada sets world record in ladies’ short program | Savchenko/Szolkowy win pairs

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

Reaction to Olympic ruling not to ban Russia

SOCHI, RUSSIA - MARCH 07:  The flag of Russia is raised during the Opening Ceremony of the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games at Fisht Olympic Stadium on March 7, 2014 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)
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MOSCOW (AP) — The International Olympic Committee has opted against imposing a blanket ban on the Russian team for next month’s games in Rio de Janeiro.

Meeting after World Anti-Doping Agency reports alleged widespread doping and state-backed cover-ups of failed drug tests by Russians, the IOC ruled that a ban across all sports would unjustly punish clean athletes in Russia.

However, the IOC has placed restrictions on the Russian team, including a measure barring the selection of any athletes who have previously served doping bans. It also set out eligibility criteria for the various international federations of Olympic sports.

Here is a look at the reaction in Russia and around the world:

“An athlete should not suffer and should not be sanctioned for a system in which he was not implicated and where he can show that he was not implicated…At the end of the day, we have to be able to look in the eye of the individual athletes concerned by this decision.” – IOC President Thomas Bach, a former Olympic fencer, tells reporters why the IOC did not impose a blanket ban on Russia.

“When a crime is committed, the guilty party is tried and punished, but you don’t put his family, friends and acquaintances behind bars just because they knew the criminal or they live in the same town.” – Russian Olympic Committee President Alexander Zhukov in an address to the IOC board ahead of its ruling not to impose a blanket ban.

“Many, including clean athletes and whistleblowers, have demonstrated courage and strength in confronting a culture of state-supported doping and corruption within Russia. Disappointingly, however, in response to the most important moment for clean athletes and the integrity of the Olympic Games, the IOC has refused to take decisive leadership. The decision regarding Russian participation and the confusing mess left in its wake is a significant blow to the rights of clean athletes.” – U.S. Anti-Doping Agency CEO Travis Tygart.

“The IOC decision was to be expected. You can’t behave improperly toward a power like Russia.” – Gennady Alyoshin, a Russian Olympic Committee official, in comments to Tass.

“We are grateful to the IOC for allowing Russian athletes in. I’m sure that the majority of the Russian national team will be able to comply with the criteria.” – Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko.

“Well, that’s the IOC board off my Xmas card list then,” – Olympic long jump champion Greg Rutherford of Britain on Twitter.

“We have created and been through the process. We know how hard it is emotionally and rationally to get the process right… We continue to stand by to assist and offer advice to any international sports federations.” Sebastian Coe, head of track and field’s governing body, the IAAF, which barred all but one Russian athlete.

“Raising her to the status of a hero is like stupidly spitting in all our faces. So it’s right that she can’t compete at the Olympics. At least one wise decision on track and field has been taken.” – Two-time Olympic pole vault champion Yelena Isinbayeva discusses the IOC’s refusal to let doping whistleblower Yulia Stepanova race in Rio, in comments to R-Sport.

MORE: IOC will not enforce complete ban on Russia for Rio Olympics

IOC will not enforce complete ban on Russia for Rio Olympics

LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 27:  Maria Sharapova of the Russia Olympic tennis team carries her country's flag during the Opening Ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium on July 27, 2012 in London, England.  (Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images)
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LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AP) — Rejecting calls by anti-doping officials for a complete ban on Russia, Olympic leaders on Sunday gave individual sports federations the task of deciding which athletes should be cleared to compete in next month’s Rio de Janeiro Games.

Citing the need to protect the rights of individual athletes, the International Olympic Committee decided against taking the unprecedented step of excluding Russia’s entire team over allegations of state-sponsored doping. Instead, the IOC left it to 27 international sports federations to make the call on a case-by-case basis.

“Every human being is entitled to individual justice,” IOC President Thomas Bach said after the ruling of his 15-member executive board.

Bach said the IOC had decided instead on a set of “very tough criteria” that could dent Russia’s overall contingent and medal hopes in Rio, where the Olympics will open on Aug. 5.

Under the measures, no Russian athletes who have ever had a doping violation will be allowed into the games, whether or not they have served a sanction, a rule that has not applied to athletes in other countries.

In addition, the international sports federations were ordered to check each Russian athlete’s drug-testing record, with only doping controls conducted outside Russia counting toward eligibility, before authorizing them to compete. Final entry is contingent on approval from an independent sports arbitrator.

The IOC decision was sharply criticized by anti-doping bodies as a sellout that undermines clean athletes and destroys the idea of a level playing field.

World Anti-Doping Agency President Craig Reedie said the organization is “disappointed that the IOC did not heed WADA’s executive committee recommendations” after investigators “exposed, beyond a reasonable doubt, a state-run doping program in Russia that seriously undermines the principles of clean sport.”

Joseph de Pencier, chief executive of the 59-member Institute of National Anti-Doping Organisations, said the IOC “failed to confront forcefully the findings of evidence of state-sponsored doping in Russia corrupting the Russian sport system,” describing it as “a sad day for clean sport.”

U.S. Anti-Doping Agency CEO Travis Tygart said the “IOC has refused to take decisive leadership” in a most important moment for the integrity of the Olympic Games and clean athletes.

“The decision regarding Russian participation and the confusing mess left in its wake is a significant blow to the rights of clean athletes,” Tygart said.

Russia’s track and field athletes were already banned by the IAAF, the sport’s governing body, in a decision that was upheld by the Court of Arbitration for Sport. The IOC accepted that ruling, but would not extend it to other sports.

Russia’s current overall team consists of 387 athletes, a number likely to be significantly reduced by the measure barring Russians who have previously served doping bans.

Calls for a complete ban on Russia intensified after Richard McLaren, a Canadian lawyer commissioned by WADA, issued a report accusing Russia’s sports ministry of overseeing a vast doping program of its Olympic athletes.

McLaren’s investigation, based heavily on evidence from former Moscow doping lab director Grigory Rodchenkov, affirmed allegations of brazen manipulation of Russian urine samples at the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, but also found that state-backed doping had involved 28 summer and winter sports from 2011 to 2015.

“An athlete should not suffer and should not be sanctioned for a system in which he was not implicated,” Bach told reporters after Sunday’s meeting, acknowledging the decision “might not please everybody.”

“This is not about expectations,” he said. “This is about doing justice to clean athletes all over the world.”

Asked whether the IOC was being soft on Russia, Bach said: “Read the decision. … You can see how high we set the bar. This is not the end of the story but a preliminary decision that concerns Rio 2016.”

Tygart, however, questioned why the IOC “would pass the baton to sports federations who may lack the adequate expertise or collective will to appropriately address the situation within the short window prior to the games.”

The IOC also rejected the application by Russian whistleblower Yulia Stepanova, an 800-meter runner and former doper who helped expose the doping scandal, to compete under a neutral flag at the games. Stepanova, now living in the United States, competed as an individual athlete at last month’s European Championships in Amsterdam.

But the IOC said Stepanova did not meet the criteria for running under the IOC flag and, because she had been previously banned for doping, did not satisfy the “ethical requirements” to compete in the games. The IOC said it planned to invite Stepanova and her husband, Vitaly Stepanov, a former Russian anti-doping official who also turned whistleblower, to attend the games.

Tygart expressed dismay at the decision to bar Stepanova, describing it as “incomprehensible” and saying it “will undoubtedly deter whistleblowers in the future from coming forward.”

That means only one Russian track and field athlete is eligible to compete in Rio: U.S.-based long jumper Darya Klishina was granted exceptional eligibility by the IAAF because she has been tested outside of Russia.

Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko said “the majority” of Russia’s team complies with the IOC criteria, and estimated “80 percent” of the team regularly undergoes international testing of the kind specified by the IOC.

International federations will have only days to process the Russian cases. Many are still waiting for information from McLaren’s report.

The International Tennis Federation has already said Russia’s eight-member team meets the IOC requirements as the players have been through regular international testing.

Sunday’s measures are still a blow to Russia, which finished third in total medals at the 2012 Olympics.

The team could be without some of its star names in Rio because of the IOC measure barring any Russians who have previously served doping bans. However, the impact on the medal tally is likely to be less severe than the damage caused by the earlier ban on its track team, Russia’s most successful contingent in London four years ago.

Among those set to be ruled out are world champion swimmer Yulia Efimova; 2012 Olympic silver medal-winning weightlifter Tatyana Kashirina; and two-time Olympic bronze medal-winning cyclist Olga Zabelinskaya. All three have previously served doping bans.

Russian Olympic Committee president Alexander Zhukov presented his case to the IOC board, promising full cooperation with investigations and guaranteeing “a complete and comprehensive restructuring of the Russian anti-doping system.”

He issued a strong plea against a full ban.

“My question is this: If you treat the cancer by cutting off the patient’s head and killing him, do you consider this as a victory in the fight?” he said in remarks released later. “That does not seem like a victory to me.”

In its decision, the IOC also:

– asked the federations to examine the information and names of athletes and sports implicated in the McLaren report, saying any of those implicated should not be allowed into the games.

– said the federations would have to apply their own rules if they want to ban an entire Russian team from their events in Rio, as the IAAF has already done.

– said Russian entries must be examined and upheld by an expert from the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

– ruled that Russian athletes who are cleared for the games will be subjected to a “rigorous additional out-of-competition testing program.”

The IOC also reiterated its “serious concerns” about the weaknesses in the fight against doping, and called on WADA to “fully review their anti-doping systems.” The IOC said it would propose measures for more transparency and independence.

MORE: Russia loses Olympic track and field ban appeal