Mao Asada, Julia Lipnitskaia, Carolina Kostner

Mao Asada wins World Championship; U.S. finishes with no medals

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Mao Asada might retire, but her fans weren’t ready to leave.

Asada won her third World Championship on Saturday. Few adoring Japanese flag-waving spectators appeared to exit the packed Saitama Super Arena near Tokyo until after her in-house interview, a medal ceremony, a lap of honor for all three medalists and more photo opps before she departed the ice.

Asada totaled 216.69 points, outlasting Russian Yulia Lipnitskaya (207.50) and Italian Carolina Kostner (203.83) for gold. She added to her collection that includes 2008 and 2010 World Championships and the 2010 Olympic silver medal.

Americans Gracie GoldAshley Wagner and Polina Edmunds were fifth, seventh and eighth.

No Americans won medals in any discipline at the World Championships for the first time since 1994. But the U.S. earned three spots for women’s, men’s and ice dance at the 2015 World Championships, a feat it hadn’t accomplished since 2008, and put three women in the top eight for the first time since 2006, the last time a U.S. woman won an Olympic or World Championships medal.

Asada, 23, said after a disappointing sixth-place finish at the Sochi Olympics that she was reconsidering plans to retire after the World Championships. She looked at the top of her game in the short program Thursday, recording the highest score in history.

Asada didn’t mention her future in her arena interview before receiving her gold medal.

“After finishing the season I could truly say figure skating is wonderful,” Asada said in Japanese, generating heavy applause after a slightly flawed free skate that included an under-rotated triple Axel and a step out on a double Axel landing.

MORE: Surprise ice dance winners | Hanyu comes back for gold | Germans take pairs

Asada’s place as one of the all-time greats is secure, despite what went wrong in Sochi or whether she skates competitively again.

She joined Michelle Kwan and Katarina Witt as the only women to win at least three World Championships in the last 45 years.

She’s been among her sport’s elite for nearly a decade and was considered talented enough to challenge for the gold medal at the 2006 Olympics despite not being old enough to compete. She also spent much of her career squaring off against 2010 Olympic champion Yuna Kim, who retired after winning silver in Sochi and is considered by some the greatest ever.

On the ice, Asada was best known for being one of few women to consistently attempt and land the triple Axel, drawing praise from critics and peers alike.

The Russian Lipnitskaya, 15 and the sensation of the Olympic team event, jumped past Kostner for silver.

Lipnitskaya was fifth at the Olympics, overshadowed by countrywoman Adelina Sotnikova, who in Sochi became the first woman to win Olympic gold without having won a medal at a previous World Championships. Sotnikova, ninth at last year’s World Championships, did not compete in Saitama.

The Italian Kostner, 27, held on for her sixth career World Championships medal, matching the color of her first in 2005 and of her only Olympic medal last month.

The women’s landscape is changing, as it usually does after an Olympics. Asada and Kostner may both retire, and Kim is definitely done. Lipnitskaya and Sotnikova are the leaders heading into the next Olympic cycle.

But the U.S. is not far behind and joins Russia and Japan with three women’s spots at next year’s World Championships.

Gold, 18, followed her fourth in Sochi with a fifth in Saitama, falling one spot from after the short program. The Frank Carroll student was disappointed with popping a jump and falling during her free skate Saturday.

“I don’t really know what happened,” Gold said. “I’m sorry I wasn’t able to put out my best performance.

“I need to train harder. I need to complete the whole package. One competition it’s lovely skating, one competition is lovely jumps. I have to work on putting the package together and getting better programs.”

Wagner, 22, maintained her seventh-place standing from the short program.

She posted the fourth highest free skate score, better than Gold, finishing a tumultuous season on a high. Wagner was put on the three-woman U.S. Olympic Team after finishing fourth at the U.S. Championships in January and then reverted her long program three weeks before the Olympics.

It finally felt right again Saturday.

“I feel like I was back as a competitor,” said Wagner, who was fourth at 2012 worlds, fifth at 2013 worlds and seventh in Sochi. “The past season has been very tough for me. Full of ups and downs and highs and lows. Everything that could have gone wrong this season went wrong.”

Edmunds, at just 15, may have the greatest potential.

She scored 4.7 points higher in her free skate than at the Olympics, finishing eighth, one spot higher than she was in Sochi. Lipnitskaya was the only woman in the top 10 at the Olympics or World Championships who was younger than the San Jose native.

The Olympics and World Championships were Edmunds’ first two senior international competitions. The goal for the U.S. women next year? Win the first U.S. women’s medal at the World Championships since 2006. Worlds are in Shanghai in March 2015.

“One of my best performances ever,” Edmunds said of her worlds debut. “I feel really comfortable here.”

Final Results
1. Mao Asada (JPN) 216.69
2. Yulia Lipnitskaya (RUS) 207.50
3. Carolina Kostner (ITA) 203.83
4. Anna Pogorilaya (RUS) 197.50
5. Gracie Gold (USA) 194.58
6. Akiko Suzuki (JPN) 193.72
7. Ashley Wagner (USA) 193.16
8. Polina Edmunds (USA) 187.50

Theme for Yuna Kim’s farewell ice shows announced

U.S. Olympic Committee to hire infectious disease specialists for Zika

Christ the Redeemer
AP
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The U.S. Olympic Committee will hire two infectious disease specialists to advise potential Olympians who are worried about the Zika outbreak in Brazil.

USOC CEO Scott Blackmun sent a letter Wednesday to all possible Olympians, acknowledging the growing worries over the virus.

“I know that the Zika virus outbreak in Brazil is of concern to many of you,” Blackmun wrote. “I want to emphasize that it is to us, as well, and that your well-being in Rio this summer is our highest priority.”

The letter goes on to spell out much of the information that’s already been relayed by the World Health Organization and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. The virus is spread by mosquitoes. About 20 percent of those infected display mild symptoms, including body aches and rash. But pregnant women and those considering getting pregnant have greater reason for concern because the virus can cause microcephaly, a birth defect marked by an abnormally small head.

In an interview with Sports Illustrated earlier this week, U.S. soccer goalkeeper Hope Solo said if the Olympics were being held now, she wouldn’t go.

Blackmun told The Associated Press that Solo’s comments “made us realize we need to provide concise and accurate info for our athletes.”

At least one of the two infectious disease specialists will be a woman, Blackmun said.

In addition to those two hires, the USOC will post updates to its website at USOC.org/RioTravelUpdates.

The USOC’s decision to hire the specialists was first reported by USA Today.

The letter, addressed to prospective members of the 2016 U.S. Olympic and Paralympic delegation, says “no matter how much we prepare … there will always be risk associated with international competition. Each country, each venue and each discipline will present different risks and require different mitigation strategies.”

Blackmun said the USOC is monitoring the frequent updates regarding Zika. The letter makes note that “rapid testing to determine if an individual is infected is expected in the near future.”

“First and foremost, we want to make sure our athletes have accurate information because they’re concerned,” Blackmun said. “Based on what we know now, the primary threat is to unborn children.”

MORE: Zika won’t stop Olympics; only war has done that, historian says

Alex Morgan scores 12 seconds into U.S. Olympic qualifying romp (video)

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Alex Morgan wasted no time igniting the U.S. women’s soccer team’s Olympic qualifying campaign.

The striker scored the first of her two goals 12 seconds into the Americans’ CONCACAF Olympic qualifying tournament-opening 5-0 rout of Costa Rica on Wednesday in Frisco, Texas.

It’s believed to be the fastest goal in U.S. Soccer history, according to U.S. Soccer.

“I think we shocked Costa Rica’s confidence a little bit,” Morgan said on NBC Sports Live Extra. “We’ve been working on that play, so I’m glad that we executed it perfectly.”

Crystal DunnCarli Lloyd and Christen Press also scored for the Americans, who are ranked No. 1 in the world. Costa Rica is ranked No. 34.

“Overall, we brought the fight,” Lloyd said on Live Extra. “We’ve got to put this one to bed and move on.”

The first three goals came in the first 15 minutes.

GOAL VIDEOS: Dunn | LloydMorgan’s second | Press

The U.S. is in one of two CONCACAF Olympic qualifying tournament groups with Costa Rica, Mexico (ranked No. 26) and Puerto Rico (No. 108).

It plays Mexico next on Saturday at 4 p.m. ET on NBC Sports Live Extra. Mexico crushed Puerto Rico 6-0 earlier Wednesday.

The top two nations per group will advance to the tournament semifinals, and the Feb. 19 semifinal winners advance to the Rio Games in August.

The U.S. is heavily favored to qualify for Rio, where it would go for its fourth straight Olympic title. The next-best North American team is ranked No. 11 (Canada, which is in the opposite CONCACAF Olympic qualifying tournament group).

If the U.S. and Canada win their respective groups, they would not have to play each other to qualify for the Olympics.

The U.S. roster for Olympic qualifying includes 13 of the 23 players from the World Cup, led by Olympic champions Morgan, Lloyd and Hope Solo, who blanked Costa Rica on Wednesday.

All 15 matches of the CONCACAF Olympic qualifying tournament will be streamed live on NBC Sports Live Extra.

MORE: No Olympics for Messi, but another Argentine star striker possible

2016 CONCACAF Women’s Olympic Qualifying Championship Schedule

Frisco, Texas – Toyota Stadium
Houston, Texas – BBVA Compass Stadium
Times U.S. Central (U.S. Eastern in parentheses)

FIRST ROUND
Group A: USA, Puerto Rico, Mexico, Costa Rica
Group B: Canada, Guatemala, Trinidad & Tobago, Guyana

Wednesday, Feb. 10 (Frisco)
Mexico 6, Puerto Rico 0                                 5 p.m. (6 p.m.)
USA 5, Costa Rica 0                                    7:30 p.m. (8:30 p.m.)

Thursday, Feb. 11 (Houston)
Guatemala vs. Trinidad & Tobago                  5 p.m. (6 p.m.)
Canada vs. Guyana                                           7:30 p.m. (8:30 p.m.)

Saturday, Feb. 13 (Frisco)
Costa Rica vs. Puerto Rico                              12:30 p.m. (1:30 p.m.)
USA vs. Mexico                                                 3 p.m. (4 p.m.) NBCSN at 9:30 p.m. ET

Sunday, Feb. 14 (Houston)
Guyana vs. Guatemala                                     12:30 p.m. (1:30 p.m.)
Trinidad vs. Canada                                          3 p.m. (4 p.m.)

Monday, Feb. 15 (Frisco)
Mexico vs. Costa Rica                                       5 p.m. (6 p.m.)
USA vs. Puerto Rico                                          7:30 p.m. (8:30 p.m.) LIVE on NBCSN

Tuesday, Feb. 16 (Houston)
Trinidad & Tobago vs. Guyana                         5 p.m. (6 p.m.)
Canada vs. Guatemala                                      7:30 p.m. (8:30 p.m.)

SEMIFINALS

Friday, Feb. 19 (Houston)
Group B winner vs. Group A runner-up          4:30 p.m. (5:30 p.m.) ***
Group A winner vs. Group B runner-up          7:30 p.m. (8:30 p.m.) ***

FINAL

Sunday, Feb. 21 (Houston)
Semifinal winners                                            4 p.m. (5 p.m.) NBCSN at 11 p.m.

***USA’s semifinal, should the USA advance, will air LIVE on NBCSN