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

IIHF president doesn’t expect NHL participation in 2018 Olympics

Sidney Crosby
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SOCHI, Russia (AP) — The head of ice hockey’s international body says there’s a strong possibility that NHL players won’t be competing at the next Winter Olympics.

International Ice Hockey Federation president Rene Fasel puts the chances at 60 percent that the NHL will decline to go to the 2018 Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, because of a lack of money to cover player insurance.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Fasel said the IOC has canceled its contribution to player travel and insurance costs for Pyeongchang, leaving the IIHF facing a $10 million shortfall and “begging” for money around the world.

“It’s always difficult to get (to) the Olympics, the Games,” he said. “And now with some problems on our side, 50-50 is very positive. I would be more 60 percent that they are not coming.”

Negotiations and brinkmanship over finances are common in the lead-up to Olympic hockey tournaments. For the 2014 tournament in Sochi, Russia, the NHL’s participation was assured only in July 2013, seven months before the games. But the IOC’s refusal to cover player insurance adds an additional dimension for 2018.

While the IOC gives the IIHF around $40 million of revenue each Olympics, Fasel insists that money is earmarked for developing hockey and wants national Olympic committees and hockey federations to plug the gap.

The IOC pulled its extra subsidy because its leaders are “a bit scared that other (sports) federations will come and also ask for some compensation for traveling and insurance,” said Fasel, who is also an IOC member and serves on its rule-making executive board.

“I think my idea is to work closer together with the national Olympic committees, as they have normally to pay transportation and insurance for the athletes when they come to the games, so I can imagine that some of the NOCs are also ready to spend some money there, so we have to go around and do some begging,” he said.

Fasel said the end of this year is the deadline to reach a deal because of the NHL’s need to draw up a calendar for the Olympic season.

“If you don’t have the best, (the Olympics) will be a different competition for sure,” he said, but warned: “At the end somebody has to pay. That’s the question. On my side I will do everything possible to make it happen.”

Fasel also dismissed the suggestion that the NHL’s revived World Cup of Hockey could offer some players less incentive to demand to be allowed to play at the Olympics.

“There is nothing like the Olympics,” he said. “I think for an athlete to win the gold medal is so different from winning the Stanley Cup. You can win the Stanley Cup every year.”

In Pyeongchang in 2018 and Beijing in 2022, the Winter Olympics move to Asia and away from the North American and European nations that have historically been the bedrock of hockey.

South Korea, which has built a team mixing import players with locals, plays in the second level of the IIHF’s world championship and hopes not to be a walkover in 2018. China, however, is far less competitive.

After losses to Iceland and Spain last month, China will be in the fifth tier for next year and in 2022 could become the first Winter Olympic host not to enter a hockey team — a situation which worries the IIHF, given China’s potential to become a huge market for the sport.

“One thing they do not like is to lose the face, so they cannot do that,” Fasel said. “I hope and I think they will have a Chinese player, Chinese team in Beijing in 2022. We cannot put them on the ice and they will be beaten 15, 20-nothing. We cannot do that.”

Things are looking up for China, with increased government interest and the Russia-based Kontinental Hockey League due to open a team there this year, but Fasel said the NHL is key to unlocking potentially vast commercial rewards in China.

“A North American brand in China has a very special taste. We can see that with the NBA,” he said. “I think what we need is to have a Chinese NHL player, like Yao Ming with basketball.”

MORE: 2018 Olympic men’s hockey groups determined

Olympic flame arrives in Brazil (video)

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BRASILIA, Brazil (AP) — The Brazilian torch relay for the Rio de Janeiro Olympics kicked off Tuesday with double gold-medal winning volleyball player Fabiana Claudino running the first leg after the torch was ignited by embattled President Dilma Rousseff.

“Brazil is ready to host the most successful Olympics in history,” Rousseff said in a speech to start the three-month relay around the country.

Rousseff is expected to be suspended from office next week as the country’s senate hears an impeachment case against her, which means Vice President Michel Temer is likely to be president when the Games open at the Maracana stadium on Aug. 5.

The Olympic flame arrived in a lantern on a flight from Switzerland and was taken to the Planalto presidential palace.

The relay across Brazil will involve 329 cities and 12,000 torchbearers. Rio organizers hope it will build enthusiasm for the games, which has lagged as Brazil battles bribery and corruption scandals, its deepest recession in decades and the Zika virus outbreak.

Rousseff spoke for 20 minutes, promising Rio is ready with completed venues and top security.

“Brazil is completely ready to offer protection to the athletes, the technical staffs, heads of delegations, tourists, and journalists – to all our visitors,” she said.

Rousseff said the country was working with international security agencies “who have experience with terrorism.”

“The Olympic torch will be received with joy in all cities in our immense Brazil,” she said. “The flame will illuminate a hospitable and responsible country.”

She also touched on the political and economic turmoil rocking South America’s largest country.

“We know political problems exist in our country today,” she said. “We know there is political instability. Brazil will be capable in a difficult period, a very difficult, critical period in the history of our democracy of dealing with the problems. … It’s important to fight, and we know how to fight.”

Security experts are expecting protests during the relay, and on Tuesday a few hundred protesters gathered on a relay route controlled with a heavy police presence.

One sign in English read: “OlyImpeachment is here.”

Colonel Jose Vicente da Silva, a former head of public security, told The Associated Press in a recent interview that he expects demonstrations along the route.

“Wherever the torch goes, there will be a camera on it,” Silva said. “There will be banners for or against President Rousseff. There is a chance of big protests during the torch relay.”

MORE: Rio Olympic flame will live downtown — not in stadium