John Coates

IOC vice president: Rio Olympic preparations ‘worst’ ever

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Preparations for the Rio 2016 Olympics are “the worst I have experienced,” International Olympic Committee vice president John Coates said Tuesday.

Coates, the president of the Australian Olympic Committee (AOC), has been an IOC member since 2001 and involved in the Summer Games for more than 30 years. He has visited Rio de Janeiro six times as part of the IOC’s Coordination Commission for the Games.

“They are not ready in many many ways,” Coates said, according to the AOC, at an Olympic forum in Sydney. “The city also has social issues that need to be addressed.”

Coates said there is no plan B and that the Games are going to Rio in two years.

He repeated concerns the IOC has voices about delayed preparations and said the situation is worse than that of Athens 2004. Four years before the Athens Olympics, then-IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch gave Games organizers a warning for being in a “yellow phase” with “many problems.” A green phase meant everything was proceeding smoothly, and a red phase meant the Games were in danger.

Coates said the IOC’s measure to embed officials in Rio’s Organizing Committee is “unprecedented.”

“The situation is critical on the ground,” Coates said. “We have to make it happen, and that is the IOC approach. You can’t walk away from this.”

Coates detailed publicized issues at the forum, such as construction not yet starting on some venues. The resignation of a top official, political and communication issues and a worker strike have recently set back the organization of the first Olympics in South America. Water quality is a major concern, he said.

Rio 2016 posted a statement on its website later Tuesday.

“Rio will host excellent Games that will be delivered absolutely within the agreed timelines and budgets,” it read.

The IOC, which has sent executive director Gilbert Felli to Rio, also issued a statement.

“Mr. Felli has received a very positive response on the ground in the past few days, and a number of recent developments show that things are moving in the right direction,” the IOC said. “Now is a time to look forward to work together and to deliver great games for Rio, Brazil and for the world, and not to engage in discussion of the past. We continue to believe that Rio is capable of providing outstanding games.”

Catching up with Laura Wilkinson

Ashley Wagner handed Puffs box in emotional press conference (video)

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KANSAS CITY — Ashley Wagner was on the verge of tears (of joy) after taking silver at the U.S. Championships. A U.S. Figure Skating official came to her aid during a press conference, passing a box of Puffs onto the table.

A reporter told Wagner, 25, that it’s believed she’s the oldest U.S. women’s podium finisher since at least World War II. Wagner, not much of a fan of age remarks, smiled.

“Oh my god, you had to mention a World War,” she said. “I’m getting emotional, just because this is so hard, what I do, and I am so proud that I am still here today because I was 15 or 16 at my first world championships [16, in 2008], and I’m here, and I’m 25, it’s almost 10 years later. That’s something that you just don’t see in this sport. I’m here because I love it, and I am so stubborn.”

At that point, the green box of Puffs, one of U.S. Figure Skating’s sponsors, appeared to Wagner’s right.

“My passion is what fuels me,” she continued, “and I’m really proud of myself. I hope one day people will look back. I’m always here because I work to be here, and that’s something that I’m really proud of.”

MORE: Gracie Gold comments after sixth-place finish

Karen Chen holds off Ashley Wagner for shocking U.S. title

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KANSAS CITY — Karen Chen was as surprised as anyone that she won the U.S. title.

“I’m just in complete shock,” said Chen, who was eighth last year. “It was hard for me to believe that this day would come.”

Chen, 17, overcame nearly two seasons’ worth of struggles to win her first national championship Saturday night. She posted the highest short-program and free-skate scores and topped a field that included three Olympians.

Most notably Ashley Wagner, who finished second, 2.44 points behind. Wagner, a three-time U.S. champion and 2016 World silver medalist, just missed becoming the oldest women’s gold medalist in 90 years.

Wagner didn’t seem to mind her first U.S. silver medal, though, because she’s surely going to be on the three-woman world championships team named Sunday.

“This is perfect for me,” said Wagner, who came into the week as the clear favorite. “It gives me the opportunity to go in [to the world championships] with my head down and keep on working. I know where I lost my points. … I’m not planning on peaking here.”

Mariah Bell, who shares a coach with Wagner, jumped from sixth after the short program to finish third and likely lock down the last worlds spot. Full results are here.

Gracie Gold, who finished fourth at the Olympics and the last two worlds, tumbled to sixth place and is likely to miss worlds for the first time in her five-year senior career. Gold reflected on her disastrous season afterward.

It was also a heartbreaking day for 2010 Olympian Mirai Nagasu, who fell from second after the short program to finish fourth, 3.02 behind Bell.

Nagasu had four of her jumps called under-rotated in her free skate. Nagasu was heartbreakingly left off the 2014 Olympic team. It looks like she finished one spot shy of making the worlds team, which is chosen by a committee.

“I am speechless,” Nagasu said. “I knew I was ready, and I just didn’t deliver tonight. … This isn’t the way I wanted it to go, but I think that people are defined by how they react to things.”

Like Chen. The Fremont, Calif., native burst onto the scene two years ago, finishing third at nationals behind Wagner and Gold at age 15.

She was too young to be selected for the 2015 Worlds team. Little had been heard about Chen since (though plenty has been from U.S. men’s leader Nathan Chen, also 17 years old but unrelated).

She dropped to eighth at the 2016 U.S. Championships and came into Kansas City as the seventh-ranked U.S. woman this season. Struggling to find comfortable boots — a common skater problem — has plagued her. She went through 14 pairs in a four-month stretch.

But Chen felt plenty comfortable Thursday, performing a rare clean program for the lead.

“I skated the short of my dreams,” Chen said. “I wanted to follow it up with a close to perfect long.”

It was pretty darn close. Chen landed all of her jumps clean, including seven triples.

“This moment was something that I really dreamed about,” Chen said. “It was far from reality.”

Wagner will likely be leading a world championships team with two rookies in Chen and Bell.

It’s the most pressure-packed worlds of the four-year cycle, because the skaters’ placements determine how many Olympic spots each nation receives.

To ensure the maximum three spots at the Olympics, the top two U.S. finishers at worlds must add up to no more than 13 (sixth and seventh, for example).

Japan and Russia will send three skaters each with the talent to finish in the top five. Canadian champion Kaetlyn Osmond is also a medal threat. Wagner, sitting next to Chen and Bell, stressed that they should “tune out the noise” going into the biggest competition of their careers.

“It is so easy to be devoured by you guys because you all have eaten me alive before,” Wagner, who made her worlds debut in 2008, told the media. “Karen just has to deliver what she did here, Mariah has to do the same thing, and we’ll be set.”

Earlier Saturday, Maia and Alex Shibutani were beaten in the free dance but held on to repeat as U.S. championsHaven Denney and Brandon Frazier were the best of a flawed pairs field to earn their first U.S. title.

The U.S. Championships conclude Sunday with the men’s free skate (4 p.m. ET, NBC, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app). Nathan Chen, 17, is in position to become the youngest U.S. men’s champion in 51 years.

Check out NBCsports.com/USFIGS for all-access coverage all weekend.

VIDEO: Tara Lipinski reflects on winning 1997 U.S. title at age 14