Mariel Zagunis

Mariel Zagunis wins silver at World Fencing Championships (video)

Leave a comment

The most decorated U.S. fencer ever nearly returned to the top of her sport for the first time in four years Friday, but she couldn’t get past the world’s best.

Two-time Olympic champion Mariel Zagunis lost in the World Championships sabre final in Kazan, Russia, seeking her first World title since 2010.

Zagunis, ranked No. 2 in the world, fell 15-12 to top-ranked Ukrainian Olga Kharlan, who won her second straight World title. Zagunis picked up silver, her 11th career Worlds medal and fifth individual, after finishing fourth at the 2012 Olympics and losing in the quarterfinals of the 2013 Worlds.

“I’m always disappointed in any competition for not getting gold,” Zagunis said in a phone interview shortly after stepping off the podium. “I put pretty high standards on myself. Overall today, I’m pleased with the way I fenced. It was a long, hard-fought day to get to the gold-medal match [having to win five matches before the final].”

Kharlan and Zagunis played to seven ties in their final, with Kharlan falling off the strip on one point and doing the splits on the next after a brief delay. Kharlan took control from 11-all for the victory.

“I knew that there was very little room for error,” Zagunis said. “I gave up a few missed opportunities, and she capitalized on that. … Today went according to plan [overall]. It was still a close bout with me and Olga. It could have gone either way. A few touches here and there.”

Zagunis and Kharlan previously met in the 2012 Olympic bronze-medal match, where Kharlan came from behind to keep Zagunis from winning her third straight Olympic medal in the event (Zagunis won the first two golds in 2004 and 2008).

Zagunis’ semifinal in Kazan was also close, but she pulled away from 10-all to beat Russian Yana Egorian 15-12 to clinch a medal (fencing worlds award double bronzes).

“It feels really good to be back on the podium,” Zagunis said. “That’s one thing I’m taking away from today that’s a huge positive.”

Zagunis won the U.S.’ first medal of the World Championships on the first day of finals competition. The event continues through Wednesday, highlighted by reigning World foil champion Miles Chamley-Watson going on Saturday.

The World Championships are the end of Zagunis’ season. She’ll take a break and then try to qualify for her fourth Olympic Team beginning in April.

“Compared to last year’s World Championships and the way I performed there, this is a really big step forward for me,” Zagunis said.

In 2016, Zagunis could become the oldest U.S. Olympic women’s individual fencing medalist ever. She carried the U.S. flag at the 2012 Olympic Opening Ceremony.

Zagunis may continue to fence beyond the Rio de Janeiro Games.

“I don’t want to say Rio will be the last one, because who knows what’s going to happen there,” she said. “Fencing the way I fenced today kind of reinvigorated me.”

Jesse Owens biopic cast headliners revealed

Kristi Yamaguchi tells Nancy Kerrigan to ‘break a leg’ on ‘Dancing with the Stars’

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Kristi Yamaguchi told Nancy Kerrigan to “break a leg” on her “Dancing with the Stars” debut, an innocent tweet between friends that generated plenty of reaction.

“So excited for you @NancyAKerrigan ! Can’t wait to see you grace that ballroom floor, break a leg! #DWTS,” was posted on Yamaguchi’s account Monday morning.

It generated more than 6,000 likes, 3,000 retweets and 1,000 replies, many referencing the horrible attack on Kerrigan before the 1994 U.S. Championships (where Kerrigan’s knee was bruised, but not broken).

The tweet conjured memories of T-shirts sold leading up to the 1994 Lillehammer Olympics with the words “Harding-Kerrigan” on the front and “Norway ’94, Break a Leg!!!” on the back, reported by major media 23 years ago.

Yamaguchi and Kerrigan shared world championships and Olympic podiums in 1991 and 1992 (Yamaguchi winning both times; Kerrigan with bronze).

They remain friends. Kerrigan said she spoke with Yamaguchi, a past “Dancing with the Stars” winner, about the experience, according to TeamUSA.org.

“I said to Kristi, ‘You’ve seen me at shows, Kris, how demanding is it?’” Kerrigan said, according to the report. “She said it’s very demanding, but you have to do it. She’s like, ‘You’ve been through worse, you have to do it, it’s such a great experience.’”

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

VIDEO: Nancy Kerrigan’s first ‘Dancing with the Stars’ waltz

Pressure on Ashley Wagner at world championships

Getty Images
1 Comment

Ashley Wagner‘s four-year plan has her peaking in 2018, not at the 2017 World Championships, but many call Wagner to carry the U.S. women at worlds in Helsinki next week.

“Next year is the year that I am, like, in it to kill,” she said. “This year is maintaining. This year is my chance to work out all of the kinks, figure out where I want to be mentally going into next year.”

Wagner, the 2016 World silver medalist, is the only skater of three American women on this year’s worlds team with prior worlds experience. She is the only one ranked higher than 20th in the world this season.

Normally, figure skating is an individual sport. But next week, the top two U.S. women’s results must add up to no greater than 13 (Wagner places third, and either U.S. champion Karen Chen or U.S. bronze medalist Mariah Bell places 10th or better, for example).

If not, the U.S. will have two rather than the maximum three women’s entries at the PyeongChang Olympics. The U.S. had three spots at four of the last five Olympics.

Anything less than three in 2018 would mean the U.S. is not keeping up with world power Russia and maybe even Canada and Japan. And it becomes that much harder for Wagner and everyone else to make the Olympic team.

“I know that I have a huge role in these three spots at these world championships,” Wagner said. “I need to set this team up as good as I possibly can, so that way the pressure’s off the other girls.”

The others are the 17-year-old Chen, the surprise winner at the U.S. Championships in January, who then placed 12th at February’s Four Continents Championships, an event that doesn’t include Europeans. Chen said she suffered from nerves, a flu and foot pain caused by broken boots at Four Continents.

And Bell, who took silver at October’s Skate America behind training partner Wagner. Bell, 20, finished sixth at Four Continents at the 2018 Olympic venue in South Korea, where she competed with an amount of pressure she had never before felt.

Of skaters entered at worlds, Bell has the 10th-best total score this season. The skater with the 12th-best total in the worlds field is more than nine points shy of Bell. Chen comes in seeded 16th.

“The tough thing about this worlds is that we have two rookies going into a very stressful event,” Wagner said. “So these two girls are in a really tough position, and I really feel for them. It’s kind of like you have to buckle up and deal with this, and that’s like your only option.”

There is reason for optimism, should Wagner put up something close to the performance of her life from last year’s worlds, where she became the first U.S. women’s medalist in a decade.

“Success in Finland is getting onto that podium,” Wagner said.

But Wagner is nearing the end of her (so far) least impressive season in probably six years. She is seeded eighth at worlds by this season’s top international scores.

She failed to qualify for December’s Grand Prix Final for the first time since 2011. She was beaten at nationals despite longtime rival Gracie Gold underperforming.

However, Wagner’s goal at nationals wasn’t to win, but to finish in the top three to make the worlds team. She called the runner-up result “perfect.” She focused the last two months on firming up the areas where she lost points.

“Even though to some on the outside looking in, it wouldn’t look like it was the most successful season for me,” Wagner said. “I think at the end of the day this season has been exactly what I needed it to be.”

The favorite in Helsinki is clearly Russian Yevgenia Medvedeva, who hasn’t lost since November 2015 and can become the first repeat world champion since Michelle Kwan in 2001.

Wagner said she hasn’t watched any of Medvedeva’s programs this season.

“The only thing that I know about is her long program music is not my favorite piece of music,” Wagner said, alluding to Medvedeva’s choice of sound from “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close,” a 2011 film relating to the 9/11 attacks. The music includes, at one point, the voice of George W. Bush declaring that two airplanes crashed into the World Trade Center.

But Wagner was effusive of Medvedeva, the latest in a string of Russian Olympic and world champions dating to the Sochi Olympics.

“She is a set bar that everybody is chasing after, and I think in years past that bar was always changing,” Wagner said. “Now it’s one set thing I know exactly the quality of skating I have to reach, I know exactly the technical program that I have to be able to accomplish.”

Wagner, a seasoned 25 years old, noted a key point this week. She is the only active women’s skater in her class, with her length of experience, who hasn’t taken a break.

Italian Carolina Kostner is 30, but she’s competing at worlds for the first time since 2014, following two seasons off. Japan’s three-time world champion Mao Asada is 26, but she took a season off after Sochi and this year failed to make the worlds team.

Wagner reflected on her world silver medal and her three national championships. She knows they mean nothing next week.

“I have to prove myself all over again,” she said.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: Meryl Davis, Charlie White on why they’re not defending Olympic title

NBC Sports researcher Sarah Hughes contributed to this report.