Ashley Wagner

Ashley Wagner conquers freezing temperatures; ‘Russian fleet’ is next

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NEW YORK — Ashley Wagner skated at the Olympics, the World Championships, under the pressure of defending U.S. Championships, but nothing could have prepared her for The Rink at Rockefeller Center on Friday morning.

The temperature? Single digits. It felt below zero.

Wagner spun around the ice in teeth-chattering conditions, her breath visible and her bare skin reddened. She wore a black dress with gloves, but no cover over her arms.

She finished the skate, opting not to perform jumps, and scurried off the ice, covering her cheeks with her gloves and enveloping into a zip-up jacket. Somebody standing just behind the boards asked if she’d ever skated in this type of weather.

Wagner raised her eyebrows and replied with emphasis.

“This is the coldest,” the Southern California resident said.

Later, Wagner regained the feeling to offer more words, warmed up in the TODAY green room.

“It was more a test of my mental strength than anything else,” she said. “There’s nothing comparable. Nothing even close to that. That was absolutely frigidly cold.

“The main concern with something like that is that you don’t get hurt. Your body can’t be warmed up to really be able to move the way it should for skating. You just kind of have to play it safe.”

Friday ushered in reportedly the coldest weekend in New York in two decades. The type of weather to enjoy an indoor fireplace with a loved one on Valentine’s Day, not to rapidly cut through the air on blades, with little clothing.

“You always know that it’s going to be cold because it’s an outdoor event,” Wagner said of scheduling the skate. “It’s during the dead of winter, but I think this is like unreasonably cold for this time of year. I didn’t expect that, but I feel like I can take on anything now.”

Which brings up Wagner’s next big skate, under completely different challenges. She enters the World Championships in Shanghai in March coming off two of the greatest performances of her career.

The 23-year-old leaped from sixth place to a bronze medal at the Grand Prix Final in December and captured her third U.S. title in Greensboro, N.C., in January.

She joined Irina SlutskayaMichelle KwanMao Asada and Yuna Kim as the only women to win medals at three straight Grand Prix Finals. Everyone in that quartet won at least silver in the Olympics.

She became the first woman since Kwan to win three U.S. titles. Kwan won nine.

“It’s still so weird for to even hear my name in the same sentence as [Kwan], let alone begin compared to her,” Wagner said. “Of course, it would be a dream come true to be even an ounce of what Michelle Kwan was, but I think I have so much work ahead of me to really be able to think about that. She accomplished so much and is a legend in the sport.”

Wagner said she is “absolutely” more confident going into these World Championships than any major international competition in her career. She skipped this past weekend’s Four Continents Championships to train and focus on Worlds.

Wagner felt she left points on the table with her spins at the U.S. Championships, where she shattered Nationals records for free skate and total scores.

“A lot of people called it the skate of a lifetime, and it was an incredible skate, no doubt, but I have more skates like that left in me,” Wagner said. “I think that I can improve on that.”

Wagner is seeking her first medal at a World Championships in her fifth appearance. She was fourth, fifth and seventh the last three years. No U.S. woman has won a medal at Worlds since 2006, the longest drought since World War I.

“The way Raf [coach Rafael Arutyunyan] has prepared me this entire season, I’ve been building and building, getting better and better,” Wagner said. “I need that time to make sure my technical arsenal is stronger than ever and secure. That way, under pressure, up against the Russian fleet, I’ll be able to hold my own.”

Wagner knows the medal favorites in Shanghai will be led by Russians. Wagner successfully kept them from a podium sweep at the Grand Prix Final and must beat at least one of them again to make the podium in Shanghai.

She will be boosted by the presence in Shanghai of close friend Adam Rippon, the U.S. silver medalist who roomed with Wagner at Nationals and helped choreograph her short program. They’re both competing at Worlds for the first time since 2012.

“It’s like a little bit of home,” Wagner said. “To have that one person who knows everything about me, has seen the way I’ve prepared for competition, someone to calm me down, it’s really been a tool for me. I think that was part of the key to my success in Greensboro.”

Video: Polina Edmunds rises to win Four Continents; Gracie Gold struggles

Adam Jones, five-time MLB All-Star, becomes Olympic eligible

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Should the U.S. qualify for baseball’s Olympic return, a five-time MLB All-Star could be eligible for its roster in Tokyo. And he has interest.

Outfielder Adam Jones signed with the Orix Buffaloes of Japan’s domestic league, which, unlike MLB, will take an Olympic break next summer to allow players to take part in the first Olympic baseball tournament in 12 years.

Jones, 34, made no mention of Olympic eligibility in a social media post announcing the signing. His Instagram avatar is a photo of him in a Team USA jersey from the World Baseball Classic.

Jones’ agent later said that Jones does have interest in playing for the U.S. in Tokyo, should an American team qualify in the spring.

“To play over in Japan has always been a desire of Adam’s, and the timing worked out that the Olympics happens to be played in Tokyo the first year of his contract,” Jones’ agent wrote in an email. “It wasn’t one of the factors on his decision BUT more of a [sic] addition to the overall package to decide to go.”

Jones called being part of the U.S.’ 2017 WBC title, “probably the best experience of my life so far, especially with sports,” according to The Associated Press. He was one of five players to be on the U.S. team at each of the last two World Baseball Classics.

The U.S. still faces a difficult task to qualify for the Tokyo Games. It lost to Mexico last month in its first of up to three chances at qualifying tournaments, using a roster of mostly double-A and triple-A caliber players.

Major Leaguers are not expected to be made available for qualifying or for the Tokyo Games.

The next two qualifying tournaments will be in late March (an Americas qualifier in Arizona) and early April (a final, global qualifying event in Chinese Taipei). It remains to be seen how MLB clubs will go about releasing minor leaguers for a tournament that will take place during spring training.

Jones could become the third player with prior MLB All-Star experience to compete at the Olympics from any nation, joining Australian catcher Dave Nilsson and Canadian pitcher Jason Dickson.

Jones made five All-Star teams during an 11-year stint with the Baltimore Orioles from 2008-18 before playing for the Arizona Diamondbacks last season.

Many players competed at the Olympics before making an MLB All-Star team, including Stephen Strasburg and Jason Giambi.

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Russia boxers to boycott Olympics if sanctions not lifted

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Russian boxers will only take part in the Tokyo Olympics if doping sanctions forcing them to compete as neutral athletes are overturned, the general secretary of the Russian Boxing Federation told The Associated Press on Wednesday.

Umar Kremlev said he has spoken with the Olympic boxing team and they “unanimously” rejected the conditions laid out by the World Anti-Doping Agency as punishment for manipulating doping data.

The WADA sanctions, announced on Monday, ban the use of the Russian team name, flag or anthem at a range of major sports competitions over the next four years, including next year’s Olympics.

“They said we won’t go without our flag and anthem,” Kremlev said. “We aren’t going for medals, but for that feeling that I brought the highest honor home for my country.”

Separately, the speaker of Russia’s upper house of parliament said Russia could create an alternative to the Olympics.

“This ruling show the clear crisis in international sports institutions. I believe that Russia could host its own games at home,” Valentina Matvienko said in comments reported by the Interfax news agency.

There is a precedent. After the Russian Revolution of 1917, the Soviet Union refused to compete in the Olympics and hosted its own Spartakiads — named after the ancient rebel slave Spartacus — with a strong socialist slant. However, the Soviet Union began competing at the Olympics in 1952 and Russians generally take great pride in the country’s Olympic achievements since then.

If the sanctions aren’t overturned, Kremlev said Russian boxers would prefer to turn pro rather than compete at the Olympics.

“A world champion (in professional boxing) is better known than an Olympic champion,” Kremlev said, adding the Russian anthem would be played before pro title fights.

Kremlev said boxers are being asked to shoulder the blame for offenses committed in other sports. He said they would still stay at home even if Russia’s athletes in other sports decided to take part.

“If other sports are guilty and people have breached the WADA code, why are we punished?” he said. “We are for honest sport and against doping. We want our sport to be clean … If someone breaks the rules, we push them out.”

Russia is a major power in amateur and Olympic boxing. It hosted both men’s and women’s world championships this year, finishing at the top of the medals table at the women’s event and second in the men’s championships. The International Olympic Committee has taken direct charge of boxing at the Tokyo Olympics after criticizing chronic financial problems and infighting at the International Boxing Association.

Russian Sports Minister Pavel Kolobkov talked up Russia’s chances of overturning the WADA sanctions.

“I think that there is every basis to appeal the decision, because our experts have presented their position, and they have the same database as WADA does,” Kolobkov said in comments reported by state news agency TASS. “There is an answer to every question and the whole process is ahead of us.”

The official decision on whether to dispute the sanctions will be made on Dec. 19 by the Russian anti-doping agency’s supervisory board, but senior figures, including Russian President Vladimir Putin, have signaled their preference for taking the matter to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

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