Elizaveta Tuktamysheva

Elizaveta Tuktamysheva wins World Championship; U.S. just misses medals

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Elizaveta Tuktamysheva finished 10th at the Russian Championships last season. She finished first at the World Championships on Saturday.

Tuktamysheva strolled to the biggest victory of her career, by a whopping 16.76 points in Shanghai. Japan’s Satoko Miyahara took silver, with Russian Yelena Radionova snagging bronze (full results here).

Only 2010 Olympic champion Yuna Kim captured a World Championship by a greater margin under the scoring system implemented in 2005.

Americans Gracie Gold, Ashley Wagner and Polina Edmunds finished fourth, fifth and eighth. That’s the closest the U.S. women have come to earning a Worlds medal since the last American medals in 2006.

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Tuktamysheva, 18, had the title all but locked up before she took the ice for her free skate.

She led by a comfortable 8.11 after Thursday’s short program, where she landed a triple Axel, and her biggest threat, Radionova, did not impress in her free skate. Tuktamysheva then skated and wasn’t as spectacular as in the short program, but she stayed on her feet and landed seven triple jumps.

Tuktamysheva won eight international competitions this season, including her three biggest — Worlds, the European Championships and the Grand Prix Final.

She was the Russian champion two years ago, but in the Olympic season finished 10th at Nationals and did not come close to making it to Sochi.

“Following the failure last season, it was difficult,” Tuktamysheva said, according to the International Skating Union. “My coaches helped me, who always believed in me even when I didn’t believe in myself anymore. I realized that I am very capable and that this is not the end and that I just have to survive this moment and I am glad that I was able to come back into the elite of women’s figure skating.”

Next year, Tuktamysheva could try to become the first woman since Michelle Kwan to win back-to-back World Championships.

“I admire her so much for coming back and bringing a whole new level of difficulty to the sport,” Wagner said, according to the International Skating Union. “Triple Axels will be mandatory before we know it.”

Tuktamysheva may have to deal with the return of Russian Olympic champion Adelina Sotnikova, who did not compete in top-level events this season and tore an ankle ligament in November. Plus, Olympic team event star Yulia Lipnitskaya, who struggled this year and did not earn a spot for the World Championships in Shanghai.

Tuktamysheva, who joined a short list of women to land a clean triple Axel at Worlds, may continue to push her athletic boundaries.

“I haven’t excluded the idea of learning a quad toe [loop], but for sure I won’t do it in my program,” she said, according to the International Skating Union.

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Next year, the Americans will again try to end their longest women’s Worlds medal drought since World War I. They’ll have home-ice advantage in Boston and perhaps a little momentum after Gold and Wagner had the second- and third-best free skates Saturday.

Gold finished fourth, improving from eighth place after the short program. Gold, who outscored everyone but Tuktamysheva in the free skate, missed a medal by 2.51 points. She was fourth at the Sochi Olympics and fifth at the 2014 World Championships.

“It’s always hard to skate a long program after a rough short program, because if you can’t get through a short well, how could you go through a long program?” Gold said, according to Reuters.

Her venerable coach, Frank Carroll, told her she skated beautifully as she came off the ice.

“You kept that going right to the end,” Carroll said.

Gold endured struggles this season, missing the Grand Prix Final with a stress fracture in her foot in December, giving up her U.S. title in January and finishing fourth at the Four Continents Championships in February, when she was the most accomplished skater in the field.

“This year was a little more rough and tumble for me,” she said, according to The Associated Press. “I’m used to being at least consistently going up, maybe a little down. Wiping the ice at the Four Continents event and breaking a foot aren’t really in my usual plans. Those are some pretty severe ups and downs.”

U.S. champion Wagner was right behind Gold in fifth, improving from 11th after a disastrous short program. She had the third-best free skate.

“You did your best,” her coach, Rafael Arutyunyan, told Wagner after her performance.

Wagner was considered a great hope to win her first Worlds medal in her fifth appearance, coming off a bronze at the Grand Prix Final in December and reclaiming the U.S. title from Gold in January.

“It might sound silly because I’m 23 years old, but I’m still learning in this sport,” Wagner said, according to the AP. “I was a late bloomer. To go out there under such immense pressure, to redeem myself in a way, that’s something I’m very proud of.”

The third American, Edmunds, fell one spot from seventh, best of the U.S. in the short program, to eighth place. Edmunds was ninth at the Sochi Olympics and eighth at the 2014 World Championships.

“I’m kind of disappointed in my score,” Edmunds, who did not fall but under-rotated three jumps in her free skate, said in quotes from U.S. Figure Skating. “I feel it was low for what I executed.”

Gold, Wagner and Edmunds could all return for the 2016 World Championships in Boston, but they will be challenged by Karen Chen, a 15-year-old who finished third behind Wagner and Gold at the U.S. Championships in January but was too young for the senior Worlds this year.

Women’s Results
Gold: Elizaveta Tuktamysheva (RUS) — 210.36
Silver: Satoko Miyahara (JPN) — 193.60
Bronze: Yelena Radionova (RUS) — 191.47
4. Gracie Gold (USA) — 188.96
5. Ashley Wagner (USA) — 185.01
8. Polina Edmunds (USA) — 177.83

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Alina Zagitova eyes more gold at worlds; women’s preview

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Alina Zagitova hasn’t lost internationally in 18 months, and that doesn’t figure to change this week at the world championships in Milan.

The 15-year-old Russian is favored to become the youngest world gold medalist since Tara Lipinski (duplicating her feat from the Olympics) and make it five straight Olympic or world titles for Russian women, the longest streak for one country since American Carol Heiss won six straight Olympic/world titles from 1956 through 1960.

Zagitova would also become the first Olympic women’s champion to win worlds the following month since Kristi Yamaguchi in 1992. That’s largely because Olympic champions usually skip worlds in Olympic years. Since Yamaguchi, the only one to compete was Yuna Kim, who grabbed silver in 2010.

Zagitova may be young, but she may not have the longevity of Kim to make it to a second Olympics. Russia turns over a new class of elite women’s skaters every year.

Two weeks ago, 13-year-old Alexandra Trusova won the world junior title as the first woman to land two different quadruple jumps in one program. Trusova isn’t old enough to compete at the senior worlds until 2020.

Zagitova’s current rival and training partner, Olympic silver medalist and 2016 and 2017 World champion Yevgenia Medvedeva, withdrew from worlds due to injury.

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Which leaves the last two Olympic bronze medalists, Kaetlyn Osmond of Canada and Carolina Kostner of Italy, plus PyeongChang fourth-place finisher Satoko Miyahara of Japan as the top challengers this week.

None finished within seven points of Zagitova at any competition this season, the Russian’s first on the senior international level.

Zagitova set herself apart at the Olympics by putting all of her jumps in the second half of her programs for 10 percent bonuses and landing them all with positive grades of execution.

The U.S. contingent includes national champion Bradie Tennell, two-time Olympian Mirai Nagasu and Mariah Bell (replacement for 2017 U.S. champion Karen Chen).

It is the end of a challenging season for U.S. women. In the autumn, none qualified for the Grand Prix Final for a second straight year (after at least one had done so each of the previous seven seasons).

In PyeongChang, no U.S. woman finished in the top six for the first time in Winter Games history. Tennell, who emerged this season after placing ninth at 2017 Nationals, was the top U.S. Olympic finisher in ninth.

Tennell goes into worlds as the top seeded American — seventh — by best international scores this season.

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Olympic golf qualifying, format largely unchanged for 2020

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The Tokyo 2020 Olympic golf tournaments qualifying and format will remain largely the same as they were for the sport’s return to the Games in 2016, according to Golf Channel, citing a memo sent to PGA Tour players.

The format will again be four rounds of stroke play with 60 men and 60 women taken from the world rankings, according to the report.

The qualifying window to determine the rankings will be July 1, 2018 to June 22, 2020 for men and July 8, 2018 to June 29, 2020 for women. That’s a slight change, as for 2016 the dates were the same for men and women.

The 2016 process saw a maximum of two men and two women per country, or up to four if they were ranked in the top 15.

Then-PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said one month after the Rio Games that he hoped the Olympic golf format would be changed to have more medals awarded.

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