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Claressa Shields not at her best, still wins professional boxing debut

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Claressa Shields didn’t feel at her best, but her pro debut was a winning one anyway.

The two-time Olympic gold medalist won a decision Saturday over Franchon Crews in a four-round super middleweight fight, making the transition to the pros after the most successful amateur career for an American woman.

Shields came back from a slow first round to land the bigger punches in an entertaining fight on the undercard of the Sergey KovalevAndre Ward light heavyweight title fight on the Las Vegas Strip.

“It’s not what I wanted but to be called on, last minute, for a fight of this magnitude,” Shields said. “I am proud of myself. We will fight again in the future.”

Both women were fighting without headgear for the first time, but it didn’t seem to be a factor as they traded punches freely before a sparse but appreciative crowd. Shields won all four rounds on the scorecards of the three ringside judges.

Shields, who became the first American woman to win a gold medal in the 2012 Olympics and added another in Rio in August, had vowed to be impressive in her first pro fight. And she wasn’t shy about trading punches with Franchon, a Baltimore fighter who lost to her during the Olympic trials in 2012.

Shields was pushed to the canvas twice by Crews, who started strong but seemed to tire quickly.

“It feels so good to have just made my pro debut,” she said. “This is what I’ve been training for. I’m faster and I hit harder.”

Shields, from Flint, Michigan, weighed 167 pounds to 168 for Crews.

The 21-year-old Shields said she plans to fight up to 10 times in her first year as a pro. Her goal is to one day headline a pay-per-view card of her own.

“I believe 150 percent in my boxing ability,” she said before the fight. “I know I’m a great fighter. I fight better than 90 percent of the men who box now. I just know that, and I’m not at my best yet.”

Women’s boxing has largely been a fringe sport in recent years, and women have rarely appeared on televised cards. While the fight was on the undercard of Kovalev-Ward, it wasn’t a part of the pay-per-view telecast.

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.

WORLDS: TV Schedule | Pairs Preview | Nagasu’s Outlook

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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