Mirai Nagasu earns bronze with personal best at Four Continents

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Mirai Nagasu isn’t going to the world championships, but it sure looks like the U.S. team could use her next month.

The 2010 Olympian earned bronze at the Four Continents Championships at the 2018 Olympic venue in South Korea, setting new personal-best free-skate and total scores.

Nagasu, in her ninth season of senior international competition, tallied 132.04 and 194.95 points, respectively, at the world championships and Olympics tune-up event.

“To have all those months of training come to fruition is why work hard and why I keep coming back,” said Nagasu, who just missed the 2014 Olympic team. “When these moments happen, it’s so exciting and so gratifying. It just validates my reason for training hard every day, doing programs even when I don’t feel like it and getting up when I fall.”

Japan’s Mai Mihara took gold with 200.85 total points, improving from fourth after Thursday’s short program. Canada’s Gabrielle Daleman, the short-program leader, held on for silver with 196.91 points.

Nagasu, who was fifth after the short program, had the second-best free skate score behind Mihara and earned her second straight Four Continents medal after silver in 2016. She landed seven triple jumps in a clean program.

“The bronze means more to me,” Nagasu said, according to U.S. Figure Skating. “The performance I was able to put out tonight was just amazing. It felt magical.”

Full results are here. NBC will air coverage at 2:30 p.m. ET on Saturday.

Nagasu finished fourth at the U.S. Championships last month, missing the three-woman worlds team. Two of the three women who beat her at nationals were also at Four Continents.

U.S. bronze medalist Mariah Bell finished sixth on Saturday, 17.85 points shy of Nagasu, while U.S. champion Karen Chen was 12th, 28.13 points behind Nagasu. Both Bell and Chen, who have few accolades internationally, spoke afterward about nerves at Four Continents.

“Not exactly how I wanted it to go,” Bell said, according to U.S. Figure Skating. “There were a few pretty big mistakes, but overall, this was the most pressure I think I’ve had in an event.”

U.S. silver medalist Ashley Wagner skipped Four Continents, as she usually does, to prepare for worlds next month in Helsinki.

The top two U.S. women at worlds out of Bell, Chen and Wagner must have placements that add up to no greater than 13 for the U.S. to earn the maximum three entries at the PyeongChang Olympics. Say, sixth and seventh place.

That likely won’t happen if Bell and Chen repeat their performances from Four Continents, given this week’s competition didn’t include skaters from Europe.

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Yuzuru Hanyu opens Olympic season with record score

Yuzuru Hanyu
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A sore knee didn’t hold Yuzuru Hanyu back. A record score to open his Olympic season.

The Olympic and world champion from Japan hit a pair of quadruple jumps in his short program at the Autumn Classic, a lower-level event in Montreal.

He was rewarded with 112.72 points, the highest short program score recorded under the 13-year-old judging system. Video is here.

It looked like a home competition for Hanyu.

Upon finishing, he bowed toward one set of bleachers (maybe a dozen rows) at the Sportsplexe Pierrefonds. More than two dozen Japanese flags made it hard to see most of the faces.

He bettered Javier Fernández, a two-time world champion and training partner, by 11.52 points. Fernández also landed two quadruple jumps to tally 101.2.

Full scores will be here upon the conclusion of the short program. The free skate is Saturday at 8 p.m. ET. A live stream is here.

Hanyu now owns the three highest short program scores under the 13-year-old system. The other two were set in the 2015-16 season.

Showdowns like Hanyu-Fernández are usually reserved for, at the earliest, the Grand Prix series in late October and November.

Hanyu and Fernández are very familiar with each other, having shared a coach in Canadian Brian Orser, the 1988 Olympic silver medalist, since 2012. They train in Toronto.

In that time, Hanyu became the first Japanese man to win an Olympic title (and the second teen from any nation to do it). He followed it up with world titles later in 2014 and this year.

Fernández achieved unfathomable success for a Spanish skater — world titles in 2015 and 2016, overtaking Hanyu in the free skate both times.

In PyeongChang, Hanyu can become the first man to repeat as Olympic champion since Dick Button in 1952. Fernández can become the third Spaniard to earn a Winter Olympic medal of any color in any sport, and the first since 1992.

The figure skating season continues next week with Nebelhorn Trophy in Germany, the final Olympic qualifying competition. North Korea could clinch its first spots in any sport for the Olympics in the pairs event.

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USOC letter assures Olympians about South Korea security

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The U.S. Olympic Committee’s security chief sent a letter to potential Winter Olympians saying there are no indications that recent developments between the U.S. and North Korea have compromised security in South Korea.

The letter, obtained by The Associated Press shortly after it was sent Friday, makes no suggestion that the U.S. is considering skipping the PyeongChang Winter Games for security reasons.

But Chief Security Officer Nicole Deal does write that provocations that have been volleyed between the United States and North Korea are likely to persist for the foreseeable future, and “should not be dismissed as insignificant nor feared as precursors of an inevitable conflict.”

The letter comes at the end of a week in which France’s sports minister suggested the country’s athletes would stay home if security could not be guaranteed.

The International Olympic Committee, trying to calm concerns, reiterated that in conversations with high-level officials in China and South Korea, none have expressed doubt about the Winter Games proceeding as scheduled, next February.

The USOC also sent out a public statement Friday from CEO Scott Blackmun.

“We will continue to work with our State Department and local organizers to ensure that our athletes, and our entire delegation, are safe,” he said.

The letter, sent to athletes, national governing bodies and other Olympic leaders in the United States, said the USOC’s security division is operating as “business as usual for our security planning and preparations.”

Deal writes that the USOC is reviewing crisis management plans that address a range of potential scenarios “to ensure our athletes, and our entire delegation, are safe.”

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