Olga Korbut puts 5 Olympic medals up for auction

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SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. (AP) — Olga Korbut walks around the man-made lake in anonymity, despite the bright red warmup jacket with “Olga” in sparkly letters on her left shoulder.

Korbut likes it here, this little suburban slice of nature, a place where she can get her body moving, listen to the birds, stroll alongside the dog walkers.

Korbut stops at a set of bars to stretch, torqueing her hip at an impossible-for-mortals angle that sends her right foot above her head. She moves to the other side of the bars, puts her hands on the ground and sends her feet into the air, propping them up against a sign. She holds the handstand for about 30 seconds and flips back over, waving her hands upward like a gymnast completing a routine.

Even at 61, Korbut is still strong and supple, appearing as if she could hop onto the uneven bars and complete the Korbut Flip, just as she did more than 40 years ago as a teenager who changed gymnastics forever.

So, too, is her mind, content with her place in history and her quiet life in Arizona.

“I love being here, with the nature, the nice weather,” Korbut said, the accent from her native Belarus still noticeable. “It’s paradise.”

Korbut sprang onto the Olympic scene like a bottle rocket, a 4-foot-11, pigtailed waif who turned gymnastics on its head.

Nicknamed “The Sparrow from Minsk,” she did things no one had seen before, acrobatics that pushed the sport forward from balletic motions of the past. And she did it with an un-Soviet flair, playing up to crowd to the point it loved her even when she failed.

Korbut won three gold medals and a silver as a 17-year-old at the 1972 Munich Games, then added another gold and silver at Montreal in 1976.

She instantly became a worldwide star. People knew her around the world and treated her like royalty wherever she went, a transition that was sometimes difficult for a teenager from Grodno, near the borders with Poland and Lithuania.

“I came unknown to the Olympic Games and overnight people make me famous,” Korbut said. “I wasn’t prepared for that, but it was funny when I came to the store with my money, they would give it to me free.”

Korbut traveled the world doing exhibitions and became an ambassador of sorts for her sport, once meeting President Richard Nixon. She spearheaded efforts to help victims of the 1986 Chernobyl accident and moved to the United States in 1991, becoming a gymnastics teacher and motivational speaker while continuing to raise money for victims of the nuclear accident.

Korbut struggled while coaching young gymnasts at first. Many of them lacked the motivation she had, but then again, few people have that kind of inner drive to be the best in the world.

Through the years, Korbut adjusted her coaching style and shifted to private classes, where the gymnasts tended to be more motivated.

“In the first, I saw that maybe they didn’t want to do it, maybe their parents pushed them in it,” she said. “But I do my classes very differently, to not push them, but invite them into this world. I would show them my medals and tell them that it’s not very hard if you love to do that. I show them and teach them to be in love with gymnastics.”

Korbut moved to Arizona after participating in a clinic here. She has spent her time in the desert giving private lessons and touring the world to promote gymnastics.

With her on every trip: her Olympic medals.

Korbut brings the medals with her everywhere, pulling them out at each stop so her fans can not only see but touch them.

“Millions of people around the world touched those medals through the years,” said Jay Schanfeldt, Korbut’s fiance.

Now her fans will have an opportunity to own those medals.

From Feb. 25-26, five of Korbut’s Olympic medals — her floor exercise gold from Munich among them — and some of her Olympic memorabilia will be available at Heritage Auctions’ Sports Platinum Auction.

Korbut and Schanfeldt say the selling of her memorabilia is not a desperate money grab, though they acknowledge the money certainly will be nice. They see it as more of a chance to make a deeper connection with her fans, allowing them to be part of a history they helped create.

“This is Olympic history, and I would like to share with the whole world,” Korbut said. “They helped to make it history and make it live forever. This is how I wanted to share with the people.”

Once the auction is over, Korbut will go back to her peaceful life.

She’ll continue to walk around the lake in the middle of Scottsdale every day, continue her workouts to stay in shape and teach the occasional private lesson if someone should want one from one of the greatest Olympics gymnasts of all time.

“Arizona is a retirement place, so I enjoy it here,” she said. “I always wanted to plant to garden. I never had time for that and now I will do whatever I want, plant fruits, herbs and enjoy the weather.”

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Nathan Chen hits short program, leads world championships

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That’s more like it, Nathan Chen.

After two disastrous Olympic short programs, Chen nailed his jumps at the world championships, taking the lead by 1.86 points over Russian Mikhail Kolyada in Milan on Thursday. American Vincent Zhou is third.

Full results are here.

“I learned a lot from the Olympics, and I used what I learned there heading into the short program in terms of where to place my mind, what to think about throughout the program,” Chen said. “It was great to have an opportunity to come back before the end of the season to try the short program again, sort of hope to redeem myself.”

Later Thursday, Germans Aljona Savchenko and Bruno Massot backed up their Olympic gold with a world title, shattering the longest-standing world record in figure skating with a record margin of victory. Full recap here.

In Saturday’s men’s free skate, Chen can become the youngest men’s world champion since Yevgeny Plushenko in 2001. Zhou can become the first man to make a senior world podium the year after winning a world junior title since Plushenko in 1998. The U.S. last put two men on a world podium in 1996 (Todd EldredgeRudy Galindo).

This week’s field lacks Yuzuru HanyuJavier Fernandez and Patrick Chan, who combined to win every Olympic and world title since 2011 but ended their seasons at the Olympics.

On Thursday, Chen hit a quadruple Lutz-triple toe loop combination, a quadruple flip and a triple Axel for 101.94 points (2.18 shy of his personal best). It was a reversal from PyeongChang, where Chen’s short programs began unraveling with that opening combination, and he scored 80.61 and 82.27 points.

Chen placed 17th in the Olympic short program and redeemed himself with the top free skate, moving up to fifth. He went into the Olympics as the only undefeated male skater for the season.

“That I was able to bounce back and have the long program that I did, because of that the whole Olympic experience wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be after the short program,” Chen said Thursday. “Being able to have that, I didn’t have any ghosts of the Olympics following me [to worlds].”

Zhou, the youngest of 37 men in the field at 17, landed a quad Lutz-triple toe loop combination and a quad flip, fist pumping at the end of his skate. He shattered his personal-best short program by 12.25 points. Zhou was sixth at the Olympics.

“I came here to skate a clean program, I did that, and being in the top three is icing on the cake,” Zhou said.

Two other medal favorites — Olympic silver medalist Shoma Uno of Japan and two-time world bronze medalist Jin Boyang of China — struggled with jumps. Jin is fourth and Uno fifth.

Uno, competing with a reported ankle injury, performed a triple-double combination rather than the quad-triple he did in PyeongChang. Jin had a quad toe called under-rotated.

The third American, 2013 U.S. champion Max Aaron, is in 15th place. Aaron put his hand down on his opening quad Salchow and turned out of his triple Axel landing.

Key Free Skate Start Times (Saturday ET)
Max Aaron (USA) — 6:05 a.m.
Shoma Uno (JPN) — 8:21 a.m.
Jin Boyang (CHN) — 8:29 a.m.
Mikhail Kolyada (RUS) — 8:38 a.m.
Vincent Zhou (USA) — 8:47 a.m.
Nathan Chen (USA) — 8:55 a.m.

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Olympic pairs’ champs crush world record for world title; U.S. struggles

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Germans Aljona Savchenko and Bruno Massot added a world title to their Olympic gold with a world-record score, while U.S. pairs’ struggles continued with the Americans’ lowest-ever results at a world championships.

Savchenko and Massot broke the longest-standing record total in figure skating, extending their lead from Wednesday’s short program to win by 20.31 points over Russians Yevgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov.

Vanessa James and Morgan Cipres took bronze, France’s second Olympic or world pairs medal in 86 years.

Full results are here.

Savchenko and Massot’s free skate — the first to eclipse 160 points under the current judging system — included a side-by-side triple Salchow-double toe loop-double toe loop combination and a throw triple flip and throw triple Salchow.

Their total score — 245.84 points — shattered 2014 Olympic champions Tatyana Volosozhar and Maksim Trankov‘s record of 237.71 set at 2013 Skate America. Their winning margin also broke Volosozhar and Trankov’s record for an Olympics or world championships under the 14-year-old points system.

Savchenko earned her 11th world medal — tying the female record held by Norwegian singles legend Sonja Henie — and sixth world title — tying Soviet Alexander Zaitsev for second on the all-time pairs’ list, four behind Irina Rodnina.

This was the French-born Massot’s first world title. Savchenko’s previous five world titles came with now-retired Robin Szolkowy.

The two U.S. pairs finished 15th and 17th, which means the U.S. drops to one pairs’ spot for the 2019 Worlds, its fewest since 1957.

U.S. champions Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Christopher Knierim dropped from 11th after the short program to 15th of 16 pairs after the free skate. Scimeca fell on their death spiral and a throw triple flip, looked distraught skating off the ice and tweeted 10 minutes later, “I’m sorry for losing us a spot” and “Bad day to have a bad day.”

The Knierims made the top 10 in their four previous world championships appearances with a best finish of seventh.

The other U.S. pair, 2000 World junior singles silver medalist Deanna Stellato and 2014 Olympian Nathan Bartholomay, were 17th in Wednesday’s short program, missing the cutoff for the free skate by one spot.

It’s the first time all U.S. pairs finished outside the top 11 at a worlds, granted worlds didn’t regularly have a field greater than 15 pairs before 1990.

It came on the heels of the U.S. having its smallest pairs’ contingent — one pair — at an Olympics since the first Winter Games in 1924. The Knierims were 15th in PyeongChang, marking the first time the U.S. sent a pair to an Olympics and put none in the top 10.

The last U.S. pairs’ medal at worlds came in 2002, making this the nation’s longest drought in any figure skating discipline. The last Olympic medal was in 1988.

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