Yevgenia Medvedeva tops worlds short; Ashley Wagner not top American

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Russian Yevgenia Medvedeva took magnificent and relaxed first steps toward becoming the first repeat women’s world figure skating champion since 2001, topping the short program with a near-record score in Helsinki on Wednesday.

The 17-year-old tallied 79.01 points skating clean, highlighted by a triple flip-triple toe loop jump combination. She leads by 3.03 points over Canadian Kaetlyn Osmond heading into Friday’s free skate. Another Canadian, Gabrielle Daleman, is third.

Surprise U.S. champion Karen Chen is in fifth after the best short of her international career — 69.98 points — in her worlds debut.

Chen is two spots ahead of 2016 World silver medalist Ashley Wagner, who had 69.04 points. Wagner, at her seventh world championships, scored 4.11 more points last year, when she was in fourth after the short.

The other American, Mariah Bell, is 13th.

The top two U.S. placements after the free skate must add up to no more than 13 in order for the U.S. to earn the maximum three spots at the 2018 Olympics. They are currently at 12.

Full worlds short program results are here.

Later Wednesday, the pairs short program produced surprises. The two-time defending world champions placed seventh. The only Olympic medalist pair in the field was 13th.

PREVIEWS: Men | Women | Pairs | Dance | TV schedule

Medvedeva, who has lost once in two seasons as a senior skater, is noted for her motivation to set personal bests. She missed her short-program world record by two tenths on Wednesday, and, unsurprisingly, reacted to her score by exchanging words with her coach before the customary smile.

“They were good scores,” Medvedeva said later in a press conference, via translator. “I will try to give the maximum in the free skate.”

Medvedeva prepared for her title defense by listening to music throughout the day — K-pop — before taking the ice at 3:30 p.m. local time.

After her typical, class-of-its-own skate, she showed the calm and laughter of a veteran skater, chuckling several times during the press conference. Even speaking some English.

It would be a shock if Medvedeva doesn’t become the first repeat world champ since Michelle Kwan. She would complete the most dominant two seasons since Katarina Witt in the 1980s.

“Last year I didn’t quite understand what was happening because it was my first world senior championship,” Medvedeva said. “Now I don’t feel any pressure”

Medvedeva had the highest scores for technical elements (jumps and spins) and artistic components (transitions, interpretation of music, etc.), again showcasing her overall dominance. She admires both aspects. She was asked, too, to name an expressive skater whom she admired.

“I can’t right now name anyone for the past, but I would like to point out Ashley Wagner,” Medvedeva said. “Ashley is able to portray any kind of character in the music. She can be lyrical. She can be totally different.”

Wagner had a clean skate Wednesday, but received lower grades of execution for her jumps. She tweeted “3 points” afterward, referencing her deficit from third place and a spot on the podium going into the free skate.

“I know that I am in fighting distance,” she said. “I really do not have that much to catch up on.”

Chen, the surprise U.S. champion, tallied a personal best by 5.52 points with a clean short program in her world championships debut. Despite her national title, Chen was the biggest question mark of the U.S. women coming into worlds, seeded 17th in the field among best international scores this season.

“I did realize that there is a lot more pressure here, but I didn’t want to let it affect me,” said Chen, who seems past the flu, nerves and boot problems that plagued her in a 12th-place finish at the Four Continents Championships in February. “[Four Continents] was a wake-up call for me.”

Bell, the U.S. bronze medalist and also a worlds rookie, scored 61.02, putting both hands on the ice on her opening triple-triple jump combination.

“Short has this season been a program that has been a little more mentally challenging for me,” she said.

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Women’s Short Program
1. Yevgenia Medvedeva (RUS) — 79.01
2. Kaetlyn Osmond (CAN) — 75.98
3. Gabrielle Daleman (CAN) — 72.19
5. Karen Chen (USA) — 69.98
7. Ashley Wagner (USA) — 69.04
13. Mariah Bell (USA) — 61.02

U.S., Great Britain to hold track and field dual meet

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The U.S. and Great Britain go head-to-head in a track and field meet on July 21 at the London Olympic Stadium.

“The Meet” will include nine running, jumping, hurdles and relay events and last two hours. Specific events and athletes will be announced early next year.

The U.S. topped the overall medal standings at every Olympics and world outdoor championships since 2004.

Great Britain is one of three countries to earn at least five medals at every Olympics and worlds since 2007, joining the U.S. and Kenya.

British athletes made six podiums at the just-completed worlds at the London Olympic Stadium, including in all four relays. The other two medals came from Mo Farah, who is moving to road racing and marathons after this season.

“The Meet” is similar to swimming’s “Duel in the Pool,” a biennial head-to-head competition between the U.S. and rival Australia from 2003 through 2007 and between the U.S. and Europe between 2009 and 2015.

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Five women’s gymnasts to watch at P&G Championships

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As Rio gold medalists decide on their futures, this week’s P&G Championships mark the first showcase for a new class of U.S. women’s gymnasts.

For the first time since 2008, nobody in the nationals field in Anaheim has competed at an Olympics. Usually, a gymnast or two carries over into the post-Olympic year, like Bridget Sloan in 2009 and Kyla Ross in 2013.

But this year, the feeling is akin to 2005, when no woman (or man) from the 2004 Athens Games chalked up at nationals.

Back then, a 15-year-old Nastia Liukin, who had already starred in a commercial during the 2004 Olympics, made her senior nationals debut and won the all-around. Three years later, Liukin won the Olympic all-around in Beijing.

There will be talk this week of finding the next Liukin, or Gabby Douglas, or Simone Biles, who, like Liukin, won her senior nationals debut the year after the Olympics.

“Some of them [from Rio], hopefully Simone, will be coming back, but I think this is a great opportunity for some of these girls to go out there and prove that they’re just as ready to compete at a world championships,” said Liukin, now an NBC Olympics analyst. “They have to step up a little bit and kind of become the leaders.”

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Gymnasts this week are vying to impress new U.S. national team coordinator Valeri Liukin (Nastia’s father). The four-woman roster for October’s worlds, where there is no team event, will be named after a selection camp later this summer.

Five gymnasts to watch at the P&G Championships:

Ragan Smith
Rio Olympic alternate
2017 AT&T American Cup champion

The Texan performed admirably in her first senior season in 2016, placing fifth in the all-around at the Olympic Trials. Her best events are balance beam and floor exercise, but the U.S. needed uneven bars help in Rio. So she went to the Games as an alternate at age 15, making headlines for this photo with 6-foot-11 basketball player DeAndre Jordan.

Smith, coached by 1991 World all-around champion Kim Zmeskal, emerged this year as the U.S.’ most reliable all-arounder and clear favorite this week. She won the American Cup on March 4 despite a beam fall. A definite all-around medal favorite at October’s worlds.

Ashton Locklear
Rio Olympic alternate
2014 World team champion

Locklear was beaten for the Olympic team bars specialist spot by Madison Kocian after nearly matching Kocian in scores in four routines between last year’s P&G Championships and Olympic Trials. The 19-year-old is not considered an all-around threat this week but is favored to make the world team based on her bars ability. She was fourth in the event at 2014 Worlds.

Riley McCusker
2017 Jesolo Trophy all-around winner

McCusker, who has the same coach as Laurie Hernandez, struggled at the American Cup in her first senior competition, falling on bars and beam. She rebounded to win Jesolo a month later and remain in the mix as the No. 2 U.S. all-arounder (Smith wasn’t at Jesolo).

However, McCusker was on crutches with a cast on her wrist in early July and said she expected to be back to peak form in September, not August.

Morgan Hurd
2017 Stuttgart World Cup bronze medalist

Hurd, a first-year senior who competes in glasses, was adopted from China as a toddler and now lives with her mom in Delaware.

Liukin, asked to name gymnasts to watch this week, started with Hurd, whom she says has the highest floor exercise start value in the world. “She could be capable of winning a world all-around medal and possibly become a world champion on floor,” Liukin said.

Jade Carey
2017 U.S. Classic vault winner

The U.S. has a tradition of sending a vault specialist to worlds, but neither of the top vaulters from the last Olympic cycle — Biles nor MyKayla Skinner — is competing this week. Enter Carey, a 17-year-old who wasn’t an elite gymnast before this season.

Carey performed the difficult Amanar vault at July’s U.S. Classic, where she was the only gymnast to perform two vaults, which is required to compete for medals on the event at worlds.

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