Yevgenia Medvedeva repeats as world champ; Karen Chen saves U.S.

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With another record score, Russian Yevgenia Medvedeva became the first female figure skater to repeat as world champion since Michelle Kwan in 2001 in Helsinki on Friday.

U.S. champion Karen Chen, in her worlds debut, finished fourth to clinch the maximum three 2018 Olympic spots for the U.S. women.

The skaters to fill those spots will be announced after the January 2018 U.S. Championships.

Chen is now the front-runner after her surprise U.S. title in January and the struggles of 2016 World silver medalist Ashley Wagner (seventh at these worlds) and two-time U.S. champion Gracie Gold (failed to make worlds) this season.

There is no doubting Medvedeva, a 17-year-old who enjoys cartoons and K-pop, is the clear favorite for Olympic gold in PyeongChang.

Medvedeva smashed her world record for free-skate and total scores Friday, ending up with a flawless seven triple jumps and 233.41 points. She won by a whopping 13.28 points over Canadian Kaetlyn Osmond. Another Canadian, Gabrielle Daleman, took bronze.

“A little bit nervous [in] 6-minute warm-up before my [free] skate,” Medvedeva said. “I just told [myself], Yevgenia, you must keep calm. I skated well and had fun.”

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Medvedeva hasn’t lost since November 2015, which was her only defeat in two seasons as a senior skater. She just completed the most dominant two-year stretch in women’s skating since Katarina Witt in the 1980s.

She is the face of Olympic sports in her scrutinized country at the moment, one of two Russians to win individual world titles in Olympic events this winter sports season.

Medvedeva was asked this in Friday night’s press conference:

It’s been a tough time for Russian sport in general, in many respects. How important is it for you to do well for Russian sport, and what does this victory perhaps mean for Russian sport in general?

After a translator interpreted the question, Medvedeva took 10 seconds to gather her thoughts. She then spoke in Russian for 75 seconds, one of the longest answers she has given in such a setting.

“That’s one of the most difficult questions I’ve had,” Medvedeva said. “I hope that all the work that my coaches and myself are inputting every day brings something positive to the country. Yeah, it is sad to hear all the news and read the news and hear the news. I think we just should support each other. I know from my own experience what a great role support plays. We should not give up and move forward.”

Osmond and Daleman are the first Canadian women’s medalists since Joannie Rochette in 2009. It’s the first time two Canadian women made the podium at a worlds or Olympics.

Chen, a 17-year-old with Taiwanese parents, was a revelation at the U.S. Championships, bagging gold in January after placing eighth the year before.

She struggled at her most recent event, taking 12th at the Four Continents Championships in February, where she was slowed by the flu, nerves and boot problems.

But she rebounded in Helsinki, placing fifth in the short program with a personal best by 5.52 points. In the free skate, she had a personal best by 8.2 points, despite falling and stepping out of the landing on her last two jumps.

“That was everything that I dreamed of,” said Chen, who shares a hometown of Fremont, Calif., with mentor Kristi Yamaguchi, the 1992 Olympic champion.

Chen skated under the pressure of knowing she needed a relatively strong program to ensure the U.S. would get three Olympic spots. The U.S. had at least three women’s skaters at all but two Winter Olympics since the first Winter Games in 1924.

Before she went onto the ice for warm-up, Chen saw that Wagner was in third place with six skaters left. Chen and Wagner’s placements needed to add up to 13 or fewer for the U.S. to get three Olympic spots.

If the final group of six skaters, including Chen, skated decently, Wagner would finish ninth, meaning Chen would need to improve from fifth after the short program to finish fourth.

“I needed to skate pretty close to clean,” Chen said of her thoughts as she prepared for the most important program of her young career. “Right after I had that thought, I blocked it out right away and just realized that I’m here, and it’s my first time here and I wanted to enjoy this moment and I want to be relaxed and calm because that’s when I know I skate best.”

Chen clinched the three spots when she skated into the lead by 1.41 points.

The Americans ended up qualifying three spots easily, because Russians Maria Sotskova and Anna Pogorilaya, both in the final group, had poor free skates and slotted in behind Wagner.

That didn’t change the fact that Chen delivered for her teammates.

“Let’s take a moment to all thank [Chen] for saving America because let’s be honest she did,” Wagner tweeted. “First time at worlds and she saves the day.”

Wagner, at her seventh worlds, struggled with her combination jumps Friday. She had the seventh-best score in the short program and the 10th-best in the free skate, ending her worst season since 2010-11.

“Medaling at the Olympic Games is my ultimate goal,” said Wagner, who was also seventh in Sochi. “Looking at the way I performed here, that might not seem very tangible right now, but I know the athlete I am, I know how prepared I am and I just didn’t skate that way today.”

The third American, Mariah Bell, was 12th in her worlds debut.

“I’ve gone from competition to competition feeling little variations of my nerves,” Bell said. “This one was probably the worst. I had trouble sleeping and a little bit of trouble during my practices.”

The world championships conclude with the men’s free skate and free dance on Saturday, with coverage on NBCSN, and the NBC Sports app starting at 12:30 p.m. ET.

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Women’s Results
Gold: Yevgenia Medvedeva (RUS) — 233.41
Silver: Kaetlyn Osmond (CAN) — 218.13

Bronze: Gabrielle Daleman (CAN) — 213.52
4. Karen Chen (USA) — 199.29
7. Ashley Wagner (USA) — 193.54
12. Mariah Bell (USA) — 187.23

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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