Surprising U.S. results in world championships short dance

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Canadians Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir reset their short-dance world record, while the three U.S. couples finished in a surprising order at the world figure skating championships in Helsinki on Friday.

Virtue and Moir, undefeated this season after taking two years off following a Sochi Olympic silver medal, tallied 82.43 points, beating their previous record by 1.97. Virtue and Moir now own the four highest short-dance scores of all time, achieved at their last four international competitions dating to November.

“I don’t think we’ve taken the ice at a world championship so prepared,” said Virtue, who seeks her third world title with Moir and first since 2012. “The reasons why we decided to come back, and it’s moments like that on the ice.”

They lead by 5.54 points over France’s Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron, who are seeking to become the first dancers to win three straight world titles in 20 years. The gap between first place and second place is greater than the gap between second and ninth.

The shakeup came after those first two couples.

Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue are the top-scoring U.S. couple for the first time in their careers. They received 76.53 points, just .36 behind the French and a personal best by nearly three points. The top three couples all train under the same coaches in Montreal.

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Hubbell and Donohue finished third at each of the last three U.S. Championships, but on Friday were better than Madison Chock and Evan Bates and Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani, the last two world silver medalists.

“We’re just ecstatic,” Hubbell said. “We really changed our mindset and didn’t limit ourselves in what we [thought we] were capable of and really wrapped our minds around the possibility of being the very best in the world.”

Chock and Bates are in fourth and the Shibutanis in fifth going into Saturday’s free dance (coverage on NBCSN, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app at 2:30 p.m. ET).

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Short Dance
1. Tessa Virtue/Scott Moir (CAN) — 82.43
2. Gabriella Papadakis/Guillaume Cizeron (FRA) — 76.89
3. Madison Hubbell/Zachary Donohue (USA) — 76.53
4. Madison Chock/Evan Bates (USA) — 76.25
5. Maia Shibutani/Alex Shibutani (USA) — 74.88

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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