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Yevgeny Plushenko makes PyeongChang predictions, talks figure skating evolution

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Yevgeny Plushenko, understandably, is quite pleased with what men’s figure skating looks like these days.

The Russian great, who helped usher in the quadruple jump era, watched at the season-opening Grand Prix event in Moscow as the last four men to skate each attempted at least three quads in their long programs.

“I’m so happy,” Plushenko told NBC Olympics’ Rachel Lutz in a sitdown interview Monday. “Because you remember 2010, nobody landed quads [other than me]. Not one. Nobody. I landed only myself, I landed short program and long program, and I lost [to American Evan Lysacek at the Vancouver Olympics]. You know? I would like to say for these such great athletes – men’s skaters – they move figure skating way forward. Right now, all quadruples. Nathan Chen, first skater ever [to do] five quadruples [in one program]. That’s awesome. That’s great, because figure skating, yes it’s theater, this is ballet, musical, yea? But of course it’s sport. That’s extreme, the sport is quadruples. So I’m grateful they move forward, way forward.”

Plushenko made a rare trip to the U.S. to perform in an ice show at Chelsea Piers in New York City, his first on-ice appearance in the States in 11 years.

Not everyone is thrilled with the quad arms race in men’s skating. Notably, three-time world champion Patrick Chan. But Plushenko has always commanded attention.

The Russian is one of two skaters in any discipline to earn four Olympic medals. He announced his retirement on March 31 at age 34.

Plushenko, whose last competition was the Sochi 2014 team event, now coaches Sochi women’s singles gold medalist Adelina Sotnikova, who will not defend her title in PyeongChang.

As for active skaters, Plushenko tapped Japanese Yuzuru Hanyu for gold.

That would mean Hanyu would accomplish the feat that Plushenko coveted in 2010 — becoming the first repeat Olympic men’s champion since Dick Button in 1952.

“[Hanyu] don’t need five quads, six quads,” Plushenko said, referencing the number of four-revolution jumps the likes of teenagers Chen and Shoma Uno are planning in free skates. “He need three quadruples. Maybe two [Salchows] and one toe loop. And that’s it.”

Hanyu has the total package that would allow him to win with fewer quads. If he skates clean.

Plushenko also liked Chen, Uno and two-time world champion Javier Fernandez of Spain as Olympic podium contenders.

“[Chen has] great, great, great, great technique,” Plushenko said. “So four, four skaters can be on the podium.”

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Jana Novotna, Wimbledon champ and Olympic medalist, dies at 49

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PRAGUE (AP) — Jana Novotna, who won the hearts of the tennis world when she sobbed on the shoulder of a member of the British royal family after a heartbreaking loss in the Wimbledon final, has died at the age of 49.

The WTA announced Novotna’s death on Monday, saying she died Sunday in her native Czech Republic following a long battle with cancer.

Novotna died “peacefully, surrounded by her family,” the women’s tennis body said.

Her family confirmed her death to the Czech Republic’s CTK news agency. No details were given.

Martina Navratilova, the tennis great who was also born in what was then Czechoslovakia, tweeted: “The tennis world is so sad about the passing of Jana Novotna. I am gutted and beyond words. Jana was a true friend and an amazing woman.”

Novotna won her only Grand Slam singles title at Wimbledon in 1998, eventually triumphing after two losses in the final at the All England Lawn Tennis Club in 1993 and 1997.

She added three Olympic tennis medals — singles bronze at Altanta 1996 (knocking out top seed Monica Seles) and doubles silver in 1988 and 1996 with Helena Sukova.

She also lost in the 1991 Australian Open final.

While she finally captured the Grand Slam singles title she longed for in 1998, she won over the Wimbledon crowd five years earlier after wasting a big lead in the decisive set in a tough three-set loss to Steffi Graf.

Unable to hide her disappointment, Novotna cried on the shoulder of Britain’s Duchess of Kent at the prize giving ceremony and was gently comforted by the royal, who told her: “I know you will win it one day, don’t worry.”

Novotna ultimately had her moment five years later when she beat Nathalie Tauziat in straight sets to win Wimbledon. At the time, she was the oldest first-time winner of a Grand Slam singles title at age 29.

There wear tears again from Novotna, this time of joy, and the Duchess of Kent was present again to congratulate her.

“She was a true champion in all senses of the word, and her 1998 triumph will live long in the memory,” Wimbledon organizers the All England Club said in tribute to Novotna. “The thoughts of all those at Wimbledon are with her family and friends.”

Fellow Czech and four-time Grand Slam champion Hana Mandlikova, who coached Novotna for her Wimbledon win, said: “It’s hard to find words. Jana was a great girl and I’m happy that she won Wimbledon after all. It’s so sad when someone so young dies.”

During a 14-year professional career, Novotna won 24 singles titles and reached a career-high No. 2 in the singles rankings in 1997. She was a prolific and top-ranked doubles player, collecting 16 slam titles in doubles and mixed doubles.

She also won the Fed Cup with her country in 1988. Novotna was inducted into tennis’ Hall of Fame in 2005.

Even after retiring in 1999, Novotna was desperate to stay involved in tennis and became a commentator and coach.

“I’m dependent on tennis,” she said in an interview two years ago. “A day without it would be terrible.”

Members of the current Czech Fed Cup team said Novotna “supported us in the stands any time she could be there. We’ll miss her.”

“Jana was an inspiration both on and off court to anyone who had the opportunity to know her,” WTA chief executive Steve Simon said. “Her star will always shine brightly in the history of the WTA.”

Houston Texans turn TD celebration into relay race (video)

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The relaxation of NFL celebration rules generated another Olympic sport-themed touchdown celebration on Sunday.

Four Houston Texans players combined to make up a relay team in Sunday’s 31-21 win over the Arizona Cardinals.

Running back Lamar Miller led off after scoring on a seven-yard pass.

Miller, who reportedly ran a 100m in 10.71 seconds as a 16-year-old, handed the football off to DeAndre Hopkins, followed by Braxton Miller and finally Bruce Ellington on anchor.

“I think [Hopkins] came up with that out there,” said Lamar Miller, who briefly sprinted at the University of Miami. “He was like, whoever scored, we should do a relay.”

Unlike some recent U.S. men’s 4x100m teams at the Olympics and world championships, the Texans got the baton around clean.

“No rehearsal,” Lamar Miller said. “I think we would be a great 4x100m team.”

Last month, the Green Bay Packers celebrated like a bobsled team.

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