Alina Zagitova, Russia’s newest skating star, wins Cup of China (video)

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 Alina Zagitova of Russia, last season’s world junior champion, announced herself as an Olympic podium contender by winning Cup of China in her senior Grand Prix debut.

The 15-year-old trains with two-time world champion Yevgenia Medvedeva, a fellow Russian teen who is a heavy favorite for gold in PyeongChang. Zagitova finished second behind Medvedeva (who didn’t compete at Cup of China) at the most recent Russian national championships.

With a program that strategically placed all of her jumping passes in the second half to receive additional bonus points, Zagitova outscored a field that included Canada’s Gabrielle Daleman, the 2017 world bronze medalist and the leader after the short program.

After the short program, the top three — Daleman, Japan’s Wakaba Higuchi and Russia’s Yelena Radionova — were separated by just .17, while Zagitova was about a point behind the leaders after a fall.

Higuchi and Radionova held onto their second and third place positions, respectively, while Daleman dropped to sixth due to a near-fall on her final jump.

The lone American in the field, Amber Glenn, finished 10th. Gracie Gold was originally slated to compete at this Grand Prix event, but withdrew last month after announcing she was in treatment for depression, anxiety and an eating disorder.

Russia earned three Olympic berths in ladies’ figure skating. Medvedeva is all but assured to claim one. and with today’s Grand Prix win Zagitova looks likely to claim another. Among those fighting for the third spot will be Radionova, Maria Sotskova (who won silver at Skate Canada), and Anna Pogorilaya, who won bronze at last season’s Grand Prix final but seriously struggled at both the 2017 Worlds and her first Grand Prix event last week.

In the men’s event, Russia’s Mikhail Kolyada held onto his lead from the short program to claim the gold medal. Eighth and fourth at the last two world championships, Kolyada won his first ever major international competition today over top competitors Javier Fernandez, the two-time world champion from Spain, world bronze medalist Jin Boyang from China, and world junior champion Vincent Zhou from the U.S.

Kolyada, Fernandez and Boyang all had error-filled free skates, with Kolyada and Boyang falling once each and Fernandez putting his hand down on two landings. That left the door open for another American, Max Aaron, to claim a bronze medal after he cleanly landed three quads in his free skate and earned a personal best score. Zhou, who also suffered a fall, finished fourth.

There were fewer surprises in the ice dance competition, which saw the top three teams after the short dance all finish in the same spots after the free dance. France’s Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron won gold, Americans Madison Chock and Evan Bates earned silver and Russia’s Yekaterina Bobrova and Dmitry Soloviyev claimed bronze.

Papadakis and Cizeron are the 2015 and 2016 world champions, but fell to silver behind Canada’s Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir at the 2017 Worlds. At last weekend’s Skate Canada, Virtue and Moir won with the highest total score ever recorded, 199.86. Their record didn’t last long, however, as Papadakis and Cizeron earned a total score of 200.43 here and became the first ice dance team ever to earn over 200 total points.

The standings in the pairs competition also stayed mostly consistent from the short program to the free program, with Sui Wenjing and Han Cong, the world champions from China, staying in the lead to win gold.

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Cup of China
Women
Gold: Alina Zagitova (RUS) — 213.88
Silver: Wakaba Higuchi (JPN) — 212.52
Bronze: Yelena Radionova (RUS) — 206.82
10. Amber Glenn (USA) — 151.14

Men
Gold: Mikhail Kolyada (RUS) — 279.38 S
Silver: Jin Boyang (CHN) —264.48
Bronze: Max Aaron (USA) — 259.69
4. Vincent Zhou (USA) — 256.66
6. Javier Fernandez (ESP)
9. Grant Hochstein (USA)

Ice dance
Gold: Gabriella Papadakis/Guillaume Cizeron (FRA) — 200.43 WR
Silver: Madison Chock/Evan Bates (USA) — 184.50
Bronze: Yekaterina Bobrova/Dmitry Soloviyev (RUS) — 182.84
5. Lorraine McNamara/Quinn Carpenter (USA) — 157.61
7. Elliana Pogrebinsky/Alex Benoit (USA) — 150.47

Pairs
Gold: Sui Wenjing/Han Cong (CHN) — 231.07
Silver: Yu Xiaoyu/Zhang Hao (CHN) — 205.54
Bronze: Kirsten Moore-Towers/Michael Marinaro (CAN) – 194.52
6. Ashley Cain/Tim LeDuc (USA) — 154.36

Skylar Diggins-Smith has the opportunity to fill USA Basketball’s need

Skylar Diggins
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Skylar Diggins-Smith said making the U.S. Olympic team is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. This is her second chance.

An ACL tear derailed her Rio 2016 hopes. That happened in a WNBA game on June 28, 2015.

Though Diggins-Smith was among 25 Olympic finalists named in January 2016, she didn’t return to game action until that May, four weeks after the 12-woman Olympic team was chosen.

The 27-year-old guard said she’s played for USA Basketball for 12 years, since before her standout Notre Dame career that led to her current stint with the Dallas Wings (formerly Tulsa Shock).

“This is the most clear my mind has been,” with USA Basketball, Diggins-Smith said from training camp in Seattle on Tuesday, ahead of a Thursday exhibition against China at Key Arena (10 p.m. ET, usab.com/live).

Signs point to Diggins-Smith making her major international tournament debut at September’s FIBA World Cup, the quadrennial world championship event.

Though Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi‘s surprising returns crowd the backcourt, the other Olympic gold medalist guard, Lindsay Whalen, retired from the national team.

Diggins-Smith’s play last season, her first full campaign back from the ACL tear, boosts her case. She made the All-WNBA First Team.

She also made the first team in 2014. That year, Diggins-Smith was among the final cuts for the world championship team less than a week before the tournament.

“Every time I come to USA Basketball, I think you have a tendency to kind of overthink,” Diggins-Smith said Tuesday. “You just want to do the right thing, don’t really want to make mistakes. … You want to do the right thing, and you press a little bit.”

USA Basketball has stressed finding its next stalwart point guard following five-time Olympian Teresa Edwards, three-time Olympian Dawn Staley (now the U.S. head coach) and the 37-year-old Bird, eyeing her fifth Olympics in 2020.

“Give me three guards that have separated themselves from everyone else in the WNBA to put themselves at the same level as Sue, Diana, Lindsay Whalen,” then-U.S. coach Geno Auriemma said after the Olympic team was named in April 2016. “You really start to look around and, you go, that is a huge question that has to be answered.”

“Obviously, there’s a need,” Staley said in February, listing point guards other than Bird at that camp.

The first name Staley mentioned was Diggins-Smith, for what it’s worth.

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USA Track and Field to honor 1968 Olympic team on 50th anniversary

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USA Track and Field begins a campaign this week to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the 1968 Olympic team.

Members of the Mexico City Games team, one of the greatest track and field teams in history, will be honored at high-profile events the remainder of the year.

The campaign, “1968-2018: Celebrating Athletic Achievement and Courage,” culminates with a “Night of Legends” reunion in December at the USATF Annual Meeting in Columbus, Ohio, also attended by current U.S. stars.

The 1968 Olympic team is most remembered for Tommie Smith and John Carlos, who took gold and bronze in the 200m and were sent home after raising their black-gloved fists in a human rights salute during the national anthem.

The team also included gold medalists Bob Beamon (long jump), Dick Fosbury (high jump), Al Oerter (discus), Wyomia Tyus and Jim Hines (100m), Lee Evans (400m), Madeline Manning Mims (800m), Willie Davenport (110m hurdles), Bob Seagren (pole vault), Randy Matson (shot put), Bill Toomey (decathlon) and the men’s and women’s 4x100m and men’s 4x400m.

“The legacy of the greatest track & field team to ever be assembled is still felt 50 years later,” USATF CEO Max Siegel said in a press release. “These Olympians persevered through athletic challenges and social injustices, maintaining their composure and dignity when others may have fallen. It is USATF’s honor to pay homage to their achievements and bring the team together for an epic celebration at our Annual Meeting.”

U.S. track and field athletes will compete at two meets on NBC Sports and NBC Sports Gold this weekend — the Drake Relays and Penn Relays.

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WATCH: NBC Olympics documentary on 1968 Olympics