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North Korean skaters share podium with Americans at Olympic tune-up

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Pairs figure skaters Ryom Tae-ok and Kim Ju-sik stood on the podium as “The Star-Spangled Banner” played and a North Korean flag was raised beside two American flags.

Ryom and Kim, two of 22 North Korean athletes added to the PyeongChang Olympics by the IOC, finished third Friday in a tune-up for the Winter Games at the Four Continents Championships in Taipei.

“We don’t expect a medal [at the Olympics], but just we can improve and challenge ourselves,” Kim said, according to the International Skating Union.

Americans Tarah Kayne and Danny O’Shea and Ashley Cain and Tim LeDuc, who are not going to the Olympics, went one-two at the event that lacked the world’s top 10 pairs.

Ryom and Kim set a personal best with 184.98 total points, moving up from fourth after the short program for bronze medals despite Ryom falling on a double Axel and turning out of a throw triple loop landing in the free skate.

Kayne and O’Shea outscored them by 9.44.

“We didn’t reach the same level as we did as in practices,” Ryom said, according to the ISU. “I’m really upset, and it’s a pity.”

Ryom and Kim, two of few North Korean winter sports athletes to compete on the top international level, were 15th at last season’s worlds.

They clinched an Olympic spot for North Korea at a September event, but North Korea did not confirm it would use the spot by an October deadine and it was given to Japan.

Ryom and Kim rank No. 21 in the world this season.

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Teddy Riner, dominant judoka, to skip 2018, 2019 Worlds

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French judoka Teddy Riner, arguably the world’s most dominant athlete, will reportedly skip the next two world championships before the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

French coach Franck Chambily said Riner will compete a light international schedule the next two years ahead of what would be his fourth Olympics, according to Agence France-Presse.

Riner, a 29-year-old, 6-foot-8-inch native of Guadeloupe, is undefeated since 2010 with a reported 144-match winning streak. That includes Olympic titles in 2012 and 2016 and world titles in 2011, 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2017.

Before the streak, Riner also earned world titles in 2007, 2009 and 2010, plus an Olympic bronze at age 19 in 2008.

He could compete through the 2024 Paris Games.

“When I am invincible, I will stop,” Riner said in 2013, according to The Associated Press.

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Maggie Nichols wins NCAA all-around title with perfect 10

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Even after a perfect 10 in the last rotation, Maggie Nichols didn’t know that she had won the NCAA all-around title. Her coach at Oklahoma, K.J. Kindler, had to tell her.

The reaction?

“Excitement,” Nichols said Friday night on ESPNU. “I just wanted to go out there and feel out the equipment, staying calm and doing my routines that I have been doing in training.”

Nichols, a 2015 World team champion who retired from elite gymnastics after missing the 2016 Olympic team (set back by a torn meniscus that year), became the first Sooner to win the NCAA all-around in 30 years.

The sophomore tallied 39.8125 points and topped Olympic alternate MyKayla Skinner of Utah by .0875 for the title in St. Louis. It came one year after Nichols was 29th in the all-around with a balance beam fall.

Oklahoma and Utah will be joined in Saturday night’s Super Six team finals by UCLA, LSU, Florida and Nebraska. The Sooners eye their third straight national title.

Nichols capped her night with one of two perfect scores between the two semifinal sessions, matching 2012 Olympic alternate Elizabeth Price‘s 10 on uneven bars. It gave Nichols a second career gym slam, a perfect score on every apparatus for the season.

On Jan. 9, Nichols came forward as “Athlete A,” who first reported to USA Gymnastics that she was sexually abused by Larry Nassar in summer 2015.

“She has had a really unique year probably like no one else, and her strength showed through,” Kindler said Friday, according to the University of Oklahoma. “It was tough, and to come out on this side this year is really special.”

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