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Russian dominance in pairs figure skating has long history

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Russian pairs skating dominance is unlike anything we have seen in the United States. Here is how they stack up against America’s most dominant teams. 

Dating back to 1964, pair skaters – from what was then the Soviet Union – have dominated their discipline within figure skating. Lyudmila Belousova and Oleg Protopopov were the first of five straight teams who would combine to win seven gold medals until the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. Belousova and Potopopov began their reign by winning three straight silver world championships from 1962-1964, before winning Olympic gold at the 1964 Winter Games in Innsbruck. After Innsbruck, the married duo simply known as “the Protopopovs” was unstoppable, winning four straight world championship golds and adding another Olympic gold in 1968. Belousova passed away in September 2017.

Soviet dominance stretches past the Olympics and includes the world championships in pairs skating. From 1965-1991 the Soviet Union won 23 of 26 Worlds gold medals, never placing worse than silver during this stretch. During this era, the Soviets earned gold and silver in the same competition 12 times and swept the Worlds podium twice (1969 and 1988).

“For decades, Soviet or Russian pairs could be counted on for dominant performances built on great speed, unison, strength, emotion and classic ballet line, their blades whispering across the ice on swift and nearly silent crossover moves,” recalled writer Jere Longman from the New York Times.

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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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