Vashti Cunningham takes silver in world indoors high jump

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Vashti Cunningham followed her breakout 2016 World Indoor high jump title with silver to open the biennial global championships in Birmingham, Great Britain, on Thursday.

Russian Maria Lasitskene took gold with a clearance of 1.96 meters (later clearing 2.01 and missing three tries at 2.07). Lasitskene is one of the world’s most dominant athletes, winning her last 38 finals dating to July 2016.

Cunningham, 20, cleared 1.93 meters to grab silver. She missed all three attempts at 1.96 despite clearing that height on her first attempt at her two previous meets this season.

The daughter of retired NFL quarterback Randall Cunningham was 13th at the Rio Olympics and 10th at last year’s world championships as a teenager. She is experienced yet also the youngest member of the 53-athlete U.S. roster in Birmingham.

Cunningham won the 2016 World Indoor title against a field that did not include Lasitskene but did include Spaniard Ruth Beitia, who went on to win the Rio Olympics and then retire last year.

In the men’s high jump Thursday, Russian Danil Lysenko upset Qatar’s Mutaz Barshim by clearing 2.36 meters for gold. Barshim had the world’s best clearances each of the last four years and relegated Lysenko to silver at the 2017 World Outdoor Championships.

American Erik Kynard, the 2012 Olympic silver medalist, took fourth.

Later Thursday, Ethiopian Genzebe Dibaba won her third straight world title in the 3000m. The indoor mile world-record holder went to the lead with 1000m to go and prevailed by .63 of a second in 8:45.05.

Ethiopian-born Dutchwoman Sifan Hassan held off Brit Laura Muir by one tenth for silver. The top American was Olympic 5000m finalist Shelby Houlihan in fifth.

World Indoors continues through Sunday on NBCSN, Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA and NBC Sports Gold, highlighted by new 60m sprint world-record holder Christian Coleman.

World Indoors marks the lone global meet of the year, since outdoor worlds are held in odd-numbered years, and the next Olympics are in 2020.

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WORLD INDOORS: Full Results | Broadcast Schedule

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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MORE: Best figure skating moments from PyeongChang

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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