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Yevgenia Medvedeva wins season opener in rout

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Olympic figure skating favorite Yevgenia Medvedeva, imperfect by her standards, still won her first international competition of the season by a whopping 36.74 points on Saturday.

The Russian tallied 146.72 points in her free skate at Nepela Trophy in Slovakia — lower than her median score over her two-year winning streak — and 226.72 points overall. 

Video is here. Full scores are here.

Medvedeva had a wrong edge call on her triple Lutz, stepping out of the landing. 

Judges gave her a negative grade of execution for it, snapping a streak of more than 60 straight jumps with positive grades dating to December.

No matter, the 17-year-old still had the highest free skate by 23.23 points.

It was 13.72 points shy of her world record set at the last competition of the 2016-17 season.

She distanced Japanese Rika Hongo and countrywoman Yelena Radionova, the only woman to beat Medvedeva in senior international competition in November 2015.

Medvedeva entered the free skate with a 13.51-point lead in the low-level event. That was via recording the second-highest short program tally under a 13-year-old judging system on Thursday.

Her flawed free skate still earned more points than any of her rivals racked up last season. 

All of her jumps except a double Axel were in the second half of her program to earn bonus points.

However, another Russian posted a higher free skate score last week.

That’s 15-year-old training partner Alina Zagitova, who was .45 better at a low-level event in Italy. 

It’s not entirely fair to compare scores from different judging panels at these early season competitions, though.

The first of six Grand Prix series events is Rostelecom Cup in Moscow in four weeks, featuring Medvedeva and Radionova.

Medvedeva and Zagitova could go head-to-head at the Grand Prix Final in December and should definitely both be at the Russian Championships later that month.

The figure skating season continues next week with Nebelhorn Trophy in Germany, the final Olympic qualifying competition. 

North Korea could clinch its first spots in any sport for the Olympics in the pairs event.

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Yevgenia Medvedeva nears record in Olympic season debut

Yevgenia Medvedeva
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Yevgenia Medvedeva set the tone for what could be a magical Olympic season.

The clear favorite for gold in the Winter Games’ marquee event posted the second-highest short program score ever in her first competitive skate of the international campaign.

The 17-year-old Russian tallied 80 points at Nepela Trophy, a lower-level event in Slovakia. Video is here.

She landed every jump in the second half of the 2-minute, 50-second program for 10 percent bonuses. She performed three of the four with her hands above her head to boost her grade-of-execution scores. As is her custom.

Medvedeva was just shy of her record score under a 13-year-old judging system — 80.85 set at the final event of last season. She now owns the top five short-program scores of all time under this system, set at her last five competitions. Scores overall tend to rise yearly, though.

She goes into Saturday’s free skate with a 13.51-point lead over Japan’s Rika Hongo.

Medvedeva’s biggest competition for Olympic gold might just be two skaters who have yet to compete at the top senior international level.

They are Russian Alina Zagitova and Japanese Marin Honda, who went one-two at the world junior championships last season.

Zagitova, a 15-year-old training partner of Medvedeva, won a lower-level event in Italy last week with 218.46 points in her senior international debut. That score would have taken silver behind Medvedeva at last season’s senior worlds.

Honda, 16, also won her senior international debut at a B-level event in Salt Lake City last week. Honda tallied 198.42 points and beat a field that included three of the top four U.S. women.

Medvedeva, Zagitova and Honda could meet in the same competition for the first time at December’s Grand Prix Final, should they all be ranked in the top six of this fall’s Grand Prix series.

The first of six Grand Prix series events is Rostelecom Cup in Moscow in four weeks, featuring Medvedeva and countrywoman Yelena Radionova. Radionova, who is in third place at Nepela, is the only woman to beat Medvedeva on the senior international level, back in November 2015.

If Medvedeva, Zagitova and Honda make up the Olympic medalists, it would be the first all-teen figure skating podium since Peggy Fleming won the women’s event in 1968. And the second in any Winter Olympic sport since (2010 women’s short track 1500m).

Also this week, the last two men’s world champions, Japan’s Yuzuru Hanyu and Spain’s Javier Fernandez, headline the Autumn Classic in Montreal.

The short program is Friday (8:15 p.m. ET) and the free skate Saturday (8 ET). A live stream is here.

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VIDEO: Nathan Chen makes more history at season opener

Russia doping tension marks final day of IOC meetings

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LIMA, Peru (AP) — The raw feelings created by the Russian doping scandal spilled onto the floor and into the hallways of the International Olympic Committee meetings Friday, with less than five months until the Winter Games and no decisions about the fate of the country’s athletes.

IOC members received updates on two investigations that will eventually determine Russia’s status: One on whether there was a state-sponsored doping program in the country, the other on the individual cases of athletes who were implicated in the scandal at the Sochi Games in 2014.

The leaders of both investigations, which are using information from an earlier inquiry by Richard McLaren, urged patience and insisted they are working as fast as they can.

Still, a handful of IOC members made clear they’re worried about the timing.

“A lot of progress has been made, but we’re not there yet,” said Camiel Eurlings, an IOC member from the Netherlands. “I understand it takes a lot of time, but we cannot have this discussion just before the PyeongChang Games. It must be clear months before.”

In another report, IOC member Craig Reedie, who heads the World Anti-Doping Agency, said progress is being made toward reinstating Russia’s suspended anti-doping agency.

Russian IOC member Alexander Zhukov was encouraged. He reiterated what he told The Associated Press this week – he expects Russia to field a team in PyeongChang: Asked if a state-sponsored doping program existed in Russia, his answer was, simply: “no.”

Russia’s unwillingness to acknowledge the state-sponsored program is a problem, as it is a requirement for re-entry into the sports world on many fronts — notably its anti-doping agency, track team and Paralympic team.

But the IOC has made no such requirements.

Urged by President Thomas Bach, the IOC refused to ban the entire Russian team from the Rio Games and instead sent the individual cases to the international sports federations, which had only a matter of days to determine the status of hundreds of athletes. More than 280 Russians participated, and given evidence of the state-sponsored, systemic doping program in the country, there were howls of protest across the globe.

Not wanting to see a repeat, a group of 17 anti-doping leaders released a statement Thursday calling for a complete ban of the Russian Olympic Committee from PyeongChang.

That irritated some IOC members, especially Reedie, who took time in his presentation to assail the leaders.

“The comments made … omit entirely all the work that’s been done to develop proper anti-doping systems in Russia,” Reedie said. “It looks backward instead of looking forward. I want to make it quite clear that most of what they say in their press release is not policy, and is not helpful.”

One of the authors of that release, Travis Tygart of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, responded in an email to the AP: “Yeah, clearly, the truth can strike a reaction, but to be clear, the only thing unhelpful is the lack of decisive action in fully protecting clean athletes’ rights.”

Denis Oswald, the IOC member looking into the individual cases, said his committee has been “working hard since Day 1.”

“But when you have a pile of documents like this,” he said, while holding his hands several feet apart, “and you have (so) many cases involved, it takes time. You have to respect the procedure. You can’t just say they were in Sochi and they are Russian and they probably were doped.”

The McLaren Report said the doping scheme involved 1,000 athletes covering 30 sports, both winter and summer.

Oswald spelled out a clearly defined ranking of the importance of the cases, starting with Russian athletes trying to compete in next year’s Olympics. He said he hoped to have much of the work completed by November, which would give the IOC and other governing bodies three months to sort out eligibility.

The other report – about whether state-sponsored doping exists, as shown in both McLaren’s research and a previous investigation by IOC member Dick Pound – is also on track to be done before the Olympics. Because that looks at the entire operation and not the cases of individual athletes, it figures to be an even more difficult issue for the IOC to sort out.

The director of the IOC’s medical and science department, Richard Budgett, explained some of the delays come down to simple math: For instance, he said it takes about three hours to examine each urine-sample bottle to determine whether tampering has occurred. Key to Russia’s scheme at the Sochi Games was a plan in which officials opened bottles containing tainted urine, traded it with clean urine and resealed the bottles without anyone discovering they had been compromised.

“The frustration out there translates into, ‘Let’s just do something now,'” Budgett said. “But then, you could regret it. So, you’ve got to make sure there’s a solid base for whatever action is taken. That’s what’s being developed.”

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