Mao Asada

Asada strives toward missing gold under massive attention in Japan

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DETROIT — While the four reigning U.S. national champions have solid figure skating followings, arguably the one truly global superstar at Skate America this weekend is Japan’s Mao Asada.

The Vancouver Olympic silver medalist and two-time world champion pleased hundreds of Japan-flag waving fans at Joe Louis Arena, thousands of miles from home. After Asada ended the short program in the lead, three dozen Japanese reporters stood waiting for her off the ice Saturday.

At 23, Asada has said this will be her last season after she wiped the slate clean following the 2010 Games and started rebuilding her skating with a focus on her triple jumps.

“Compared to four years ago, I’ve focused more on the technical aspect of my skating,” Asada said Friday through an interpreter. “I have started from scratch, and now feel like I’m seeing the result of that.”

Asada benefits from her triple Axel, specifically, in the ladies event where it is a rarity. Saturday she hit it — if not perfectly — to help her into first place over two-time U.S. national champion Ashley Wagner.

Wagner, who has publicly been chasing a triple-triple combination herself, said the Axel is what sets Asada apart.

“Mao does triple Axels like nobody’s business,” Wagner said. “It’s inspiring to be around. It makes me want to get better. I definitely think that now that she has her triple Axel back and solid she is a force to be reckoned with. I would like to think that as my programs develop and my spin levels get there I feel like I’ll be able to get closer and closer to her. She’s a strong and solid competitor, so she’s giving me something to work for — I can’t slack off.”

There has been no slacking for Asada since her silver medal in Vancouver, revamping to try to close the gap on reigning Olympic champion Yuna Kim. And while Asada won’t say she wants gold in Sochi, she seems to imply it.

“After Vancouver, part of me that was very happy about [winning silver] and part of me wasn’t happy about it,” Asada said. “Because this is my last season and [it’s] an Olympic season, I’m hoping everything comes together for the best at every event.”

Asada has experience and accomplishments on her side: she won skating’s Grand Prix Final at the Iceberg Skating Palace –- the Sochi Olympic venue –- in December 2012.

“The last time I was there, the result was very good,” Asada said through the interpreter, smiling. “And I was very comfortable. That helps me; I’m looking forward to going back.”

Asada said she notices her picture being taken in public every now and then but isn’t overwhelmed by it. The popularity of figure skating has soared in Japan with Shizuka Arakawa winning Olympic gold in 2006 and Daisuke Takahashi capturing bronze in 2010, the first men’s singles medal for the country.

“When I’m down, fans and everyone are trying to cheer me up,” Asada said of the attention. “Other than that, I have a pretty normal life.”

U.S. men’s Olympic figure skating picture clouded

Cyclist in induced coma after Tour of Poland crash

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Dutch cyclist Fabio Jakobsen was put into an induced coma Wednesday after suffering injuries in a crash on the final stretch of the Tour of Poland, organizers said.

A massive crash at the finish of the first stage resulted in Dylan Groenewegen‘s disqualification from the race.

Leading a bunch sprint, Groenewegen veered toward the right barrier, pinching countryman Jakobsen, who barreled into the barrier meters from the finish line.

Jakobsen went head over heels, his bike went airborne and the barriers exploded onto the road, causing more cyclists to crash.

Jakobsen was airlifted to a hospital in serious condition and was put into an induced coma, the Tour de Pologne press office said.

Groenewegen crossed the finish line first but was disqualified, giving Jakobsen the stage win, according to the stage race website.

Groenewegen, a 27-year-old Jumbo-Visma rider, owns four Tour de France stage wins among the last three years.

The International Cycling Union (UCI) “strongly condemned” Groenewegen’s “dangerous” and “unacceptable” behavior. It referred Groenewegen’s actions to a disciplinary commission for possible sanctions.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Figure skating Grand Prix Series will be held as ‘domestic’ competitions

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Figure skating’s Grand Prix Series will go ahead as scheduled this fall, with modifications due to the coronavirus pandemic, the International Skating Union decided Monday.

Each of the series’ six tops around the globe will be “a domestic run event,” limited to skaters of the event’s host country, who regularly train in the host country and from a respective geographical area. The number of disciplines and skaters at each event are to be worked out.

The Grand Prix Series, held annually since 1995, is a six-event fall season, qualifying the top six skaters and teams per discipline to December’s Grand Prix Final. The annual stops are in the U.S., Canada, China, France, Russia and Japan, leading up to the Final, which is held at a different site each year.

The Final is the second-biggest annual competition after the world championships, which are typically in late March. The Final is still scheduled for Beijing, though whether or when it can be held will be discussed.

The series begins in late October with Skate America, which debuted in 1979 and has been held every year since 1988 as the biggest annual international competition in the U.S. Skate America’s site is Las Vegas, just as it was in 2019.

Skaters typically compete twice on the Grand Prix Series (three times if they qualify for the Final). ISU vice president Alexander Lakernik said skaters will be limited to one start in the six-event series before the Final, according to a Russian media quote confirmed by Phil Hersh.

The ISU has not confirmed or denied Lakernik’s assertion.

Most, if not all, top-level U.S. skaters train in the U.S. or Canada. That makes the first two Grand Prix stops — Skate America and Skate Canada — likely destinations. Grand Prix assignments have not been published.

“I appreciate the ISU is open to adapting competitive formats and is working to give athletes opportunities to compete,” Evan Bates, a U.S. ice dance champion with Madison Chock who trains in Montreal, wrote in a text message to Hersh. “This announcement gives reassurance that the ISU is doing their best to ensure a season will still take place. Of course, it’s hard to predict what will happen, and we’re not sure about what country we would compete in. It would probably depend on what the quarantine rules are at that time.”

The January 2021 U.S. Championships are scheduled for San Jose, Calif. The March 2021 World Championships are set for Stockholm.

In July, the ISU canceled the Junior Grand Prix Series for skaters mostly ages 13 to 18, including two-time U.S. champion Alysa Liu, who cannot enter the senior Grand Prix until 2021.

Other early season senior international competitions scheduled for September were also canceled or postponed.

U.S. Figure Skating said in a statement that it will have more details on the Grand Prix Series in the coming weeks after collaborating with an ISU-appointed group.

“This is a great example of the figure skating community coming together to ensure that the world’s premier figure skating series will continue during these challenging times,” the statement read. “Figure skaters want to compete and figure skating fans from all around the world want to see their favorite athletes skate, and this format will ensure just that.”

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