Spain’s Javier Fernandez skates to second straight European Championships gold

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In the corner of the arena in Budapest, Brian Orser jumped for joy as another one of his pupils soared to first place at a major competition.

Saturday it was Spain’s Javier Fernandez at the European Championships, the defending champion winning for the second straight year, this time just weeks ahead of the Sochi Olympic Games.

Fernandez, skating to “Peter Gunn” and “Harlem Nocturne,” held on to his first quadruple toeloop and then landed a quad Salchow later in his program, delivering a nearly clean free skate in a final group that was riddled with errors.

Orser, the 1988 Olympic silver medalist who helped coach Yuna Kim to her gold medal in Vancouver, also works with Japan’s Yuzuru Hanyu, who won both the Grand Prix Final and the Japan National Championships last month to add his name to a growing list of gold medal contenders at the Olympics.

Fernandez, who struggled through the Grand Prix season, penciled his name back onto that list with two solid skates in Budapest. The 22-year-old trains alongside Hanyu in Toronto with Orser, oftentimes riding his bike to and from the rink for practice.

Yulia Lipnitskaya, 15, skates past veterans for Euros win

Fernandez built on the lead that he had gained in the short program, where he scored a 91.56. His 267.11 overall score was a safe 15 points ahead of Russia’s Sergei Voronov who was second (252.55). Konstantin Menshov, also of Russia, was third with a 237.24.

Russia’s top skater coming into the European Championships, 18-year-old Maksim Kovtun, could not deliver in his free skate, dropping from fourth to fifth with a series of errors on jumps. The performance will likely impact his chance of being selected for the Russian Olympic team over veteran Yevgeny Plushenko, who sat out the Euros.

Plushenko backtracks, wants to skate singles in Sochi

Russia is allotted just one spot for the Sochi Games after no man finished in the top 15 at the World Championships in 2013 (Kovtun was 17th). Neither Voronov nor Menshov were considered in the race to take the spot, which was seen as a back and forth between Kovtun and the veteran Plushenko, a three-time Olympic medalist and 2006 champion.

Michal Brezina of the Czech Republic, coached by Viktor Petrenko, finished fourth while 29-year-old Frenchman Brian Joubert, who has three European Championships to his name, finished eighth in a valiant comeback effort after not skating for most of the season.

But it was a second Euros win for Fernandez, who has plenty of momentum leading into Sochi.

“It was a great year for me last year,” Fernandez told the crowd after his win. “I was so scared because to get the title here again was not easy. It was a great day for me to skate well and give a reason for all these people with Spanish flags to be here.”

Fernandez, who won the Spanish National Championships for the third consecutive year last month, joins Hanyu, reigning and three-time world champion Canada’s Patrick Chan, Vancouver bronze medalist Daisuke Takahashi and American Jeremy Abbott – after his Nationals win last week – as contenders for the top spot in Sochi.

“I don’t want to expect anything,” said the Madrid native. “I want to go there and try my best and I hope that I can fight to be on the podium. I don’t know if [how I skated here] will be enough. I had a couple of mistakes that I have to fix before the Olympics. I think if I give a little bit more I have the chance to be on the podium.”

Russia is expected to announce its Olympic team by January 27th.

NBC will air a package show of the European Championships on Sunday from 4-6pm. It will also be livestreamed on NBCOlympics.com.

Results
1. Javier Fernandez (ESP) – 267.11
2. Sergei Voronov (RUS) – 252.55
3. Konstantin Menshov (RUS) – 237.54
4. Michal Brezina (CZE) – 236.98
5. Maksim Kovtun (RUS) – 232.37
8. Brian Joubert (FRA) 221.95

Who is Italy’s greatest Olympian?

Alberto Tomba
Getty Images
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Italy ranks sixth on the total Olympic medal list, thanks in large part to its fencers. Italian fencers have won a leading 125 medals, more than double the nation’s total in any other sport. The Italians are known for their personalities, from La Bomba to the Cannibal, with six of their best detailed here …

Deborah Compagnoni
Alpine Skiing
Three Olympic Gold Medals

The only Alpine skier to earn gold at three straight Olympics. Compagnoni overcame a broken knee as a junior racer and life-saving surgery to remove 27 inches of her intestine in 1990 to win the Albertville 1992 super-G by 1.8 seconds. It remains the largest margin of victory in the discipline for either gender since 1968. The following day, Compagnoni tore knee ligaments in the giant slalom. She returned to win the GS at the 1994 Lillehammer Games. Compagnoni ended her Olympic career with the biggest rout in a GS at a Winter Games, prevailing by 1.41 seconds in Nagano.

Klaus Dibiasi
Diving
Three Olympic Gold Medals

The only diver to win the same individual event three times. The Austrian-born Dibiasi took platform silver in 1964 at age 17, then three straight golds through 1976. Dibiasi was coached by his father, who was 10th on platform at the 1936 Berlin Games. In his final Olympics, Dibiasi held off a 16-year-old Greg Louganis, who would go on to challenge, if not overtake, Dibiasi as the greatest male diver in history.

Eugenio Monti
Bobsled
Six Olympic Medals

Regarded by many as the greatest bobsled driver in history. Monti captured two silver medals in 1956, missed the 1960 Winter Games that didn’t include bobsled, then two bronzes in 1964 and a pair of golds at age 40 in 1968. On top of that, the nine-time world champion is remembered for an act of sportsmanship in 1964. In between runs, Monti lent a bolt off his own two-man sled to a British team whose sled was damaged. The Brits took gold, ahead of both Italian sleds.

Alberto Tomba
Alpine Skiing
Three Olympic Gold Medals

“La Bomba” dazzled by sweeping the giant slalom and slalom at the 1988 Calgary Winter Games, after dubbing himself the “Messiah of Skiing“ beforehand. Known for his man-about-town ways, Tomba offered one of his gold medals to East German figure skater Katarina Witt should she fall short in her event. After Witt repeated as gold medalist, the story goes that Tomba showed up with a bouquet of roses and an autographed picture of himself, made out out to “Katerina.” “I used to have a wild time with three women until 5 a.m.,” Tomba once said. “Now I live it up with five women until 3 a.m,”

Valentina Vezzali
Fencing
Six Olympic Gold Medals

An 18-year-old Vezzali was an alternate for the 1992 Olympics, forced to watch on TV as the Italian women took team foil gold. Vezzali made the next five Olympics, winning medals in all nine of her events, including three straight individual titles, the last as a mom. Vezzali finished her career with nine total Olympic medals, 25 world championships medals, a flag bearer honor at the 2012 Opening Ceremony and as a member of Italy’s parliament.

Armin Zoeggeler
Luge
Six Olympic Medals

“The Cannibal” retired in 2014 as the first athlete to earn a medal in the same individual event at six straight Olympics. Zoeggeler earned silver and bronze medals in 1994 and 1998, then overtook German legend Georg Hackl for gold in 2002, followed by winning at home in Torino in 2006. He held on for bronze medals in 2010 and 2014, behind the new German luge star, Felix Loch, who would be coached by Hackl. Growing up on top of a steep hill, Zoeggeler began sledding at age 7 to catch the school bus at the bottom.

GREATEST OLYMPIANS: Germany | Liechtenstein | Japan

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Kurt Angle recalls devastation, exultation of Olympic wrestling gold medal

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Kurt Angle doesn’t remember much from the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, but he won’t forget that moment of deep emotional pain.

In the 100kg final, Angle and Iranian Abbas Jadidi were tied 1-1 after regulation and an overtime period.. Eight total minutes of wrestling. They also had the same number of passivity calls, forcing a judges’ decision to determine the gold medalist.

After deliberation, the referee stood between each wrestler in the middle of the mat. He held each’s wrist, ready to reveal the champion to the Georgia World Congress Center crowd — and to the athletes. Angle, now 51, has rarely watched video of the match. But he distinctly remembers, in his peripheral vision, Jadidi’s left arm rising.

“I thought I lost,” Angle said by phone this week. “So right away, I was like, s—, four more years.”

Turns out, the Iranian was raising his own arm. An instant later, the referee suppressed Jadidi. He lifted Angle’s right arm. The wrestler sobbed.

“I had so much emotion because I was devastated and then I was told that I won,” Angle said. “It was a very odd experience. I didn’t know how to handle it. It felt like my father died all over again. That’s how much grief I had. Then, all of a sudden, you won.”

Angle thought of two people immediately after he won, falling to his knees in prayer. First, his father, David, who died in a construction accident when Angle was 16. Second, the 1984 Olympic wrestling champion Dave Schultz, his coach who was murdered by John du Pont six months before the Games.

Angle went on to become one of the most famous U.S. gold medalists of the Atlanta Games, due largely to a two-decade career as a professional wrestler, including as a world heavyweight champion with the WWE.

It would have been different if the referee kept Jadidi’s arm in the air. Angle went into the Olympics knowing it would be his last competition, but only if he took gold. Anything less, and he would continue on, perhaps into his 30s and the 2000 Sydney Games. Despite everything Angle went through just to get to Atlanta.

In the year leading up to the Olympics, Angle lost Schultz, broke his neck at the U.S. Open and, five minutes before each match at the Olympic Trials, received 12 shots of novocaine to numb the pain long enough to advance to the next round. Angle later developed a painkiller addiction.

Angle, a Pennsylvania native, was part of the Foxcatcher club when du Pont shot and killed Schultz. Angle said he wasn’t consulted for the 2014 film “Foxcatcher,” but he thought it was well done save a few instances of dramatic license.

“Unfortunately, I hate to admit this, but if it weren’t for Team Foxcatcher, I probably wouldn’t have won my gold medal,” Angle said. “I probably wouldn’t have known Dave Schultz, and I probably wouldn’t have been able to achieve what I did. It sucks because, to have to thank John du Pont for the ability of allowing me to pay me to wrestle full time and win a world championship [in 1995] and Olympic gold medal, that was huge, but he killed Dave Schultz. The club would have thrived to this day. It just sucks it turned out the way it did, because it made me the best wrestler in the world. Dave Schultz had a lot to do with that, but a lot of wrestlers that followed could have not had to worry about money and could have trained and competed.”

Angle shared his gold medal with, he estimated, thousands of people before housing it in a safe.

“The gold was wearing off,” Angle said. “One kid, I remember, I was at an elementary school, and he grabbed my medal by the ribbon and started twirling it around real fast. He let go of it, and it hit the wall. There’s a big dent in my gold medal. That was the last time I brought it to an elementary school.”

Angle announced in 2011, at age 42, that he was training to come back for the 2012 Olympic Trials. He never made it, calling it off with a knee injury.

“But I trained hard for it,” Angle said, noting he still kept up appearances with Total Nonstop Action Wrestling. “I will tell you this, I wouldn’t have made the team. My goal was to place in the top three. I just missed the [thrill of] competition.”

It meant that Angle’s last match remained that Olympic final. His last moment as a freestyle wrestler having his arm raised.

“All I wanted to do was win a world championship and an Olympic gold medal, and I did them both,” Angle said, sobbing, just off the mat that night in Atlanta. “If I died tonight, I’d be the happiest man in the world.”

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