Figure skating preview: Yuna Kim, Yulia Lipnitskaya, Mao Asada lead the way

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SOCHI, Russia – Once again the Olympics comes down to the ladies’ figure skating event in the closing days, and once again the ladies won’t disappoint in a dramatic flurry of sequins, Salchows and on-ice storylines that are brought to life – this year, in particular – with plenty of drama.

Defending Olympic gold medalist and reigning world champion Yuna Kim is the favorite in many books, but also a largely unknown entity after having not competed in the Grand Prix season in the lead-up to Sochi, instead only skating at a small event in Croatia in December, and then the South Korean National Championships last month.

The runner-up to Kim four years ago, Mao Asada factors into the medal conversation should she bring her patented (and unmatched) triple Axel to the table, while a 15-year-old Russian named Yulia Lipnitskaya has already captured the imagination of the host country, winning the ladies’ portion of the inaugural figure skating team event.

And Americans Ashley Wagner and Gracie Gold – fifth and sixth, respectively – at the World Championships a year ago, are outside hopes for the podium.

Below, a full rundown of the ladies’ event, set to begin Wednesday night at the Iceberg Skating Palace and concluding Thursday.

American trio
It’s highly unlikely that there will be a gold for Gold – or for Wagner – though the American women, along with 15-year-old Polina Edmunds, bring a strong presence for Team USA onto Olympic ice in Sochi.

Gold has improved significantly since placing sixth at the World Championships last March, joining forces with legendary coach Frank Carroll in September and then winning the U.S. Championships in January, registering the event’s highest-ever overall score.

“The women’s field is so packed this year with veterans and young Russians,” Gold, 18, told reporters leading up to the Olympics. “I definitely think that I have a chance at winning a medal. It’s about who’s going to focus and leave everything out on the ice.”

The same goes for 22-year-old Wagner, who has long been a top-five contender in the world ranks but was fourth at the U.S. Championships, a performance that brought about doubts of her ability to perform under Olympic pressure in Sochi. She was clean yet tentative in the team competition short program, where Gold was a bit stronger in the free skate for the U.S.

“I feel like technically Gracie has a really good shot at the podium,” said Tara Lipinski, the 1998 Olympic champion and a NBC Sports commentator. “When there’s pressure involved, it changes a lot of performances. Ashley is coming back as a little bit of an underdog. It might set her up nicely, actually.”

Edmunds was the surprise at Nationals, where she skated in her first senior event and vaulted herself to second place. The San Jose-based skater has the triple-triple combination like Gold and Wagner, and will be skating in her first-ever senior international in Sochi.

“The fact that this is her first senior international doesn’t really change anything,” said Edmunds’ coach, David Glynn. “Even though this is the Olympics, what she has to do on the ice is the same.”

Podium posturing
Can Yuna Kim do the same as she did in 2010 and make figure skating history? She leads an internationally eclectic list of names that could top the podium, and if she wins a second straight Olympic gold she’ll be just the third woman in history to do so, and the first since Katarina Witt did so in 1984 and 1988.

“Yuna is just so secure with who she is on the ice because she’s been through everything in her career, and that makes her exude confidence,” Lipinski said. “It’s what sets her apart from all the others.”

Asada, the Japanese 23-year-old who was second to Kim four years ago, will look to swap places with the South Korean here. Asada won three gold medals on the international circuit this fall, utilizing her rare triple Axel (no other top woman even tries the jump) as her biggest weapon. Asada re-tuned her skating after the Vancouver Games, re-building her jumps from the ice up and suffering through two seasons of poor finishes as a result.

There have been no poor results for 15-year-old Lipnitskaya, who won two Grand Prix events this fall and the Russian National Championships in December. The lithe, ballet-like skating of the uber-flexible Lipnitskaya is what helped her win the ladies’ portion of the new team event, though no other medal contender skated both programs. (Yuna Kim didn’t participate at all.)

“Lipnitskaya is just so well organized and thoughtful out on the ice,” said Lipinski, who won her Olympic gold at 15 in Nagano. “If you look at the peak process for an athlete in a season, it’s working out perfectly for Yulia. Winning the team event portion sets her up really nicely for singles.”

Fringe fighters
Four years ago as the Sochi Olympics were being promoted across Russia, Adelina Sotnikova was the face of the Games for figure skating. Now 17, the teen is playing second fiddle to Lipnitskaya, but still brings a strong resume to the ice and – if she skates lights out – can be in the medal conversation.

The same goes for 27-year-old veteran Carolina Kostner. The Italian veteran has a flowing style that few others can match in their programs, though the 2012 world champion hasn’t been able to rise to the occasion at the Olympics, placing ninth in 2006 and then crashing to 16th in Vancouver.

Also keep an eye on: Akiko Suzuki and Kanako Murakami of Japan; Valentina Marchei of Italy and Canada’s Kaetlyn Osmond.

What to watch for
The aforementioned triple-triple is big for every lady on the ice, usually performed at the beginning of both the short program and free skate. It’s especially important for Wagner, who struggled on the combination at the U.S. Championships last month.

The crowd will play a major part in the competition, as it has roared for Russian skaters throughout the Games. Lipnitskaya and Sotnikova both skate in the final group Tuesday night, and will be looking for an extra boost inside the boisterous Iceberg Skating Palace.

How will Yuna Kim fair? That will be on everyone’s mind as the 2010 Olympic champion takes to the ice. She said it herself on Tuesday after practice: “I’m not as good as I was four years ago.” But will she be good enough to win gold?

Devon Allen wins U.S. 110m hurdles title by two thousandths of a second

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Devon Allen waited out a three-hour thunderstorm delay to win by two thousandths of a second.

Allen, the University of Oregon wide receiver turned Olympian, claimed his second national title in the 110m hurdles on Sunday. By the fabric of his singlet.

Allen edged NCAA champion Grant Holloway of Florida — 13.452 to 13.454 seconds — on a wet Drake Stadium track in Des Moines, Iowa. It marked the slowest winning time at the USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships since another wide receiver, Super Bowl winner Willie Gault, captured his title in 1982.

The wind (1.8 meters/second at the hurdlers’ faces) and the delay did not help. The final went off at 8 p.m. local time, three hours later than scheduled, due to a storm passing through the Iowa capital with one hour left of the last day of competition at nationals.

The day’s other marquee sprints — the men’s and women’s 200m finals — were also delayed three hours. Olympians Jenna Prandini and Ameer Webb prevailed over fields that lacked recent U.S. champions and Olympic and world medalists.

The track and field season continues with a Diamond League meet in Paris on Saturday with live coverage on Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA and streaming on NBC Sports Gold.

USATF Outdoors: Full Results

Also Sunday, Shelby Houlihan repeated as 5000m champion, one day after winning the 1500m. The Sioux City native, who finished 11th in the Rio Olympic 5000m, moved to the lead with 250 meters left and breezed to win in 15:31.03, 1.68 seconds ahead of Rachel Schneider.

Only Regina Jacobs previously pulled off a 1500m-5000m double at nationals in 1999 and 2000, three years before testing positive for a steroid that would end her career.

Paul Chelimo led for the last mile of the men’s 5000m and held off Ryan Hill by two tenths of a second. The U.S. Army runner Chelimo, an Olympic silver medalist and world bronze medalist, clocked 13:29.47, saluting as he crossed the finish line.

Olympic 800m bronze medalist Clayton Murphy recorded his biggest win since the Olympic Trials, clocking 1:46.50 and holding off NCAA champion Isaiah Harris by .61. Last year, Murphy bid to make the world championships team in the 800m and 1500m but withdrew during nationals with a hamstring injury.

World bronze medalist Ajeé Wilson claimed her third U.S. 800m title in a controlled 1:55.18, .39 ahead of Raevyn Rogers.

In the steeplechase, Evan Jager collected his seventh straight national title, three hours after first taking the track for the final. The Olympic silver medalist clocked 8:20.10 in the first event contested after the rain delay.

Shamier Little took advantage of Georganne Moline‘s stumble coming off the last hurdle to win the 400m hurdles in 53.61. Olympic bronze medalist Ashley Spencer did not finish after crashing over an earlier hurdle. Olympic champion Dalilah Muhammad and Sydney McLaughlin, the fastest in the world this year, did not compete at nationals.

Olympic and world silver medalist Sandi Morris won the pole vault with a top clearance of 4.80 meters. Jenn Suhr, the 2012 Olympic champion and 10-time U.S. champion, finished third.

Olympic shot put champion Michelle Carter finished sixth in her second meet since August, failing in a bid for an eighth U.S. title and placing outside the top three for the first time since 2007. NCAA champion Maggie Ewen won with a 19.29-meter throw.

Jeff Henderson earned his third U.S. long jump title to go along with his gold medal from Rio. Henderson leaped 8.10 meters, matching the shortest jump to win a national title since 1975. He recorded the eventual winning jump before the rain delay, then didn’t show up for his final three jumps post-delay.

Erik Kynard, a 2012 Olympic high jump silver medalist, was beaten by Jeron Robinson, who cleared 2.31 meters. Kynard, a four-time U.S. champion, suffered a left foot injury and limped off with help.

Heptathlete Erica Bougard bagged her first national title after finishing third in 2013, 2014 and 2015 and second in 2017.

MORE: Lyles, Norman, green teens at Olympic Trials, now stars at USATF Champs

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Matthew Centrowitz redeems, Jenny Simpson upset at USATF Outdoors

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Matthew Centrowitz never doubted — and, based on post-race comments, other top American milers didn’t, either — but after a dreadful year that followed his Olympic breakthrough, and moving across the country, his fifth national title had unique significance.

“Satisfaction out there,” Centrowitz told Lewis Johnson on NBC after winning the 1500m at the USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships. “A little sense of relief, get back on top.

“I wouldn’t say it was my best race since the Olympics, but it was a step in the right direction.”

Centrowitz regained best American miler status 55 minutes after Jenny Simpson‘s run of four straight 1500m titles ended in Des Moines on Saturday.

Centrowitz, who in Rio became the first U.S. Olympic 1500m champion in 108 years, won in typical fashion, moving toward the front on a 57-second penultimate lap and outkicking the field on the home stretch.

He crossed in 3:43.37, just .04 faster than his runner-up time a year ago and a comfortable .26 ahead of Izaik Yorks. Centrowitz, whose past celebrations included odes to Cam Newton and J.R. Smith, this time held his right hand to his ear to mimic a phone.

“I was calling 911,” Centrowitz said, “report a murder.”

It marked Centrowitz’s first win on this kind of stage since Rio. Last year, Centrowitz was unable to get more than two straight weeks of healthy training all season due in part to adductor issues and an ER visit with a viral infection. It showed at nationals, where Olympic teammate Robby Andrews beat him. It was clearer at worlds, where a listless Centrowitz finished last in his first-round heat.

Centrowitz announced in January he relocated from Portland, Ore., to work with his dad, a former competitive runner, in the D.C. area but would still be coached from long distance by Alberto Salazar. Then at the Pre Classic last month, Centrowitz was not the top finishing American in the Bowerman Mile for the first time since 2013 (though he missed the meet in 2016 and 2017).

Didn’t matter Saturday. Other U.S. milers still deferred.

“When you get into these big races with Matt, it’s like when you get into a big race with [four-time Olympic gold medalist] Mo [Farah], these guys, you kind of let them do things that you wouldn’t let someone you know you’re better than get away with,” third-place finisher and Nike Oregon Project teammate Eric Jenkins said. “They do what they want. They get into position. They take what they want. It comes with being as good as they are.”

Andrews, bounced in the first round Thursday, texted Centrowitz congratulations. Centrowitz is now one U.S. title shy of Steve Scott‘s post-World War II record. That’s on his mind.

“At this point in my career, I want to keep checking off boxes to leave my mark in the 1500m in the U.S,” said Centrowitz, who personal best from 2015 of 3:30.40 makes him the third-fastest American all time behind Bernard Lagat and Sydney Maree.

With no world championships or Olympics this season, Centrowitz still has motivation. He would like to win a Diamond League race (no U.S. man has done so in the 1500m) and finish the year ranked No. 1 in the country.

“My dad always calls it the three Hs,” Centrowitz said. “I’ve got to be happy, healthy and hungry. …. Relatively speaking, I’ve been healthy since Jan. 1, and I was hungrier than ever today.”

USATF Outdoors conclude Sunday on NBC (4-6 p.m. ET) and NBC Sports Gold (12:30-6 p.m.), highlighted by 200m, 5000m and 110m hurdles finals.

USATF Outdoors: TV Schedule | Results | Women’s Preview | Men’s Preview

Simpson, the Olympic bronze medalist, was beaten by Olympic 5000m runner Shelby Houlihan for the second time this season. The Sioux City native Houlihan surged past Simpson on the final straight, just as she did at the Pre Classic last month.

“I’m totally bummed, but I guess I have a lot of practice at losing as well as winning,” Simpson told media in Des Moines. “It felt a little weird being at U.S. Championships and getting outkicked.”

Houlihan won in 4:05.48, .73 ahead of runner-up Simpson.

“I feel like she’s way ahead of me,” Houlihan said of Simpson. “She’s someone I’ve looked up to since high school.”

In other events, Deanna Price took the American record back from Gwen Berry with a 78.12-meter hammer throw, the best in the world this year.

Shakima Wimbley and Kahmari Montgomery won their first U.S. titles in the 400m.

Wimbley prevailed in 49.52, lowering her personal best by .66, tying the fastest time in the world this year and torching a field lacking the last two world champions, Phyllis Francis and Allyson Felix. Wimbley showed promise at the Pre Classic last month, finishing third behind Olympic champion Shaunae Miller-Uibo and Francis.

Montgomery clocked 44.58 to win, two weeks after finishing seventh at the NCAA Championships for the University of Houston. The men’s field lacked 2008 Olympic champion LaShawn Merritt and Michael Norman, the fastest man in the world this year who opted to race the 200m this week.

World-record holder Kendra Harrison repeated as 100m hurdles champion. Harrison clocked 12.46, off of her world record of 12.20. Olympic champion Brianna McNeal, who beat Harrison in Shanghai on May 12, was not in the field.

World gold and silver medalists Emma Coburn and Courtney Frerichs went one-two in the 3000m steeplechase. Coburn, the Olympic bronze medalist, earned her seventh national title in eight years by clocking 9:17.70. She pulled away from Frerichs on the last lap to win by .99. Nobody else finished within 15 seconds.

“[Frerichs] gave me a run for my money,” Coburn, who has been beaten by a countrywoman once in eight years, said on NBC. “This is going to be a battle that’s worth watching for years to come.”

In the pole vault, Olympic bronze medalist and world champion Sam Kendricks cleared 5.85 meters for his fifth straight U.S. title.

Vashti Cunningham repeated as high jump champion by clearing 1.95 meters. Cunningham, whose father and coach is retired NFL All-Pro quarterback Randall Cunningham, was 13th at the Olympics and 10th at the world championships.

Darrell Hill upset Olympic champion Ryan Crouser in the shot put, winning with a 21.57-meter throw. Hill improved to 3-17 against Crouser. Crouser came to Des Moines with the top 23 throws by an American this year out of his 24 total legal throws, according to Tilastopaja.org. But on Saturday he had five fouls in six throws. His only legal throw was 20.99 meters for second place.

NCAA runner-up Kenny Selmon won the 400m hurdles from lane eight against a field that lacked Olympic champion Kerron Clement. Selmon clocked 48.21 seconds, three tenths ahead of TJ Holmes, who was fifth at 2017 Worlds.

The favorites advanced to Sunday’s semifinals in the 200m and 110m hurdles, including 400m indoor world-record holder Michael Norman and Olympian Ameer Webb in the 200m and world-record holder Aries Merritt, Olympian Devon Allen and NCAA champion Grant Holloway in the hurdles.

MORE: Lyles, Norman, green teens at Olympic Trials, now stars at USATF Champs

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