Amid controversy, Adelina Sotnikova only focused on winning ‘new golds’

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SOCHI, Russia – The day after a judging controversy swirled around figure skating, newly-crowned Olympic champion Adelina Sotkinova had her mind on one thing: more gold medals.

The 17-year-old registered the second-highest free skate score in Olympic history, besting 2010 Olympic champion Yuna Kim for the gold medal. Italy’s Carolina Kostner was third.

“This isn’t the end. There are new golds to win,” a smiling Sotnikova told a packed press room. “There are the World Championships – I want to win there. I only have a silver at the European Championships; I want to win gold there. I want all the gold that there is.”

Sotnikova’s win has been questioned by fans and insiders alike, but experts point to one important factor: the Russian completed one more triple jump than Kim. She also skated unharnessed in a free skate where Kim and Kostner were clean, yet safe and restrained in their performances, giving Sotnikova a higher component score.

VIDEO: Compare routines of Adelina Sotnikova and Yuna Kim

“For me yesterday Adelina was the champion,” said Eteri Tutberidze, the coach of Yulia Lipnitskaya, Sotnikova’s teammate. “It all goes into a package. If you look at all of the components of the skating, she was the champion. Yuna Kim is a strong skater, a strong person. But for me, Adelina won the skating.”

Sotnikova’s coach, former world medalist Elena Buyanova, said the Russian coaches came together in 2010 after the figure skating team won just two medals, its lowest count since the 1976 Innsbruck Games.

“After Vancouver we had to sit down with all the coaches and analyze what was happening,” Buyanova said. “We could not imagine any better training conditions now; we have had the full support of the Russian sporting bodies.”

MORE: Petition to investigate judging exceeds 1 million signatures

Sotnikova becomes the first Russian woman to win gold at the Olympics. Ladies had won a total of just three silvers and bronzes, most recently by Irina Slutskaya (silver in Salt Lake and bronze in Torino).

It was a disappointing end of the Games for the 15-year-old Lipnitskaya, who had won the ladies’ portion of the team event – in which Russia claimed gold – yet faltered to fifth place in the singles event.

“After the end I was very disappointed,” Lipnitskaya said. “I just couldn’t focus during it because I was so tired. I felt sad. It was just too much. Last night I cried and cried. But still, No. 5 in the world is not something very many people can do.”

Calls have been renewed for figure skating’s judges to be identified. A panel of nine judges is named, though just five of their scores are used after each skate. Those five judges are not identified.

“We play by the rules that this game is offering us,” said Peter Chernyshov, Sotnikova’s choreographer. “I don’t think we’re in the position to promote new ideas. At this point we’re focused at following the rules and doing our best.”

“It’s hard to find the ideal system that would work for everyone,” he continued. “It’s not track and field where you run faster than someone. It’s very subjective.”

Both Lipnitskaya and Sotnikova said they’re looking forward to the World Championships next month in Japan. It will be Lipnitskaya’s first, while Sotnikova was ninth there a year ago.

VIDEO: Watch Sotnikova’s routine

With her gold, she becomes the first Olympic champion not to have medaled at Worlds before her win.

The teenagers credit one another for pushing Russian skating to the next level.

“It’s good to have someone on the team that makes you go forward,” Sotnikova said of Lipnitskaya. “I have to say thanks to Yulia because she is my rival. It’s not over yet. This season took a lot of nerve, but there are still World Championships, and I want to win there.”

Mondo Duplantis, Sandi Morris miss attempts at pole vault records

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Sweden’s Mondo Duplantis and U.S. athlete Sandi Morris took turns attempting world records in the pole vault Wednesday at the Meeting d’Athlétsime Hauts-de-France Pas-de-Calais meet at Arena Stade Regional in Liévin, France, but both were unable to clear the bar.

Duplantis, aiming to set the world record for third time in February, had no misses leading up to his record attempts. U.S. vaulter Sam Kendricks, who has won the last two world championships, cleared 5.90m but dropped out after one attempt at 5.95m. Duplantis passed on that height, then cleared 6.07m to warm up for his shot at 6.19m, just shy of 20 feet, 3 3/4 inches.

Morris’ attempt to tie Jennifer Suhr‘s world indoor record of 5.03m from 2016 was more of a surprise. Morris holds the U.S. outdoor record at 5.00m but had never done better than 4.95m indoors. She won Wednesday’s competition with a clearance of 4.83m and asked to go immediately to 5.03m, or 16 feet, 6 inches.

Yelena Isinbayeva still holds the outdoor record of 5.06m, set in 2009. Morris is second on the all-time list and is the only athlete other than Isinbayeva or Suhr to clear 5 meters either indoors or outdoors.

In the men’s pole vault, Duplantis’ clearance of 6.18m Feb. 15 in Glasgow is the best vault indoors or outdoors.  Sergey Bubka still has the highest clearance outdoors at 6.14m. Bubka also held the indoor record of 6.15m for more than 20 years, finally losing it to Renaud Lavillenie in 2014. Duplantis cleared 6.17m Feb. 9 in Poland, then added another centimeter last week in Glasgow.

READ: Duplantis raises record in Glasgow

Duplantis, Lavillenie and Bubka are the only vaulters to clear 20 feet. Kendricks cleared 6.06m, or 19-10 1/2, last summer, the highest outdoor clearance by anyone other than Bubka.

Duplantis grew up in Louisiana and attended LSU for one year, setting the NCAA indoor (5.92m) and outdoor (6.00m) before turning pro, though he was upset in the NCAA final by South Dakota junior Chris Nilsen.

Also at Wednesday’s meet:

Ronnie Baker ran 6.49 seconds in the 60m semifinals and lowered that to 6.44 in the final, second only to Christian Coleman this season. Demek Kemp finished second and tied his personal best of 6.50.

Nia Ali and Christina Clemons finished 1-2 in the women’s 60m hurdles with identical times of 7.92. Ali is the reigning world champion and Olympic silver medalist in the 100m hurdles. She also won world indoor titles in 2014 and 2016.

Two Ethiopian runners set the fastest times of the season Samuel Tefera in the 1,500m (3:35.54) and Getnet Wale in the 3,000m (7:32.80). Wale was fourth in the 3,000m steeplechase in the 2019 world championships.

Pascal Martinot-Lagarde, racing in his home country of France, won the 60m hurdles in 7.47, second this season to Grant Holloway‘s 7.38 last week.

The World Athletics Indoor Tour ends Friday in Madrid. The world indoor championships originally scheduled for March in Nanjing, China, have been postponed a year due to the coronavirus outbreak.

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Susan Dunklee extends decade of surprises for U.S. biathletes

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When Susan Dunklee‘s time held up for second place in Friday’s 7.5km sprint, she became the first U.S. biathlete to win two world championship medals in her career and earned the sixth medal for the U.S. in world biathlon championship history.

Four of those medals have come in the past eight years.

First was Tim Burke, who had gained some fame among biathlon fans with his three World Cup podiums in the 2009-10 season and his relationship with German biathlete Andrea Henkel, who would win two Olympic gold medals and eight world championships before retiring and marrying Burke.

In that season, Burke led the World Cup briefly but faded and didn’t do well in the Olympics. But in 2012-13, he finished 10th in the World Cup overall and ended the American drought in the world championships, finishing second in the individual behind dominant French biathlete Martin Fourcade, who won his 11th non-relay world title Wednesday in the individual.

In 2017, Dunklee became the first U.S. woman to win a non-relay medal, taking the lead in the mass start after quickly knocking down all five targets in the last shooting and holding on for second. She didn’t come out of nowhere, having taken a few World Cup medals. That season, she ranked 10th overall in the World Cup.

Then came the stunner. Lowell Bailey, who had just one World Cup podium in a long career coming into the 2016-17 season, had bib 100 in the individual, a spot usually reserved for non-contenders. But he hit all 20 targets, always important in a race that penalizes athletes one minute per miss, and gutted it out through the last lap to keep a 3.3-second advantage and win the first world championship for a U.S. biathlete.

Like Dunklee, Bailey earned his medal in the midst of a strong season. The individual was won of his four top-10 finishes in the world championships, including a fourth-place finish in the sprint. He wound up eighth overall in the World Cup.

Bailey and Burke each stuck it out to compete in their fourth Olympics in 2018, then crossed the finish line together in their final race at the U.S. championships.

This season is their first in management. Bailey, also a bluegrass musician, is now U.S. Biathlon’s director of high performance. Burke is director of athlete development.

Dunklee, on the other hand, isn’t done. Her results slipped a bit after her 2017 breakthrough, but she has had some top 10s. When she shoots clean, as she did Friday, she’s a contender.

The first U.S. medal was in the first women’s world championship in 1984, when Holly Beatie, Julie Newman and Kari Swenson bronze in 3x5km relay. Swenson also finished fifth in the individual that year and returned to compete in the next two world championships after a harrowing experience in which she was abducted and shot, a story that inspired a film starring Tracy Pollan.

The only other U.S. medal in the world championships before Burke, Bailey and Dunklee was Josh Thompson‘s individual silver in 1987. The only athletes other than Burke, Bailey, Dunklee and Thompson to have World Cup podiums (excluding relays) are Jeremy Teela in 2009 and Clare Egan, who was third in a mass start last spring and is competing in the world championships this year.

U.S. Paralympians broke through with two gold medals on the first day of competition in the 2018 Paralympics.

READ: Kendall Gretsch, Dan Cnossen take gold

Wednesday saw another surprise finish for a U.S. biathlete. Leif Nordgren, whose career-best finish outside the relays is 16th, was the only athlete to go 20-for-20 on the shooting range and placed eighth in the individual.

The championships continue through through Sunday with the single mixed relay on Thursday, the men’s and women’s relays on Saturday, and the men’s and women’s mass starts on Sunday.

WATCH: World biathlon championships TV schedule

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