Ashley Wagner “speechless” over ladies’ free skate decision

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Russian skater Adelina Sotnikova pulled off a stunner yesterday by defeating South Korea’s Yuna Kim to win the Olympic gold in ladies’ figure skating – and not just by a razor-thin margin, either.

Sotnikova’s free skate was considered more technically sound by the judges, and she earned a score of 149.95. Kim’s free skate looked every bit as strong but only netted a 144.19 – nearly six points behind Sotnikova.

Final total score: Sotnikova 224.59, Kim 219.11.

Sotnikova’s victory instantly triggered debate over the sport’s judging system. Among those people talking was Team USA’s most outspoken skater, Ashley Wagner.

VIDEO: Wagner “fist pumping for days”

The American said she was “speechless” at the result. But instead, she proved that she was anything but.

“People need to be held accountable,” Wagner said after the event. “They need to get rid of anonymous judging. There are many changes that need to come to this sport if we want a fan base.”

VIDEO: Watch Wagner’s routine

Adding she saw “a lot of very nice, decent landings” from Kim – who announced her retirement after earning the silver behind Sotnikova – Wagner noted that “people don’t want to watch a sport where you watch people fall down and somehow score above someone who goes clean.”

“It’s confusing and we need to make it clear for people.”

After a third clean run in Sochi in the free skate, Wagner finished seventh but two spots behind Russian rising star Yulia Liptnitskaia, who fell for a second consecutive day yesterday.

Wagner’s not the only one frustrated over the judging. As you’d probably figure, fans of Kim in her home country were left fuming over the decision.

Additionally, more than one million people have signed a Change.org petition to have an “open investigation” into the judging process.

Ski jumping World Cup season kicks off in Poland

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The World Cup ski jump season opens Friday with men’s team and individual events in Wisla, Poland.

The host country had three of the top five jumpers in the overall standings last year. Defending champion Kamil Stoch placed third, Piotr Zyla was close behind in fourth, and Dawid Kubacki was fifth.

Japan’s Ryoyu Kobayashi dominated last year’s competition, finishing with 2,085 points to 1,349 for runner-up Stefan Kraft of Austria, the 2017 World Cup champion.

Kobayashi’s performance was a dramatic improvement over his previous season, when he finished no higher than sixth in any individual competition and was 24th overall. Last year, he had 15 wins and 23 podium finishes in 30 World Cup events, though he only managed fourth and 14th in the two world championship events.

The top American last season, Kevin Bickner, finished 51st overall, a drop from 39th the year before. He was 18th and 20th in the 2018 Olympic jumps.

Women’s World Cup action begins Dec. 6-8 in Lillehammer, Norway.

NBC Sports Gold will broadcast World Cup action throughout the season. This weekend, the qualifying jumps will air at noon ET Friday, the team event starts at 11:30 a.m. ET Saturday, and the individual competition is at 6 a.m. Sunday.

MORE: Full ski jumping broadcast schedule

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Snowboarding pioneer Jake Burton Carpenter dies at 65

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Jake Burton Carpenter, the pioneer who brought snowboarding to the masses and helped turn the sport into a billion-dollar business and Olympic showpiece, has died at 65.

He died Wednesday night in Burlington, Vermont, according to an email sent to the staff of the company he founded. Carpenter had emailed his staff this month saying, “You will not believe this, but my cancer has come back.” He had been diagnosed with testicular cancer in 2011 but after several months of therapy had been given a clean bill of health.

Carpenter quit his job in New York in 1977 to form the company now known simply as Burton. His goal was to advance the rudimentary snowboard, then called a “Snurfer,” which had been invented by Sherman Poppen a dozen years earlier.

It worked, and more than four decades later, snowboarding is a major fixture at the Winter Games and snowboards are as common as skis at resorts across the globe.

“He was our founder, the soul of snowboarding, the one who gave us the sport we all love so much,” Burton co-CEO John Lacy said in his email to the staff.

It is virtually impossible to avoid the name “Burton” once the snow starts falling at any given mountain around the world these days. The name is plastered on the bottoms of snowboards, embroidered on jackets, stenciled into bindings.

At a bar in Pyeongchang, South Korea, not far from where snowboarding celebrated its 20th anniversary at the Olympics last year, there was a wall filled with Burton pictures and memorabilia — as sure a sign as any of the global reach of a company founded in his garage in Londonderry, Vermont.

The company sponsored pretty much every top rider at one time or another — from Shaun White to Kelly Clark to Chloe Kim.

Carpenter watched all his champions win their Olympic golds from near the finish line, never afraid to grind away in the mosh pit of snowboarders and snowboarding fans that he helped create.

In an interview in 2010, he said he was happy with how far his sport had come, and comfortable with where it was going.

“I had a vision there was a sport there, that it was more than just a sledding thing, which is all it was then,” Burton said. “We’re doing something that’s going to last here. It’s not like just hitting the lottery one day.”

Lacy said details about the celebration of Burton’s life would be coming soon but, for now, “I’d encourage everyone to do what Jake would be doing tomorrow, and that’s riding. It’s opening day at Stowe, so consider taking some turns together, in celebration of Jake.”

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