Worlds preview: Hanyu goes for double gold after Sochi

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This week the reigning Olympic figure skating champion Yuzuru Hanyu looks to become the first man to win a World Championship gold medal in the same year he stood atop the Olympic podium since 2002.

Hanyu, the 19-year-old from Japan who held on to win gold in Sochi last month against three-time world champion Patrick Chan, will try to win a double gold in 2014 and become the first man to do so since Russian Alexei Yagudin in 2002.

The Championships will be without its three-time and reigning champion in Chan, the Canadian who faltered to a silver medal in Sochi and is sitting out these Worlds to rest and recuperate in looking towards his uncertain future.

The men’s event gets underway Wednesday morning (EST) in Saitama, Japan, and concludes on Friday.

More: Full Worlds schedule and streaming times | Entry list

The World Championships, often a depleted field following the Olympics, will be without silver medalist Chan, bronze winner Denis Ten (out with injury), sixth place winner Daisuke Takahashi (a bronze medalist in 2010) and American Jason Brown, who placed ninth.

The U.S. will send reigning national champion Jeremy Abbott (12th in Sochi) and 2013 U.S. champ Max Aaron, who missed out on the Sochi Games by one spot in January.

“Watching my teammates that I thought I was going to go to the Olympics with on TV was the hardest part,” the 22-year-old Aaron told NBCSports.com in a phone interview last week. “That was really tough for me.”

Aaron was seventh at Worlds in 2013 and was seen to be given a vote of confidence by the U.S. Figure Skating Association when selected for Worlds over Brown following Nationals.

More: World Figure Skating Championships pairs preview

The U.S. needs Abbott and Aaron to combine for a 13th-place finish overall to recover a third spot on the international stage, which the U.S. men haven’t had since the 2011 World Championships.

Abbott, who announced this would be his last season prior to the U.S. Championships, said a third spot was not his focus.

“Of course everyone wants the three spots but it’s nobody’s focus,” said the 28-year-old, who had his best Worlds finish in 2010 when he placed fifth following the Vancouver Games. “Everyone wants to do the best that they can do. The two of us are definitely good enough to get back the three spots. Max is very talented and I think I’m capable enough that the two of us combined can do that.”

But Aaron said a third spot will be at the forefront of his mind when he takes to the ice in Saitama.

“I knew that third spot was going to make a difference going into the Olympic year, but we came up a little short,” Aaron said referring to the two U.S. spots the team had for Sochi. “Unfortunately that person was me.”

Hanyu will skate before a figure skating-mad fan base in Japan after becoming the first man in the country’s history to win an Olympic gold medal as well as Japan’s only figure skating medal in Sochi.

He fell twice in his free skate performance at the Iceberg Skating Palace, but the favorite Chan wasn’t better, Hanyu holding on for gold in a competition that was riddled with mistakes and falls.

Without Chan and Ten in the mix, Spain’s Javier Fernandez (fourth at the Sochi Olympics) will be figured into the medal mix after winning the bronze at the same event a year ago and seen to have given up a medal in Sochi.

Other Sochi competitors will factor into the medal conversation along with Hanyu, Fernandez, Abbott and Aaron. Japan’s Tatsuki Machida was fifth at the Olympics, Han Yan of China was seventh, German Peter Liebers was eighth and Michal Brezina of the Czech Republic placed 10th.

Russia will send 18-year-old Maksim Kovtun, the teenager who beat Yevgeny Plushenko at the Russian Championships in December but was skipped over for the veteran for the country’s lone men’s spot in Sochi. Plushenko helped Russia to gold in the team event before pulling out of the individual event, facing ridicule domestically.

“I think people are a lot more relaxed having gone through the Olympics and I think it makes for a really good competition,” said Abbott, who had two disastrous short programs (in the team and individual events) in Sochi before skating mistake-free in the long program. “In 2010, there were some amazing performances and I think this year is going to be no different. It’s still a world-class competition and you’re going to get world-class performances.”

Aaron said it was too early to tell, but that he’d like for Saitama to be the first step in the long road to the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang.

“I can’t look that far ahead,” said the 2014 U.S. bronze medalist. “I have to take it season by season, day by day. I’m focused on what I need to do and the task at hand.”

While Abbott didn’t put a placement expectation on his Worlds effort, Aaron was more forthcoming.

“I’m shooting for a medal to be honest,” he said. “I want those clean performances and I’m hopefully coming away with that third spot for the U.S.”

Icenetwork.com will provide live coverage for subscribers. The men’s short program is set for Wednesday morning (2:45 a.m. EST) and the free skate will take place Friday (4 a.m. EST). NBC will air a World Championships recap show April 13 from 3-6 p.m. ET.

U.S. Open changes seeding policy for pregnancies

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Serena Williams will learn Wednesday if she is seeded at Wimbledon, while a top U.S. Open official is already reportedly saying its seeds will be revised if a return from pregnancy comes into play, though not naming Williams specifically.

The U.S. Open, the fourth and final Grand Slam tournament of the year in September, would “revise the seedings if pregnancy is a factor in the current rankings of a player,” USTA president and chairwoman Katrina Adams said, according to The New York Times.

Williams, a 23-time Grand Slam singles champion, was not given one of 32 seeds at the French Open in May, her first Grand Slam since coming back from having daughter Alexis Olympia Ohanian Jron Sept. 1.

Her ranking had fallen to No. 453 due to maternity leave. She could enter the major tournament due to the WTA’s protected ranking rule, but it was up to Grand Slam organizers whether to give her a seed.

Williams reached the semifinals of her last eight U.S. Opens, missing the New York event in 2010 and 2017. She has won it six times. Her current ranking is No. 183.

If Williams neither makes a deep Wimbledon run nor plays plenty of summer hard-court matches, it’s likely the U.S. Open will have to decide whether to give her a seed. It sounds like organizers are prepared to.

“It’s the right thing to do for these mothers that are coming back,” Adams said, according to the report, adding that players should not be “penalized” for starting a family.

Williams reached the fourth round of the French Open in her first Grand Slam since winning the 2017 Australian Open while pregnant (but before the world learned). She withdrew before a round of 16 showdown with Maria Sharapova due to a pectoral muscle injury and has not played in a tournament since.

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MORE: Serena calls parts of Sharapova’s book ‘hearsay’

Noah Lyles takes next step to stardom as youngest U.S. 100m champion in 34 years

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Incredible, Noah Lyles.

Lyles, wearing red “The Incredibles” socks, won the U.S. 100m title in 9.88 seconds, the fastest time in the world this year, at the USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships in Des Moines on Friday night.

Lyles overtook Ronnie Baker in the final strides to win by .02 and become the youngest man to take the sprint crown since Sam Graddy in 1984. Nationals were held a week before Olympic Trials won by Carl Lewis in 1984. Essentially, Lyles is the youngest U.S. 100m champ since Lewis in 1981.

What’s more incredible is that Lyles is primarily a 200m runner, having finished fourth in that event at the 2016 Olympic Trials as an 18-year-old. Lyles is joint fastest in the world in the 200m this year and has not lost an outdoor 200m since the trials (he missed 2017 Nationals, and thus 2017 Words, with a hamstring tear).

“I wanted to prove myself as a 100m runner,” Lyles, who turned pro after Olympic Trials and skipped NCAA track, told Lewis Johnson on Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA. “I’ve kind of been cheatin’ on my 200m. It’s time to go back to my baby.”

NCAA champion Aleia Hobbs won the women’s 100m in 10.91 seconds, beating Ashley Henderson by .05 and Olympian Jenna Prandini by .07.

Hobbs, 22, was seventh in her senior nationals debut last year. She entered Des Moines with the four fastest times among Americans this year, ranked No. 3 in the world behind Marie-Josée Ta Lou of Cote d’Ivoire and Nigerian Blessing Okagbare-Ighotegunor.

The U.S.’ established 100m stars — world gold and silver medalists Justin Gatlin and Christian Coleman and world champion Tori Bowie — are not racing at nationals. This is the only year in the four-year cycle without an Olympics or world outdoor championships.

USATF Outdoors continue Saturday on NBC (4-6 p.m. ET) and NBC Sports Gold (11 a.m.-6 p.m.), highlighted by 400m, 1500m and 100m hurdles finals.

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

Earlier Friday, Olympic champion Christian Taylor fouled and passed out of the triple jump after three jumps, shortly after finishing fifth in his 400m semifinal to miss Saturday’s final by one spot.

Olympian Zach Ziemek became the first man other than Ashton Eaton and Trey Hardee to win the U.S. decathlon title since 2010. Ziemek, who finished third, third and second the last three years, scored 8,294 points to win by 275 over Solomon Simmons.

Favorites Kendall Ellis, Courtney Okolo and Shakima Wimbley advanced to Saturday’s women’s 400m final. Olympic silver medalist Allyson Felix and 2017 World champion Phyllis Francis chose not to race the 400m in Des Moines. Eighteen-year-old pro Sydney McLaughlin, fastest in the world this year in the 400m hurdles, entered the 400m but scratched before Thursday’s first round after feeling tightness in her quad in warm-up.

World bronze medalist Ajee’ Wilson and Olympic bronze medalist Clayton Murphy highlighted the qualifiers into Sunday’s 800m finals.

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

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