Seeking redemption, Asada leads with world record short program

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This time there was no room for tears, no room for dreams dashed on the world stage, no regretting what she had done as soon as it was over.

Just a month after veteran Mao Asada skated herself out of medal contention at the Sochi Olympics, the two-time world champion brought her A-game – and set a new world record – at the World Figure Skating Championships Thursday in Saitama, Japan.

The 23-year-old home favorite didn’t shy away from the triple Axel that abandoned her in Sochi and left her in 16th place, instead attacking it with gusto to open her Chopin short program, then executing a triple flip and a triple-double combination to score a 78.66, topping Yuna Kim’s 78.50 record from the Vancouver Games.

More: Savchenko/Szolkowy win in pairs | Men’s short program review

Asada, the Vancouver silver medalist, who ended up sixth after a brave free skate in Sochi, topped the leaderboard after an enthralling and emotional ladies short program in front of over 20,000 ardent fans at the Saitama Super Arena.

Fellow veteran Carolina Kostner, who at 27 won her first Olympic medal last month (bronze), continued her inspiring run at the twilight of her career, skating to a 77.24, a personal best by three points.

Kostner finished in second behind Asada while 15-year-old Yulia Lipnitskaya, the phenom who helped Russia to a team gold at the Olympics, was in third, skating to a 74.54.

Reigning national champion Gracie Gold was good if not great in her short program, scoring a 70.21 to land in fifth place. Ashley Wagner finished in seventh place while 15-year-old Polina Edmunds was 12th.

“That’s a pretty good score,” Gold said matter-of-factly to coach Frank Carroll after seeing the marks, her best-ever.

It wasn’t a best-ever for two-time U.S. winner Wagner, who appeared tired during her short program that left her in seventh. The 22-year-old was downgraded on her triple-triple combination, costing her valuable points and leaving her outside of the medal conversation.

San Jose-based Edmunds was ninth in Sochi, but sits just two points outside of eighth, five skaters separated by 2.33 points.

Gold, meanwhile, is still within striking distance of the podium at 4.23 points back from third place.

“I’m looking forward to skating it clean and being on my feet for all my jumps and really nailing the spins,” she said about her free skate in a U.S. Figure Skating statement. “Especially the last minute of my program when all the hard tricks are done and just enjoying myself at my second Worlds.”

“It’s been a long season and I’m exhausted,” Wagner said in the same statement. “Mentally, it’s tough to go out and compete after I’ve given all I could this season. I’m ready to wrap this season, go home and start working on some stuff next season when I want to come back stronger than ever.”

Reigning Olympic gold medalist Adelina Sotnikova pulled out of the event last week, the Russian skating federation saying the 17-year-old was resting and recuperating for the following season. Silver medal winner Yuna Kim has officially retired.

The controversy from Sotnikova’s win lingered in Saitama. The Japanese audience, ever supportive and knowledgeable, met Lipnitskaya with lukewarm applause as she took to the ice.

The crowd, however, roared for Asada, who has said this will be her last competitive event. She’ll skate Saturday in Japan for a third world title (2008, 2010) and in a much different position than in Sochi: she was 16th after the short program there. Here, she’s the frontrunner.

Ladies short program standings
1. Mao ASADA JPN 78.66
2. Carolina KOSTNER ITA 77.24
3. Yulia LIPNITSKAYA RUS 74.54
4. Akiko SUZUKI JPN 71.02
5. Gracie GOLD USA 70.31
6. Anna POGORILAYA RUS 66.26
7. Ashley WAGNER USA
12. Polina EDMUNDS USA 60.59

Mondo Duplantis, Sandi Morris miss attempts at pole vault records

Mondo Duplantis
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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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