Yuzuru Hanyu

Yuzuru Hanyu beaten at Cup of China short program; Yulia Lipnitskaya eyes history (video)

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Japan’s Yuzuru Hanyu was beaten in the Cup of China short program Friday, his first competition since sweeping the Sochi Olympics and World Championships.

Hanyu, who pulled out of his planned October season debut with a back injury, scored 82.95 points, falling 3.01 shy of Russian leader Maksim Kovtun. Hanyu did not perform a quadruple jump or a jumping combination. Kovtun landed two quads.

“In one word, it was the worst,” Hanyu said, according to the Japan Times. “It’s surprising that this kind of performance was good enough for second.

“It’s extremely frustrating. I’ll have a hard look in the mirror, and then I want to put on the kind of performance tomorrow [in the free skate] that people expect from me.”

Russian Yulia Lipnitskaya led a one-two Russian effort on the women’s side, hitting her triple-triple combination, double Axel and triple flip (short program video here) to lead Elizaveta Tuktamysheva by 1.57.

Kovtun, 19 like Hanyu, beat four-time Olympic medalist Yevgeny Plushenko at the 2014 Russian Championships but was passed over in favor of Plushenko for Russia’s lone Olympic men’s spot.

Russia failed to earn more than one men’s spot in Sochi due to Kovtun’s 17th-place finish at the 2013 World Championships, the competition that determined how many spots nations earned for the Olympics. Kovtun went on to finish fourth at the World Championships in March won by Hanyu.

If Hanyu and/or Lipnitskaya win the Cup of China after the free skate Saturday, it will mark the first time in Grand Prix series history (since 1995) that one nation swept the first three events with three different singles champions, on either the men’s or women’s side.

Japan’s Tatsuki Machida and Takahito Mura and Russians Yelena Radionova and Anna Pogorilaya won Skate America and Skate Canada the previous two weeks.

The only times one nation swept the first three Grand Prix events on either the men’s or women’s side were 1998 and 1999. Russian men won every event those seasons, but the first three were not split among three different men.

One nation has never swept the first three events in women’s history, regardless of number of different skaters.

U.S. Olympian Polina Edmunds, in her Grand Prix series debut, was seventh after falling on her opening triple Lutz. Edmunds, 16, was the youngest U.S. Olympic figure skater since Tara Lipinski in 1998. She finished ninth in Sochi and eighth at the World Championships in March.

U.S. Olympians Maia and Alex Shibutani led World champions Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte after the short dance.

NBC and NBC Sports Live Extra will air Cup of China coverage Sunday from 4-6 p.m. ET.

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Cup of China short program

1. Maksim Kovtun (RUS) — 85.96
2. Yuzuru Hanyu (JPN) — 82.95
3. Han Yan (CHN) — 79.21
4. Richard Dornbush (USA) — 77.23

1. Yulia Lipnitskaya (RUS) — 69.56
2. Elizaveta Tuktamysheva (RUS) — 67.99
3. Kanako Murakami (JPN) — 60.44
7. Polina Edmunds (USA) — 50.32
8. Christina Gao (USA) — 47.15
11. Ashley Cain (USA) — 39.8

Katie Ledecky wins race by 30 seconds, takes back No. 1 ranking

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In her last race of the year, Katie Ledecky ensured she would finish 2019 as the world’s fastest 1500m freestyler.

Ledecky clocked 15:35.98 at the U.S. Open in Atlanta, winning the longest event on the Olympic pool program by 29.97 seconds. Typical for Ledecky, who owns the nine fastest times in history. This one came in at No. 8. Full meet results are here.

Ledecky scratched the 1500m free final at the summer world championships due to illness. Italian Simona Quadarella went on to win that title in 15:40.89, which was the world’s fastest time this year until Saturday night.

“I didn’t have time on my mind at all today. I just wanted to have a consistent swim,” Ledecky, undefeated in 1500m free finals for nine years, said on NBCSN. “That’s probably the best mile that I’ve had in a while.”

The women’s 1500m freestyle debuts at the Olympics in Tokyo. Ledecky is expected to add that to her Rio Olympic individual lineup of 200m, 400m and 800m frees, assuming she is top two in each event at the June Olympic trials.

In other events Saturday, Erika Brown handed Simone Manuel a rare defeat in the 100m freestyle. Brown, a University of Tennessee senior, clocked 53.42 and lowered her personal best by .71 between prelims and the final. Brown moved from sixth to fourth in the U.S. rankings this year, upping her stock as a contender to make the Olympic 4x100m free relay pool via a top-six finish at trials.

Brown previously lowered her personal best in the 50m free on Thursday. She ranks third in the U.S. this year in that event.

Emily Escobedo dealt Lilly King a rare domestic defeat in the 200m breaststroke. Escobedo lowered her personal best by .87 and clocked 2:22.00, moving to seventh fastest in the world this year and remaining fourth among Americans.

In the men’s 200m breast, Olympic champion Dmitriy Balandin of Kazakhstan was beaten by Cody Miller, the Olympic 100m breast silver medalist. Both were slower than their best times this year.

The next significant swim meet is a Tyr Pro Series stop in Knoxville, Tenn., from Jan. 16-19.

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Mikaela Shiffrin runner-up in Lake Louise downhill

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LAKE LOUISE, Alberta (AP) — Here’s a scary thought for her competition: Mikaela Shiffrin is still getting comfortable with the intensity and the speed of the downhill.

That’s why podium finishes are still a little surprising even to her.

The American three-time overall World Cup champion finished runner-up to Nicole Schmidhofer of Austria in a downhill race Saturday. Schmidhofer cruised through the course in 1 minute, 49.92 seconds to edge Shiffrin by 0.13 seconds. Francesca Marsaglia of Italy wound up third.

Schmidhofer has four career World Cup wins, with three of them arriving at Lake Louise.

Known as a tech specialist, Shiffrin is steadily getting up to speed in the speed events. This was Shiffrin’s fourth career World Cup podium finish in the downhill, which includes a Lake Louise win in 2017.

So, does Shiffrin anticipate this kind of downhill success?

“No, no, no,” the 24-year-old from Colorado said. “It’s certainly not normal (for a downhill podium). Even racing downhill doesn’t feel normal. But I feel every year like I have more experience and get more comfortable.”

Shiffrin currently sits at 62 World Cup wins, which ties her with Austrian great Annemarie Moser-Proell for second-most on the women’s side. Lindsey Vonn had 82 wins before her retirement.

“I’m certainly more comfortable with the long skis,” Shiffrin said of downhill racing. “Right now, it’s enjoying it, because speed is a little bit extra for me. My goal is to be able to succeed in speed as well. It’s making the transition and trying to have fun with it.”

Czech Republic skier and snowboarder Ester Ledecka finished fourth Saturday. She was the surprise winner of Friday’s season-opening downhill, which was delayed and shortened by heavy snowfall on the mountain. The race Saturday was restored to its full length.

Next up, a super-G on Sunday.

“It’s always been a little bit tricky for me from downhill skis to super-G skis and to change the timing a little bit,” Shiffrin said. “I’m going to have fun.”

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