Tara Lipinski, Johnny Weir analyze Grand Prix season at halfway point

Johnny Weir, Tara Lipinski
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The first half of the Grand Prix figure skating season bounced from storyline to storyline — from lyrics to Russian and Japanese dominance to Olympic champions’ injuries.

NBC Sports figure skating analysts Tara Lipinski and Johnny Weir provided thoughts as the series shifts to the fourth of six events, the Rostelecom Cup this weekend, before the Grand Prix Final.

The Grand Prix season began with skepticism about a new rule allowing skaters to perform to music with vocal lyrics. Many adopted the change, including U.S. champion Gracie Gold, who was initially against it.

Weir said before the season he was “terrified” of what the programs might look like. Now that he’s seen it, the two-time Olympian said it’s “a little bit mind-blowing” listening to lyrics, especially in the instances it’s for an entire program.

“It can work for and against a skater,” Weir said. “So far, it’s been more against skaters than it is for them.”

The 2013 U.S. champion Max Aaron‘s short program is set to Kenny Loggins‘ “Footloose,” a performance that placed him fifth at Skate Canada (he moved up to third after the free skate, in which he mostly performed without spoken words).

Four-time U.S. champion Jeremy Abbott took second in the Skate America short program, accompanied by Sam Smith‘s “Lay Me Down.” He struggled in his lyric-less free skate, dropping to fifth overall.

Another trend surfaced as the Grand Prix series shifted to Skate Canada and Cup of China the last two weeks. Russian women and Japanese men have won five of the six individual competitions so far. In the only outlier, Japanese Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu finished second at Cup of China despite falling five times in his free skate with a head injury.

What was so impressive about three different Russian women sweeping the first three events was not only that it was unprecedented but also that Olympic champions Adelina Sotnikova and Yulia Lipnitskaya were not among the trio.

Sotnikova is out with an ankle ligament tear. Lipnitskaya finished second in her Grand Prix season debut at Cup of China, calling her free skate the worst of her life and pouring her stressed soul out in an interview.

“Yulia was thrown onto the cereal box, per se, for such a huge country that has such a long history in figure skating,” Weir said. “She didn’t look as prepared as she has in the past for competition [at Cup of China], but she’s very mentally tough, and she has ice in her veins in some ways.”

Next month’s Russian Championships will arguably be the deepest women’s competition in the world this season. Russia can send only three women to the World Championships in Shanghai in March.

“It’s been predicted for a few years now, the Russian ladies’ dominance,” Weir said. “We’re not just watching a renaissance in skating in Russia. We’re also watching these ladies jostle for position in their country.”

None of the three U.S. women’s Olympians have overly impressed Lipinski.

“I haven’t seen someone that’s jumped to the forefront,” Lipinski said. “At the same time, I’ve seen progress from the skaters.”

Like Polina Edmunds, the youngest U.S. Olympic skater since Lipinski. Edmunds fell on the first jump in her first-ever Grand Prix skate at Cup of China and finished seventh in the short program.

But Edmunds placed second in the free skate, landing seven triple jumps. Edmunds can build on that in two weeks at NHK Trophy in Japan, which is wide open with Sotnikova’s absence.

Gold was third at Skate America, messing up a simple spin, and has yet to win a senior international competition. Ashley Wagner took second at Skate Canada, the best result of any non-Russian this season. Still, Wagner could do better, Lipinski said.

“I haven’t seen [Wagner] really exploring, pushing her own technical merit up to a higher level yet,” she said.

Weir sees a similar complacency in Wagner’s countrymen.

“The American men, for the most part, are sitting a little bit in their comfort zone,” he said. “Yes, they’ve won medals in all three Grand Prixs so far, but they haven’t put up performances that are capable of competing with the likes of Yuzuru Hanyu, [Russian] Maksim Kovtun and [Spaniard] Javier Fernandez, who are kind of leaders of the sport at the moment.”

In particular, Jason Brown hasn’t progressed as much as Lipinski expected.

The ponytailed skater who thrilled with his “Riverdance” free skate last season looked shaky technically at Skate America. Brown finished second, nearly 35 points behind winner Tatsuki Machida, who is another of the elite class of men’s skaters.

Brown, who hasn’t added a quadruple jump to his competition programs yet, fell on a triple Axel and stepped out of a triple-triple combination in his free skate.

“It would have been great after the Olympic year to reset the tone and have the judges look at him as a serious threat every single time,” Lipinski said. “I don’t think that’s happened.”

Brown leads the U.S. singles entries at Rostelecom Cup this week. NBC will air coverage Sunday from 4-6 p.m. ET.

Lipinski, Weir talk collisions in figure skating

Eliud Kipchoge breaks marathon world record in Berlin

Eliud Kipchoge Berlin Marathon
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Kenyan Eliud Kipchoge broke his own world record in winning the Berlin Marathon, clocking 2:01:09 to lower the previous record time of 2:01:39 he set in the German capital in 2018.

Kipchoge, 37 and a two-time Olympic champion, earned his 15th win in 17 career marathons to bolster his claim as the greatest runner in history over 26.2 miles.

His pacing was not ideal. Kipchoge slowed in the final miles, running 61:18 for the second half after going out in an unprecedented 59:51 for the first 13.1 miles. He still won by 4:49 over Kenyan Mark Korir.

“I was planning to go through it [the halfway mark] 60:50, 60:40,” Kipchoge said. “My legs were running actually very fast. I thought, let me just try to run two hours flat, but all in all, I am happy with the performance.

“We went too fast [in the first half]. It takes energy from the muscles. … There’s still more in my legs [to possibly lower the record again].”

MORE: Berlin Marathon Results

Ethiopian Tigist Assefa won the women’s race in 2:15:37, the third-fastest time in history for somebody who ran one prior marathon in 2:34:01. Only Brigid Kosgei (2:14:14 in Chicago in 2019) and Paula Radcliffe (2:15:25 in London in 2003) have gone faster.

American record holder Keira D’Amato, who entered as the top seed, was sixth in 2:21:48. D’Amato, who went nearly a decade between competitive races after college, owns the American record of 2:19:12 and now also the 10th-best time in U.S. history.

“Today wasn’t my best day ever, but it was the best I could do today,” she said in a text message, according to Race Results Weekly, adding that she briefly stopped and walked late in the race.

The last eight instances the men’s marathon world record has been broken, it has come on the pancake-flat roads of Berlin. It began in 2003, when Kenyan Paul Tergat became the first man to break 2:05.

The world record was 2:02:57 — set by Kenyan Dennis Kimetto in 2014 — until Kipchoge broke it for the first time four years ago. The following year, Kipchoge became the first person to cover 26.2 miles in under two hours, clocking 1:59:40 in a non-record-eligible showcase rather than a race.

Kipchoge’s focus going forward is trying to become the first runner to win three Olympic marathon titles in Paris in 2024. He also wants to win all six annual World Marathon Majors. He’s checked off four of them, only missing Boston (run in April) and New York City (run every November).

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2022 FIBA Women’s World Cup schedule, results

FIBA Women's World Cup
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The U.S. goes for its fourth consecutive title at the FIBA World Cup in Sydney — and eighth global gold in a row overall when including the Olympics.

A’ja Wilson, a two-time WNBA MVP, and Breanna Stewart, the Tokyo Olympic MVP, headline a U.S. roster that, for the first time since 2000, includes neither Sue Bird (retired) nor Diana Taurasi (injured).

The new-look team includes nobody over the age of 30 for the first time since 1994, before the U.S. began its dynasty at the 1996 Atlanta Games. The Americans have won 52 consecutive games between worlds and the Olympics dating to the 2006 Worlds bronze-medal game.

The field also includes host Australia, the U.S.’ former primary rival, and Olympic silver medalist Japan.

Nigeria, which played the U.S. the closest of any foe in Tokyo (losing by nine points), isn’t present after its federation withdrew the team over governance issues. Spain, ranked second in the world, failed to qualify.

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2022 FIBA Women’s World Cup Schedule

Date Time (ET) Game Round
Wed., Sept. 21 8:30 p.m. Puerto Rico 82, Bosnia and Herzegovina 58 Group A
9:30 p.m. USA 87, Belgium 72 Group A
11 p.m. Canada 67, Serbia 60 Group B
Thurs., Sept. 22 12 a.m. Japan 89, Mali 56 Group B
3:30 a.m. China 107, South Korea 44 Group A
6:30 a.m. France 70, Australia 57 Group B
8:30 p.m. USA 106, Puerto Rico 42 Group A
10 p.m. Serbia 69, Japan 64 Group B
11 p.m. Belgium 84, South Korea 61 Group A
Fri., Sept. 23 12:30 a.m. China 98, Bosnia and Herzegovina 51 Group A
4 a.m. Canada 59, France 45 Group B
6:30 a.m. Australia 118, Mali 58 Group B
Sat., Sept. 24 12:30 a.m. USA 77, China 63 Group A
4 a.m. South Korea 99, Bosnia and Herzegovina 66 Group A
6:30 a.m. Belgium 68, Puerto Rico 65 Group A
Sun., Sept. 25 12:30 a.m. France 74, Mali 59 Group B
4 a.m. Australia 69, Serbia 54 Group B
6:30 a.m. Canada 70, Japan 56 Group B
9:30 p.m. Belgium vs. Bosnia and Herzegovina Group A
11:30 p.m. Mali vs. Serbia Group B
Mon., Sept. 26 12 a.m. USA vs. South Korea Group A
2 a.m. France vs. Japan Group B
3:30 a.m. China vs. Puerto Rico Group A
6:30 a.m. Australia vs. Canada Group B
9:30 p.m. Puerto Rico vs. South Korea Group A
11:30 p.m. Belgium vs. China Group A
Tues., Sept. 27 12 a.m. USA vs. Bosnia and Herzegovina Group A
2 a.m. Canada vs. Mali Group B
3:30 a.m. France vs. Serbia Group B
6:30 a.m. Australia vs. Japan Group B
Wed., Sept. 28 10 p.m. Quarterfinal
Thurs., Sept. 29 12:30 a.m. Quarterfinal
4 a.m. Quarterfinal
6:30 a.m. Quarterfinal
Fri., Sept. 30 3 .m. Semifinal
5:30 a.m. Semifinal
11 p.m. Third-Place Game
Sat., Oct. 1 2 a.m. Final