Ashley Wagner denies Russian sweep at Grand Prix Final (video)

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Elizaveta Tuktamysheva won the Grand Prix Final, her biggest career victory, but could not lead a historic Russian sweep, due to Ashley Wagner‘s impressive free skate in Barcelona on Saturday.

Wagner, who is 23 and more than four years older than the rest of the six-woman field, improved from last place after the short program to win bronze with a clean free skate, landing seven triple jumps, including two combinations.

Russian Yelena Radionova, the two-time reigning World junior champion who was too young for the Olympics, won silver, 4.84 points behind Tuktamysheva.

Wagner, who won Grand Prix final silver in 2012 and bronze in 2013, became the fifth woman to win medals at three straight Grand Prix Finals in the competition’s 20-year history. She joined Irina SlutskayaMichelle KwanMao Asada and Yuna Kim, all of whom won at least silver at the Olympics.

“People keep asking why I’m sticking around, and I have so many people who are doubting if I’m capable of being competitive,” Wagner said, according to U.S. Figure Skating. “This is what I know I’m capable of.”

Wagner jumped over Russian teens Yulia Lipnitskaya and Anna Pogorilaya and Japan’s Rika Hongo in the free skate. Russia, which held spots one through four after the short program, was bidding for the first Grand Prix Final women’s sweep and second across all disciplines.

Tuktamysheva, 17, became the second woman in the last five years to win the Grand Prix Final after finishing 10th at her national championships the previous season. American Alissa Czisny also accomplished the bounce-back feat in 2010.

Wagner scored 129.26 points Saturday, just .26 off her career best free skate set at the World Championships in March, where she was seventh, just as in Sochi.

Wagner was the only American woman in the Grand Prix Final after Gracie Gold withdrew last week due to a small stress fracture in her foot.

Wagner, the 2012 and 2013 U.S. champion, figures to battle Gold, the 2014 U.S. champion, at the national championships in January. Three women will make the U.S. team for the World Championships in March.

Russian is also set to send three women to the World Championships, where it could sweep the medals. The only World Championships women’s sweep came in 1991, when Kristi YamaguchiTonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan pulled it off.

Russian Olympic champion Adelina Sotnikova could return for Russia’s national championships in two weeks after missing the Grand Prix season with a torn ankle ligament.

Earlier in pairs, Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford topped the free skate to win Canada’s first Grand Prix Final pairs gold since Jamie Sale and David Pelletier in 2001, three months before Sale and Pelletier shared Olympic gold amid the Salt Lake City Olympic judging controversy.

Duhamel and Radford landed their first quad Salchow in competition and beat Olympic and World silver medalists Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov of Russia.

“Our goal here was to stand on the podium,” Duhamel said. “So to win was a bonus.”

The pairs competition was missing Russian Olympic champions Tatyana Volosozhar and Maksim Trankov, who sat out this Grand Prix season due to Trankov’s shoudler injury. German World champions Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy are no longer competing due to Szolkowy’s retirement.

NBC will air Grand Prix Final coverage Sunday from 4-6 p.m. ET.

Hanyu repeats as Grand Prix Final winner

Women
Gold: Elizaveta Tuktamysheva (RUS) — 203.58
Silver: Yelena Radionova (RUS) — 198.74
Bronze: Ashley Wagner (USA) — 189.5
4. Anna Pogorilaya (RUS) — 180.29
5. Yulia Lipnitskaya (RUS) — 177.79
6. Rika Honga (JPN) — 176.13

Pairs
Gold: Meagan Duhamel/Eric Radford (CAN) — 220.72
Silver: Ksenia Stolbova/Fedor Klimov (RUS) — 213.72
Bronze: Sui Wenjing/Han Cong (CHN) — 194.31
4. Peng Cheng/Zhang Hao (CHN) — 191.79
5. Yu Xiaoyu/Jin Yang (CHN) — 187.79
6. Yuko Kavaguti/Aleksander Smirnov (RUS) — 184.54

Video: Hat on track impacts bobsled race

 

World Cup Alpine season opener gets green light

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After checking the snow on the Rettenbach glacier in Soelden, Austria, FIS officials announced Thursday that the traditional World Cup season opener is set to go ahead as planned Oct. 26-27 with men’s and women’s giant slalom races.

Current conditions at Soelden show a solid 30 inches of snow at the summit. The race finishes at an altitude of 2,670 meters (8,760 feet), far above the currently snowless village.

The first races of the season are never guaranteed to have enough snow, though last year’s men’s race at Soelden had the opposite problem, being canceled when a storm blew through with heavy snowfall and high winds. 

France’s Tessa Worley won the women’s race last year ahead of Italy’s Frederica Brignone and U.S. skier Mikaela Shiffrin, who would go on to dominate the rest of the World Cup season.

The Soelden weekend is followed by three dormant weeks until the season resumes Nov. 23-24 in Levi, Finland. The World Cup circuits then switch to North America. The men will run speed events Nov. 30-Dec. 1 in Lake Louise, Alberta, then head to Beaver Creek, Colo., for more speed events and a giant slalom Dec. 6-8. The women run slalom and giant slalom Nov. 30-Dec. 1 in Killington, Vt., and head to Lake Louise the next weekend.

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Olympic marathon and race walk move from Tokyo to Sapporo draws some pushback

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In the wake of a dropout-plagued set of world championship endurance races in Qatar, moving the 2020 Olympic marathons and race walks from Tokyo to the cooler venue of Sapporo is a quick fix for one problem, pending the potential for untimely heat waves.

But the move has drawn some opposition for a variety of reasons.

First, many organizers and politicians appear to have been caught by surprise. Tokyo’s governor, Yuriko Koike, was “taken aback” and Sapporo’s mayor, Katsuhiro Akimoto, learned about the move from the media, Kyodo News reported. Koike even sarcastically suggested that the races could move all the way northward to islands disputed by Russia and Japan.

South African sports scientist Ross Tucker suggested that running in heat and humidity poses an interesting challenge for athletes, some of whom may be able to catch up with faster runners by preparing for the conditions.

British marathoner Mara Yamauchi made a similar point, saying the move was unfair to those who already were preparing for the heat, humidity and other conditions.

Belgian marathoner Koen Naert said he will make the best of the change but complained that some of his preparation and every runner’s logistical planning would no longer apply.

The angriest athlete may be Canadian walker Evan Dunfee, who placed fourth in the 2016 Olympic 50km race and nearly claimed bronze as a Canadian appeal was upheld but then rejected. He says runners and walkers can beat the conditions if they prepare, which many athletes did not do for the world championships in Qatar.

“So why do we cater to the ill prepared?” Dunfee asked on Twitter.

The move also takes athletes out of the main Olympic city and takes away the traditional, tough less frequent in modern years, finish in the Olympic stadium.

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