Ashley Wagner

Ashley Wagner shatters records for third U.S. figure skating title

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Ashley Wagner felt terrified. She skated terrific.

Wagner shattered the U.S. Figure Skating Championships women’s records for free skate and total scores, compiling 148.98 and 221.02, respectively, to win her third national title in Greensboro, N.C., on Saturday night.

“I’m terrified,” Wagner told her coach, Rafael Arutyunyan, before gliding out for her free skate with a five-point lead over defending U.S. champion Gracie Gold, who was yet to skate.

Wagner, 23, landed seven triple jumps in her program to break Gold’s records of 139.57 and 211.69 from last year. She became the oldest U.S. women’s champion since Michelle Kwan in 2005 and the first woman since Kwan to win three national titles. Kwan won nine.

“This, of my three titles, is the one that tastes the sweetest,” Wagner, also the 2012 and 2013 U.S. champion, said on NBC. “I’ve had so many critics over the past couple of months. I’ve had so many people who said I’m too old for this, I am burnt out. But, you know what, I am so hungry to make a career for myself. I was able to turn all this negativity into something positive.”

Gold finished second with 205.54 points, which was 15.48 behind Wagner (full results here). She fell on a triple flip. Gold was the top U.S. woman at the Sochi Olympics (fourth) and 2014 World Championships (fifth).

“It was really hard to skate a long program after the roar of the crowd and the standing ovation,” said Gold, who skated right after Wagner. “It brought me back to Sochi, skating after Adelina Sotnikova, who won.

“We’ve been at each other’s throats raising the bar,” Gold said of her rivalry with Wagner. They’ve been one-two at two of the last three U.S. Championships.

Wagner and Gold will next head to the World Championships in Shanghai in March, looking to win the first U.S. women’s medal at a Worlds or Olympics since 2006. That’s the longest U.S. women’s drought in the Winter Olympic era.

Wagner has bounced back after finishing fourth at the 2014 U.S. Championships and being controversially put on the three-woman Sochi Olympic team over third-place Mirai Nagasu.

“Last year’s nationals, that was horrifying,” Wagner said. “Then I had a so-so Olympics and Worlds. Then my Grand Prix season was solid but nothing all that remarkable. I felt like people were starting to write me off, and I wasn’t giving them any reason to believe I’m competitive.”

Then came the Grand Prix Final in December.

Wagner showed she can win a medal at Worlds when she improved from last place of six skaters in the short program at the Barcelona event to win bronze. The Grand Prix Final is the second biggest annual international competition behind Worlds.

“I am a force to be reckoned with,” said Wagner, who was seventh at the Sochi Olympics and Worlds last year and is looking for her first World Championships medal. “It’s time for people to start considering me someone who’s coming for the podium.”

Karen Chen, 15, finished third with 199.79 points in her senior national debut, landing six triple jumps in her fantastic free skate. Chen became the youngest U.S. women’s medalist since Nagasu won at age 14 in 2008.

Chen, however, is too young for the World Championships.

That could open the door for Olympian Polina Edmunds, 16, to make her second World Championships team since the U.S. will send three women to Shanghai. Edmunds fell on a triple Lutz in her free skate and dropped from third after the short program to finish fourth at 192.62.

Wagner mentioned one more thing, going back to her pre-skate conversation with her coach.

“I watched this awesome commercial before I skated, and throughout the commercial it was this coach giving a pregame speech, and one of the quotes within the commercial was, ‘Passion has a funny way of trumping logic,'” Wagner said, adding she has the quote on her mirror at home and repeated it to herself Saturday.

Earlier, Madison Chock and Evan Bates held off siblings Maia and Alex Shibutani to win their first U.S. ice dance title. Chock and Bates were eighth at the Sochi Olympics behind gold medalists Meryl Davis and Charlie White, who are sitting out this season.

Chock and Bates and the Shibutanis will be medal threats at the World Championships against top couples from Canada and the reigning World champions, Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte of Italy.

In pairs, Alexa Scimeca and Christopher Knierim won their first U.S. title with the highest total score in U.S. Championships history. They completed the first quad twist by a U.S. pairs team in competition. Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier were second, likely locking up the second U.S. pairs berth at Worlds.

Neither team is likely to end a 12-year U.S. pairs medal drought at the World Championships. They were both outside the top six international pairs teams during the Grand Prix season. Russia, Canada and China dominate the event.

The U.S. Figure Skating Championships conclude with the men’s free skate Sunday (4 p.m. ET on NBC and NBC Sports Live Extra).

Jason Brown tops men’s short program; quad debate stoked

Women’s final results
1. Ashley Wagner — 221.02
2. Gracie Gold — 205.54
3. Karen Chen — 199.79
4. Polina Edmunds — 192.62
5. Samantha Cesario — 182.82

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Ashley Wagner and Gracie Gold finished one-two at each of the last three U.S. Championships.

Too early to say whether virus threatens Olympics, WHO says

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GENEVA (AP) — Despite a virus outbreak spreading from China, a top World Health Organization official said Tuesday it’s much too soon to say whether the Tokyo Olympics are at risk of being cancelled or moved.

Tokyo organizers and the International Olympic Committee have repeatedly said they have no contingency plans for the July 24-Aug. 9 Summer Games since the WHO declared a global health emergency last month.

The U.N. agency’s emergencies program director, Michael Ryan, said Tuesday the sporting event was “way too far” away to consider giving advice that would affect Tokyo’s hosting of the Olympics.

“We are not there to make a decision for that,” Ryan told The Associated Press on the sidelines of a news conference at WHO headquarters.

Geneva-based WHO has been in regular contact with the IOC in nearby Lausanne since the virus known as COVID-19 emerged in December.

“We don’t give them judgments,” Ryan said. “We assist them with their risk assessment. We will be working closely with them in the coming weeks and months.”

The death toll in mainland China due to the virus rose to almost 1,900 on Tuesday, with more than 72,000 confirmed cases.

The outbreak has caused numerous sports events in China to be canceled, postponed, or moved, including qualifying events for the Tokyo Olympics.

Chinese athletes and teams have also been unable to travel for some competitions. China sent a team of more than 400 athletes to the Rio Olympics. It won 70 medals, including 26 gold, to place second in total medal standings.

Around 11,000 athletes and many more team coaches and officials from more than 200 national teams are expected in Japan for the Olympics.

Japan has experienced the most significant outbreak of the virus outside of China, on the cruise ship Diamond Princess docked in quarantine at Yokohama in Tokyo Bay.

During a 14-day isolation that ends Wednesday, 542 cases have been identified among more than 3,700 passengers and crew.

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For Mike Eruzione, Al Michaels, it’s no miracle that 1980 Olympics endure

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Mike Eruzione has been reminded on a daily basis about the Miracle on Ice for nearly four decades. While playing celebrity golf tournaments. At speaking engagements. Or that time he auctioned his jersey and stick from the Soviet game to a 9-year-old boy named Seven.

Eruzione, now 65, likes to open conversations with one anecdote about meeting strangers, which he repeated in a call with reporters last week.

“The stories I hear, 40 years later, it’s depending on their age — I remember where I was when Kennedy was assassinated, I remember where I was on 9/11. I remember where I was when the Challenger blew up. And I remember where I was when we won,” Eruzione said. “And I always say, ‘We? I didn’t know you were on the team.’

“But people felt a part of it. … It’s nice to know that people remember and share some great stories about what we did so long ago.”

The captain of the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team owns a last name that means “eruption” in Italian. Eruzione scored the decisive goal in the U.S.’ 4-3 win over the Soviet Union en route to a shock gold medal during the Cold War in Lake Placid, N.Y.

NBCSN airs a 30-minute special marking the 40th anniversary of the Miracle on Ice on Wednesday at 11:30 p.m. ET. It will feature a conversation between Olympic primetime host Mike Tirico and Al Michaels, the play-by-play voice of the game dubbed by Sports Illustrated the greatest sports moment of the 20th century.

Eruzione has grandchildren now. Three of them skate at the Mike Eruzione Center in his hometown of Winthrop, Mass.

“They don’t even know who Mike Eruzione is,” Eruzione said of the 5-, 6- and 7-year-olds, “but they know about the Miracle.”

All credit to the U.S. Olympic team of 20 players between ages 19 and 25, back when the NHL did not participate in the Olympics. The Soviets were essentially a team of professionals. The nation won the previous four Olympics and throttled the U.S. 10-3 in a pre-Olympic exhibition at Madison Square Garden.

Enter Michaels, calling hockey at the Lake Placid Winter Games alongside Hall of Fame goalie Ken Dryden. Michaels, then 35, said he was assigned the sport because he had the most hockey experience on the ABC Olympic talent roster — one game. He called the 1972 Olympic hockey final by himself.

Feb. 22, 1980: As the U.S. led the Soviet Union 4-3 and the final seconds ticked down, one word came to mind: miraculous.

“It got morphed into a question and quick answer, and away we went,” Michaels said.

Eruzione said he didn’t learn of Michaels’ call — “Do you believe in Miracles? Yes!” — until two weeks after the Olympics. He didn’t watch the game broadcast until years later.

“I never thought it was a miracle, but it was a catchy phrase and it sounded right,” Eruzione said, noting he preferred Michaels’ call in the final comeback win over Finland to clinch the gold: “This impossible dream comes true.”

Team members since gathered often — to light the 2002 Olympic cauldron in Salt Lake City, for fantasy camps in Lake Placid and for coach Herb Brooks‘ 2003 funeral. Eighteen of the 20 players are scheduled to reunite this weekend in Las Vegas.

Absent will be Mark Pavelich, who was jailed last year on assault charges and ruled mentally incompetent to stand trial. And Bob Suter, who died in 2014 of a heart attack at age 57.

It was Suter’s death that motivated Eruzione and others to commemorate the 35th anniversary together in Lake Placid. It was believed to be the first time all living players were together in Lake Placid since the 1980 Winter Games.

Eruzione said that the 2004 film “Miracle” introduced the team to a new generation. Now at many of his speeches, the majority of Eruzione’s audience was born after 1980.

“I’ll say, how many people watched the movie ‘Miracle,’ and almost everybody raises their hand,” he said. “So I think what the movie did for us as a team was kind of rejuvenated our team as far as people knowing who we were and what we are and what we were about.”

NFL coaches set up “Miracle” viewings for their teams before games. Michael Phelps watched it for motivation at the 2004 Athens Olympics. Phelps told relay teammates, “This is our time,” before they beat rival Australia. An ode to Brooks’ pregame speech before the Soviet game.

Michaels, whose 13-year-old grandson won an October hockey tournament in Lake Placid, said he watched “Miracle” last week for the first time in about a decade. He helped do voiceovers in production more than 15 years ago, though the original Lake Placid audio was used for his signature call.

“The great thing is, in a way, when you watch it back or you watch highlights back, you almost become like in the third person, like somebody else is doing this and announcing this game,” Michaels said. “I exult the way I think most of the country did and do when they see highlights of it. So it’s kind of an out-of-body experience in a way, but it’s a beautiful thing.”

After Eruzione shared his tale of strangers’ memories, Michaels added one of his own.

“One of my favorite stories is Mike Eruzione calling me maybe eight to 10 years ago and saying, ‘The greatest thing about this is every time I come home and maybe I’m a little down, I need a little pick-me-up, I’ll put the tape in,'” Michaels said. “‘Every time I shoot, the puck goes in. It will forever.'”

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