Ashley Wagner

Ashley Wagner has Worlds medal in sight, but aims higher

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If this is the year the U.S. women end their medal drought, Ashley Wagner is the favored skater to make the podium at the World Championships next week.

“I need to prove now more than ever that I belong,” Wagner said Monday, pausing before finishing her thought, “and I think Nationals definitely did that for me.”

Wagner, 23, is a military brat who takes pleasure in continuing to skate after her critics called her to step aside for the next generation of teens to pass her by.

Her best career performances came this season, rallying for bronze at the Grand Prix Final in December and reclaiming the U.S. title at Nationals in January, shattering records for her third crown.

Wagner now leads an American trio into the World Championships in Shanghai, looking to keep dominant Russia from a one-two-three sweep and to capture the first U.S. women’s medal since 2006.

How will she pull that off?

“I need to get all the levels on my spins and my footwork and have a clean-edge [triple] Lutz,” Wagner said. “I know that it’s going to be a little bit more difficult at Worlds because it’s going to be compared against many, many flawless triple Lutzes. So I’m going need to make sure that that outside edge is very clear. And the triple-triple [jump] combination, which I think at the past couple competitions I’ve shown I’m really capable of doing it. Now I just really need to consistently keep on delivering it.”

The mountain is high to overtake the two best Russians — Elizaveta Tuktamysheva and Yelena Radionova. Wagner landed seven triple jumps in a clean free skate at the Grand Prix Final and still scored more than five points fewer than Tuktamysheva and Radionova.

But the bronze medal may be up for grabs, as it was at the Grand Prix Final.

The third Russian, Anna Pogorilaya, fell in both of her Grand Prix Final programs and then finished more than 17 points behind Tuktamysheva and Radionova at the European Championships in January.

Nobody in the women’s field next week comes in already owning an Olympic or World Championships individual medal.

Wagner counters the Russians with experience they can’t match. This will be her fifth World Championships appearance.

“I can offer a level of emotional connection to my performances,” Wagner said. “I’ve lived through it all.”

Wagner will also be competing against countrywomen Gracie Gold, the top American last year in the Olympic season, and Polina Edmunds, coming off a breakthrough victory at the Four Continents Championship in February.

Gracie Gold goes into Worlds after turbulent season

They are the same three women who finished fifth (Gold), seventh (Wagner) and eighth (Edmunds) at the 2014 World Championships, one month after they made up the U.S. team in Sochi.

It’s a rare window of consistency for the U.S., which fell behind Japan and then Russia in the last decade. It’s cyclical, Wagner said.

“It’s kind of like how training hubs change as years go by,” Wagner said. “Colorado Springs is a training hub. Then Boston is a training hub. It’s just a natural process for different countries to be stronger at different times. Japan was reigning with Mao Asada for a long time. Right now, they’re building up their junior ladies field. … Russia had a drought for a very long time. Now look at them. … I know that for the U.S. it’s uncommon to have such a long drought, but I think that we now finally have a very talented field.”

Russia had zero women in the top seven at the 2010 Olympics. Japan, with Asada taking the year off and perhaps done for good, is not expected to factor into the medals next week.

In January 2014, Wagner was in tears after she finished fourth at the U.S. Championships but was picked for the Olympic team over third-place Mirai Nagasu due to her stronger recent résumé.

In February 2014, she became best known at the Olympics for an Internet meme.

Now, Wagner gushes about her sport.

“I am madly in love with skating,” she said. “As long as I can physically and mentally push through this sport, I’ll be around.”

She hopes that a World Championships medal will not be the cherry on top of her career. She wants more.

“The whole reason I’m in this sport is to get that Olympic medal,” said Wagner, who does own a Sochi team event bronze but was seventh individually. “[If I win a Worlds medal] I think I would start thinking ahead, start planning to figure out how I would try to take over the world.”

Polina Edmunds hopes reputation doesn’t impact Worlds

Cyclist in induced coma after Tour of Poland crash

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Dutch cyclist Fabio Jakobsen was put into an induced coma Wednesday after suffering injuries in a crash on the final stretch of the Tour of Poland, organizers said.

A massive crash at the finish of the first stage resulted in Dylan Groenewegen‘s disqualification from the race.

Leading a bunch sprint, Groenewegen veered toward the right barrier, pinching countryman Jakobsen, who barreled into the barrier meters from the finish line.

Jakobsen went head over heels, his bike went airborne and the barriers exploded onto the road, causing more cyclists to crash.

Jakobsen was airlifted to a hospital in serious condition and was put into an induced coma, the Tour de Pologne press office said.

Groenewegen crossed the finish line first but was disqualified, giving Jakobsen the stage win, according to the stage race website.

Groenewegen, a 27-year-old Jumbo-Visma rider, owns four Tour de France stage wins among the last three years.

The International Cycling Union (UCI) “strongly condemned” Groenewegen’s “dangerous” and “unacceptable” behavior. It referred Groenewegen’s actions to a disciplinary commission for possible sanctions.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Figure skating Grand Prix Series will be held as ‘domestic’ competitions

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Figure skating’s Grand Prix Series will go ahead as scheduled this fall, with modifications due to the coronavirus pandemic, the International Skating Union decided Monday.

Each of the series’ six tops around the globe will be “a domestic run event,” limited to skaters of the event’s host country, who regularly train in the host country and from a respective geographical area. The number of disciplines and skaters at each event are to be worked out.

The Grand Prix Series, held annually since 1995, is a six-event fall season, qualifying the top six skaters and teams per discipline to December’s Grand Prix Final. The annual stops are in the U.S., Canada, China, France, Russia and Japan, leading up to the Final, which is held at a different site each year.

The Final is the second-biggest annual competition after the world championships, which are typically in late March. The Final is still scheduled for Beijing, though whether or when it can be held will be discussed.

The series begins in late October with Skate America, which debuted in 1979 and has been held every year since 1988 as the biggest annual international competition in the U.S. Skate America’s site is Las Vegas, just as it was in 2019.

Skaters typically compete twice on the Grand Prix Series (three times if they qualify for the Final). ISU vice president Alexander Lakernik said skaters will be limited to one start in the six-event series before the Final, according to a Russian media quote confirmed by Phil Hersh.

The ISU has not confirmed or denied Lakernik’s assertion.

Most, if not all, top-level U.S. skaters train in the U.S. or Canada. That makes the first two Grand Prix stops — Skate America and Skate Canada — likely destinations. Grand Prix assignments have not been published.

“I appreciate the ISU is open to adapting competitive formats and is working to give athletes opportunities to compete,” Evan Bates, a U.S. ice dance champion with Madison Chock who trains in Montreal, wrote in a text message to Hersh. “This announcement gives reassurance that the ISU is doing their best to ensure a season will still take place. Of course, it’s hard to predict what will happen, and we’re not sure about what country we would compete in. It would probably depend on what the quarantine rules are at that time.”

The January 2021 U.S. Championships are scheduled for San Jose, Calif. The March 2021 World Championships are set for Stockholm.

In July, the ISU canceled the Junior Grand Prix Series for skaters mostly ages 13 to 18, including two-time U.S. champion Alysa Liu, who cannot enter the senior Grand Prix until 2021.

Other early season senior international competitions scheduled for September were also canceled or postponed.

U.S. Figure Skating said in a statement that it will have more details on the Grand Prix Series in the coming weeks after collaborating with an ISU-appointed group.

“This is a great example of the figure skating community coming together to ensure that the world’s premier figure skating series will continue during these challenging times,” the statement read. “Figure skaters want to compete and figure skating fans from all around the world want to see their favorite athletes skate, and this format will ensure just that.”

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