Ashley Wagner, Gracie Gold, Polina Edmunds

Tara Lipinski, Johnny Weir preview World Championships women’s, ice dance events

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For the first time since 1981, the World Figure Skating Championships include zero women’s singles skaters who previously won an Olympic or World Championships individual medal.

Three new medalists will stand on the podium in Shanghai, China, on Saturday. Really, the competition is between two countries. And in the end, one nation may sweep the podium for the first time since 1991.

“It’s definitely a possibility,” NBC Olympics figure skating analyst Johnny Weir said.

“It’s a very strong possibility,” said Weir’s cohort, 1998 Olympic champion Tara Lipinski.

Weir and Lipinski agree that Russians Elizaveta Tuktamysheva and Yelena Radionova are likely to go one-two.

RELATED: World Championships schedule | Men’s/Pairs preview

Tuktamysheva, 18, placed 10th at the 2013 World Championships but fell flat at the following season’s Russian Championships, finishing 10th among her countrywomen and missing the Sochi Olympic team by a mile.

But Tuktamysheva, a pupil of venerable coach Alexei Mishin, is in the midst of one of the greatest bounce-back seasons in the sport’s history.

She’s won seven international competitions, including her two biggest — the Grand Prix Final in December and the European Championships in January — and has shown she’s capable of landing a triple Axel. No other elite woman can boast that.

“My bets are on Tuktamysheva,” Lipinski said. “She’s found that secret potion that works for competition this year. She’s been on a roll.”

Radionova, a wispy 16-year-old, relegated Tuktamysheva to silver at Skate America in October and the Russian Championships in December.

She came into this season with perhaps the most promise of any skater, as the two-time reigning World junior champion.

“She’s right on [Tuktamysheva’s] tail,” Lipinski said. “If Liza makes any mistakes, Yelena brings so much consistency. There still could be a good fight between the both of them.”

The third Russian is less reliable. That’s Anna Pogorilaya, who finished fourth at the 2014 World Championships and won Skate Canada in November.

But Japan’s Rika Hongo topped her at a competition in Moscow later in November, and American Ashley Wagner kept Pogorilaya off the podium at the Grand Prix Final in December.

“On a good day, [Pogorilaya] can outjump the best in the world,” Weir said. “Her jumps are a bit more aesthetically pleasing than the other two Russians.”

Tuktamysheva, Radionova and Pogorilaya hope to give Russia a women’s podium sweep, a feat seen once before at a Worlds. In 1991, Americans Kristi Yamaguchi, Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan shared the podium in Munich, where unprepared organizers reportedly did not have three U.S. flags ready for the medal ceremony.

In Shanghai, a U.S. trio is out to spoil the sweep and win the first American women’s medal at a Worlds or Olympics since 2006.

“The momentum is with Ashley,” Weir said.

Wagner, 23, feels more confident going into this competition than any of her four previous World Championships or the Sochi Olympics.

RELATED: Wagner aims higher than Worlds medal

She kept Russia from a podium sweep at the Grand Prix Final in December, jumping from last place out of six after the short program to earn bronze. A month later, Wagner won her third U.S. title, breaking scoring records and taking the crown back from Gracie Gold.

At this time last year, Gold was the top U.S. hope going into Worlds (and she finished fifth, best of the Americans). But now she’s a question mark after missing the podium at her most recent event in February (without Wagner or Russians in the field).

“I watch her in practice, and I am amazed by her, the way that she can throw these triple-triples [jump combinations],” Lipinski said. “I’m always so baffled and confused that when she steps on the ice [in competition], the impression we get of her is she’s either going to fall apart, or she’s going to nail it.”

RELATED: Gold hopeful of turning turbulent season around

The third American is Polina Edmunds, who was the youngest U.S. competitor across all sports in Sochi. She struggled through the fall Grand Prix season and finished fourth at the U.S. Championships in January.

But the 16-year-old put it all together at the Four Continents Championships in Seoul in February, notching the biggest victory of her young senior career.

“Polina should be aiming for the podium, although I think stylistically she’s a little bit weaker than a lot of the top skaters at the moment,” Weir said. “So I think another year of development, and she will be one of the girls fighting for the podium next year.”

RELATED: Edmunds hopes reputation doesn’t impact Worlds

In ice dance, two U.S. couples are fighting for the podium. Neither is Meryl Davis and Charlie White, the Olympic champions who took this season off from competition and may not return.

Madison Chock and Evan Bates, who were eighth in Sochi and fifth at the 2014 Worlds, could win gold in Shanghai. They led Canadian rivals Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje after the Four Continents short program in February, but squandered it in the free dance and finished second.

“It really could be a toss-up,” Lipinski said. “Chock and Bates, they have so many differences, but at the same time they are like one. I feel that Charlie and Meryl have that, they skated as one, but they each looked different, had a different vibe going on, that it was interesting to watch.”

Siblings Maia and Alex Shibutani are the only members of the 16-skater U.S. team in Shanghai who own World Championships medals. The 2011 bronze medalists also finished third at Four Continents, but that competition did not include any European couples.

Enter the reigning World champions, Italians Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte. But they were beaten at the European Championships in January by France’s Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron.

Mao Asada still unsure of figure skating future

2026 Winter Olympic host: Milan-Cortina

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Italy will host the 2026 Winter Olympics and Paralympics, with Milan-Cortina d’Ampezzo winning an IOC vote over a Swedish-Latvian bid centered on Stockholm.

Milan-Cortina won with 47 votes to Stockholm–Åre’s 34 to become the first Olympics with multiple official host cities.

Italy boasted its public support (83 percent in a March IOC poll versus 55 percent in Sweden) and financial guarantees (Stockholm officials declined to sign the IOC’s host-city contract, leaving it to the smaller ski resort of Åre).

“I cannot look into the heads of my colleagues, but gathering a little bit the atmosphere when leaving the room, my assumption is that what was key and what finally made the difference was the gap in the public support,” said IOC President Thomas Bach, who was not among the voters. “This was, for many members, a clear signal. Public support offers goes hand in hand with political support. This was maybe also the reason then why the city of Stockholm was not ready to sign the host-city contract.”

The Games return to a traditional European site for the first time since Italy hosted in Torino in 2006 after Vancouver (2010), Sochi (2014), PyeongChang (2018) and Beijing (2022).

The two bids were left after five others dropped out for various reasons, all in 2018: Calgary, Canada; Erzurum, Turkey; Sapporo, Japan; Graz, Austria and Sion, Switzerland.

With the 2024 and 2028 Summer Games hosts both decided two years ago (Paris for 2024, Los Angeles for 2028), next up is the 2030 Winter Games. The U.S. has already said that if it bids, it will be with Salt Lake City, which held the 2002 Winter Olympics.

Italy will host the Winter Games for a third time after Cortina d’Ampezzo in 1956 and Torino in 2006.

Its bid presentation Monday included all three Italian 2018 Olympic champions speaking — Arianna Fontana (short track), Michela Moioli (snowboard cross) and Sofia Goggia (downhill). The presentation ended with 15-year-old short track speed skater Elisa Confortola addressing more than 80 IOC members.

Italy’s initial bid declaration in March 2018 was for a joint Milan-Torino candidate. Cortina was added within a week to make it a three-pronged bid. By September, Torino dropped out after political infighting, when a senior Italian official declared the bid “dead.” But the bid pressed on as Milan-Cortina, sites separated by more than 200 miles.

Sweden has finished second or third in all seven of its Winter Olympic bid votes, including six straight from 1984 through 2002, according to the OlyMADMen. Stockholm–Åre was trying to become the first Winter Games held in multiple countries, with Latvia holding bobsled, luge and skeleton.

The IOC praised how both bids fit with Agenda 2020 with 80 percent of the venues already existing or temporary and organizational budgets 20 percent lower than 2018 and 2022 cities.

More on the Milan-Cortina bid:

Proposed Dates: Feb. 6-22 (Olympics), March 6-15 (Paralympics)

Venues
Milan
 — Figure skating, hockey, short track
Cortina d’Ampezzo (220 miles northeast of Milan) — Alpine skiing (women), bobsled, luge, skeleton, curling, biathlon (Antholz)
Val di Fiemme (160 miles northeast of Milan) — Cross-country skiing, ski jumping, Nordic combined, speed skating (outdoors)
Valtellina (85 miles northeast of Milan) — Alpine skiing (men, Bormio), freestyle skiing, snowboarding

Ceremonies
Opening Ceremony — San Siro (home of AC Milan and Inter Milan)
Closing Ceremony — Verona Arena (Roman amphitheatre 90 miles east of Milan)

Slogan
“Dreaming Together”

IOC Evaluation Group Report
“Milan and Cortina d’Ampezzo combine the advantages of a big European city and those of a popular mountain resort region in the Italian Alps. The candidature benefits from the region’s strong winter sports history, tradition and experience, as well as the Italians’ love and passion for sport. The project can also leverage the economic strength and prosperity of the northern Italian region. While planning is still at an early stage, the project has the potential to achieve the long-term goals of the cities and the region in line with Olympic Agenda 2020/New Norm.”

MORE: Tokyo 2020 Olympic master schedule

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Japan’s gymnastics worlds team: no Kohei Uchimura, Kenzo Shirai

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Not only is Kohei Uchimura going to miss the world championships, but so is 11-time world medalist Kenzo Shirai.

Japan finalized its five-man team for October’s worlds in Stuttgart, Germany, following a national-level meet this past weekend. Uchimura, arguably the greatest gymnast in history, was already out of the running, sidelined with his latest round of injuries.

Shirai, reportedly slowed by a left ankle injury this season, did compete this weekend. But he finished fifth on floor exercise and third on vault, his two best events, and did not earn one of the last two spots on the world team.

Uchimura, a two-time Olympic all-around champion with six world all-around titles, misses worlds for the first time since 2007. Shirai, a 22-year-old with four world titles between floor and vault, had competed in every worlds since debuting in 2013, just after his 17th birthday.

Without their two stars, Japan sends a relatively inexperienced team. Kazuma Kaya and Wataru Tanigawa, both 22, are the only men who have been to a worlds (and were part of the 2018 silver-medal team). The youngest member is 17-year-old Daiki Hashimoto.

Japan has earned a team medal at every Olympics and world championships since 2003, a streak bettered only by the U.S. women.

MORE: Olympic gymnastics team sizes return to five for Paris 2024

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