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

Shelby Houlihan shatters American 5000m record

Shelby Houlihan
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Shelby Houlihan chopped 10.52 seconds off her own American 5000m record, clocking 14:23.92 at a Bowerman Track Club intrasquad meet in Portland, Ore., on Friday night.

Houlihan, who was 11th in the Rio Olympic 5000m, has in this Olympic cycle improved to become one of the greatest female distance runners in U.S. history.

She first broke Shannon Rowbury‘s American record in the 5000m by 4.47 seconds in 2018. In 2019, she broke Rowbury’s American record in the 1500m by 1.3 seconds in finishing fourth at the world championships in 3:54.99.

On Friday, Houlihan and second-place Karissa Schweizer both went under the American record. Schweizer, 24 and three years younger than Houlihan, clocked 14:26.34, staying with Houlihan until the winner’s 61-second final lap.

“I knew Karissa was going to try to come up on me and take the lead. She does that every time,” Houlihan told USATF.tv. “I had decided I was not going to let that happen.”

Houlihan improved from 41st to 12th on the world’s all-time 5000m list, 12.77 seconds behind Ethiopian Tirunesh Dibaba‘s world record.

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Can T.J. Oshie, other established Olympic hockey stars hold on for 2022?

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T.J. Oshie will be 35 years old during the next Winter Olympics. Jonathan Quick will be 36. Now that the NHL is one key step closer to returning to the Winter Games, the question surfaces: which 2014 Olympians will have a difficult time returning to rosters in 2022?

Oshie was the last of the 14 forwards chosen for the U.S. Olympic team for Sochi, beating out Bobby Ryan and Brandon Saad, in part for his shootout prowess.

In group play against Russia, Oshie was memorably tapped by U.S. head coach Dan Bylsma six times in a shootout, including all five in the sudden-death rounds. Oshie beat Sergei Bobrovsky four times, including the game winner.

“After I went out for my third attempt, I figured I was going to keep going,” Oshie said, according to USA Hockey. “Each time I would look up to see what [Bylsma] had to say, and he would just give me a nod every time. I kind of started laughing toward shot five and six because it was getting kind of ridiculous.”

Oshie became known as “T.J. Sochi” on social media. President Barack Obama congratulated him on Twitter. The U.S. eventually lost to Canada in the semifinals and Finland in the bronze-medal game.

When the NHL chose not to send its players to the PyeongChang Winter Games, it may have spelled the end of Oshie’s Olympic career.

Consider that the oldest forward on the 2014 U.S. Olympic team was 29, six years younger than Oshie will be come 2022. A recent Olympic roster prediction from The Hockey Writers put Oshie in the “Just Missed Out” list.

NBC Sports NHL analyst Pierre McGuire has Oshie among the finalists for the last forward spots in his early U.S. roster prediction.

“I wouldn’t discount T.J. Oshie because shootout is still part of it,” McGuire said. “He still has his shootout moves, even though he’s not getting any younger.”

Quick, the unused third goalie in 2010, played 305 out of 365 minutes in net for the U.S. in Sochi. He was coming off a Stanley Cup in 2012 and en route to another one in 2014.

Since, he was sidelined by a knee injury that required surgery. He remains the Los Angeles Kings’ No. 1 goalie, which almost automatically puts an American in the Olympic roster discussion these days.

“Somebody like Jonathan definitely merits consideration just because of his achievement level over time, but I think he’d be the first person to tell you injuries have definitely affected him,” McGuire said of Quick, looking to become the second-oldest U.S. goalie to play in the Olympics after Tom Barrasso in 2002. “It’s not going to be easy for him.”

The U.S. could bypass Quick for three Olympic rookies in 2022. Connor Hellebuyck, John Gibson and Ben Bishop have superior save percentages and goals-against averages and more games played than Quick since the start of the 2018-19 season.

A wild card is Spencer Knight, the 19-year-old No. 1 from the world junior championships who last year became the highest-drafted goalie since 2010 (No. 13 to the Florida Panthers). Knight would break defenseman Bryan Berard‘s record as the youngest U.S. Olympic hockey player in the NHL era.

The Canadian roster has traditionally been deeper than the U.S. The talent is overwhelming at center, led by Sidney CrosbyConnor McDavidPatrice Bergeron and Nathan MacKinnon. The Canadians must get creative if the likes of veterans Jonathan Toews and John Tavares will join them in Beijing.

Toews, then 21, was the best forward at the 2010 Vancouver Games and Canada’s only one on the all-tournament team. While Toews’ last NHL All-Star selection was in 2017, his last two seasons have been his best in terms of points per game since 2011.

“The one thing that Canada is very good at, they do it extremely well, they select players that fit roles,” McGuire said, noting Mike Richards shifting to the wing during the 2010 Olympics. “When you look at the overwhelming depth that Canada has, that’s going to be the thing that’s going that’s going to be very interesting to watch to see how it plays out at center.”

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