U.S. women struggle, trail Russian brilliance after World Championships short program

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Russian Elizaveta Tuktamysheva landed a triple Axel and earned one of the highest short program scores ever, taking a commanding lead at the World Championships in Shanghai on Thursday.

The three Americans struggled so mightily that not only is a hoped-for first U.S. women’s medal since 2006 now unlikely, but they also must make up ground in Saturday’s free skate to qualify three women’s spots for the 2016 World Championships in Boston.

Polina Edmunds is seventh, Gracie Gold is eighth and Ashley Wagner is 11th.

Tuktamysheva, the only active elite women’s skater performing the triple Axel, jubilantly shook her right fist and spun around after her clean skate. A few minutes later, she smiled, nodded in approval and shook her coach’s hand when her point total came up — 77.62.

“When I landed the triple Axel, I got goosebumps and I thought, ‘Is this a dream or did I really just do the triple Axel at the World Championships?'” Tuktamysheva said, according to The Associated Press.

Only three-time World champion Mao Asada and 2010 Olympic champion Yuna Kim have scored higher under the current system.

Tuktamysheva leads countrywoman Yelena Radionova by a whopping 8.11 going into the free skate (full results here). She has won seven international events this season, an incredible rebound after finishing 10th at the previous season’s Russian Championships, not coming close to making the Sochi Olympic team.

Tuktamysheva said she felt there was a 50 percent chance she would fall on the triple Axel and does not plan another one in the free skate, according to reports from Shanghai.

“It was a risk to do the triple Axel in the short program, but figure skating has to evolve,” she said, according to the AP. “The men are doing three quads in their programs and the girls also have to develop.”

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Radionova, a two-time World junior champion who beat Tuktamysheva at Skate America in October and the Russian Championships in December, said she skated Thursday with a 100-degree fever, according to Russian reports.

Edmunds, the youngest U.S. competitor across all sports in Sochi, placed seventh Thursday with 61.71 points. Judges deducted from her triple flip for not having a clear edge. In February, Edmunds won the Four Continents Championships, beating two Japanese women who on Thursday placed third and fifth in the short program.

Edmunds, 16, is in position to better her finish from the Olympics (ninth) and 2014 Worlds (eighth).

“I was able to skate well,” she said, according to U.S. Figure Skating.”Most of all, I want to skate two clean programs here and I’m halfway there today.”

Gold, fourth at the Sochi Olympics and fifth at the 2014 World Championships, stepped out of the opening triple Lutz of a planned jumping combination and placed eighth with 60.73 points.

It continued a tough season that included a stress fracture in her left foot in the fall, ceding her U.S. title in January and several erred performances throughout.

“I’ve had a tough year, the hardest I’ve had in my skating career,” Gold said, according to U.S. Figure Skating. “I’m only 19, so it hasn’t been that long, but we’ll have to start fresh next year.”

Wagner scored 57.81 for 11th place. Wagner, who regained her U.S. championship in January and entered with high medal hopes, fell on the second jump of her opening combination and under-rotated a triple flip.

“Today was a horrible day, there’s no other way to say it,” Wagner said, according to the AP. “I think it was just that I was focusing on way too many things at once, and that was the recipe for disaster.”

The top two U.S. women’s placements after the free skate must combine to be 13 or better to ensure three spots at the 2016 World Championships in Boston. Right now, Edmunds and Gold’s combined placements are 15.

Women’s Short Program
1. Elizaveta Tuktamysheva (RUS) — 77.62
2. Yelena Radionova (RUS) — 69.51
3. Satoko Miyahara (JPN) — 67.02
4. Kanako Murakami (JPN) — 65.48
5. Rika Hongo (JPN) — 62.17
7. Polina Edmunds (USA) — 61.71
8. Gracie Gold (USA) — 60.73
11. Ashley Wagner (USA) — 57.81

World Figure Skating Championships schedule

Danielle Williams cemented as world No. 1 hurdler in Birmingham

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The 100m hurdles has been one of the U.S.’ deepest events the last several years, but Jamaican Danielle Williams looks like the favorite at the world championships in early October.

Williams, who owns the world’s fastest time this year, easily beat world-record holder Kendra Harrison and Olympic champion Brianna McNeal at a Diamond League meet in Birmingham, Great Britain, on Sunday.

Williams crossed in 12.46 seconds despite hitting her knee on one hurdle, but still two tenths clear of Harrison, whose world record is 12.20. It marked Harrison’s first loss in nine meets this year and the first time a non-American has ever beaten her at a Diamond League stop.

It looked like Williams wouldn’t make it to worlds in Doha when she false started out of the Jamaican Championships. But the final was soon after strangely canceled, and Jamaican media reported last week that Williams, the 2015 World champion who failed to make the Rio Olympics, is eligible to be chosen next month by the federation.

The U.S. had at least the two fastest women in the world each of the previous six years. Then Williams re-emerged with a Jamaican record 12.32 on July 20.

The meet airs Monday on Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA at 4 p.m. ET and NBCSN at 7 p.m. ET. The Diamond League moves to Paris on Saturday.

In other events Sunday, Olympic 400m champion Shaunae Miller-Uibo overtook Brit Dina Asher-Smith and Jamaican Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce in the 200m in 22.24. Miller-Uibo extended her unbeaten streak to two years across all distances.

It appears Miller-Uibo will not be racing the 200m at worlds, given it overlaps with the 400m. She ranks third in the world this year at the shorter distance, trailing Jamaican Olympic champion Elaine Thompson, who clocked 22.00 on June 23 but was not in Sunday’s field. Miller-Uibo has ranked No. 1 at 400m four straight years.

Yohan Blake won the 100m in 10.07 seconds, holding off Brit Adam Gemili, who had the same time with a 2 meter/second tailwind. Blake, the second-fastest man in history with a personal best of 9.69, hasn’t been the same since suffering a series of leg injuries starting in 2013.

Sunday’s field lacked the world championships favorites — Americans Christian Coleman and Justin Gatlin, who clocked 9.81 and 9.87 on June 30.

Surprise U.S. champion Teahna Daniels placed third in her Diamond League 100m debut, clocking 11.24 seconds. The field lacked world championships favorites Thompson and Fraser-Pryce, who each ran 10.73 at the Jamaican Championships on June 21.

American record holder Ajeé Wilson won an 800m that lacked all three Rio Olympic medalists, who are barred from racing the event due to the IAAF’s new testosterone cap in middle distances. Wilson’s time, 2:00.76, was far off her 2019 world-leading time of 1:57.72 among eligible women.

Olympic and world heptathlon champion Nafi Thiam broke the Belgian long jump record twice, winning with a 6.86-meter leap. That ranks ninth in the world this year. The field lacked the last two Olympic champions, Americans Tianna Bartoletta and Brittney Reese.

A meeting of the last two Olympic pole vault champs went to Rio gold medalist Katerina Stefanidi of Greece, who cleared 4.75 meters in swirling wind. London 2012 champ Jenn Suhr was third but remains No. 1 in the world this year with a 4.91-meter clearance from March 30.

Croatian Sandra Perkovic, the 2012 and 2016 Olympic discus champion, lost her third straight Diamond League meet to start the season as she returns from injury. Perkovic, who placed third behind winner Cuban Yaimé Pérez, had not lost in back-to-back meets since returning from a six-month doping ban in 2011, according to Tilastopaja.org.

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Tokyo Paralympic triathlon test event cancels swim due to water bacteria

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TOKYO (AP) — High levels of bacteria forced the swimming portion of a triathlon test event for the Tokyo Paralympics to be canceled Saturday.

It’s the second setback in the triathlon for organizers of next year’s Olympics and Paralympics. An Olympic triathlon running event was shortened from 10km to 5km on Thursday because of what the International Triathlon Union (ITU) called “extreme levels” of heat.

Tokyo’s hot and humid summers are a major worry for Olympic organizers. The water issues are a reminder of the Rio Games, when high bacteria and virus levels were found in waters for sailing, rowing and open-water swimming.

In a statement, the ITU said E-coli levels were “more than two times over the ITU limits.” It said the water was at Level 4, the highest risk level.

E-coli bacteria, which normally live in the intestines of animals and people, can produce intestinal pain, diarrhea and a fever.

The venue in Tokyo Bay, called Odaiba, has been a concern for organizers, who have experimented with different measures to clean the water in the area, located in an urban part of central Tokyo.

The ITU is scheduled to hold it final test event on Sunday “depending on the latest water quality tests”, it said in a statement.

A few days ago the ITU described water quality conditions at the venue as “very good.” However, swimmers at a recent distance swimming event at the same venue complained of foul-smelling water.

The water temperature at the venue on Saturday was 84 degrees Fahrenheit, with the air temperature hovering above 90.

Tokyo spokesman Masa Takaya said “we are set to conduct a comprehensive review with the international federation.”

He said a triple-layer underwater screen will be installed for next year’s Olympics, replacing a single-layer.

“Based on the results of multiple research in the past, we believe that the multiple layer screen will assure the successful delivery of the competitions,” he said.

Filthy water plagued the Rio Olympics. The South American city lacks a functioning sanitation system for much of its population. Open water there tested high for bacteria and viruses, which confronted athletes in rowing, sailing and triathlon.

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