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

U.S. Olympic 3×3 basketball qualifying teams named with former NBA player, WNBA stars

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Former NBA player Robbie Hummel and WNBA stars lead U.S. Olympic qualifying teams in the new Olympic event of 3×3 basketball.

The four-man and four-woman teams will compete in a global qualifier in India in March, each favored to grab one of three available Olympic berths per gender for the U.S.

Hummel, who unretired to become world champion in 3×3, is joined on the U.S. Olympic men’s qualifying team by Team Princeton teammates Canyon Barry and Kareem Maddox, plus Dominique Jones, who has played with Team Harlem. Team Princeton is guided by an investment firm CEO who once beat Michael Jordan one-on-one.

Last year, Hummel, Maddox and Barry (one of Rick Barry‘s sons) were part of a team that won the world title.

The U.S. women’s 3×3 qualifying roster is made up of WNBA stars Napheesa Collier, Stefanie DolsonAllisha Gray and Kelsey Plum. The U.S.’ top-ranked 3×3 player, as of last month, is Oregon star Sabrina Ionescu, who can’t play internationally this spring as she is in the thick of the NCAA season.

Olympic teams will not necessarily be made up of players from the qualifying tournament.

If the U.S. qualifies for Tokyo, it will then choose its roster(s) in a similar fashion to its traditional basketball teams — via selection committee. It’s unlikely active NBA players will be eligible.

Like with the qualifying tournament, two of the four Olympic players must be ranked in the top 10 among Americans in FIBA 3×3 rankings (as of a May 22 cutoff).

In 3×3, games last 10 minutes, or until one team reaches 21 points. Games are played on a half-court with a 12-second shot clock, and offense immediately turns to defense after a team scores.

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First U.S. sailors qualify for Olympics; gold medalist misses on tiebreak

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The first five members of the U.S. Olympic sailing team were finalized this past weekend. The last American sailor to win an Olympic title missed on a tiebreaker.

Stephanie Roble and Maggie Shea (49er FX), Anna Weis and Riley Gibbs (Nacra 17) and Charlie Buckingham (Laser) qualified after world championships competition concluded in Australia. The U.S. Olympic roster across all sports is now at 43 qualified athletes.

The closest race for a U.S. Olympic spot came in 49er FX. Roble and Shea edged Paris Henken and 2008 Olympic champion Anna Tobias on a tiebreak. Roble and Shea, both first-time Olympic qualifiers, won Saturday’s medal race and earned an overall bronze medal.

That put the two U.S. duos in a tie in Olympic qualifying — combining placements from the 2019 and 2020 Championships, according to TeamUSA.org. The tiebreak went to Roble and Shea for having the better finish at this year’s worlds.

Tobias, a 37-year-old who won the individual 2008 Olympic Laser Radial as Anna Tunnicliffe, came out of retirement in a bid for a third Olympics. She left competitive sailing in 2014, took up CrossFit competitions and returned to crew for Henken more than two years ago.

“We are very sad and upset,” was posted on Tobias’ Instagram, “but we wish them [Roble and Shea] the best of luck.”

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