Elizaveta Tuktamysheva

Elizaveta Tuktamysheva wins World Championship; U.S. just misses medals

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Elizaveta Tuktamysheva finished 10th at the Russian Championships last season. She finished first at the World Championships on Saturday.

Tuktamysheva strolled to the biggest victory of her career, by a whopping 16.76 points in Shanghai. Japan’s Satoko Miyahara took silver, with Russian Yelena Radionova snagging bronze (full results here).

Only 2010 Olympic champion Yuna Kim captured a World Championship by a greater margin under the scoring system implemented in 2005.

Americans Gracie Gold, Ashley Wagner and Polina Edmunds finished fourth, fifth and eighth. That’s the closest the U.S. women have come to earning a Worlds medal since the last American medals in 2006.

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Tuktamysheva, 18, had the title all but locked up before she took the ice for her free skate.

She led by a comfortable 8.11 after Thursday’s short program, where she landed a triple Axel, and her biggest threat, Radionova, did not impress in her free skate. Tuktamysheva then skated and wasn’t as spectacular as in the short program, but she stayed on her feet and landed seven triple jumps.

Tuktamysheva won eight international competitions this season, including her three biggest — Worlds, the European Championships and the Grand Prix Final.

She was the Russian champion two years ago, but in the Olympic season finished 10th at Nationals and did not come close to making it to Sochi.

“Following the failure last season, it was difficult,” Tuktamysheva said, according to the International Skating Union. “My coaches helped me, who always believed in me even when I didn’t believe in myself anymore. I realized that I am very capable and that this is not the end and that I just have to survive this moment and I am glad that I was able to come back into the elite of women’s figure skating.”

Next year, Tuktamysheva could try to become the first woman since Michelle Kwan to win back-to-back World Championships.

“I admire her so much for coming back and bringing a whole new level of difficulty to the sport,” Wagner said, according to the International Skating Union. “Triple Axels will be mandatory before we know it.”

Tuktamysheva may have to deal with the return of Russian Olympic champion Adelina Sotnikova, who did not compete in top-level events this season and tore an ankle ligament in November. Plus, Olympic team event star Yulia Lipnitskaya, who struggled this year and did not earn a spot for the World Championships in Shanghai.

Tuktamysheva, who joined a short list of women to land a clean triple Axel at Worlds, may continue to push her athletic boundaries.

“I haven’t excluded the idea of learning a quad toe [loop], but for sure I won’t do it in my program,” she said, according to the International Skating Union.

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Next year, the Americans will again try to end their longest women’s Worlds medal drought since World War I. They’ll have home-ice advantage in Boston and perhaps a little momentum after Gold and Wagner had the second- and third-best free skates Saturday.

Gold finished fourth, improving from eighth place after the short program. Gold, who outscored everyone but Tuktamysheva in the free skate, missed a medal by 2.51 points. She was fourth at the Sochi Olympics and fifth at the 2014 World Championships.

“It’s always hard to skate a long program after a rough short program, because if you can’t get through a short well, how could you go through a long program?” Gold said, according to Reuters.

Her venerable coach, Frank Carroll, told her she skated beautifully as she came off the ice.

“You kept that going right to the end,” Carroll said.

Gold endured struggles this season, missing the Grand Prix Final with a stress fracture in her foot in December, giving up her U.S. title in January and finishing fourth at the Four Continents Championships in February, when she was the most accomplished skater in the field.

“This year was a little more rough and tumble for me,” she said, according to The Associated Press. “I’m used to being at least consistently going up, maybe a little down. Wiping the ice at the Four Continents event and breaking a foot aren’t really in my usual plans. Those are some pretty severe ups and downs.”

U.S. champion Wagner was right behind Gold in fifth, improving from 11th after a disastrous short program. She had the third-best free skate.

“You did your best,” her coach, Rafael Arutyunyan, told Wagner after her performance.

Wagner was considered a great hope to win her first Worlds medal in her fifth appearance, coming off a bronze at the Grand Prix Final in December and reclaiming the U.S. title from Gold in January.

“It might sound silly because I’m 23 years old, but I’m still learning in this sport,” Wagner said, according to the AP. “I was a late bloomer. To go out there under such immense pressure, to redeem myself in a way, that’s something I’m very proud of.”

The third American, Edmunds, fell one spot from seventh, best of the U.S. in the short program, to eighth place. Edmunds was ninth at the Sochi Olympics and eighth at the 2014 World Championships.

“I’m kind of disappointed in my score,” Edmunds, who did not fall but under-rotated three jumps in her free skate, said in quotes from U.S. Figure Skating. “I feel it was low for what I executed.”

Gold, Wagner and Edmunds could all return for the 2016 World Championships in Boston, but they will be challenged by Karen Chen, a 15-year-old who finished third behind Wagner and Gold at the U.S. Championships in January but was too young for the senior Worlds this year.

Women’s Results
Gold: Elizaveta Tuktamysheva (RUS) — 210.36
Silver: Satoko Miyahara (JPN) — 193.60
Bronze: Yelena Radionova (RUS) — 191.47
4. Gracie Gold (USA) — 188.96
5. Ashley Wagner (USA) — 185.01
8. Polina Edmunds (USA) — 177.83

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Katie Ledecky swims fastest at U.S. Open from B final

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For what must have been the first time in seven years, Katie Ledecky failed to qualify for an A final in one of her primary events on Friday morning. No matter, she swam the fastest 200m freestyle at the U.S. Open from the B final at night.

Ledecky, owner of 20 combined Olympic and world titles, clocked 1:56.24 to win the B final by nearly three seconds in Atlanta. In the very next race, American record holder Allison Schmitt touched first in the A final in 1:56.47.

Full results are here. The final day of the meet airs live on Saturday at 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app.

Ledecky has rarely lost domestically in freestyles from 200m through 1500m since she made her first Olympic team at age 15 in 2012.

She kept the streak intact, giving her a sweep of the 200m, 400m and 800m frees in the first three days of the U.S. Open, what could be the deepest domestic meet before the Olympic trials in June.

Internationally, Ledecky faced challengers in the 200m free in this Olympic cycle, unlike the last one. Italian veteran and world-record holder Federica Pellegrini won the last two world titles, with Ledecky missing the event this summer due to her mid-meet illness.

Ledecky ranks seventh in the world in the 200m free this year but likely would have been faster if she was able to race at her best at world champs.

Domestically, Simone Manuel has crept up, clocking 1:56.09 to lead off the 4x200m free relay at worlds to rank second among Americans in 2019. Manuel was the third-fastest American on Friday, recording 1:57.21, her fastest time ever outside of a major summer meet.

In other events Friday, Phoebe Bacon upset world-record holder Regan Smith in the 100m backstroke. Bacon, who like Smith is 17 years old, overtook Smith in the last 25 meters and prevailed by .05 in 58.63. Bacon, while shy of Smith’s world record 57.57, took .39 off her personal best to become the fifth-fastest in the world this year.

Olympic and world champion Lilly King dominated the 100m breaststroke, beating a strong field by .62 of a second in 1:05.65.

Chase Kalisz won a potential Olympic trials preview in the 400m individual medley in 4:13.07. Kalisz, the Rio silver medalist, held off 18-year-old Carson Foster by 1.69 seconds. Ryan Lochte, the 2012 Olympic champion in the event, was fifth, 6.65 seconds behind.

Rio Olympian Townley Haas won the men’s 200m free in 1:45.92, his fastest time since August 2018. Haas, the 2017 World silver medalist, improved to the second-fastest American in the event this year behind Andrew Seliskar.

Torri Huske won the 100m butterfly on the eve of her 17th birthday. Huske clocked 57.48, taking .23 off her personal best to move from sixth fastest to third fastest in the U.S. this year.

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Ester Ledecka stuns again, wins World Cup downhill from bib No. 26

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Consider 26 a lucky number for Ester Ledecka.

Ledecka, the snowboard champion who stunningly captured the PyeongChang Olympic super-G from bib No. 26, won her first World Cup ski race on Friday — also from bib No. 26.

Ledecka was fastest in a downhill at Lake Louise, Alberta.

She kept Swiss Corinne Suter from her first World Cup win by .35 of a second. Austrian Stephanie Venier was third. Mikaela Shiffrin was 10th in her weakest discipline. Full results are here.

“I am for sure more shocked than everybody here,” Ledecka said. “I was a little bit, not disappointed about the run, but I was not super satisfied. Then I was really surprised about the time.”

Ledecka, an Olympic and world champion in Alpine snowboarding from the Czech Republic, had a previous best Alpine skiing World Cup finish of seventh. The top-ranked racers all go in the top 20 of the start list.

Last season, Ledecka raced more World Cup skiing events than snowboarding events for the first time. She was forced to choose between world championships in skiing and in snowboarding due to schedules and picked the former with a top finish of 15th.

She’s undecided about her upcoming schedule. She could continue on the Alpine skiing tour with a super-G in Switzerland next weekend, or she could fly to Italy for a snowboarding event.

The women race another downhill and a super-G in Lake Louise the next two days. A full TV and live stream schedule for the weekend races is here.

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