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

Elizaveta Tuktamysheva
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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

U.S. ice dancers drop from first after twizzle error, behind youngest World champs in 40 years

In a tie, Wendy Holdener puts to rest a remarkable stat in Alpine skiing

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Swiss Wendy Holdener ended one of the most remarkable victory droughts in sports by tying for the win with Swede Anna Swenn Larsson in a World Cup slalom in Killington, Vermont, on Sunday.

Holdener, after 15 second-place finishes and 15 third-place finishes in her career, stood on the top step of a World Cup slalom podium for the first time. She shared it with Swenn Larsson, who had six World Cup slalom podiums before Sunday and also earned her first win.

They beat Austrian Katharina Truppe by .22 of a second combining times from two runs.

ALPINE SKIING: Full Results | Broadcast Schedule

Holdener, 29, previously won three World Cups in other disciplines, plus two world championships in the combined and Olympic and world titles in the team event.

“To be tied first when I came into the finish was such a relief,” Holdener said while shoulder to shoulder with Swenn Larsson. “On the end, it’s perfect, because now we can share our first win together.”

Mikaela Shiffrin had the best first-run time but lost her lead midway through the second run and finished fifth. Shiffrin, who won the first two slaloms this season last weekend, was bidding for a 50th World Cup slalom victory and a sixth win in six slaloms in Killington.

“I fought. I think some spots I got a little bit off my timing, but I was pushing, and that’s slalom,” she said before turning her attention to Holdener and Swenn Larsson. “It’s a pretty special day, actually.”

The women’s Alpine skiing World Cup moves next weekend to Lake Louise, Alberta, with two downhills and a super-G.

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Injured Ilia Malinin wins Grand Prix Finland, qualifies for Grand Prix Final

Ilia Malinin
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Ilia Malinin, competing “a little bit injured” this week, still won Grand Prix Finland and goes into the Grand Prix Final in two weeks as the world’s top-ranked male singles skater.

Malinin, who was second after Friday’s short program, landed four clean quadruple jumps in Saturday’s free skate to overtake Frenchman Kevin Aymoz.

Malinin, who landed a quad flip in competition for the first time, according to SkatingScores.com, also attempted a quad Axel to open his program, but spun out of the landing and put his hand down on the ice.

Malinin also won his previous two starts this season in come-from-behind fashion. The 17-year-old world junior champion became the first skater to land a clean, fully rotated quad Axel in September, then did it again in October at Skate America, where he posted the world’s top overall score this season.

Next, Malinin can become the second-youngest man to win the Grand Prix Final after Russian Yevgeny Plushenko. His biggest competition is likely to be world champion Shoma Uno of Japan, who like Malinin won both of his Grand Prix starts this fall. Malinin and Uno have not gone head-to-head this season.

Grand Prix Finland highlights air on NBC, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app on Sunday at 3:30 p.m. ET.

FIGURE SKATING: Results | Broadcast Schedule

Earlier, Japan’s Mai Mihara overtook world silver medalist Loena Hendrickx of Belgium to become the only woman to win both of her Grand Prix starts this season. Mihara prevailed by .23 of a point. The top three women this season by best total score are Japanese, led by a junior skater, 14-year-old Mao Shimada, who isn’t Olympic age-eligible until 2030.

Mihara and Hendrickx qualified for the Grand Prix Final, joining world champion Kaori Sakamoto and Rinka Watanabe, both of Japan, South Korean Yelim Kim and American Isabeau Levito, the world junior champion.

Italians Rebecca Ghilardi and Filippo Ambrosini won both pairs’ programs and qualified for their first Grand Prix Final.

Japan’s Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara and Americans Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier headline the Final. Both pairs won each of their Grand Prix starts earlier this fall. The Japanese have the world’s two best scores this season. The Americans are reigning world champions.

At least one Russian or Chinese pair made every Grand Prix Final podium — usually pairs from both countries — but neither nation competed in pairs this Grand Prix season. All Russian skaters are banned due to the war in Ukraine. China’s lone entry on the Grand Prix across all disciplines was an ice dance couple.

Canadians Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier improved on their world-leading score for this season in winning the ice dance by 17.03 points over Americans Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker. Both couples qualified for the Grand Prix Final in the absence of all three Olympic medalists this fall.

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