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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Michael Phelps: To a naked eye, Milorad Cavic won — 10th anniversary of Beijing butterfly

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So many onlookers thought Milorad Cavic beat Michael Phelps in the Beijing Olympic 100m butterfly. Even Phelps himself.

“To a naked eye, he won the race,” Phelps said in an Omega documentary first published in 2016.

The 10th anniversary of that final — which Phelps won by .01 on a come-from-behind, half-stroke finish — is Wednesday night in the U.S./Thursday morning in China.

It marked Phelps’ seventh gold medal of those Games en route to his final tally of eight, breaking Mark Spitz‘s record for golds at a single Games. But it wasn’t without a little controversy.

Years later, Cavic jabbed again about the results that his Serbian federation unsuccessfully protested in Beijing.

“I don’t necessarily feel like it was an injustice,” the Serbian said in the 2016 film. “Mistakes were made on my side. There were things that I could have done better which would have made it a definite victory for myself, but my gut instinct is that I won.”

Cavic was arguably the favorite on the morning of the final. He broke the Olympic record in the preliminary heats, then was again faster than Phelps in the semifinals, when Phelps was coming off a 200m individual medley final.

After the semifinal, Phelps remembered walking down a Water Cube back hallway with coach Bob Bowman after the 15th of 17 total races.

“I said, ‘I’m done. I don’t have any more energy left. I’m cashed,'” Phelps said. “To put it bluntly, [Bowman] said tough s—. You’ve got a couple races to go, and you can suck it up.”

But Phelps was fired up by Cavic’s comments before the race, that it would be good for the sport if Phelps lost in Beijing. He woke up that morning and was on the starting block in lane five, right next to Cavic looking at him in lane four.

“What does a man do when the devil smiles at him? You smile back,” Cavic said. “It was a religious moment for me because I knew I was destined for this day.”

The race went out as expected, with Cavic leading at 50 meters and Phelps in seventh at the turn.

“I watched the NBC coverage of it, and [analyst] Rowdy [Gaines] was pretty much saying that I’m fighting for a silver medal,” Phelps said. “I knew [Cavic] always struggles the last 15 meters. That’s kind of my chance.”

In the last strokes, Phelps felt Cavic’s splash more and more into his own face. He was inching closer and closer. Then that last stroke. Cavic came up a bit short and glided into the wall. Phelps was even shorter, so he took one more partial stroke, slamming his fingers into the wall.

“If I were to take another full stroke, my arms would actually be at the halfway point of my stroke, with my face hitting the wall,” Cavic said. “He knew that he was behind me, and he knew that if he also had a long finish as I did, he would have lost. So his only option was to take another stroke but make it a half-stroke. It’s not textbook. It’s not something any coach ever wants to you to do.”

Phelps said that when he took the last half-stroke rather than a perfect finish, he thought that had cost him the gold. Each man turned around and stared at the scoreboard.

“The lack of oxygen in your body and in your head, it makes things very, very blurry for your eyes,” Cavic said. “It takes a couple of moments just for everything to clear up.”

“I looked back, and I saw one one-hundredth,” Phelps said, “and I was like, holy s—, that just happened.”

As for the Serbian protest and Cavic’s doubts?

“Well, the results don’t lie,” Phelps said. “That’s all I got to say. … Seeing the [Sports Illustrated] frame-by-frame and watching it in slow-mo, there’s no question in my mind that I won the race.”

That silver was Cavic’s one and only Olympic medal in four Games.

“I will be remembered,” he said. “It was the best and worst thing that happened to me.”

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Kayla Harrison set for second MMA fight at PFL 6; TV, stream info

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Double Olympic judo champion Kayla Harrison returns to the cage for her second MMA bout at a Professional Fighters League event in Atlantic City, N.J., live on NBC Sports on Thursday night.

Harrison, 28, faces Jozette Cotton (8-1-0) at 155 pounds on the PFL 6 card.

NBCSN coverage starts at 10 p.m. ET, also streaming on NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app.

Harrison, who converted to MMA after the Rio Olympics, won her MMA debut on June 21, forcing Brittney Elkin to submit via arm bar after 3 minutes, 18 seconds, of the five-minute first round.

“I was wicked nervous,” the Massachusetts native said afterward. “This is all so new. No one has ever locked me in a cage and said, go kill someone. … I can’t wait until the next one.”

LIVE STREAM: Kayla Harrison at PFL 6 — Thursday, 10 p.m. ET

Harrison announced in October 2016 that she joined the MMA promotion as a commentator and brand ambassador, but not necessarily a fighter. A year ago, Harrison said she would compete.

The comparisons to former judo training partner and Olympic bronze medalist Ronda Rousey have shadowed her for years.

They won’t stop after Harrison won her first bout using Rousey’s signature arm bar.

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