Evgeni Plushenko

Yevgeny Plushenko, Sochi Olympic champions return to Russian figure skating team

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Yevgeny Plushenko, a four-time Olympic medalist who hasn’t competed since the Sochi Winter Games, and all of his 2014 gold-medal teammates are on the Russia national figure skating roster for next season.

Plushenko, 32, said in April he was returning to competition with an eye on making his fifth Olympic team in 2018. He will train in Turkey starting next week, according to R-Sport.

If Plushenko hopes to make the 2016 World Championships in Boston, he must beat out at least one of Maksim Kovtun and Sergey Voronov, who were second and third at last season’s European Championships but fell to seventh and 13th at Worlds.

Olympic women’s singles champion Adelina Sotnikova, who missed the last Grand Prix season due to injury, is also on the Russian team. As is Sochi team event gold medalist Yulia Lipnitskaya, who plummeted to ninth at last season’s Russian Championships. Russia can send three women to the 2016 Worlds, with reigning gold and bronze medalists Elizaveta Tuktamysheva and Yelena Radionova heavy favorites to take two of those berths.

Olympic pairs champions Tatyana Volosozhar and Maksim Trankov are also on the team after sitting out the 2014-15 season.

The Grand Prix season starts at Skate America in Milwaukee on Oct. 23. Entries are to be announced.

Figure skaters recall odd gifts from fans

World Cup Alpine season opener gets green light

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After checking the snow on the Rettenbach glacier in Soelden, Austria, FIS officials announced Thursday that the traditional World Cup season opener is set to go ahead as planned Oct. 26-27 with men’s and women’s giant slalom races.

Current conditions at Soelden show a solid 30 inches of snow at the summit. The race finishes at an altitude of 2,670 meters (8,760 feet), far above the currently snowless village.

The first races of the season are never guaranteed to have enough snow, though last year’s men’s race at Soelden had the opposite problem, being canceled when a storm blew through with heavy snowfall and high winds. 

France’s Tessa Worley won the women’s race last year ahead of Italy’s Frederica Brignone and U.S. skier Mikaela Shiffrin, who would go on to dominate the rest of the World Cup season.

The Soelden weekend is followed by three dormant weeks until the season resumes Nov. 23-24 in Levi, Finland. The World Cup circuits then switch to North America. The men will run speed events Nov. 30-Dec. 1 in Lake Louise, Alberta, then head to Beaver Creek, Colo., for more speed events and a giant slalom Dec. 6-8. The women run slalom and giant slalom Nov. 30-Dec. 1 in Killington, Vt., and head to Lake Louise the next weekend.

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Olympic marathon and race walk move from Tokyo to Sapporo draws some pushback

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In the wake of a dropout-plagued set of world championship endurance races in Qatar, moving the 2020 Olympic marathons and race walks from Tokyo to the cooler venue of Sapporo is a quick fix for one problem, pending the potential for untimely heat waves.

But the move has drawn some opposition for a variety of reasons.

First, many organizers and politicians appear to have been caught by surprise. Tokyo’s governor, Yuriko Koike, was “taken aback” and Sapporo’s mayor, Katsuhiro Akimoto, learned about the move from the media, Kyodo News reported. Koike even sarcastically suggested that the races could move all the way northward to islands disputed by Russia and Japan.

South African sports scientist Ross Tucker suggested that running in heat and humidity poses an interesting challenge for athletes, some of whom may be able to catch up with faster runners by preparing for the conditions.

British marathoner Mara Yamauchi made a similar point, saying the move was unfair to those who already were preparing for the heat, humidity and other conditions.

Belgian marathoner Koen Naert said he will make the best of the change but complained that some of his preparation and every runner’s logistical planning would no longer apply.

The angriest athlete may be Canadian walker Evan Dunfee, who placed fourth in the 2016 Olympic 50km race and nearly claimed bronze as a Canadian appeal was upheld but then rejected. He says runners and walkers can beat the conditions if they prepare, which many athletes did not do for the world championships in Qatar.

“So why do we cater to the ill prepared?” Dunfee asked on Twitter.

The move also takes athletes out of the main Olympic city and takes away the traditional, tough less frequent in modern years, finish in the Olympic stadium.

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