Brazil’s track and field star can make amends at Worlds after saying, ‘I’m never coming back to China’

Fabiana Murer
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Brazil is expected to win 20 to 30 medals at the Rio 2016 Games, perhaps 10 golds, and its top hope for an Olympic title in track and field is pole vaulter Fabiana Murer.

Murer, though, can only associate heartbreak with her two previous Olympic experiences.

The former gymnast entered the Beijing 2008 Games as the third-ranked pole vaulter in the world for the year and easily became the first Brazilian to qualify for an Olympic women’s pole vault final (the event debuted at Sydney 2000).

But Murer could not find one of her poles during the Beijing final — the one she aimed to use to clear 4.55 meters, later found in a locker for equipment used by athletes already eliminated, according to The Associated Press — decided to skip the 4.55m height after a fruitless, several-minutes search and then failed at all three attempts at 4.65m.

Murer had cleared 4.80m less than two months before the Beijing Olympics, a height that earned American Jenn Suhr silver at the Bird’s Nest that night. Murer left the iconic venue in 10th place, and in tears.

“I’m never coming back to China,” Murer reportedly said.

Murer has said she intends to break her word in August by traveling back to the Bird’s Nest for the World Championships. It will be her first competition in China since the 2008 Olympics, according to the track and field database Tilastopaja.org, and at the same venue.

In the last seven years, Murer became the first Brazilian to win a World Track and Field Championship (2011). She was consistently among the world’s three best pole vaulters, except at the London 2012 Olympics and Moscow 2013 World Championships.

In London, Murer shockingly failed to qualify for the 12-woman final after entering the competition as the third-ranked woman for the year.

She was shaken by windy conditions and aborted her final attempt at 4.55 meters while on the runway, for which she was criticized by Brazilians, including two-time Olympic volleyball medalist Gustavo on Twitter, and said she did the best she could on her Facebook page.

Brazil failed to win any Olympic track and field medals for the first time since 1992.

In Moscow in 2013, Murer finished fifth, failing to clear 4.75 meters, an indicative result for a season when she failed to clear any height greater than 4.75 for the first time since 2007.

Like in Beijing, Murer’s finishes in London and Moscow brought her to tears, according to Brazilian media.

But Murer, now 34, found success the last two seasons as the oldest woman among the elite dozen on the global circuit.

She had the three highest clearances in the world in 2014 and won the season-long Diamond League title. This year, she ranks second to the 2012 Olympic champion Suhr in best clearances and beat the American at the Adidas Grand Prix in New York last weekend, where she answered a few questions after the competition before visiting The Guggenheim:

OlympicTalk: Who would you pick to light the cauldron at the Rio Olympic Opening Ceremony?

Murer: Of course I would take a track and field athlete. Joaquim Cruz was a great athlete, winning a gold medal in the Olympics [in the 800m at Los Angeles 1984] and another silver medal [in 1988]. I think he’s a great athlete to choose. Another one would be Pele.

OlympicTalk: Which Brazilian athlete, outside of the soccer players, will have the most pressure to succeed at the Rio Olympics?

Murer: In swimming, Cesar Cielo. Of course, he has medals [already, three total from 2008 and 2012], so it’s more pressure on him.

OlympicTalk: Where were you in October 2009 when Rio was chosen as host of the 2016 Olympics?

Murer: I was on vacation. I just arrived on the beach close to Recife. I just arrived in the hotel, and I was trying to see if Brazil won. Then I saw the news, and I began to receive many calls to speak about this. It was really an emotional time.

OlympicTalk: Will the Rio Olympics be your final competition?

Murer: I will finish after 2016. The Olympics, and then maybe two or three meets. I hope to compete in the last Diamond League [meet of 2016].

Before, I was thinking to retire after 2014. And then, when Brazil was selected to be the host of the Olympics, I decided to continue to 2016. I want to have this experience in my country. Of course, it’s a lot of pressure, but in the same way, it’s a lot of support from the Brazilians.

OlympicTalk: We didn’t see much from you in 2012 and 2013. What’s changed the last two years?

Murer: 2012 was a difficult year for me. I had some injuries. I trained and was in good shape during the Olympics, but I had some problems with my technique. I think my technique went down because of this. In 2013, I got good results, didn’t jump very high, but I liked the results. Then, last year, I began to grow again. I put in my mind that this cycle for the Olympics was to grow during the years. So I’m hoping to jump even higher next year.

OlympicTalk: Is the goal for the Olympics to win a gold medal, or any medal?

Murer: Any medal will be OK, because I don’t have one Olympic medal. So I just want a medal. It doesn’t matter the color.

Lolo Jones’ outlook not good to make World Championships

Mark McMorris breaks Winter X Games medals record with slopestyle gold

Mark McMorris
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Canadian snowboarder Mark McMorris broke his tie with American Jamie Anderson for the most Winter X Games medals across all sites, earning his 22nd medal, a slopestyle gold, in Aspen, Colorado.

On the final run of Sunday’s contest, McMorris overtook Norway’s Marcus Kleveland with back-to-back 1620s on the last two jumps. McMorris’ last three Aspen slopestyle titles were all won on his final run (2019, 2022).

“It’s something I never thought would ever come to me as a kid from Saskatchewan,” McMorris, 29, said on the broadcast. “Everything’s just been a bonus since I became a pro snowboarder.”

In a format introduced three years ago, athletes were ranked on overall impression of their best run over the course of a jam session rather than scoring individual runs.

McMorris won his record-extending seventh X Games Aspen men’s slopestyle title, one day after finishing fourth in big air.

“It just keeps getting crazier because I keep getting older,” he said. “People just keep pushing the limits, pushing the limits. Last night was such a downer, almost bums me out, like, dude, do I still have it? … To have one of those miracle wins where you do it on the last run and someone makes you push yourself, those are the best feelings.”

McMorris won slopestyle bronze medals at each of the last three Olympics and reportedly said last February that he was planning to compete through the 2026 Milan-Cortina Winter Games.

Canadian Max Parrot, the 2022 Olympic slopestyle champion, is taking this season off from competition.

Anderson, a two-time Olympic snowboard slopestyle champion, is expecting her first child.

Later Sunday, U.S. Olympian Mac Forehand won men’s ski big air with a 2160 on his last run, according to commentators. It scored a perfect 50. Olympic gold medalist Birk Ruud of Norway followed with a triple cork 2160 of his own, according to commentators, and finished third.

Canadian skier Megan Oldham added slopestyle gold to her big air title from Friday, relegating Olympic champion Mathilde Gremaud of Switzerland to silver.

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Ilia Malinin wins U.S. Figure Skating Championships despite quadruple Axel miss

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One year ago, Ilia Malinin came to the U.S. Championships as, largely, a 17-year-old unknown. He finished second to Nathan Chen in 2022 and was left off the three-man Olympic team due to his inexperience, a committee decision that lit a fire in him.

After the biggest year of change in U.S. figure skating in three decades, Malinin came to this week’s nationals in San Jose, California, as the headliner across all disciplines.

Though he fell on his quadruple Axel and doubled two other planned quads in Sunday’s free skate (the most ambitious program in history), he succeeded the absent Chen as national champion.

Malinin, the world’s second-ranked male singles skater, still landed two clean quads in Friday’s short program and three more Sunday. He totaled 287.74 points and prevailed by 10.43 over two-time Olympian Jason Brown, a bridge between the Chen and Malinin eras.

“I think I was just not ready to deliver at that day,” Malinin, who was bidding to become the second man to land six quads in one program after Chen, said on NBC. “I was really so confident, I think I sort of overthought everything and tried to get ahead of myself. But I think it’s all right.”

FIGURE SKATING NATIONALS: Full Results

Brown, a 28-year-old competing for the first time since placing sixth at the Olympics, became the oldest male singles skater to finish in the top three at nationals since Jeremy Abbott won the last of his four titles in 2014. As usual, he didn’t attempt a quad but had the highest artistic score by 9.41 points.

Brown’s seven total top-three finishes at nationals tie him with Chen, Michael WeissBrian Boitano, David Jenkins and Dick Button for the second-most in men’s singles since World War II, trailing only Todd Eldredge‘s and Hayes Jenkins‘ eight.

“I’m not saying it’s super old, but I can’t train the way I used to,” Brown said after Friday’s short program. “What Ilia is doing and the way he is pushing the sport is outstanding and incredible to watch. I cannot keep up.”

Andrew Torgashev took bronze, winning the free skate with one quad and all clean jumps. Torgashev, who competed at nationals for the first time since placing fifth in 2020 at age 18, will likely round out the three-man world team.

Japan’s Shoma Uno will likely be the favorite at worlds. He won last year’s world title, when Malinin admittedly cracked under pressure in the free skate after a fourth-place short program and ended up ninth.

That was before Malinin became the first person to land a quad Axel in competition. That was before Malinin became the story of the figure skating world this fall. That was before Malinin took over the American throne from Chen, who is studying at Yale and not expected to return to competition.

Malinin’s next step is to grab another label that Chen long held: best in the world. To do that, he must be better than he was on Sunday.

“You always learn from your experiences, and there’s always still the rest of the season to come,” he said. “I just have to be prepared and prepare a little bit extra so that doesn’t happen again.”

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