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Nadia Comaneci ‘sick to my stomach’ watching Romania crumble at Worlds

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GLASGOW, Scotland (AP) — The reality hit and the tears, like the mistakes that doomed the Romanian women’s gymnastics team on the worst day in the program’s medal-strewn history, piled up quickly.

First Larisa Iordache cracked, the 19-year-old star’s composure slipping away after a handful of questions about what exactly happened. The rest of the team soon followed, leading Iordache to usher them out of the media zone Friday on the first — and Romania’s almost certainly last — day of the World Gymnastics Championships.

“Sorry, thank you,” Iordache politely said over her shoulder as she picked up speed.

The sooner one of the sport’s original superpowers moves on, the better.

While Russia eased to first with an opening total of 231.437, Romania’s stunning collapse in the opening session overshadowed everything that came after it. The same country that has medaled at every Summer Olympics since 1976 finished a distant eighth with the U.S. and China to come on Saturday.

The top eight qualifiers advance to next Tuesday’s finals and an automatic berth in the 2016 Summer Games. Romania will still head to Rio next year, just sooner than planned. Teams who finish between ninth and 16th will compete in a test event in April, where the final four Olympic spots will be determined.

Amazingly, jarringly, Romania will be in mix with the likes of Spain and Poland, whose programs would consider an Olympic trip a blessing. Not in Romania, where it has been a birthright since Nadia Comaneci was perfect in capturing the all-around gold in 1976.

“I am sick to my stomach,” Comaneci said Friday after watching from the stands.

Hard to blame her. She understood her home country walked onto the floor at The SSE Hydro shorthanded after veteran Catalina Ponor injured her leg in training a few weeks ago and Ana Maria Ocolisan twisted her ankle in practice on Thursday. Comaneci didn’t expect to see what amounted to a full-on meltdown.

Neither did anyone else, with Britain’s Elissa Downie calling it a “disaster.”

“You don’t want to wish that on any team,” Downie added. “Everybody works so hard for that championship, and nobody goes out to fall purposely. It’s just one of those things.”

Things that typically happened to someone other than the Romanians.

MORE GYMNASTICS: World Championships broadcast schedule

Yet from the start, they just seemed off. They were sluggish on floor exercise and uninspired on vault. Uneven bars, never a strong suit, proved their undoing. Laura Jurca was the only one among the five Romanian women to get through a routine without hitting the mat. Diana Bulimar came off twice, standing there stunned for several moments after her second miscue.

The mistakes continued on beam, with Iordache botching an early skill and appeared disinterested as she tried to complete her set. Comaneci, who attempted to give the girls a pep talk after Ocolisan went down, believes the program can rebound even by next summer.

“It’s not the best year for them,” Comaneci said. “I know they have a few girls that aren’t of age who are in the plan for next year’s Olympics. There’s been a lot of accidents also. It wasn’t very smooth for everybody and psychologically on top of that, (Ocolisan’s injury) hit them hard.”

While the Russians have problems of their own, including back issues for 2010 World champion Aliya Mustafina that have sidelined her indefinitely, they seemed to grow stronger as they made their way around the pink-splashed SSE Hydro. Russia posted the highest team scores on bars, vault and balance beam, mixing their precision with a seemingly effortless grace.

They were followed by the energetic Brits, buoyed by competing on home soil they continued the rise that started in the run-up to the London Games. Confident and calm, they weren’t cowed by the stage or the idea of leaving Romania in the rearview mirror, if only for one meet.

Neither were Italy, Japan, Canada or Brazil as the field behind the U.S., Russia and China grew more jumbled with flame being lit in Rio in 287 days.

Barring something unforeseen, Romania will almost certainly make it through the test event. It will likely be joined there by Oksana Chusovitina of Uzbekistan. The 40-year-old — yes, she’s 40 — finished with an all-around total of 52.998 and will probably miss out on the vault finals here after sitting on her Produnova, basically two forward flips. She hardly seemed undeterred and why should she? It’s only one of the hardest vaults being done at an event where she’s twice the age of most of the competitors.

Three years ago, Chusovitina insisted she was going to retire after the London Games. Yet she’s still here, still flipping and still a marvel.

“We are women,” she said through a translator. “We say one thing and we change our mind. It happens all the time.”

It’s a sentiment that could be echoed by the Romanians. Comaneci is optimistic a rough morning doesn’t indicate tougher times ahead.

“Gymnastics is still popular (in Romania),” she said. “Hopefully, we’ll forget about this day.”

 

MORE GYMNASTICS: U.S. faces familiar dilemma in qualifying

Alina Zagitova wins Rostelecom Cup; Gracie Gold withdraws

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Olympic champion Alina Zagitova dominated the Rostelecom Cup, while Gracie Gold withdrew before Saturday’s free skate at her first competition in 22 months, citing emotional stress.

Zagitova skated a flawed free, but still totaled 222.95 points and prevailed by 24.94 over countrywoman Sofia Samodurova. Zagitova qualified for December’s Grand Prix Final, the second-biggest annual international competition, which takes the top six skaters from the fall Grand Prix Series.

Gold, coming back from treatment for anxiety, depression and an eating disorder, was in last place of 10 skaters after struggling with jumps in Friday’s short program.

Gold, a Sochi Olympian and two-time U.S. champion, later tweeted that she withdrew because competing in the free skate would be damaging to her mental health and confidence.

“It was a difficult decision to make, but ultimately I need to put my mental health first and focus on the big picture,” was tweeted from Gold’s account. “Looking forward, I need to keep improving both my physical and mental condition. I thought checking into treatment last fall was the most difficult thing I’ve ever done, but skating my short program last night might have topped it. I do not want to undo the tremendous progress I’ve made in these last few months.”

The Grand Prix season continues next week with Nathan Chen headlining Internationaux de France, the last event before the Grand Prix Final.

ROSTELECOM CUP: Results | TV/Stream Schedule

Zagitova, 16, is undefeated in three events this season and owns the world’s top overall score (238.43) by a whopping 14.12 points. However, Japanese 16-year-old Rika Kihira has the highest total on the Grand Prix of 224.31.

Zagitova struggled Saturday with the difficult triple Lutz-triple loop combination and doubled a flip at the end of her free skate.

Her primary rival last season, countrywoman Yevgenia Medvedeva, has finished second or third in her four competitions in the last year and likely must reach the podium next week in France for a chance at the Grand Prix Final and her first matchup with Zagitova since PyeongChang.

It’s likely that no U.S. woman makes the Grand Prix Final for a third straight year, after never previously going back-to-back years without a qualifier. U.S. champion Bradie Tennell likely must win in France to reach the Final.

Earlier Saturday, double Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu won the men’s event, hours after twisting his right ankle in a hard practice fall. Hanyu hopped on a crutch backstage and said he is uncertain for the Grand Prix Final and Japanese Nationals later in December. More here on Hanyu’s day.

Russian favorites Yevgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov and Alexandra Stepanova and Ivan Bukin won the pairs’ and ice dance titles, respectively, qualifying for the Grand Prix Final.

Tarasova and Morozov, two-time world medalists, posted 220.25 points, moving up to No. 2 in the world behind French Vanessa James and Morgan Cipres, who were not in the Rostelecom field. None of the Olympic pairs’ medalists are competing this fall. Earlier Saturday, Tarasova received five stitches after cutting her chin in a practice crash into the boards.

In dance, Stepanova and Bukin tallied 199.43, keeping them close to U.S. champions Madison Hubbell and Zach Donohue in the world rankings. Those two couples face off for the first time this season at the Grand Prix Final.

The top returning couple this season, French Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron, competes next week at the top international level for the first time since winning a third world title in March. They are not eligible for the Grand Prix Final after withdrawing from last week’s NHK Trophy due to Cizeron’s back injury.

As a reminder, you can watch the ISU Grand Prix Series live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. GO HERE to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season…NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.

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MORE: Ashley Wagner on her competitive future, coaching

Yuzuru Hanyu wins Rostelecom Cup, hops on crutch to press conference

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Yuzuru Hanyu won Rostelecom Cup by nearly 30 points, then hopped on a crutch backstage.

The double Olympic champion twisted his right ankle in a hard practice fall Saturday morning, then several hours later had the highest-scoring free skate with three quadruple jumps.

Hanyu said he is uncertain for the Grand Prix Final in three weeks — and a showdown with Olympic silver medalist Shoma Uno and, likely, world champion Nathan Chen according to The Associated Press.

“It really hurts,” Hanyu said, according to Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA. “This injury made me change my program, and sadly I couldn’t perform the way I wanted. I could have done better.”

ROSTELECOM CUP: Results | TV/Stream Schedule

Hanyu apologized to a TV camera following his free skate, after falling and popping an Axel on his last two jumps.

Last November, Hanyu damaged right ankle ligaments in a practice fall, forcing him off the ice for more than a month. He said this injury is not as bad. Still, coach Brian Orser said “it was a big question” whether Hanyu would withdraw before the free skate, according to Olympic Channel.

Hanyu endured, taking out the quadruple loop that he fell on in practice but still adding 10 points to his lead from Friday’s short program. For the first time in nine seasons, Hanyu won his two Grand Prix Series qualifying events, cruising into December’s exclusive, six-skater Grand Prix Final.

Georgian Morisi Kvitelashvili took second, followed by Japanese Kazuki Tomono.

Two other men who came to Moscow with Grand Prix Final hopes — Russian Mikhail Kolyada and Canadian Keegan Messing — struggled in Friday’s short program and could not get onto the podium, placing fourth and fifth. They won’t be at the Final, assuming Chen finishes in the top six at next week’s event in France.

Rostelecom Cup continues later Saturday with the free programs for ice dance, pairs and women, streaming live on NBC Sports Gold.

As a reminder, you can watch the ISU Grand Prix Series live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. GO HERE to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season…NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: Ashley Wagner on her future, role as coach