Mao Asada, Javier Fernandez win Cup of China

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In 2005, a 15-year-old named Mao Asada made her Grand Prix series debut at Cup of China and finished second, ahead of countrywoman Shizuka Arakawa.

Arakawa would go on to win the Olympic title in Torino three months later. Asada was too young to be eligible for those Winter Games.

Asada, though, had started a career that has now become one of the most prolific in the sport’s history.

Now 25, she came back from a one-season break from competition to win Cup of China on Saturday — her 15th career Grand Prix series title (the most among active skaters, and she’s the only singles skater to win all of the current Grand Prix events) to go along with her three World titles and an Olympic silver medal.

World champion Javier Fernandez of Spain took the men’s title ahead of a Chinese teen who in his free skate attempted four quadruple jumps and two triple Axels in his senior Grand Prix debut (landing five of the six jumps, though not all clean).

NBC and NBC Sports Live Extra will have Cup of China coverage Sunday from 12-1:30 p.m. ET.

Asada led by 5.94 points after Friday’s short program but struggled to place third in the free skate, though it was still enough to edge countrywoman Rika Hongo by 1.72. Russian Yelena Radionova, the World bronze medalist, improved from sixth after the short to finish third.

Asada landed her trademark triple Axel for a second straight night but fell on the back half of a triple flip-triple loop combination among other jumping errors.

Her total score — 197.48 — would have placed third at Skate America two weeks ago (behind Russian Yevgenia Medvedeva and American Gracie Gold) and second at Skate Canada (behind Ashley Wagner).

“I didn’t feel satisfied with the long program today, but I will make myself to the Grand Prix Final,” said Asada, who is in strong shape to qualify for the six-skater Grand Prix Final in December, should she make the podium at NHK Trophy in Japan in three weeks. “We have something to improve in the future.”

On the men’s side, Fernandez landed two quads and fell on a third in his free skate but still had the highest score, as he did in the short program. Fernandez totaled 270.55 points, beating China’s Jin Boyang by 9.22.

Watch Fernandez’s free skate here.

“It’s a hard day a little bit,” Fernandez said. “I fought it through from beginning to end. … It’s still early in the season. There are a lot of things to improve.”

Jin, the 18-year-old World junior silver medalist in his Grand Prix debut, laid out an ambitious free skate after a technically strong short program Friday.

On Saturday, he landed a quadruple Lutz, toe quadruple toe loops (one in combination, stepping out of the landing of one), fell on a quadruple Salchow and landed two triple Axels. On Friday, he landed two quads, including one in combination (the highest-scoring element of all time, according to Icenetwork).

The Grand Prix season continues next weekend with the fourth of six events before the Grand Prix Final, Trophée Bompard in Bordeaux, France. It will feature World champion Elizaveta Tuktamysheva, U.S. Olympian Gracie Gold and three-time World champion Patrick Chan.

MORE: Why Mao Asada returned to figure skating

WOMEN
1. Yevgenia Medvedeva (RUS) — 206.01 (Skate America)
2. Gracie Gold (USA) — 202.80 (Skate America)
3. Ashley Wagner (USA) — 202.52 (Skate Canada)
4. Mao Asada (JPN) — 197.48 (Cup of China)
5. Rika Hongo (JPN) — 195.76 (Cup of China)
6. Elizaveta Tuktamysheva (RUS) — 188.99 (Skate Canada)
7. Satoko Miyahara (JPN) — 188.07 (Skate America)

MEN
1. Patrick Chan (CAN) — 271.14 (Skate Canada)
2. Javier Fernandez (ESP) — 270.55 (Cup of China)
3. Jin Boyang (CHN) — 261.23 (Cup of China)
4. Yuzuru Hanyu (JPN) — 259.54 (Skate Canada)
5. Max Aaron (USA) — 258.95 (Skate America)
6. Shoma Uno (JPN) — 257.43 (Skate America)
7. Daisuke Murakami (JPN) — 252.25 (Skate Canada)

Katie Ledecky wins race by 30 seconds, takes back No. 1 ranking

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In her last race of the year, Katie Ledecky ensured she would finish 2019 as the world’s fastest 1500m freestyler.

Ledecky clocked 15:35.98 at the U.S. Open in Atlanta, winning the longest event on the Olympic pool program by 29.97 seconds. Typical for Ledecky, who owns the nine fastest times in history. This one came in at No. 8. Full meet results are here.

Ledecky scratched the 1500m free final at the summer world championships due to illness. Italian Simona Quadarella went on to win that title in 15:40.89, which was the world’s fastest time this year until Saturday night.

“I didn’t have time on my mind at all today. I just wanted to have a consistent swim,” Ledecky, undefeated in 1500m free finals for nine years, said on NBCSN. “That’s probably the best mile that I’ve had in a while.”

The women’s 1500m freestyle debuts at the Olympics in Tokyo. Ledecky is expected to add that to her Rio Olympic individual lineup of 200m, 400m and 800m frees, assuming she is top two in each event at the June Olympic trials.

In other events Saturday, Erika Brown handed Simone Manuel a rare defeat in the 100m freestyle. Brown, a University of Tennessee senior, clocked 53.42 and lowered her personal best by .71 between prelims and the final. Brown moved from sixth to fourth in the U.S. rankings this year, upping her stock as a contender to make the Olympic 4x100m free relay pool via a top-six finish at trials.

Brown previously lowered her personal best in the 50m free on Thursday. She ranks third in the U.S. this year in that event.

Emily Escobedo dealt Lilly King a rare domestic defeat in the 200m breaststroke. Escobedo lowered her personal best by .87 and clocked 2:22.00, moving to seventh fastest in the world this year and remaining fourth among Americans.

In the men’s 200m breast, Olympic champion Dmitriy Balandin of Kazakhstan was beaten by Cody Miller, the Olympic 100m breast silver medalist. Both were slower than their best times this year.

The next significant swim meet is a Tyr Pro Series stop in Knoxville, Tenn., from Jan. 16-19.

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Mikaela Shiffrin runner-up in Lake Louise downhill

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LAKE LOUISE, Alberta (AP) — Here’s a scary thought for her competition: Mikaela Shiffrin is still getting comfortable with the intensity and the speed of the downhill.

That’s why podium finishes are still a little surprising even to her.

The American three-time overall World Cup champion finished runner-up to Nicole Schmidhofer of Austria in a downhill race Saturday. Schmidhofer cruised through the course in 1 minute, 49.92 seconds to edge Shiffrin by 0.13 seconds. Francesca Marsaglia of Italy wound up third.

Schmidhofer has four career World Cup wins, with three of them arriving at Lake Louise.

Known as a tech specialist, Shiffrin is steadily getting up to speed in the speed events. This was Shiffrin’s fourth career World Cup podium finish in the downhill, which includes a Lake Louise win in 2017.

So, does Shiffrin anticipate this kind of downhill success?

“No, no, no,” the 24-year-old from Colorado said. “It’s certainly not normal (for a downhill podium). Even racing downhill doesn’t feel normal. But I feel every year like I have more experience and get more comfortable.”

Shiffrin currently sits at 62 World Cup wins, which ties her with Austrian great Annemarie Moser-Proell for second-most on the women’s side. Lindsey Vonn had 82 wins before her retirement.

“I’m certainly more comfortable with the long skis,” Shiffrin said of downhill racing. “Right now, it’s enjoying it, because speed is a little bit extra for me. My goal is to be able to succeed in speed as well. It’s making the transition and trying to have fun with it.”

Czech Republic skier and snowboarder Ester Ledecka finished fourth Saturday. She was the surprise winner of Friday’s season-opening downhill, which was delayed and shortened by heavy snowfall on the mountain. The race Saturday was restored to its full length.

Next up, a super-G on Sunday.

“It’s always been a little bit tricky for me from downhill skis to super-G skis and to change the timing a little bit,” Shiffrin said. “I’m going to have fun.”

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