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Yevgenia Medvedeva wins Grand Prix Final; U.S. women miss medals

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Russian Yevgenia Medvedeva ran away with the Grand Prix Final title, the biggest senior-level victory of the 16-year-old’s budding career, in Barcelona on Saturday.

Medvedeva, who also won Skate America in October, totaled a personal-best 222.54 points, shaking a stuffed animal when her score came up in the kiss-and-cry area.

“I didn’t really expect this result here, but I worked really hard for it,” Medvedeva said through a translator, according to The Associated Press. “I am very pleased with my first senior season.”

The reigning World junior champion beat Japan’s Satoko Miyahara by 13.69 points, the second-largest women’s margin at the Grand Prix Final under the decade-old scoring system. Russian Yelena Radionova earned bronze.

Americans Ashley Wagner and Gracie Gold finished fourth and fifth in the six-skater field.

Three-time World champion Mao Asada of Japan was sixth, erring on jumps, including stepping out of the landing of her opening triple Axel.

NBC will air Grand Prix Final coverage Dec. 20 from 4-6 p.m. ET. The Grand Prix Final is the most prestigious annual competition outside of the World Championships.

Medvedeva, 16, landed seven triple jumps, including two triple-triple combinations, without any major errors.

She became the fifth-youngest women’s Grand Prix Final winner behind Tara Lipinski (twice), Asada and Michelle Kwan. Asada holds the margin of victory record from 2012.

Wagner beat her personal-best free skate by 7.98 points and improved from sixth after the short program. She just missed becoming the first U.S. woman to make four straight Grand Prix Final podiums.

“I can’t afford to have horrific skates and then have to try to make it up in the long program,” Wagner said, according to U.S. Figure Skating. “This sport isn’t about being a long program or a short program skater, it’s about being the whole package. That’s my mission.”

Gold, the top qualifier into her first Grand Prix Final, had a disastrous free skate with numerous jumping errors. The 2014 U.S. champion twice put her hands on the ice and singled a planned triple jump. She was also fifth after the short program.

Gold has seven times finished between fourth and sixth in individual standings at the Olympics, Worlds, Grand Prix Final and Four Continents Championships, earning zero individual medals at any of those competitions.

“We’ll have to reevaluate the jump content of my programs because I’ve only done one clean program this season,” Gold said, according to U.S. Figure Skating. “At this point, you should be skating clean programs. I’m pretty far behind in that regard, and my consistency is lacking.”

Wagner and Gold will go head-to-head at the U.S. Championships in St. Paul, Minn., in January.

Earlier Saturday, Canadian ice dancers Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje won their second straight Grand Prix Final, topping the free dance after they also had the best short dance Friday.

They totaled 182.66 points, beating U.S. Olympians Madison Chock and Evan Bates by 5.11.

Italitan 2014 World champions Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte took bronze.

The competition was missing the reigning Olympic gold and silver medalists Americans Meryl Davis and Charlie White and Canadians Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, both sitting out their second straight season, and reigning World champions Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron of France due to Papadakis’ concussion.

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Maria Sharapova appears set to miss Tokyo Olympics

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Maria Sharapova, who would have a difficult time qualifying for the Olympics next year, committed to play an event in California the week of the Tokyo Games.

Sharapova is scheduled to play World Team Tennis matches in California during the Olympic tennis events in late July, according to a press release. Sharapova’s longtime agent hasn’t responded to a message seeking confirmation that she is ruling out the Tokyo Games.

Sharapova, 32 and the 2012 Olympic silver medalist, was barred from the Rio Games due to her 15-month meldonium suspension in 2016 and 2017. That alone could rule her ineligible for Tokyo, given the World Anti-Doping Agency’s sanctions against Russia on Monday.

Sharapova is ranked No. 131 after a season shortened by shoulder surgery. She would have to be among the top four ranked Russian women after the French Open in June for possible automatic Olympic qualification. She is currently the 14th Russian.

Olympic eligibility rules include minimum participation requirements in Fed Cup, which Sharapova hasn’t done in this Olympic cycle, though exceptions can be made.

Sharapova’s passion for the Olympics is well documented.

She carried the Russian flag into the London 2012 Opening Ceremony and carried the Olympic flame into Fisht Stadium at the Sochi 2014 Opening Ceremony, where she worked for NBC Olympics.

“It was the one thing that my parents allowed me to watch on TV late into the evening was the Olympics,” Sharapova said in 2017. “I grew up watching figure skating and hockey and a little bit of tennis. … Just capturing the Opening Ceremonies and seeing all the countries and the little hats that they wore, and I, as a little girl, I just imagined that maybe it would be me. But I never, ever thought that I would be carrying the flag.

“I received that [flag] honor in a text message, which is a very Russian way of communicating. I originally thought it was a joke, a big fat joke. Then I showed it to my mother, and she [said], no, they probably wouldn’t joke like that.”

In February 2016, Sharapova entered a Fed Cup tie, despite saying she was injured, in order to receive Olympic eligibility. One month later, her failed drug test was announced.

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Russia banned from Olympics, world champs for 4 years; athletes could compete as neutrals

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Russia is banned from the next two Olympics and other major sports events for four years, though its athletes could still compete without representing the country if cleared by anti-doping authorities.

Russia’s hosting of world championships in Olympic sports also face being stripped after the World Anti-Doping Agency executive committee approved a full slate of recommended sanctions for tampering with a Moscow laboratory database.

Russian athletes will be allowed to compete in major events — including world championships — only if they are not implicated in positive doping tests or their data was not manipulated, according to the WADA ruling. “In this circumstance, they may not represent the Russian Federation,” according to a WADA release.

“While I understand the calls for a blanket ban on all Russian athletes whether or not they are implicated by the data, it was the unanimous view of the CRC [compliance review committee], which includes an athlete, that in this case, those who could prove their innocence should not be punished, and I am pleased that the WADA ExCo [executive committee] agreed with this,” WADA CRC chairman Jonathan Taylor said.

There are 145 unnamed athletes within WADA’s “target group of most suspicious athletes” from 2012-15 who would not be allowed to compete at the Olympics, Taylor said, adding that it’s possible those names will be made public. About one-third of them are still active.

Russia’s anti-doping agency can appeal the decision within 21 days. Russia previously signaled it would appeal the ruling.

“The decision will come into effect only when it becomes final ie when either RUSADA accepts it or it is upheld by the Court of Arbitration for Sport,” a WADA spokesperson said in an email.

Russia avoided blanket bans for the Rio and PyeongChang Olympics after a state-run doping program was exposed by media and WADA investigations after Russia hosted the 2014 Sochi Winter Games.

Approved Russian athletes competed as neutrals — “Olympic Athletes from Russia” — including in team sports in PyeongChang. Those Russians combined to earn two gold medals (figure skater Alina Zagitova and men’s hockey) and 17 overall, compared to the leading 33 Russia earned at the Sochi Olympics before medals were stripped for doping.

“Will Russian athletes be accepted as Olympic Athletes from Russia?” during the ban, Taylor said. “No, they are neutral athletes, which means not representatives of any country. Not representatives of Russia.”

Going forward, “they cannot use the name of the country in the name of the team,” WADA president-elect Witold Bańka told The Associated Press.

Two of the 168 Russians who competed in PyeongChang failed drug tests and were punished for doping.

More recent evidence shows that Russian authorities tampered with a Moscow laboratory database to hide hundreds of potential doping cases and falsely shift the blame onto whistleblowers, WADA investigators and the International Olympic Committee said last month. “Flagrant manipulation” of the Moscow lab data was “an insult to the sporting movement worldwide,” the IOC said last month.

“Russia was afforded every opportunity to get its house in order … but it chose instead to continue in its stance of deception and denial,” WADA president Craig Reedie said.

Russia will be allowed to participate in the Youth Olympics in Lausanne, Switzerland, that open Jan. 9.

WADA’s inability to fully expel Russia from the Tokyo Olympics and 2022 Beijing Winter Games frustrated the doping watchdog’s vice president.

“I’m not happy with the decision we made today. But this is as far as we could go,” said Linda Helleland, a Norwegian lawmaker who serves on WADA executive committee and has long pushed for a tougher line against Russia. “This is the biggest sports scandal the world has ever seen. I would expect now a full admission from the Russians and for them to apologize on all the pain all the athletes and sports fans have experienced.”

Although the IOC has called for the strongest possible sanctions, it wants those sanctions directed at Russian state authorities rather than athletes or Olympic officials.

“To allow Russia to escape a complete ban is yet another devastating blow to clean athletes, the integrity of sport and the rule of law,” USADA CEO Travis Tygart said in a statement. “And, in turn, the reaction by all those who value sport should be nothing short of a revolt against this broken system to force reform.”

Russia’s Olympic champion women’s handball team is currently competing at the world championships in Japan. Its next match is Tuesday against Montenegro. Russia has been the scheduled host for the world luge championships in Sochi in mid-February.

The “major sports” events that fall under WADA’s sanctions do not include European Championships or other non-world championships events such as tennis’ upcoming Australian Open.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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TIMELINE: Russia’s recent history of sports doping