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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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Ehsan Hadadi, Iran’s first Olympic track and field medalist, has coronavirus

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Ehsan Hadadi, Iran’s lone Olympic track and field medalist, tested positive for the coronavirus, according to World Athletics and an Iranian news agency.

“We’ve received word from several Asian journalists that Iranian discus thrower Ehsan Hadadi has tested positive for coronavirus,” according to World Athletics. “[Hadadi] trains part of the year in the US, but was home in Tehran when he contracted the virus.”

Hadadi, 35, became the first Iranian to earn an Olympic track and field medal when he took silver in the discus at the 2012 London Games. Hadadi led through four of six rounds before being overtaken by German Robert Harting, who edged the Iranian by three and a half inches.

He was eliminated in qualifying at the Rio Olympics and placed seventh at last fall’s world championships in Doha.

Jordan Larson preps for her last Olympics, one year later than expected

Jordan Larson
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Whether the Tokyo Olympics would have been this summer or in 2021, Jordan Larson knew this: It will mark her final tournament with the U.S. volleyball team, should she make the roster.

“I’m just not getting any younger,” said Larson, a 33-year-old outside hitter. “I’ve been playing consistently overseas for 12 years straight with no real offseason.

“I also have other endeavors in my life that I want to see. Getting married, having children, those kinds of things. The older I get, the more challenging those become.”

Larson, who debuted on the national team in 2009, has been a leader the last two Olympic cycles. She succeeded Christa Harmotto Dietzen as captain after the Rio Games. Larson started every match at the 2012 and 2016 Olympics.

As long as Larson was in the building, the U.S. never had to worry about the outside hitter position, said two-time Olympian and NBC Olympics volleyball analyst Kevin Barnett.

“She played as if she belonged from the start,” he said. “They will miss her all-around capability. They’ll miss her ability to make everyone around her better. She’s almost like having a libero who can hit.”

Karch Kiraly, the Olympic indoor and beach champion who took over as head coach after the 2012 Olympics, gushed about her court vision.

“It’s a little dated now, but somebody like Wayne Gretzky just saw things that other people didn’t see on the hockey rink,” Kiraly said in 2018. “And I remember reading about him one time, and the quote from an opposing goalie was, oh my god, here he comes, what does he see that I don’t see right now? She sees things sooner than most people.”

Larson grew up in Hooper, Neb., (population 830) and starred at the University of Nebraska. She was a three-time All-American who helped the team win a national title as a sophomore. She had the opportunity to leave Nebraska and try out for the Olympics in 2008 but chose to remain at school for her final season.

She earned the nickname “Governor” as a Cornhusker State sports icon.

Larson helped the U.S. win its first major international title at the 2014 World Championship. She was also part of the program’s two stingers — defeats in the 2012 Olympic final and 2016 Olympic semifinals, both matches where the U.S. won the first set (and convincingly in 2012).

“It just gives me chills thinking about it now,” Larson said of the Rio Olympic semifinals, where Serbia beat the U.S. 15-13 in the fifth. “That team, we put in so much. Not just on the court but off the court working on culture and working on how are we best for each other. How can we be the best team? How can we out-team people? Certain teams have a better one player that’s a standout that we maybe didn’t have or don’t have. So how can we out-team the other teams? We had just put in so much work that was just heartbreaking.”

Larson and the Americans rebounded to win the bronze-medal match two days later.

“I don’t know anybody that didn’t have their heart ripped out. It was just a soul-crusher of a match,” Kiraly said of the semifinal. “More meaningful was what a great response everybody, including Jordan, mounted to the disappointment of that loss.”

The U.S. took fifth at worlds in 2018 and is now ranked second in the world behind China.

Larson spent the past club season in Shanghai. The campaign ended in mid-January. She hadn’t heard anything about the coronavirus when she took her scheduled flight back to California, learning days later that LAX started screening for it. Now, she’s working out from her garage.

Larson is in line to become the fifth-oldest U.S. Olympic women’s volleyball player in history, according Olympedia and the OlyMADMen.

Her decade of experience could go a long way to help the next generation of outside hitters, led by three-time NCAA champion and Sullivan Award winner Kathryn Plummer.

“If you’re coming into the USA program as an outside hitter, in the next year or the quad or the quad after that,” Barnett said, “the measuring stick is going to be Jordan Larson.”

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