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Ashley Wagner at Grand Prix Final: ‘Maybe this isn’t what I should be doing?’

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — An encouraging message from a friend back home was all that figure skater Ashley Wagner needed to summon the right frame of mind in the middle of the Grand Prix Final.

Wagner finished fourth at the Grand Prix Final in Barcelona on Saturday, but it was almost a win in her books considering from how far back she’d come.

After a wretched short program, she had a stellar performance in the long program thanks to an inspiring conversation with training partner Adam Rippon, who was back in Los Angeles. The talk, and the Barcelona result, have boosted her confidence for her title defense at the U.S. Championships in January and, she hopes, the World Championships in Boston in March.

It all comes back to the phone call with Rippon from her hotel on Friday.

”I was saying, `Maybe this isn’t my place anymore, maybe this isn’t what I should be doing?”’ Wagner told The Associated Press. ”And he sat me down and said, ‘Maybe you should start listening to all these tweets that you send out, all these Instagram posts that say that you just love the sport, and maybe you should just skate because you love it, not think about the results, and the rest will follow.”’

Wagner said Rippon couldn’t have been more spot-on.

”I read what he said to me before I went out, and it just kind of let me relax,” she said. ”I just talked through my doubts with him, and he sent me a hard copy so that I could just look and remember. That’s what good friends are for.”

Wagner said it was crucial for her to perform as well as she did in her final competitive skate before Nationals. She said that to rebound like that ”was a lot more important than most people” would realize.

”The fact that I was able to better my personal best, it just shows that I am prepared this season,” said Wagner, who couldn’t hold back tears as she left the ice.

”Going into nationals after having three bad skates already, to add a fourth one on top of it, it would be very difficult to mentally be able to get onto the ice at nationals and feel in control,” she said.

”To show myself that it’s not a physical problem, it’s not a technical problem, it’s more of a mental thing that I’m capable of pushing beyond, that’s huge for me going into the Nationals.”

Wagner won her first Grand Prix outing this season, at Skate Canada, but was coming off a disappointing fourth-place finish at NHK Trophy in Japan two weeks earlier.

”The only thing that holds me back is myself, and often that is my toughest competition. So to be able to get out of my own way today was just such a treat,” she said. ”This season my lowest have been spectacularly low, but my highs have been personal bests. So I know what I’m capable of, I know that I can put together stellar performances. It’s just when I’m gonna let myself do that on a regular basis and not just kind of hope for the best.”

At Nationals, Wagner will likely dual with Gracie Gold, who finished fifth in Barcelona.

”It might not have been Gracie’s best performance here, but she always comes to nationals very prepared,” said Wagner, who set all U.S. scoring records when she won her third Nationals crown last year. ”So I’m not going to have any room for error next time.”

Gold was runner-up to Wagner at Nationals, but is not having a good season so far.

”We’ll have to reevaluate the jump content of my programs because I’ve only done one clean program this season,” Gold said. ”I’m pretty far behind in that regard and my consistency is lacking. Going to nationals will be extra motivation. It’s another competition. It determines the rest of the season and next season.”

Nationals in St. Paul, Minn., will qualify skaters for Worlds.

Wagner said it would ”be huge” for an American woman to win a Worlds medal for the first time since 2006.

”I think that’s what American figure skating needs. It needs a ladies’ medalist, and it’s time. We are both two extremely capable ladies,” she said. ”But you know, I’m not going to be able to get on that podium if I skate the two performances that I did here. I need to build on top of this long program and I need to have a short program that boosts me up, not something that is kind of dragging me down.”

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Eliud Kipchoge sets next marathon

Eliud Kipchoge
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Eliud Kipchoge will race the London Marathon on April 26 before he is expected to defend his Olympic title in Japan on Aug. 9, which would mark the shortest break between marathons of his career.

Kipchoge, who in his last 26.2-mile effort became the first person to break two hours at the distance, won all four of his London Marathon starts, including breaking the course record in 2016 and 2019.

His time this past April 28 — 2:02:37 — is the third-fastest time in history. Kipchoge has the world record of 2:01:39 set at the 2018 Berlin Marathon. His sub-two-hour marathon in Vienna on Oct. 12 was not in a record-eligible race.

Kipchoge’s previous shortest break between marathons came in 2016, when he also ran London and the Olympics. The Olympics will be two weeks earlier in 2020 than in 2016.

Kipchoge, 35, has won 11 of 12 marathons since moving to road racing after failing to make Kenya’s 2012 Olympic track team.

He has yet to race the two most prestigious marathons in the U.S. — Boston and New York City — but has said they are on his bucket list.

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Canadians become first female doubles luge team in World Cup

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WHISTLER, British Columbia (AP) — Caitlin Nash and Natalie Corless made luge history Saturday, becoming the first female team to compete in a World Cup doubles race.

The 16-year-olds from Whistler combined to finish 22nd in a field of 23 sleds, though that seemed largely irrelevant. There have been four-woman teams in what is typically called four-man bobsledding, but luge has never seen a pairing like this until now.

The German sled of Toni Eggert and Sascha Benecken won the race in 1 minute, 16.644 seconds. Germany’s Tobias Wendl and Tobias Arlt finished second and the Russian team of Vsevolod Kashkin and Konstantin Korshunov placed third for their first medal of the season.

The U.S. team of Chris Mazdzer and Jayson Terdiman placed 11th.

But the story was the Canadian teens, who qualified for the World Cup event on Thursday. They were nearly a half-second behind any other finisher and almost 2.7 seconds back of Eggert and Benecken. But they’ll forever be able to say that they were winning the race at one point — a technicality because they were the first ones down the hill at the Whistler Sliding Center, but accurate nonetheless.

The only sled they beat was the Italian team of Ivan Nagler and Fabian Malleier, who crashed in the second heat.

There are women’s singles and men’s singles races on the World Cup luge circuit, but there is no rule saying doubles teams must be composed of two men. There have been more female doubles racers at the junior level in recent years, and it was generally considered to be just a matter of time before it happened at the World Cup level.

That time became Saturday.

Canada had the chance to qualify a second sled into the doubles field because some teams typically on the circuit chose to skip this weekend’s stop, and Nash and Corless got into by successfully finishing a Nations Cup qualifying race on Thursday.

They were 11th in that race out of 11 sleds, more than a full second behind the winner and nearly a half-second behind the closest finisher. But all they had to do was cross the line without crashing to get into Saturday’s competition, and earned their spot in the luge history books as a result.

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