Gracie Gold, Evgenia Medvedeva, Satoko Miyahara
AP

Russia, U.S. women on proving ground at World Figure Skating Championships

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BOSTON — The question isn’t so much who will win the World title, but will she have the staying power to defend it and last through the 2018 Olympics?

A new Russian teen is favored to take the biggest prize in figure skating for a third straight year.

Yevgenia Medvedeva, a 16-year-old from Moscow, can become the first singles skater to win a senior World title one year after winning the World Junior crown and the youngest female World champ since Tara Lipinski in 1997.

Lipinski believes Medvedeva has the skills to avoid the fates of 2014 Olympic champion Adelina Sotnikova and 2015 World champion Elizaveta Tuktamysheva, who both failed to make Russia’s three-woman team for this week and may never return to this highest stage.

“The first thing you usually say when someone comes onto the scene, doing triple-triples [jump combinations], is whether their spins need work, their overall skating skills need work, their performance quality needs work or they need polishing in general,” Lipinski said. “[Medvedeva] stepped onto the scene as a senior [skater this season]. She improved so rapidly that she is polished. And she has a unique style that is iconic to her.”

Medvedeva swept all six programs in arguably the three most competitive events so far this season — the Grand Prix Final, Russian Championships and European Championships.

In her weakest of the three, the European Championships, her biggest rival and countrywoman Yelena Radionova skated clean. Medvedeva fell in her free skate and still prevailed by 5.46 points.

Russian women could go one-two at Worlds for the first time ever, but Japan and the U.S. have the talent to break them up.

Satoko Miyahara, an 18-year-old who is shy of 5 feet, took silver last year and won the Four Continents Championships in February with a personal-best score just .54 shy of Medvedeva’s total from the European Championships in January.

Mao Asada, 25, is the only woman in the field with a World title (she has three), an individual Olympic medal and a triple Axel. But she’s been inconsistent after taking last season off.

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Then there are the Americans. Ashley WagnerGracie Gold and Mirai Nagasu have all skated top-three programs at previous Worlds, but never back-to-back times to get on the podium.

Just last year, Gold and Wagner placed second and third in the Worlds free skate — after disastrous eighth- and 11th-place short programs. They finished fourth and fifth overall, extending the U.S. women’s medal drought to 10 years, the longest in the Winter Olympic era.

They’ve built more roller coasters this season.

Wagner totaled a personal best to win Skate Canada in October, then was last out of six skaters in December’s Grand Prix Final short program before a personal-best free skate moved her up to fourth.

Gold outscored Medvedeva and Miyahara in the Skate America free skate, then put up a personal-best short program at Trophée Bompard in her next event. But the wheels came off at the Grand Prix Final and Four Continents (fifth both times) with her second U.S. title sandwiched in between.

Nagasu, a late replacement for the injured Polina Edmunds, was an afterthought going into this season after her 10th-place finish at the 2015 U.S. Championships (with a knee injury).

Yet she came up with the goods at Four Continents with a personal-best total score for silver and is at Worlds for the first time since 2010, when she bettered Yuna Kim and Asada in the short program at age 16 but finished seventh overall.

Lipinski and Weir believe a U.S. woman will finish on the podium this week. Which one is the question.

“Gracie, skating clean, skating lights out, adding the emotion, selling a program,” Lipinski said. “A medal is not just a maybe, it should be.”

Here are Lipinski and Weir’s medal predictions from last week:

Lipinski
Gold: Medvedeva (RUS)
Silver: Radionova (RUS)
Bronze: Gold or Wagner (USA)

Weir
Gold: Medvedeva (RUS)
Silver: Radionova (RUS)
Bronze: Gold or Wagner (USA)

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Shelby Houlihan shatters American 5000m record

Shelby Houlihan
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Shelby Houlihan chopped 10.52 seconds off her own American 5000m record, clocking 14:23.92 at a Bowerman Track Club intrasquad meet in Portland, Ore., on Friday night.

Houlihan, who was 11th in the Rio Olympic 5000m, has in this Olympic cycle improved to become one of the greatest female distance runners in U.S. history.

She first broke Shannon Rowbury‘s American record in the 5000m by 4.47 seconds in 2018. In 2019, she broke Rowbury’s American record in the 1500m by 1.3 seconds in finishing fourth at the world championships in 3:54.99.

On Friday, Houlihan and second-place Karissa Schweizer both went under the American record. Schweizer, 24 and three years younger than Houlihan, clocked 14:26.34, staying with Houlihan until the winner’s 61-second final lap.

“I knew Karissa was going to try to come up on me and take the lead. She does that every time,” Houlihan told USATF.tv. “I had decided I was not going to let that happen.”

Houlihan improved from 41st to 12th on the world’s all-time 5000m list, 12.77 seconds behind Ethiopian Tirunesh Dibaba‘s world record.

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Can T.J. Oshie, other established Olympic hockey stars hold on for 2022?

T.J. Oshie
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T.J. Oshie will be 35 years old during the next Winter Olympics. Jonathan Quick will be 36. Now that the NHL is one key step closer to returning to the Winter Games, the question surfaces: which 2014 Olympians will have a difficult time returning to rosters in 2022?

Oshie was the last of the 14 forwards chosen for the U.S. Olympic team for Sochi, beating out Bobby Ryan and Brandon Saad, in part for his shootout prowess.

In group play against Russia, Oshie was memorably tapped by U.S. head coach Dan Bylsma six times in a shootout, including all five in the sudden-death rounds. Oshie beat Sergei Bobrovsky four times, including the game winner.

“After I went out for my third attempt, I figured I was going to keep going,” Oshie said, according to USA Hockey. “Each time I would look up to see what [Bylsma] had to say, and he would just give me a nod every time. I kind of started laughing toward shot five and six because it was getting kind of ridiculous.”

Oshie became known as “T.J. Sochi” on social media. President Barack Obama congratulated him on Twitter. The U.S. eventually lost to Canada in the semifinals and Finland in the bronze-medal game.

When the NHL chose not to send its players to the PyeongChang Winter Games, it may have spelled the end of Oshie’s Olympic career.

Consider that the oldest forward on the 2014 U.S. Olympic team was 29, six years younger than Oshie will be come 2022. A recent Olympic roster prediction from The Hockey Writers put Oshie in the “Just Missed Out” list.

NBC Sports NHL analyst Pierre McGuire has Oshie among the finalists for the last forward spots in his early U.S. roster prediction.

“I wouldn’t discount T.J. Oshie because shootout is still part of it,” McGuire said. “He still has his shootout moves, even though he’s not getting any younger.”

Quick, the unused third goalie in 2010, played 305 out of 365 minutes in net for the U.S. in Sochi. He was coming off a Stanley Cup in 2012 and en route to another one in 2014.

Since, he was sidelined by a knee injury that required surgery. He remains the Los Angeles Kings’ No. 1 goalie, which almost automatically puts an American in the Olympic roster discussion these days.

“Somebody like Jonathan definitely merits consideration just because of his achievement level over time, but I think he’d be the first person to tell you injuries have definitely affected him,” McGuire said of Quick, looking to become the second-oldest U.S. goalie to play in the Olympics after Tom Barrasso in 2002. “It’s not going to be easy for him.”

The U.S. could bypass Quick for three Olympic rookies in 2022. Connor Hellebuyck, John Gibson and Ben Bishop have superior save percentages and goals-against averages and more games played than Quick since the start of the 2018-19 season.

A wild card is Spencer Knight, the 19-year-old No. 1 from the world junior championships who last year became the highest-drafted goalie since 2010 (No. 13 to the Florida Panthers). Knight would break defenseman Bryan Berard‘s record as the youngest U.S. Olympic hockey player in the NHL era.

The Canadian roster has traditionally been deeper than the U.S. The talent is overwhelming at center, led by Sidney CrosbyConnor McDavidPatrice Bergeron and Nathan MacKinnon. The Canadians must get creative if the likes of veterans Jonathan Toews and John Tavares will join them in Beijing.

Toews, then 21, was the best forward at the 2010 Vancouver Games and Canada’s only one on the all-tournament team. While Toews’ last NHL All-Star selection was in 2017, his last two seasons have been his best in terms of points per game since 2011.

“The one thing that Canada is very good at, they do it extremely well, they select players that fit roles,” McGuire said, noting Mike Richards shifting to the wing during the 2010 Olympics. “When you look at the overwhelming depth that Canada has, that’s going to be the thing that’s going that’s going to be very interesting to watch to see how it plays out at center.”

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