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)

MORE: Mirai Nagasu’s return to Boston brings back painful memories

Justin Morneau nixes Olympic baseball qualifying return

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Justin Morneau, the 2006 AL MVP with the Minnesota Twins, was taken off Canada’s Olympic baseball qualifying roster before he would have played his first competitive game in more than two years.

Morneau, 38, experienced an unspecified setback in training and was replaced on Canada’s roster for next month’s Premier12. The global tournament marks the first opportunity for many world baseball powers to qualify for the sport’s return to the Olympics.

Morneau never played in the Olympics before baseball was cut from the Games after 2008; active MLB players have never competed in the Games. But he was on Canada’s roster at all four World Baseball Classics from 2006 through 2017.

At November’s Premier12, the top nation from North and South America will qualify for the Tokyo Olympics. Japan and Israel are already qualified. Those that do not qualify will get another chance next year.

Morneau could become the second Major League Baseball MVP to play Olympic baseball as a medal sport. The other was Jason Giambi, who made the U.S. team in 1992, the same summer he was drafted in the second round by the Oakland Athletics.

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Kolohe Andino is first U.S. Olympic surfing qualifier; Kelly Slater faces last chance

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Kolohe Andino is the first American to qualify for surfing’s Olympic debut, which leaves one spot left for 47-year-old Kelly Slater to chase at the final contest of the season.

Andino, a 25-year-old Californian whose first name means “rascal” in Hawaiian, clinched his place in Tokyo on Friday at the penultimate stop on the World Surf League Championship Tour in Portugal. He is ranked fifth in the world, trailing a trio of Brazilians.

One more American man will join Andino on the Olympic team. It will be one of Slater, the 11-time world champion, John John Florence, the 2016 and 2017 World champion, and rising 22-year-old Hawaiian Seth Moniz.

Slater was handed a golden opportunity to qualify when Florence announced in early July that he tore an ACL for the second time in 13 months. Florence had won two of the first five events this season.

Slater has been chasing the sidelined Florence in the standings ever since. But it has not been easy.

Slater hasn’t made the quarterfinals in any of his last seven contests going into December’s finale — the prestigious Billabong Pipeline Masters on the North Shore of Oahu.

“Ninth place, to me, used to be a pretty awful result. I’m used to at least a quarterfinal on for most of my career,” he said in July, noting a back injury. “I’m not horrified by my results, but I’m also not surprised. Maybe other people are because everyone focuses on my age and that kind of thing. It’s not like I’m going to all of a sudden forget how to do this thing, you know?”

Slater, who won the Pipe Masters seven times between 1992 and 2013, must reach the quarterfinals at this year’s event to have any chance of passing Florence to qualify for the Olympics.

Complicating matters: Florence said in August it was his “goal to get better for Pipeline in case I have to come back and compete and gain points,” according to ESPN.com. If Florence does return for the December contest, and makes the quarterfinals, Slater could only pass him with a victory.

Moniz goes into the finale ranked one spot behind Slater, meaning he, too, can grab that second and final Olympic spot with a win or a runner-up.

Slater, who turns 48 on Feb. 11, would be the oldest U.S. Summer Olympic rookie competitor in a sport other than equestrian, sailing or shooting (or art competitions!) in the last 100 years, supplanting Martina Navratilova, according to the OlyMADMen.

MORE: Top U.S. surfer has links to Egg McMuffin, Guinness World Record holder

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