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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‘Race and Sports in America: Conversations’ primetime special covers social justice, combating inequality

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Athletes, including Olympians, discussed social justice, locker room conversations about race and ways that sports can help combat inequality in “Race and Sports in America: Conversations,” airing Monday at 8 p.m. ET on NBCSN, Olympic Channel, Golf Channel and NBC Sports Regional Networks.

NBC Sports’ Damon Hack hosted roundtables with active and retired athletes at the American Century Championship Golf Tournament in Lake Tahoe, Nevada, last week.

Panelists, including Olympians James Blake and Charles Barkley and Tokyo Olympic hopeful Stephen Curry, also reflected on personal experiences.

Barkley, an Olympic gold medalist in 1992 and 1996, said coaches recently reached out to him to speak to their teams.

“First of all, relax and breathe,” Barkley said. “This crap started 400 years ago. We can’t do nothing about that. We can’t do anything about systematic racism. What I challenge every Black person, every white person to do: What can I do today going forward?

“You have to ask yourself, I want to be part of the solution, not part of the problem. Because if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.”

Blake, a retired former top-five tennis player and 2008 Olympian, was wrestled to the ground, handcuffed and arrested by a plainclothes New York City police officer in 2015 in a case of mistaken identity caught on video. The police officer’s punishment was a loss of five vacation days.

“The first thing I said when I got tackled was, I’m complying 100 percent,” Blake said. “And that shouldn’t have to be your response the first time you interact with a police officer. And because that’s the way my dad taught me is stay alive. Do whatever you can to stay alive. Sort it out later with lawyers or however you want to do it, and stay alive in that moment. The fact you have to have those rules in 2020 means maybe we have to do something drastic to change the way police interact with the African-American community and the way the community interacts with the police.”

Curry said his daughters, 7-year-old Riley and 5-year-old Ryan, asked questions about the images they recently saw. He’s not shielding them, but rather being honest about society, going back centuries.

“We have to continue to double down and double down and keep people accountable in all walks of life, all industries, all forms of leadership, the judicial system, all those type of things,” Curry said. “And hopefully for my kids’ generation, their kids, we will see change. I’m hopeful and optimistic about, but I understand how much work will need to go into that.”

The full list of athletes who participated in the “Race and Sports in America: Conversations” roundtables:

• Charles Barkley – 1992 and 1996 Olympic basketball champion
• James Blake – 10-time ATP tennis champion, 2008 Olympian
• Stephen Curry – two-time NBA MVP, two-time FIBA world champion
• Troy Mullins – World Long Drive competitor
• Anthony Lynn – Los Angeles Chargers head coach
• Jimmy Rollins – World Series champion shortstop
• Kyle Rudolph – Minnesota Vikings tight end
• Ozzie Smith – Major League Baseball Hall of Famer

Additionally, Hack was joined by Super Bowl champion running back Jerome Bettis for an extended interview that will be published on NBC Sports’ digital and podcast platforms.

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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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