Gracie Gold tops World Championships short program

2 Comments

Gracie Gold skated the best short program of her international career at an opportune time and is in position to end a nine-year U.S. women’s medal drought at the World Championships.

Gold leads after scoring an American record 76.43 points in Boston on Thursday, going into the free skate Saturday (9 p.m. ET, NBC and NBC Sports Live Extra).

“We’re only halfway through, but I can kind of see the light at the end of the tunnel, that maybe the drought is ending, which would be amazing,” said Gold, the two-time U.S. champion who was fourth at the 2014 Olympics and 2015 Worlds.

She was 2.45 better than Russian runner-up Anna Pogorilaya, nailing all of her jumps at TD Garden, including a triple Lutz-triple toe loop combination.

After finishing, Gold covered her hands on top of her blond hair at center ice while receiving a standing ovation as the penultimate skater.

“It was a really magical moment,” said the 20-year-old Gold, who was born in nearby Newton, Mass., raised in Illinois and resides in California. “Everything fell into place. … It felt like there was something in the arena.”

Russian pre-Worlds favorite Yevgenia Medvedeva is third, 2.7 points behind after not landing all of her jumps crisply.

“I certainly could show more potential and hoping to do that in the free skate,” Medvedeva, the 2015 World junior champion skating in her first senior Worlds, said through a translator. ‘When I stepped out and saw the full stands and the spectators so close to the ice, I realized that this is a big stage.”

Three-time U.S. champion Ashley Wagner is in fourth after a personal-best short program, after which she tripped and fell on her behind on the ice.

It’s also Wagner’s best placement after an Olympics or Worlds short program in her seventh appearance, one year after she battled back from 11th place in the Worlds short to finish fifth.

“I’m so excited to finally get over that hump of the short program at Worlds,” Wagner said. “My biggest difficulty when I skate a clean short is separating it going into the long. … Now it’s up to me to do something similar to today.”

Gold is the first U.S. woman to lead a World Championships short program since Mirai Nagasu in 2010. Nagasu also skated Thursday, in her first Worlds since 2010, placing 10th (video here).

The last time a U.S. woman earned a World Championships medal was 2006, when Kimmie Meissner took gold and Sasha Cohen bronze. The nine-year U.S. women’s medal drought is their longest in the Winter Olympic era.

“Regardless of the drought or how many years it’s been, it would mean a lot just to be on the podium in your home country,” Gold said. “I want to do it for myself, for my support system, for U.S. Figure Skating, for Boston.”

Japanese medal hopes Satoko Miyahara and three-time World champion Mao Asada sit sixth and ninth, respectively.

The World Championships continue with the free dance on Thursday at 8 ET (NBCSN and NBC Sports Live Extra).

MORE: Olympic men’s medalists trade barbs over practice near-collision

Women’s Short Program 
1. Gracie Gold (USA) — 76.43
2. Anna Pogorilaya (RUS) — 73.98
3. Yevgenia Medvedeva (RUS) — 73.76
4. Ashley Wagner (USA) — 73.16
10. Mirai Nagasu (USA) — 65.74

Adam Jones, five-time MLB All-Star, becomes Olympic eligible

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Should the U.S. qualify for baseball’s Olympic return, a five-time MLB All-Star could be eligible for its roster in Tokyo. And he has interest.

Outfielder Adam Jones signed with the Orix Buffaloes of Japan’s domestic league, which, unlike MLB, will take an Olympic break next summer to allow players to take part in the first Olympic baseball tournament in 12 years.

Jones, 34, made no mention of Olympic eligibility in a social media post announcing the signing. His Instagram avatar is a photo of him in a Team USA jersey from the World Baseball Classic.

Jones’ agent later said that Jones does have interest in playing for the U.S. in Tokyo, should an American team qualify in the spring.

“To play over in Japan has always been a desire of Adam’s, and the timing worked out that the Olympics happens to be played in Tokyo the first year of his contract,” Jones’ agent wrote in an email. “It wasn’t one of the factors on his decision BUT more of a [sic] addition to the overall package to decide to go.”

Jones called being part of the U.S.’ 2017 WBC title, “probably the best experience of my life so far, especially with sports,” according to The Associated Press. He was one of five players to be on the U.S. team at each of the last two World Baseball Classics.

The U.S. still faces a difficult task to qualify for the Tokyo Games. It lost to Mexico last month in its first of up to three chances at qualifying tournaments, using a roster of mostly double-A and triple-A caliber players.

Major Leaguers are not expected to be made available for qualifying or for the Tokyo Games.

The next two qualifying tournaments will be in late March (an Americas qualifier in Arizona) and early April (a final, global qualifying event in Chinese Taipei). It remains to be seen how MLB clubs will go about releasing minor leaguers for a tournament that will take place during spring training.

Jones could become the third player with prior MLB All-Star experience to compete at the Olympics from any nation, joining Australian catcher Dave Nilsson and Canadian pitcher Jason Dickson.

Jones made five All-Star teams during an 11-year stint with the Baltimore Orioles from 2008-18 before playing for the Arizona Diamondbacks last season.

Many players competed at the Olympics before making an MLB All-Star team, including Stephen Strasburg and Jason Giambi.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: Israel baseball turned to Shlomo Lipetz for the biggest out in program history

[twitter-follow screen_name=’nzaccardi’ show_count=’yes’ text_color=’00ccff’]

Russia boxers to boycott Olympics if sanctions not lifted

Getty Images
2 Comments

Russian boxers will only take part in the Tokyo Olympics if doping sanctions forcing them to compete as neutral athletes are overturned, the general secretary of the Russian Boxing Federation told The Associated Press on Wednesday.

Umar Kremlev said he has spoken with the Olympic boxing team and they “unanimously” rejected the conditions laid out by the World Anti-Doping Agency as punishment for manipulating doping data.

The WADA sanctions, announced on Monday, ban the use of the Russian team name, flag or anthem at a range of major sports competitions over the next four years, including next year’s Olympics.

“They said we won’t go without our flag and anthem,” Kremlev said. “We aren’t going for medals, but for that feeling that I brought the highest honor home for my country.”

Separately, the speaker of Russia’s upper house of parliament said Russia could create an alternative to the Olympics.

“This ruling show the clear crisis in international sports institutions. I believe that Russia could host its own games at home,” Valentina Matvienko said in comments reported by the Interfax news agency.

There is a precedent. After the Russian Revolution of 1917, the Soviet Union refused to compete in the Olympics and hosted its own Spartakiads — named after the ancient rebel slave Spartacus — with a strong socialist slant. However, the Soviet Union began competing at the Olympics in 1952 and Russians generally take great pride in the country’s Olympic achievements since then.

If the sanctions aren’t overturned, Kremlev said Russian boxers would prefer to turn pro rather than compete at the Olympics.

“A world champion (in professional boxing) is better known than an Olympic champion,” Kremlev said, adding the Russian anthem would be played before pro title fights.

Kremlev said boxers are being asked to shoulder the blame for offenses committed in other sports. He said they would still stay at home even if Russia’s athletes in other sports decided to take part.

“If other sports are guilty and people have breached the WADA code, why are we punished?” he said. “We are for honest sport and against doping. We want our sport to be clean … If someone breaks the rules, we push them out.”

Russia is a major power in amateur and Olympic boxing. It hosted both men’s and women’s world championships this year, finishing at the top of the medals table at the women’s event and second in the men’s championships. The International Olympic Committee has taken direct charge of boxing at the Tokyo Olympics after criticizing chronic financial problems and infighting at the International Boxing Association.

Russian Sports Minister Pavel Kolobkov talked up Russia’s chances of overturning the WADA sanctions.

“I think that there is every basis to appeal the decision, because our experts have presented their position, and they have the same database as WADA does,” Kolobkov said in comments reported by state news agency TASS. “There is an answer to every question and the whole process is ahead of us.”

The official decision on whether to dispute the sanctions will be made on Dec. 19 by the Russian anti-doping agency’s supervisory board, but senior figures, including Russian President Vladimir Putin, have signaled their preference for taking the matter to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: IOC strips Olympic status from boxing body AIBA

[twitter-follow screen_name=’nbcolympictalk’ show_count=’yes’ text_color=’00ccff’]