With screams, Canadians repeat as World champions in pairs

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Meagan Duhamel said she had no words, only screams as Eric Radford lifted her for the last time during their World Championships free skate in Boston on Saturday.

“It was an out-of-body experience,” she said.

The Canadians performed out of their minds, easily posting personal-best free skate and total scores to overtake a Chinese pair and repeat as World champions.

“How did we just do that?” Duhamel said coming off the ice, before seeing their totals in the kiss-and-cry area. “It’s like a dream.”

They tallied 231.99 points, beating Chinese short-program leaders Sui Wenjing and Han Cong by 7.52 to keep the same one-two as last year’s World Championships.

Germans Aliona Savchenko and Bruno Massot took bronze in their Worlds debut.

Russian Olympic champions Tatyana Volosozhar and Maksim Trankov plummeted from third to sixth after their lowest-scoring free skate in more than four years, finishing outside the top two for the first time in 19 top-level international competitions.

Duhamel said that last fall she wouldn’t have predicted a medal of any color for her and Radford. They won both of their Grand Prix series starts and earned silver at the Grand Prix Final, but they were unsatisfied with their performances.

“It’s been frustration after frustration after frustration for us this season,” said Duhamel, who suffered a stomach flu at their most recent competition in February and withdrew after that short program. “You work so hard, and that frustration, it hurts you so deeply. It just feels so good when it all comes together. I can’t keep anything inside of me. I was waiting for him to put up that last lift, because I was going to explode.”

Experts tapped the Russians or Chinese as pre-Worlds favorites. Radford was cognizant of those predictions.

“I think people kind of drawn a conclusion based on our season that we weren’t quite as strong contenders,” he said. “It’s difficult not to doubt yourself when everybody else has that expectation of you.”

But they were overjoyed not only after but also during their free skate. Radford saw Duhamel pump her first after a throw triple Lutz before the scream on the last lift.

“When you can have like those sort of bursts of a moment in the middle of a program like that, it’s just like surreal,” Radford said.

Sui and Han couldn’t say the same Saturday. Their flawed skate was punctuated by a fall on a throw quadruple Salchow, ending hopes of a first World title.

“We left many regrets in this competition,” Han said through a translator. “We probably have thought so much before going into the free skate, and that led to the mistakes.”

Savchenko is no stranger to the podium. She won five World titles with former partner Robin Szolkowy, who retired after their last crown in 2014.

When she partnered with the Frenchman Massot, it took more than a year before they were cleared to compete together as a German pair.

“After all what happened, I just live my dream,” Savchenko said. “If it’s a dream come true, it’s amazing. This all emotions coming out. I’m really, really happy that I continue and I can enjoy what I love to do. Unbelievable happy.”

The two U.S. pairs — Alexa Scimeca and Chris Knierim and Tarah Kayne and Danny O’Shea — both struggled for the second straight day and finished ninth and 13th. The last U.S. pairs medal at Worlds or the Olympics came in 2002.

“I was the problem, I messed up on everything,” Scimeca said. “I don’t have proof, but I felt like my right blade kept slipping every time I was on the outside edge.”

The World Championships conclude with the women’s free skate on NBC and NBC Sports Live Extra on Saturday at 9 p.m. ET.

MORE: Javier Fernandez overtakes Yuzuru Hanyu for repeat World title

World Championships Pairs
GOLD: Duhamel/Radford (CAN) — 231.99
SILVER: Sui/Han (CHN) — 224.47
BRONZE: Savchenko/Massot (GER) — 216.17
9. Scimeca/Knierim (USA) — 190.06
13. Kayne/O’Shea (USA) — 178.23

Major League Baseball sponsors U.S. Olympic softball team

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NEW YORK (AP) — Major League Baseball is using its financial muscle to support the U.S. women’s softball team, which already is assured a spot in the Tokyo Olympics while the American men’s baseball team struggles to qualify.

MLB announced an agreement Thursday to become presenting sponsor of the women’s “Stand Beside Her” tour, a slate of exhibition games leading up to the Olympic tournament from July 22-28.

“We’re both bat and ball sports. Even though we’re not the same sport, there are so many similarities that you just can’t ignore,” said Kim Ng, MLB’s senior vice president for baseball operations. “It was important for us to make sure that they have this acknowledgment and recognition of their ability and their talent.”

Softball began as an Olympic sport for the 1996 Atlanta Games. The U.S. won gold medals in 1996, 2000 and 2004 with players that included Dot Richardson, Jennie Finch and Jessica Mendoza, then lost to Japan in the 2008 gold-medal game.

Baseball and softball were dropped for the next two Olympics, then restored for this year, when the U.S. and Japan will be joined by Australia, Canada, Italy and Mexico for games in Fukushima and Yokohama but not Tokyo. The sports are likely to be dropped for 2024 in Paris but could return four years later in Los Angeles.

The U.S. men’s baseball team stumbled in its first attempt to qualify, wasting a ninth-inning lead against Mexico in the final game of the Premier12 tournament in November and losing in the 10th. The U.S. has two more chances to join Israel, Japan, Mexico and South Korea in the Olympic field: an Americas tournament in Arizona from March 22-26 and a final tournament in Taiwan from April 1-5.

MLB is not allowing players on 40-man big league rosters to compete in qualifying, and few top pitching prospects were at the November tournament.

Softball has no such issues. The Olympics are the sport’s highest-profile event.

“The platform for us is 10 times bigger,” American outfielder Haylie McCleney said. “For us, it’s a great opportunity for people that have never watched softball before, people that have only followed it at the collegiate level, to really see how fun our game is to watch, how pure it is. If people are baseball fans, I guarantee they’re going to love softball because it’s pretty much just a faster game – it’s shorter, it’s quicker, it’s more entertaining to watch, in my opinion.”

The 2008 gold-medal softball game took 1 hours, 45 minutes — less than half the 3:45 average for this year’s World Series.

As part of the deal with MLB, the softball team’s official training facility will be at the Jackie Robinson Training Complex in Vero Beach, Florida, the old Dodgertown spring training camp.

MLB Network will include programming from the tour, which currently starts Feb. 4 in Tampa and has about three dozen stops.

The U.S. women’s soccer team has attracted huge television audiences. MLB sees softball as an opportunity for the sport’s growth.

“These are world-class athletes,” Ng said. “Because we have not been in the Olympics for the last 12 years, they just haven’t had that stage. So it’s really important at this point that we show as much support as we can for them.”

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MORE: U.S. athletes qualified for Tokyo Olympics

Rafael Nadal advances at Australian Open; American back on Slam stage

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Rafael Nadal joined Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic in the Australian Open third round, sweeping Argentine Federico Delbonis 6-3, 7-6 (4), 6-1 on Thursday.

Nadal, whose lone Australian Open title came in 2009, gets countryman Pablo Carreno Busta in Saturday’s third round. He could face No. 23 Nick Kyrgios of Australia in round four, but neither Federer nor Djokovic until the final.

No. 4 Daniil Medvedeva and No. 2 Karolina Pliskova and No. 4 Simona Halep were also winners Thursday. Friday’s third-round action is headlined by defending champion Naomi Osaka facing 15-year-old U.S. phenom Coco Gauff.

AUSTRALIAN OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women

The only top-20 seed to lose so far Thursday was No. 20 Karolina Muchova of the Czech Republic. American CiCi Bellis bounced her 6-4, 6-4.

This was a big deal for Bellis: Two full years and four right arm operations have come and gone since she was last healthy enough to participate in a Grand Slam tournament.

Bellis was something of a teen prodigy. In her very first tour-level match, at age 15 at the 2014 U.S. Open, she stunned 12th-seeded Dominika Cibulkova, an Australian Open runner-up, to become the youngest American to win a match at Flushing Meadows in 28 years.

She reached No. 35 in the rankings at 17, when she won WTA Newcomer of the Year honors.

Then came the series of health problems, including for torn tendons in her wrist, to shorten a bone in her arm and for bone spurs in her elbow. All the time away from the tour has her at No. 600 in the rankings currently, but she was able to get into the draw in Australia via the protected ranking rule.

In other action, U.S. Open runner-up Medvedev  found himself seated in the nosebleed section at Margaret Court Arena, even though he was playing his second-round match there.

That’s because the No. 4-seeded Russian found himself dealing with something he said happens to him a couple of times each year: a nosebleed.

Medvedev blotted his nose with a towel and then was treated by a trainer while his 7-5, 6-1, 6-3 over Spanish qualifier Pedro Martinez was delayed for more than five minutes late in the second set.

“Can happen to me sometimes. Doesn’t usually happen during the match, so I had to stop (playing). Usually takes like four minutes — three, four minutes. … But it’s nothing,” Medvedev said.

MORE: Another top U.S. tennis player cools on Olympics

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