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.

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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

Sam Mikulak to retire from gymnastics after Tokyo Olympics

Sam Mikulak
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Sam Mikulak, the U.S.’ top male gymnast, said he will retire after the Tokyo Olympics, citing a wrist injury and emotional health revelations during a forced break from the sport due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“It does sound like some pretty crazy news, but there’s a lot of factors that go into it,” Mikulak said in a YouTube video published Sunday night. “I’ve had a lot of time to think about it during quarantine.”

The 27-year-old is a two-time Olympian, six-time U.S. all-around champion and the only active U.S. male gymnast with Olympic experience.

Mikulak said he noticed significant wrist inflammation last year that was temporarily healed by a November cortisone shot. But during quarantine, the wrist worsened even though he wasn’t doing gymnastics. He took a month off from working out, but the wrist didn’t heal.

He thought for a time that he might not return to gymnastics at all. A doctor told him he would need cortisone shots for the rest of his career.

“At that point, it was really made for me that this has to be my final year of gymnastics because I don’t want to ruin myself beyond this sport,” Mikulak said.

Mikulak also noted realizations from the forced time out of the gym. He learned that he’s much less stressed while not doing gymnastics, a sport he began at age 2. Mikulak’s parents were gymnasts at Cal.

“For so long, I’ve been sacrificing, and I’m sick of it,” he said. “I’m really looking forward to being able to be free from gymnastics and being able to do all these things that I’ve been putting off in my life for so long.”

Mikulak realized a career goal in 2018 when he earned his first individual world championships medal, a bronze on high bar. He wants to cap his career with a first Olympic medal in Tokyo, then, perhaps, become a coach or open his own gym.

Mikulak recently got engaged to Mia Atkins, and they got another puppy, Barney.

“Everything I’ve done in gymnastics is enough for me right now,” said Mikulak, who plans to document the next year on YouTube. “I was actually somewhat happy that I was able to come to that type of decision because for so long I felt like gymnastics really wasn’t going to be fulfilling until I’ve gotten my Olympic medal. And during quarantine, I had this whole revelation where, you know what, I am happier than I’ve ever been in my entire life, and I’m not doing gymnastics, so even if I don’t accomplish these goals, I am still going to be so damn happy.”

MORE: Simone Biles’ closest rival chases comeback

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April Ross, Alix Klineman complete perfect, abbreviated AVP season

April Ross, Alix Klineman
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April Ross and Alix Klineman consolidated their position as the U.S.’ top beach volleyball team, completing a sweep of the three-tournament AVP Champions Cup on Sunday.

Ross, a two-time Olympic medalist, and Klineman won the finale, the Porsche Cup. They won all 12 matches over the last three weekends, including the last 14 sets in a row, capped with a 21-18, 21-17 win over Kelly Claes and Sarah Sponcil in Sunday’s final.

“It feels like we’re midseason in a normal year,” Ross said on Amazon Prime. “I can’t believe it’s over.”

The AVP Champions Cup marked the first three top-level beach volleyball tournaments since March, and a replacement for a typical AVP season due to the coronavirus pandemic. The setting: on the Long Beach Convention and Entertainment Center parking lot without fans and with many health and safety measures.

AVP is not part of Olympic qualifying. It’s unknown when those top-level international tournaments will resume, but Ross and Klineman, ranked No. 2 in the world, are just about assured of one of the two U.S. Olympic spots.

According to BVBinfo.com, they’re 10-0 combined against the other top U.S. teams — Claes and Sponcil and triple Olympic champion Kerri Walsh Jennings and Brooke Sweat, who are likely battling for the last U.S. Olympic spot.

Walsh Jennings and Sweat, who do not play on the AVP tour, have a lead for the last spot more than halfway through qualifying, which runs into June.

Earlier in the men’s final, Tri Bourne and Trevor Crabb kept 2008 Olympic champion Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena from sweeping the Champions Cup. Bourne and Crabb prevailed 21-17, 15-21, 15-12 for their first AVP title since teaming in 2018.

Bourne, who went nearly two years between tournaments from 2016-18 due to an autoimmune disease, and Crabb redeemed after straight-set losses to Dalhausser and Lucena the previous two weekends. Crabb guaranteed a title on Instagram days before the tournament.

“Those guys are the best in the world, and they make you look bad at times, but we’re relentless,” Bourne said on Amazon Prime. “You’re going to have to play the best volleyball in the world to beat us every time.”

Bourne and Crabb, Dalhausser and Lucena and Jake Gibb and Taylor Crabb (Trevor’s younger brother) are battling for two available U.S. Olympic spots in Tokyo.

MORE: Team Slaes looks to end Kerri Walsh Jennings’ Olympic career

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