Ashley Wagner ends U.S. medal drought; Yevgenia Medvedeva takes title

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The U.S. waited 10 years for a woman to win a figure skating medal. Ashley Wagner waited nearly that long herself.

Wagner hit a crescendo of a tumultuous career at a veteran 24 years old, becoming the oldest U.S. woman to capture her first World Championships medal in Boston on Saturday night.

It was silver. It snapped the longest Olympic/Worlds medal drought since the first Winter Games in 1924 in America’s marquee Winter Olympic sports event.

Wagner finished 8.47 points behind record-breaking Russian Yevgenia Medvedeva, who at 16 became the first singles skater to win junior and senior World titles in back-to-back years.

Another Russian, Anna Pogorilaya, took bronze. Short-program leader Gracie Gold plummeted to fourth place as the penultimate skater before Wagner brought the house down.

Wagner earned that silver medal. She landed all seven triple jumps (with two under-rotations) for the second-best score of the night behind Medvedeva, who broke Yuna Kim‘s 2010 Olympic record for free skate points.

Wagner recorded personal-best short program, free skate and total scores while performing in an arena that housed the lowest point of her career two years earlier.

“My two experiences in here were equally as traumatic,” said Wagner, who pointed at her silver medal in the press conference to emphasize the drought’s end. “This is definitely the one I will cherish for the rest of my life.”

In January 2014, Wagner finished fourth at the U.S. Championships at TD Garden and agonized that Saturday night over whether she would be on the three-woman Olympic roster announced the following day.

She had already earned the nickname “Almost Girl” for finishing third at the 2010 U.S. Championships to miss that two-woman Olympic team.

Wagner was named to the Sochi team due to her strong national and international results in recent seasons, criteria laid out by U.S. Figure Skating well in advance of the competition. Still, many believed third-place Mirai Nagasu deserved the place.

“I have so many people that for so many parts of my career say that this has been given to me, I don’t deserve this,” Wagner said. “I have so many people who doubt why I’m still here. … I have a World silver medal because of something I did, not because of something everyone else didn’t do. That is so sweet.”

At the Garden this past week, Wagner found motivation in a picture on a wall. It depicted the 2014 U.S. Championships podium of four women (yes, four, Wagner was a pewter medalist). However, Wagner was cropped out of the picture.

“Maybe they’ll post up this podium next time for memorable moments of the building,” she joked.

Wagner’s skating from Sochi up until Saturday night had been hit-and-miss. At the Olympics, she bagged a bronze medal in the team event but was most remembered for the face she made when her unsatisfying score came up. She also finished seventh individually.

Wagner came back to take her third U.S. title and her third straight Grand Prix Final medal last season, but she placed seventh and fifth on the grander Worlds stage in 2014 and 2015. She couldn’t put together two straight strong programs in major international competition.

This week, Wagner told best friend and U.S. champion Adam Rippon she felt nervous before the short program. He sat her down and reminded her of the 2014 U.S. Championships. 

“I came into that Nationals overweight, out of shape, undertrained, really just hoping for the best,” Wagner said. “I came into this in shape, ready to go, and I knew what I had to do. I’m a totally different athlete, but because of 2014 I’m sitting here today.”

The result? Personal best short program, fourth place, in contention for a medal.

She felt “terrified” on Saturday, in a “panic” and “freaking out” moments before taking the ice.

“Because I knew that something had happened in Gracie’s performance,” Wagner said of Gold, who fell on her opening jump combination and finished fourth at Olympics or Worlds a third straight year. “I realized, oh my god, there’s an opening. Maybe I can get onto this podium. Then I realized, in that moment, freaking out about maybe getting onto a podium wasn’t going to do anything for me.”

Her coach, Rafael Arutyunyan, instructed her. It’s there, you just need to go do it.

“And that’s exactly what I went out and did,” Wagner said. “That was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.”

Medvedeva, meanwhile, was notified afterward of her record-breaking skate by an arena interviewer with a microphone, so that her response could be heard by the 10,000-plus in attendance.

“Wow,” she said after laughing. That was her only word of English in the interview.

This is probably the biggest audience that I’ve faced, ever,” Medvedeva said later, through a translator. “And I heard a lot of shouts out in Russian supporting me, which was an incredible experience. I realized that some of these people came especially to watch me and traveled so far.”

Medvedeva and Pogorilaya continued a trend of Russian dominance in the event. In the 2014 Olympics and 2014, 2015 and 2016 Worlds, half of the women’s medals have been won by six different Russians.

On Saturday, Medvedeva bettered Kim’s legendary record free skate score from the 2010 Olympics by .04. Kim still holds the overall record score of 228.56, which Medvedeva can shoot for next season.

However, Medvedeva should beware as the gold could be a curse. Neither Russia’s 2014 Olympic champion Adelina Sotnikova nor 2015 World champion Elizaveta Tuktamysheva has returned to form since their triumphs.

Then there’s Gold, who has nine times competed at the Olympics, Worlds, Grand Prix Final and Four Continents Championships and finished between fourth and sixth every time.

Her early fall and later doubling a planned triple Lutz cost her Saturday. She missed joining Wagner on the podium by 2.4 points.

“I feel really ashamed of how I skated and I want to apologize to my country and to the crowd here — there’s really no excuse for it,” Gold said, according to an International Skating Union press release. “It just shows that I’m not up there with the rest of the world.”

MORE: With screams, Canadians repeat as World champs in pairs

World Championships Women
GOLD: Yevgenia Medvedeva (RUS) — 223.86
SILVER: Ashley Wagner (USA) — 215.39
BRONZE: Anna Pogorilaya (RUS) — 213.69
4. Gracie Gold (USA) — 211.29
10. Mirai Nagasu (USA) — 186.65

Teri McKeever fired by Cal as women’s swimming coach after investigation

Teri McKeever
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Teri McKeever, the first woman to serve as a U.S. Olympic swimming head coach, was fired by the University of California at Berkeley after an investigation into alleged verbal and emotional abuse of swimmers that she denied.

McKeever was put on paid administrative leave from her job as head women’s swimming coach in May after an Orange County Register report that 20 current or former Cal swimmers said McKeever verbally and emotionally bullied her swimmers.

Cal athletics director Jim Knowlton wrote in a letter to the Cal team and staff that a resulting independent law firm report detailed “verbally abusive conduct that is antithetical to our most important values.”

“I strongly believe this is in the best interests of our student-athletes, our swimming program and Cal Athletics as a whole,” Knowlton said of McKeever’s firing in a press release. “The report details numerous violations of university policies that prohibit race, national origin and disability discrimination.”

The Orange County Register first published what it says is the full independent report here.

“I deny and unequivocally refute all conclusions that I abused or bullied any athlete and deny any suggestion I discriminated against any athlete on the basis of race, disability or sexual orientation,” McKeever said in a statement Tuesday confirming her firing and expressing disappointment in how the investigation was conducted. “While I am disappointed in the way my CAL Career will conclude, I wish to thank and celebrate the many student-athletes and staff that made my time in Berkeley a true blessing and gift.”

McKeever’s lawyer wrote that McKeever “will be filing suit to expose the manner in which gender has affected not only the evaluation of her coaching but harmed and continues to harm both female and male athletes.”

McKeever led Cal women’s swimming and diving for nearly 30 years, winning four NCAA team titles and coaching Olympic champions including Missy FranklinNatalie Coughlin and Dana Vollmer.

In 2004, she became the first woman to be on a U.S. Olympic swim team coaching staff, as an assistant. In 2012, she became the first woman to be head coach of a U.S. Olympic swim team. She was an assistant again for the Tokyo Games.

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Diana Taurasi returns to U.S. national basketball team

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Diana Taurasi is set to return to the U.S. national basketball team next week for the first time since the Tokyo Olympics, signaling a possible bid for a record-breaking sixth Olympic appearance in 2024 at age 42.

Taurasi is on the 15-player roster for next week’s training camp in Minnesota announced Tuesday.

Brittney Griner is not on the list but is expected to return to competitive basketball later this year with her WNBA team, the Phoenix Mercury (also Taurasi’s longtime team, though she is currently a free agent), after being detained in Russia for 10 months in 2022.

Taurasi said as far back as the 2016 Rio Games that her Olympic career was likely over, but returned to the national team after Dawn Staley succeeded Geno Auriemma as head coach in 2017.

In Tokyo, Taurasi and longtime backcourt partner Sue Bird became the first basketball players to win five Olympic gold medals. Bird has since retired.

After beating Japan in the final, Taurasi said “see you in Paris,” smiling, as she left an NBC interview. That’s now looking less like a joke and more like a prediction.

Minnesota Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve succeeded Staley as head coach last year. In early fall, she guided the U.S. to arguably the best FIBA World Cup performance ever, despite not having stalwarts Bird, Griner, Tina Charles and Sylvia Fowles.

Taurasi was not in contention for the team after suffering a WNBA season-ending quad injury in the summer. Taurasi, who is 38-0 in Olympic games and started every game at the last four Olympics, wasn’t on a U.S. team for an Olympics or worlds for the first time since 2002.

Next year, Taurasi can become the oldest Olympic basketball player in history and the first to play in six Games, according to Olympedia.org. Spain’s Rudy Fernandez could also play in a sixth Olympics in 2024.

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