Ashley Wagner, Evgenia Medvedeva, Anna Pogorilaya
AP

Five takeaways from World Figure Skating Championships

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1. U.S.’ most medals in 10 years

The U.S. earned three medals in Boston, including the most vital one in the women’s competition. It’s the nation’s best output since 2006, though it lacked the gold-medal performance of the last Worlds in the U.S. in 2009 (Evan Lysacek).

The U.S. women will go into the 2017-18 season with their best international standing in a decade.

Ashley Wagner is now a World silver medalist in addition to a three-time Grand Prix Final medalist.

Yes, Gracie Gold dropped from her short-program lead to finish fourth, but she leaves Boston the most consistent elite woman in the world the last three years.

That’s not to mention Polina Edmunds, who is younger than Wagner and Gold yet finished between them at the U.S. Championships before pulling out of Worlds with an injury.

The U.S. men all scored personal-best free skates in Boston, but Adam RipponMax Aaron and Grant Hochstein couldn’t quite meet the goal of keeping three spots for the 2017 Worlds.

Remember, the U.S. was the only nation that had three men’s skaters at Worlds, and they all placed in the top 10. Not bad at all.

The competition for two Worlds spots at the 2017 U.S. Championships should be compelling with the returns from injury of 2015 U.S. champion Jason Brown and 2016 U.S. bronze medalist Nathan Chen and perhaps two-time Olympian Jeremy Abbott.

The U.S. is the world’s best in ice dance. It earned two medals and put three couples in the top six for the first time since 1955. If Olympic champions Meryl Davis and Charlie White return for another Olympic run, they will be in for the toughest domestic competition of their career.

Pairs remains the weakest discipline. Alexa Scimeca and Chris Knierim‘s wheels fell off after they became the first U.S. pair to make a Grand Prix Final since 2007. They were last at the Grand Prix Final in December, then upset for the U.S. title in January and ninth in Boston, with a disastrous 12th-place free skate.

MORE: Gracie Gold gives emotional interview after Worlds

2. Staggering scores

In all four disciplines, World Championships points records were broken in either the short or long programs, or both.

The current scoring system was implemented a little over a decade ago, and scores have been generally rising in recent years, but the performance level in Boston was still staggering.

World records also fell in the women’s free skate (Yevgenia Medvedeva breaking Yuna Kim‘s 2010 Olympic mark) and free dance (Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron breaking Meryl Davis and Charlie White‘s 2014 Olympic mark).

Perhaps the craziest set of numbers came in the women’s free skate. The top seven scored at least 130 points and finished with more than 200. Before this year, the most to break either of those barriers at a single Worlds was three.

MORE: Charlie White blown away by French ice dance champs

3. Yuzuru Hanyu in perspective

When Hanyu is at his best, he is the greatest skater of all time. He showed that at NHK Trophy in November, the Grand Prix Final in December and in the short program on Wednesday.

But he is also susceptible to errors, especially with such difficult programs, evident in the free skate Friday.

Before Hanyu began his record-breaking binge in November, he had actually lost four of his last five top-level international competitions. That was overlooked in anointing him the biggest favorite of all disciplines heading into Boston, because Hanyu was so great at his two most recent international events.

Now Hanyu goes into the season before the Olympics facing more great men’s skaters than he’s ever seen. Not only the man who beat him again, Javier Fernandez, but also three-time World champ Patrick Chan and rising teens Jin Boyang and Shoma Uno.

More records from Hanyu won’t be a surprise, but defeats shouldn’t be shocking, either.

MORE: Hanyu: I want to redo free skate

4. The Russian factory

Here’s another stat: Of the 12 women’s medals awarded at the 2014 Olympics and 2014, 2015 and 2016 Worlds, half have been earned by six different Russians.

Yevgenia Medvedeva and Anna Pogorilaya were the latest to ascend Saturday night, following Adelina Sotnikova at the Olympics, Yulia Lipnitskaya at the 2014 Worlds and Elizaveta Tukstamysheva and Yelena Radionova at the 2015 Worlds.

That speaks to Russia’s utter dominance but also its incredible turnover at the top.

Sotnikova, Lipnitskaya and Tuktamysheva were sixth, seventh and eighth at the Russian Championships in December. They were followed in ninth by Alena Leonova, who sparked the Russian renaissance with silver at the 2012 Worlds, the nation’s first women’s medal since the 2006 Olympics.

Medvedeva must fight on two fronts to stay at the top, internationally against the Americans and Japanese but also domestically against those champions.

And more Russian talent is on the way. Polina Tsurskaya and Maria Sotskova, 14 and 15, went one-two at the Junior Grand Prix Final in December, then finished four-five in the senior division at the Russian Championships two weeks later.

MORE: Medvedeva describes World title with one English word

5. Comebacks fell short

Past World champions Patrick ChanMao Asada and the Russian pairs team of Tatyana Volosozhar and Maksim Trankov all struggled in their first global championship in two years.

Chan, a three-time World champion in 2011, 2012 and 2013, was a respectable third in the short program but stumbled into the TD Garden boards in his eighth-place free skate. He finished fifth, his worst at Worlds since his debut as a 17-year-old in 2008.

Asada, also a three-time World champion, couldn’t keep up with women several years her junior in the short program or free skate. The 25-year-old was ninth and seventh, finishing seventh. That marked her worst result in 11 Olympic or Worlds appearances.

Even more surprising was the Russian pairs team of Volosozhar and Trankov, who unlike Chan and Asada were unbeatable this season coming into Worlds. However, they erred on their twist, side-by-side jumps and a throw across their two programs.

Volosozhar and Trankov had never finished worse than second in 18 top-level international competitions going into Worlds. They placed sixth in Boston.

MORE: Mao Asada looks ahead after rough Worlds

Arnie the Terminator: Aussie rival to Katie Ledecky an unlikely swim story

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In August 2016, a 15-year-old Australian swimmer named Ariarne Titmus followed the Rio Olympics as she prepared to fly to Maui for the Junior Pan Pacific Championships.

Titmus paid special attention to her best events, the 200m, 400m and 800m freestyles. Katie Ledecky swept them, breaking two of her own world records.

“I remember watching her races thinking, like, this chick is nuts,” Titmus told NBC Sports in Australia early this year. “She’s just doing stuff that no one’s gonna get near.”

Three years later, Titmus stunned Ledecky at the world championships, chasing down the American in the last 50 meters of the 400m freestyle. She became the first woman to beat Ledecky in a distance race in seven years and a bona fide rival one year from the Tokyo Games.

Ledecky at first attributed her late fade to tight and tired legs. Then she spent seven hours the next day in a South Korean emergency room with what she believed was a stomach virus.

“She was sick,” said Dean Boxall, Titmus’ South African-born coach, “and we happened to pounce.”

Titmus’ time — 3:58.76, a personal best by .59 — was slower than Ledecky’s wins at her previous three major international meets — Rio Olympics, 2017 Worlds and 2018 Pan Pacific Championships.

“It wasn’t a good swim by Arnie,” said Boxall, a vocal coach known to shout Ledecky’s name in practices. “And I know it wasn’t a good swim by Katie. Definitely not. But there was things that Arnie did in that race I was pleased with, and there was a lot of things that she did that I was not happy with at all.”

The Olympic postponement to 2021 gives Titmus and Boxall another year to work on those inefficiencies down in Brisbane. Another year to mature, to turn 20 years old before the Games.

“I try not to dwell on that [beating Ledecky] too much,” Titmus, sometimes called “the Terminator” by Australian press, said of the world championships, where she also out-split Ledecky in the 4x200m free relay and took bronze behind the American in the 800m free. “Next year’s the big one at the Olympics.”

Nowhere is swimming closer to a national sport than in Australia, but none of its Olympic champion Dolphins hail from Tasmania, an island 150 miles south of the mainland.

Notable Tasmanian sports persons include cricketer Ricky Ponting, retired NASCAR driver Marcos Ambrose and woodchopping world champion David Foster, but no listed swimmers.

Stephanie Rice, the last Australian female swimmer to win an individual Olympic title in 2008, visited “Tassie,” the state a little bigger than West Virginia, nearly a decade ago. She met a young Titmus, who still remembers what Rice scribbled: “Be the best you can be.”

“I say it’s my favorite quote,” Titmus said. “She wrote it on my shirt, so it has to be my favorite quote.”

Titmus was born a week before the Sydney Olympics — “She loved watching Thorpie,” her mom said — and grew up on 16 acres of country land. The family — parents Steve and Robyn and younger sister Mia — had horses, a trampoline and a swimming club just down the road in Launceston.

They also had an indoor pool (areas of Tasmania approach freezing in the winter). One evening more than 15 years ago, Robyn was chopping vegetables and peered to see her elder daughter, then a toddler without formal swim lessons, doing the breaststroke.

“We didn’t know anybody at the swimming club,” said Steve, a longtime TV journalist. “And we turned up and said, hi, we’re the Titmuses. We’ve got a daughter called Ariarne, and she wants to race. Tuesday nights they had club night, and she jumped in the water, and away she went.”

Titmus wasn’t the fastest at first, but by the time she won a third Australian junior title, she became too big for the Apple Isle.

“[My coach] said, look, you can’t really do anything else down here,” Titmus remembered. “There’s no one for you to train with. There’s no one for you to race. It’s all up in Queensland. And he said, if you really want a shot at this, you should really move.”

The family relocated to Brisbane when she was 14 or 15, following Titmus’ coach.

We packed up the car, got on the boat, sailed to Melbourne,” said Robyn, a former national-level track sprinter. “We even stopped at Albury on the way for a training session because the coach she had at the time was a hard task master.”

Right around that time, she first met Boxall while with the Australian junior national team.

“I originally thought this guy is nuts,” Titmus said. “He gave us this speech about the New Zealanders or something were trying to be better than us. His veins were popping. It was crazy. I was like, I’m never ever going to have a coach like him.”

Boxall became her coach about a year later.

“I’ve got great athletes here that hurt themselves, and they enjoy going through the pain,” he said, “but you want to try and get that little bit extra from someone. You have to actually go there with them a little bit.”

In a sitdown, on-camera interview, Boxall first told how he met Titmus, his first impression of her and a bit about their relationship. He first mentioned Ledecky, umprompted, when asked the fourth question, about Titmus’ progression.

Boxall noted that Titmus swam the 400m freestyle in 4:09.81 at the August 2016 Junior Pan Pacific Championships.

“Ledecky went 3:56:46,” Boxall said, correctly noting Ledecky’s Rio Olympic world record to the hundredth, “so we’re 13 seconds off [at] that stage.”

Titmus raced Ledecky for the first time at the 2017 Worlds and finished fourth in the 400m, closing the gap to six seconds. In 2018, she took second to Ledecky at Pan Pacs, 1.16 seconds behind, becoming the first Australian to break four minutes in the event.

At 2019 Worlds, Boxall needed to be alone during the 400m free final. He left the Australian team box and snuck into a VIP area. As Titmus reeled Ledecky in, Boxall stood up and ran.

“Like a shot of adrenaline,” he said. “I couldn’t contain myself, but I was calmer as I’d ever been as well.

“That’s the first race that Arnie has raced Katie and actually was in the race. … Prior to that, it was just Katie.”

Titmus swam 10 seconds faster than when Boxall first compared her to Ledecky in August 2016.

“She’s 2.4 seconds off [Ledecky’s] world record,” Boxall said. “We know what the benchmark is, and we’re still a long way off.”

Titmus recorded the eighth-fastest 400m freestyle in history. Ledecky owns the top seven times.

“The greatest thing apart from obviously winning, I think, [is] being able to actually race someone who has been on her own for so long,” Titmus said. “I find it so crazy that now I’m in this situation where she’s my main rival.”

Scroll down the list, and you’ll see that the top 27 times in history (aside from the now-banned suit era) are shared by Ledecky (23) and Titmus (four).

“She’s certainly special,” Boxall said of his pupil. “Special enough? We’ll see.”

MORE: Simone Manuel’s experiences shape her voice for change today

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Collin Morikawa jumps into projected Olympic golf field

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Collin Morikawa would not have qualified outright for the Tokyo Olympics had they been held this summer. Now, after winning the PGA Championship, he is third overall in global qualifying for the Tokyo Games in 2021.

Morikawa, a 23-year-old who took the same number of PGA Tour starts to win his maiden major as Tiger Woods (29), went from an alternate for the expected four-man U.S. Olympic team to No. 2 among Americans in the early qualifying standings, according to golf rankings guru @VC606 on Twitter.

Justin Thomas, Bryson DeChambeau and Patrick Reed are the other Americans in qualifying position, according to @VC606.

Morikawa, whose father is of Japanese descent, turned professional in June 2019 and made his first 22 cuts, a feat bettered only by Woods.

The 23-year-old could become the youngest U.S. Olympic male golfer since 1904 (important note: golf was not part of the Olympic program from 1908 through 2012). Come next summer, he will still be younger than all but seven men from the Rio Olympic golf field of 60, according to Olympedia.org.

Olympic golf qualifying standings will fluctuate significantly. There are five major championships left in the qualifying window, starting with the U.S. Open in September and finishing with next summer’s U.S. Open, both airing on NBC Sports.

How tough will it be to make the U.S. Olympic team? Consider that the three Americans to win majors in 2019 — Woods, Brooks Koepka and Gary Woodland — are currently not in Olympic qualifying position.

The U.S. has seven of the top nine in the Official World Golf Ranking, which is calculated differently than Olympic qualifying.

MORE: Nosferatu is golf’s Olympic rankings guru. Who is he?

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