Ashley Wagner
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Ashley Wagner looks to 2018 after Worlds breakthrough

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NEW YORK — Once Ashley Wagner flew home and settled down after the excitement of her World Championships silver medal, her coach posed an interesting question.

“Do you want to keep skating?” coach Rafael Arutyunyan asked her after they returned to their Southern California training base.

Yes, Wagner plans to compete through the Pyeongchang 2018 Olympics.

It would be a shock if she didn’t. At a seasoned 24 years old, she’s the first U.S. woman to earn an individual Worlds medal since 2006.

But she wasn’t offended, or really surprised, by Arutyunyan’s query.

“He’s such a realist,” Wagner said at a Figure Skating in Harlem event on Manhattan on Monday night. “He has been with so many athletes, where they just want to get their World medal, and then they’re good to go. They’re happy with their career.

“He didn’t ask me in a way that he thought this was my only chance to do well. He meant it more in a practical way. You know it’s only going to get harder. Is this really what you want to do? Because if it is, he’s committed 100 percent. He just needs me to be committed that much.

“I have a long ways to go before I’m the athlete I want to be for 2018, but I think that with him I’m in good hands.”

The only time that silver medal sinks in is when Wagner rewatches video of her free skate at Boston’s TD Garden from two weeks ago.

“The audience was unlike anything I’ve ever heard,” she said. “It reminded me of the Michelle Kwan era of figure skating. They were so loud and passionate about the performance, you could feel it in your chest.”

Wagner’s climb to the top of the podium will mean getting past Russian Yevgenia Medvedeva, who at Worlds broke Yuna Kim‘s free-skate record and easily beat Wagner by 8.47 points overall.

Medvedeva, 16, is the youngest woman to earn an Olympic or World title since Tara Lipinski in 1998.

“You can tell that she’s a younger skater, but beyond that, technically, everything is so supreme,” Wagner said of Medvedeva, the third different Russian to win an Olympic or World title in the last three years.

“I left points out on the table at Worlds, and I know my little flaws,” said Wagner, who has fought to nail down triple-triple jump combinations in recent years and could have been stronger on her jumps at Worlds. “They used to be big flaws. I’m slowly crunching down the numbers and getting where they need to be. My competition, their biggest challenge at this point is longevity. I’ve already gotten past this point. I’ve proven that I can stick around. That’s going to be their biggest test. I’d rather be in my shoes than theirs.”

Wagner spent last week choreographing her program for the Stars on Ice tour, which begins Friday in Hershey, Penn. She received help from two-time Olympian Jeremy Abbott, who took a break from competition this past season but hasn’t announced if or when he’ll return.

“You never know with him,” Wagner said. “I feel like he has feelers out, seeing if that’s what he wants to do.”

Wagner said she’s seen the emotional interview from teammate Gracie Gold after she fell from first to fourth at Worlds, but they hadn’t yet spoken in the whirlwind since Boston.

“She’s a perfectionist, and that’s how she got to this level,” Wagner said. “She’s very tough on herself. I don’t think she needs to be that tough on herself. But she’s an athlete. She’ll bounce back from this. She’ll learn from it.”

Then there’s another Sochi Olympian, short track speed skating silver medalist Eddy Alvarez, who happens to be Wagner’s boyfriend and now a minor-league baseball player with the Birmingham Barons.

Wagner said Alvarez watched the Worlds free skate while on a bus with his parents FaceTiming a screen to him.

She’ll travel to Alabama in early May to catch his performances in person.

“Fall/winter is his time to come out to me,” Wagner said, “and then spring/summer I go out to him.”

MORE: Five takeaways from World Figure Skating Championships

WATCH LIVE: U.S. Figure Skating Championships rhythm dance, women’s free skate

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Can Bradie Tennell hold off 14-year-old Alysa Liu? The U.S. Figure Skating Championships crowns its female medalists on Friday, live on NBC Sports.

Action starts with the rhythm dance at 4:30 p.m. ET for NBC Sports Gold subscribers, with NBCSN broadcast coverage joining in at 5. The women start at 7:25 on Gold, with NBC TV coverage starting at 8.

LIVE STREAM: Rhythm dance — Gold | NBCSN | Skate Order
LIVE STREAM: Women’s free skate — Gold | NBC | Skate Order

Tennell topped Thursday’s short program with a clean slate of jumps, plus the highest artistic score.

She bettered Liu in the short program last year, too, but fell in the free skate to take silver. Liu, meanwhile, landed two triple Axels to win by 3.92 points and become the youngest U.S. champion in history.

Another skater to watch is Gracie Gold, the two-time U.S. champion competing at nationals for the first time in three years. Gold, lauded for her return from an eating disorder, depression and anxiety, struggled with jumps in the short and is in 13th place of 18 skaters.

In the rhythm dance, past U.S. champions Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue and Madison Chock and Evan Bates are expected to begin a duel that should come down to Saturday’s free dance.

Key Skate Times
5:32 p.m. — Madison Hubbell/Zachary Donohue
5:38 — Kaitlin Hawayek/Jean-Luc Baker
5:44 — Madison Chock/Evan Bates
8:07 — Gracie Gold
10:03 — Karen Chen
10:11 — Amber Glenn
10:27 — Bradie Tennell
10:35 — Mariah Bell
10:43 — Alysa Liu

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NATIONALS: TV Schedule | Full Results

As a reminder, you can watch the events from the 2019-20 figure skating season live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. Go to NBCsports.com/gold/figure-skating to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season. NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.

Iran’s only female Olympic medalist, who defected, eyes Tokyo Games as German or refugee

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LÜNEN, Germany (AP) — Iran’s only female Olympic medalist said Friday she wants to compete for Germany after defecting from her native country.

Kimia Alizadeh is trying to rebuild her life and career after she announced this month she had left Iran, citing sexism on the part of officials there.

“Even if I do not make it to the Olympics, it does not matter because I have made up my mind,” Alizadeh said at a meeting with journalists at a taekwondo club.

“I am sure that I will be judged by many, but I am just 21 years old and can attend world tournaments and future Olympics. However, I will spare no effort to get the best result at this time as well.”

She added she doesn’t expect ever to compete in Iran again.

Alizadeh was just 18 when she won bronze in taekwondo at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, catapulting her to instant fame at home. Despite Iran’s long history of victories in men’s wrestling and weightlifting, no Iranian woman had ever won a medal before.

However, Alizadeh was frustrated with life in Iran despite her Olympic success. In an Instagram post this month announcing she had left Iran, she accused Iranian officials of sexism and criticized wearing the mandatory hijab headscarf.

Alizadeh hasn’t given up hope of being able to compete at this year’s Olympics in Tokyo. However, getting there would require highly unusual exemptions from the usual rules on nationality switches and qualification, regardless of whether she tries to represent Germany or the International Olympic Committee’s refugee team.

Alizadeh spent time in the Netherlands before heading to Germany this week to meet with taekwondo officials there. The German Taekwondo Union has spoken up in favor of Alizadeh staying in the country in what it calls a first step toward her gaining nationality and becoming eligible to compete for Germany.

“If the German government assists me and I can go through this process as fast as possible, I might be able to make it to the Olympics, too,” she said.

In recent years, many Iranian athletes have left their country, citing government pressure. In September, the former world judo champion Saeed Mollaei moved to Germany after walking off the Iranian team at the world championships in Japan. He said Iranian officials had tried to force him to withdraw so as not to compete against an Israeli opponent.

Alireza Faghani, an Iranian international soccer referee, also left Iran for Australia last year.

Alizadeh said she just wants “a peaceful life,” and she’s not looking back.

“I have a great feeling to have made a decision for my life that would definitely change my future,” she said. “I think it is not even clear enough now and. in the years to come, I will understand what a good decision I made.”

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MORE: Full list of U.S. athletes qualified for Tokyo Olympics