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Heather Bergsma, Joey Mantia close speed skating worlds with titles

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Only the Netherlands earned more gold medals at the world single distance championships than the U.S., which bodes well for a PyeongChang bounce-back for American speed skaters who struggled in Sochi.

Sochi Olympians Heather Bergsma and Joey Mantia finished off worlds with titles in the 1500m and mass start, respectively. The U.S. earned four medals overall at the 2018 Olympic venue in South Korea.

Bergsma bagged three of them, setting up to perhaps be the top U.S. medal winner in any sport at the PyeongChang Olympics. Full worlds results are here.

A day after winning the 1000m, Bergsma outdueled Dutch star Ireen Wuest in the final pair of the 1500m on Sunday. Bergsma, with more early speed than 3000m champ Wuest, was six tenths of a second ahead going into the last lap.

“I definitely had to dig deep in the second lap, because if she would already have been ahead of me, mentally I would have been shut down,” Bergsma said, according to a press release.

Wuest, the most decorated woman in Sochi with five medals, closed in the final 400 meters but not enough, crossing one tenth after Bergsma.

“This was the exact draw that I did not want, starting in the inner lane versus Heather,” Wuest said. “Then it was up to me to stay calm and try to catch up in the last part of the race, which I managed, but the finish line came 30 meters too soon. Well, I guess you can’t change it in a 1530m, can you?”

Bergsma, who moved to the Netherlands after missing the medals in Sochi and married Dutch Olympic 10,000m champion Jorrit Bergsma, now owns world titles in the 500m, 1000m and 1500m in her career. Plus a world sprint title and the world record in the 1500m.

Later Sunday, Bergsma took bronze in the mass start, a new Olympic event where skaters race in a pack rather than in pairings. The mass start is similar to short track speed skating, except on a larger oval and at a longer distance (16 laps, which takes about eight minutes).

Mantia edged France’s Alexis Contin for gold in the men’s mass start Sunday, his first Olympic or world medal after transitioning from inline skating to the ice in 2011.

Four-time Olympic medalist Shani Davis placed 11th in the 1500m won by the Netherlands’ Kjeld Nuis. Davis was fifth in the 1000m on Saturday.

In 2013, the U.S. earned three medals (no golds) at worlds at the 2014 Olympic venue. Then in Sochi, the top individual American finish was seventh, marking the first medal-less Winter Games by U.S. long-track speed skaters since 1984.

MORE: PyeongChang Olympics daily schedule highlights

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