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Takeaways from World Short Track Speed Skating Championships

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Three thoughts off the weekend’s World Short Track Speed Skating Championships …

1. Elise Christie is one of the great athlete stories for PyeongChang

The Briton won the 1000m and 1500m and finished third in the 3000m last weekend to become the first European woman to bag the world overall title. It marked the peak of a decade-long ascent for the two-time Olympian who was a figure skater until age 15.

Christie had a nightmare Sochi Olympics. She was disqualified from the 500m final (colliding with another skater), disqualified from the 1000m semifinals (colliding with another skater) and disqualified from the 1500m opening round (finishing too far inside).

Christie was cyberbullied as well, reportedly by South Korean accounts upset that her collision in the 500m final wiped out Park Seung-Hi‘s shot at gold. Christie’s Twitter account was temporarily deactivated.

“It took me about two years to get over what happened in Sochi, not just the outcome but also the repercussions after what people had said,” Christie said on the BBC on Tuesday. “I lost a lot of self-confidence as a person, outside of sport, but obviously I’ve learned to live with who I am now.”

She rebounded at the world championships, winning one medal in March 2014, then two in 2015 and three in 2016, plus the overall bronze.

Christie won multiple races at World Cup stops in Shanghai and the 2018 Olympic venue of Gangneung, South Korea, in December (saying she was received warmly by South Koreans in Gangneung). But she suffered a concussion in January, knocking her out of February’s World Cups.

Christie said she lost vision in her left eye with numbness all down the left side of her face. She experienced headaches and wasn’t able to sleep properly.

Yet in Rotterdam, Christie was superb. In the 1000m in particular, passing two South Koreans with two laps left in her semifinal and then making passes on three of the last four laps to win the final.

“World champion overall has always been my dream goal,” Christie told the BBC. “The Olympic goal is obviously a dream, but this is more because you have to be consistent. You have to get everything right again and again and again.”

An Olympic gold in PyeongChang “would make everything from Sochi just disappear,” she said.

2. South Korean men rise up, women suffer misfortune

Of South Korea’s 53 Winter Olympic medals, 42 have come in short track speed skating. South Koreans have won twice as many Olympic short track golds than any other country.

So the world championships, one year before South Korea hosts its first Winter Olympics, were huge.

The South Korean men came through, unlike the Sochi Winter Games, where they went medal-less for the second time in Olympic history.

Seo Yi-Ra won South Korea’s first overall world title in four years, ending its longest stretch between men’s overall titles since the Koreans came to prominence 25 years ago. Sin Da-Woon, part of that desultory effort in Sochi, added the 1500m gold. South Korea earned at least one medal in all four individual men’s races in Rotterdam.

The South Korean women were not successful. Stunning considering Shim Suk-Hee and Choi Min-Jeong combined to win the last three overall world titles. Shim, a triple 2014 Olympic medalist who changed the last four digits of her phone number to 2018, salvaged the team’s effort by winning the final individual race, the 3000m, in Rotterdam.

Choi, 18, was bidding for her third straight overall title but came home with no medals. It was largely as a result of bad luck. She crashed in the 1500m final and the 500m semis, with other skaters at least partially to blame. In the 1000m, Choi was passed for the lead by Christie on the final lap and appeared to have silver wrapped up, but was disqualified.

The South Koreans can take solace in the fact that Russian Viktor Ahn, the former South Korean Ahn Hyun-Soo, struggled in Rotterdam. Ahn, who was .077 away from sweeping the Sochi Olympic golds, earned just one medal over the weekend, a bronze in the 3000m. Ahn was not a factor in the 1500m and 500m finals and was eliminated in the 1000m quarterfinals after taking last season off.

3. U.S. struggles

Only one U.S. skater qualified for a final — three-time Olympic medalist J.R. Celski, who was eighth in the 1500m. The U.S. went medal-less at a third straight worlds, its longest drought in at least 20 years. This comes after the U.S. earned no individual medals at the Olympics for the second time in the sport’s short Olympic history (since 1992).

The U.S. program has descended since Apolo Ohno‘s last Olympics in 2010. Its headlines since have centered on skate-tampering and coaching-abuse scandals.

But there is a bit of a silver lining heading into the Olympic season.

Celski, the biggest U.S. star, could still be finding his form after significant knee and hip injuries. Katherine Reutter, a 2010 Olympic medalist and 2011 World champion, showed promising signs making World Cup finals this season after a three-year retirement. But Reutter missed worlds after a concussion earlier in the winter.

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MORE: One year out: PyeongChang Olympic storylines

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