Yevgenia Medvedeva tops worlds short; Ashley Wagner not top American

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Russian Yevgenia Medvedeva took magnificent and relaxed first steps toward becoming the first repeat women’s world figure skating champion since 2001, topping the short program with a near-record score in Helsinki on Wednesday.

The 17-year-old tallied 79.01 points skating clean, highlighted by a triple flip-triple toe loop jump combination. She leads by 3.03 points over Canadian Kaetlyn Osmond heading into Friday’s free skate. Another Canadian, Gabrielle Daleman, is third.

Surprise U.S. champion Karen Chen is in fifth after the best short of her international career — 69.98 points — in her worlds debut.

Chen is two spots ahead of 2016 World silver medalist Ashley Wagner, who had 69.04 points. Wagner, at her seventh world championships, scored 4.11 more points last year, when she was in fourth after the short.

The other American, Mariah Bell, is 13th.

The top two U.S. placements after the free skate must add up to no more than 13 in order for the U.S. to earn the maximum three spots at the 2018 Olympics. They are currently at 12.

Full worlds short program results are here.

Later Wednesday, the pairs short program produced surprises. The two-time defending world champions placed seventh. The only Olympic medalist pair in the field was 13th.

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Medvedeva, who has lost once in two seasons as a senior skater, is noted for her motivation to set personal bests. She missed her short-program world record by two tenths on Wednesday, and, unsurprisingly, reacted to her score by exchanging words with her coach before the customary smile.

“They were good scores,” Medvedeva said later in a press conference, via translator. “I will try to give the maximum in the free skate.”

Medvedeva prepared for her title defense by listening to music throughout the day — K-pop — before taking the ice at 3:30 p.m. local time.

After her typical, class-of-its-own skate, she showed the calm and laughter of a veteran skater, chuckling several times during the press conference. Even speaking some English.

It would be a shock if Medvedeva doesn’t become the first repeat world champ since Michelle Kwan. She would complete the most dominant two seasons since Katarina Witt in the 1980s.

“Last year I didn’t quite understand what was happening because it was my first world senior championship,” Medvedeva said. “Now I don’t feel any pressure”

Medvedeva had the highest scores for technical elements (jumps and spins) and artistic components (transitions, interpretation of music, etc.), again showcasing her overall dominance. She admires both aspects. She was asked, too, to name an expressive skater whom she admired.

“I can’t right now name anyone for the past, but I would like to point out Ashley Wagner,” Medvedeva said. “Ashley is able to portray any kind of character in the music. She can be lyrical. She can be totally different.”

Wagner had a clean skate Wednesday, but received lower grades of execution for her jumps. She tweeted “3 points” afterward, referencing her deficit from third place and a spot on the podium going into the free skate.

“I know that I am in fighting distance,” she said. “I really do not have that much to catch up on.”

Chen, the surprise U.S. champion, tallied a personal best by 5.52 points with a clean short program in her world championships debut. Despite her national title, Chen was the biggest question mark of the U.S. women coming into worlds, seeded 17th in the field among best international scores this season.

“I did realize that there is a lot more pressure here, but I didn’t want to let it affect me,” said Chen, who seems past the flu, nerves and boot problems that plagued her in a 12th-place finish at the Four Continents Championships in February. “[Four Continents] was a wake-up call for me.”

Bell, the U.S. bronze medalist and also a worlds rookie, scored 61.02, putting both hands on the ice on her opening triple-triple jump combination.

“Short has this season been a program that has been a little more mentally challenging for me,” she said.

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MORE: U.S. pairs skater back from life-threatening condition

Women’s Short Program
1. Yevgenia Medvedeva (RUS) — 79.01
2. Kaetlyn Osmond (CAN) — 75.98
3. Gabrielle Daleman (CAN) — 72.19
5. Karen Chen (USA) — 69.98
7. Ashley Wagner (USA) — 69.04
13. Mariah Bell (USA) — 61.02

Mark Spitz takes on Katie Ledecky’s challenge

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Swimmers around the world took on Katie Ledecky‘s milk-glass challenge since it became a social media sensation, including one of the few Americans with more Olympic gold medals.

Mark Spitz, who won seven golds at the 1972 Munich Games, took 10 strokes in an at-home pool while perfectly balancing a glass of what appeared to be water on his head.

“Would’ve been faster with the ‘stache, @markspitzusa, but I still give this 7 out of 7 gold medals,” Ledecky tweeted.

Spitz joined fellow Olympic champions Susie O’Neill of Australia and American Matt Grevers in posting similar videos to what Ledecky first shared Monday.

In Tokyo next year, Ledecky can pass Spitz’s career gold-medal count of nine if she wins all of her expected events — 200m, 400m, 800m and 1500m freestyles and the 4x200m free relay.

Then she would trail one athlete from any country in any sport — Michael Phelps, the 23-time gold medalist who has yet to post video of swimming while balancing a glass on his head.

MORE: Spitz puts Michael Phelps’ career in perspective

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Serena Williams, reclusive amid pandemic, returns to tennis eyeing Grand Slam record

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Serena Williams travels with “like 50 masks” and has been a little bit of a recluse since early March and the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.

“I don’t have full lung capacity, so I’m not sure what would happen to me,” Williams said Saturday, two days before the start of the WTA’s Top Seed Open in Lexington, Ky., her first tournament since playing Fed Cup in early February. “I’m sure I’ll be OK, but I don’t want to find out.”

Williams, 38, has a history of blood clots and pulmonary embolisms. She faced life-threatening complications following her Sept. 1, 2017, childbirth that confined her to a bed for six weeks. She said her daily routine was surgery and that she lost count after the first four.

More recently, Williams enjoyed “every part” of the last six months at home in Florida, her longest time grounded since her teens.

“I’ve been a little neurotic, to an extent,” on health and safety, she said. “Everyone in the Serena bubble is really protected.”

Williams is entered to play next week in Lexington and at consecutive tournaments in New York City later this month — the Western & Southern Open and U.S. Open, the latter starting Aug. 31.

Williams is the highest-ranked player in the Lexington field at No. 9. Others include 2017 U.S. Open champion Sloane Stephens, older sister Venus Williams and 16-year-old Coco Gauff.

She has been bidding ever since having daughter Olympia to tie Margaret Court‘s record 24 Grand Slam singles titles, albeit many of Court’s crowns came before the Open Era and, notably at the Australian Open, against small fields lacking the world’s best players. Williams reached the last two Wimbledon and U.S. Open finals, losing all of them.

She showed her seriousness in committing early to this year’s U.S. Open by installing a court at home with the same surface. Three of the top 10 female singles players already said they will skip the U.S. Open due to travel and/or virus concerns, including No. 1 Ash Barty.

“Tennis is naturally a socially distanced sport, so it was kind of easy to go back and just walk on my side of the court and have my hitter walk on his side of the court,” Williams said.

The French Open starts two weeks after the U.S. Open ends. Williams was asked if she will fly to Europe for tournaments this autumn.

“I see myself doing it all, if it happens,” she said.

The Tokyo Olympics are too far away to make plans.

“We’ll have to kind of wait to see what happens in the fall,” she said. “One thing I have learned with this pandemic is don’t plan.”

MORE: Past U.S. Open champions get wild cards

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