Chinese pair holds on for first world title

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Chinese pair Sui Wenjing and Han Cong needed a personal-best score by nearly five points to avoid a silver medal for a third straight year.

They delivered.

Sui and Han beat Germans Aliona Savchenko and Bruno Massot by 1.76 points at the world championships in Helsinki on Thursday.

They tallied the highest short-program and free-skate scores, including 150.83 in the free Thursday, despite Sui falling on a triple Salchow. Their previous best free skate was 144.28 points.

Russians Yevgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov earned bronze as the top three after the short program stayed that way after the free skate.

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Canadians Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford, who had been seeking the first pairs three-peat in 39 years, finished seventh.

Americans Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Christopher Knierim finished 10th in their second competition this season after she came back from three abdominal surgeries last summer and fall.

“I am not as confident as I was before I got sick, but I think that’s 100 percent normal when you’re off the ice for so long and you have to re-learn things and start from the bottom,” Scimeca Knierim said. “I’ve only been back at my elite level for a month or two, so I think it’s OK that my confidence is a little shaken. I’m confident that my confidence will grow.”

U.S. champions Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier were 20th in the short program, failing to qualify for the free skate.

Based on those results, the U.S. earned one entry for pairs at the PyeongChang Winter Games, according to NBC Sports research in Helsinki. The only time that fewer than two U.S. pairs competed at the Winter Olympics was at the first Winter Games in Chamonix, France, in 1924.

Just about every star pairs team dealt with serious injury problems this season.

Sui and Han missed the autumn season due to Sui’s right ankle and left foot surgeries last spring, after they squandered the 2016 World Championships short program lead.

They returned at the Four Continents Championships in February and posted then-personal-best free skate and total scores, ranking only behind Tarasova and Morozov for the season.

Savchenko, who earned her 10th career worlds medal, and Massot won both of their fall Grand Prix events but missed the Grand Prix Final after she tore an ankle ligament.

Tarasova needed 10 stitches in her left leg after slicing it on Morozov’s skate in a Wednesday practice accident, hours before the short program. Their bronze medal meant Russia avoided a three-year world pairs medal drought. Soviet and Russian pairs have never missed the worlds podium three straight years since their run of dominance started in the 1960s.

Russians Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov, the only Sochi medalists competing together at worlds, missed the fall season due to Stolbova’s left leg injury. They finished fifth on Thursday.

Duhamel and Radford suffered more recent injuries. Duhamel said after the free skate she may have a stress fracture in her left foot, according to the Associated Press. Radford suffered a hip injury in the week before worlds that led to thoughts of withdrawing.

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Pairs Results
Gold: Sui Wenjing/Han Cong (CHN) — 232.06
Silver: Aliona Savchenko/Bruno Massot (GER) — 230.30
Bronze: Yevgenia Tarasova/Vladimir Morozov (RUS) — 219.03
10. Alexa Scimeca Knierim/Christopher Knierim (USA) — 202.37
20. Haven Denney/Brandon Frazier (USA) — 56.23

Ted Ligety scales back race schedule

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Two-time Olympic champion Ted Ligety is scaling back his race schedule as he enters the final portion of his decorated Alpine skiing career.

Ligety, a 34-year-old who has endured many injuries since his last World Cup win in 2015, said he will race strictly giant slaloms this year. The World Cup season starts in late October.

“So it’ll be a little bit easier schedule on my body,” Ligety said in a KPCW radio interview in his native Park City, Utah. “I’ll be able to be home a little bit more as well, and then we see. I mean, I would like to keep going as long as I feel like I can win races and feel healthy. That’s really the biggest part, and nowadays I have a 2-year-old son, and there’s more factors than there was when I was 25 years old.”

Ligety, nicknamed “Mr. GS” for his giant slalom prowess, has a 2014 Olympic gold medal and three world titles in that event.

He also owns an Olympic combined title from 2006 and world titles in the super-G and combined from 2013, but he hasn’t won a race in one of those disciplines since January 2014. And since then, he has undergone back and knee surgeries and dealt with hip problems.

“There’s a lot of hard miles on my body up to this point, but I’m still enjoying it,” said Ligety, whose 321 World Cup starts are the most among active Olympic medalists now that Lindsey Vonn and Aksel Lund Svindal have retired. “Right now, I feel really healthy and trying to get to a point where I feel I can win races. That’s the goal right now.”

Ligety, a four-time Olympian, has not publicly committed to a 2022 Olympic run.

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Usain Bolt calls out ’embarrassing’ Jamaican sprinters

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Usain Bolt called out his fellow Jamaican Olympic medalists Yohan Blake and Warren Weir as well as the next generation of his countrymen who have been slower than the top U.S. sprinters in the two years since Bolt retired.

“I’ve walked away from the sport, and no one is there to pick it up, pick up the pieces, keep the level,” Bolt said in a Jamaica Gleaner interview published last week. “It’s embarrassing for the country. Every time I see people, [they say] come back. We need you. But you have so much talent in Jamaica.”

In 2018, Jamaica had none of the 10 fastest men in the world for the first time since 2003. This year, Blake is the lone Jamaican who has broken 10 seconds, while five Americans have done so.

Blake, 29, is the second-fastest sprinter in history and beat Bolt at the 2012 Jamaican Olympic trials but has lost multiple steps since a series of leg injuries beginning in 2013.

Led by Christian Coleman and Justin Gatlin, the U.S. could sweep the 100m podium at the world championships in late September. Jamaica hasn’t missed an Olympic or world podium in the men’s 100m since 2004.

While Bolt earned most of those medals, Jamaica boasted a deep group with Blake, Weir, former world-record holder Asafa PowellNesta Carter and Michael Frater. All are now 29 years or older.

“I don’t think it is going to get any better because I think these youngsters are a little bit spoiled,” Bolt said of his countrymen, according to Reuters.

Bolt reacted to Blake, Weir and fellow veteran Kemar Bailey-Cole splitting from Glen Mills, the coach whom they shared with Bolt. Bolt said that sprinters who left Mills “disrespected” the coach on social media.

“[Mills] took you to the highest level that you have ever been,” he said. “They probably won’t get back to that level, but he has brought you there. … If you don’t work hard and you don’t train hard, how can you be great? When Warren Weir got to the level that he is, I remember Warren Weir taking days off to go to Florida and [fellow sprinter] Jason Young. Just randomly, take a week off from training. … frolicking and just relaxing. Who does that in a season?

“These youngsters, they feel like because they got the contract … they feel like they’ve made it. That is the problem. No one wants to listen. No one has the fight in them or the anger to be great. If you don’t want it, then it don’t matter how much I speak. I’ve spoken to all these young athletes from Bailey-Cole to Blake, all of them, I’ve had conversations. You know what I mean? They don’t want to hear it.”

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