Evgeni Plushenko
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Yevgeny Plushenko rules out Olympic comeback, retires

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Russian Yevgeny Plushenko announced his retirement from competitive figure skating, more than three years after the four-time Olympic medalist’s last competitive skate.

“As for me, I won’t go [to the 2018 Olympics] as an athlete,” Plushenko said on Russian TV on Friday, according to a Russian news agency TASS translation. “I have wrapped up my skating career. I’m opening my own academy where I will work as a coach. If we together with the athletes manage to prepare for the Olympics, maybe I will come.”

Plushenko, 34, last competed at the Sochi Olympics, taking team event gold and withdrawing from singles after his short program warm-up due to a back injury.

Plushenko had announced his retirement in Sochi but went back on that claim later in the Winter Games.

“If need be, I’ll have another 10 operations … I’m not ruling out that I’ll go for a fifth Olympic Games,” he reportedly said in February 2014. “I am not ruling out that I want stay in sports, to prove [something] to many [people] and myself.”

Plushenko was re-added to the Russian national team but never competed, though he has done many ice shows. He has undergone back and neck surgeries in recent years.

“I look at how the youth has grown up and men’s figure skating as well, it is now impossible to compete with young [athletes] it seems to me,” Plushenko said, according to TASS. “I have undergone 15 surgeries, and it is difficult to take part in my fifth Olympics, I’m fed up with it.”

Plushenko had perhaps the greatest career in men’s modern skating. He is one of only two skaters in any discipline to earn four Olympic medals, the other being Swede Gillis Grafstrom of the 1920s and ’30s.

He burst onto the scene with a bronze medal at the 1998 World Championships at age 15, after just missing the 1998 Nagano Olympic team.

Under the guidance of coach Alexei Mishin, Plushenko blossomed into a world champion in 2001 and Olympic silver medalist behind Russian rival Alexei Yagudin in 2002.

In 2006, Plushenko came to the Olympics with a personal-best score more than 20 points higher than any other skater under the new judging system. He delivered on that massive-favorite status by winning gold in Torino by a whopping 27.12 points.

Plushenko returned after three seasons off, largely due to knee injuries and surgeries, for the 2010 Olympic season. He won the short program in Vancouver but was surpassed by American Evan Lysacek in the free skate and had to take silver, beaten by a man who didn’t attempt a quadruple jump.

Plushenko barely competed the next four seasons leading up to his global competition return at the Sochi Winter Games. He was awarded Russia’s lone men’s singles spot despite being beaten at the Russian Championships.

In Sochi, Plushenko’s total score in the team event — 259.59 — would have earned bronze in the singles event that he skipped.

Plushenko’s bravado was unmistakable. Perhaps the best illustration was the title for his final competitive performance, “Best of Plushenko,” a free-skate compilation in Sochi commemorating the highlights of his career.

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Simone Biles, her name sparkling, extends 6-year win streak

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Simone Biles has long stood out for her gymnastics, but on Saturday she competed with her last name sparkling in silver beads on her World Champions Centre leotard for the first time. The gym’s other athletes had “WCC” on the back.

Biles lived up to the billing, extending her six-year win streak to 19 straight all-arounds, capturing the U.S. Classic, a tune-up for next month’s U.S. Championships.

Biles, the four-time Rio Olympic champion, scored 60 points in Louisville at the meet where she made her comeback last year after nearly two years off from competition. She prevailed by a comfortable 2.1 points over Riley McCusker, her largest margin of victory of her four U.S. Classic titles.

“I’m very satisfied,” she said on Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA. “I’m a little sad that I went out of bounds on floor [exercise], but overall I feel like there are improvements to be made.”

Full results are here.

Biles is prepping for nationals in Kansas City in three weeks, when she eyes a sixth U.S. all-around title to tie Clara Schroth Lomady‘s record from the AAU era in the 1940s and ’50s.

Then come the world championships in October in Stuttgart, Germany. Biles could win a fifth all-around to move one shy of Kohei Uchimura‘s record.

The world’s other top gymnasts may be her countrywomen.

Biles was outscored on balance beam on Saturday by 2018 World teammates Kara Eaker and McCusker and beaten on uneven bars by 2017 World all-around champion Morgan HurdSunisa Lee, Grace McCallum and McCusker. Biles swept all the gold medals at last year’s nationals.

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Geraint Thomas struggles; Julian Alaphilippe ups Tour de France lead

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LA MONGIE, France (AP) — When the team of Geraint Thomas was in its pomp at the Tour de France, a time trial followed by a big mountain stage would have been playgrounds for Sky — now in new colors as Ineos — to take cycling’s greatest race by the scruff of the neck and leave everyone else fighting for second place.

Not this year.

Thomas, the defending champion, cracked on Saturday on the Tour’s first encounter with a climb to above 2,000 meters (6,500 feet), exposing unprecedented weaknesses in his team that has won six Tours in the past seven years.

The time trial on Friday and the climb up to the legendary Tourmalet pass on Saturday seemed primed for Thomas to reel in Julian Alaphilippe, the yellow jersey-holder from France who is setting the Tour alight with his punchy riding and determination to keep the race lead, filling French fans’ heads with dreams of a first homegrown winner since 1985.

TOUR DE FRANCE: TV Schedule | Full Standings

But instead, Thomas has seen Alaphilippe only get further and further away. In two days, the Frenchman has put 50 seconds of extra daylight between him and the Welshman. His lead — up to 2 minutes, 2 seconds — is becoming large enough to start realistically envisioning Alaphilippe in yellow in Paris next weekend as the first French winner since Bernard Hinault.

Fueling the ecstasy of delirious crowds that lined Saturday’s steep uphill finish, French rider Thibaut Pinot won Stage 14, putting him back in the picture to fight for the podium after he lost mountains of time on Stage 10.

Thomas rightly pointed out that the Tour is far from done, with six more ascents to above 2,000 meters still to come.

But his inability to stay with Pinot, Alaphilippe and other title contenders at the top of the Tourmalet — he was eighth, 36 seconds behind Pinot — was a mini-earthquake for the Tour dominated by his British team since 2012 — with champions Bradley Wiggins, Chris Froome and, in 2018, Thomas.

“Not the best day. I just didn’t feel quite on it from the start. I was quite weak,” Thomas said.

“At the end I knew I just had to pace it. I didn’t really attempt to follow when they kicked. I just thought I should ride my own pace rather than follow them and blow up on the steepest bit at the end. It’s disappointing. I just tried to limit the damage.”

Having taken cycling to a new level since 2012 with its vast budget and attention to the minutest of details, the team run by David Brailsford has been hit both by misfortune and by the inevitability that, eventually, other teams would start to close the gap.

A horror crash in training for four-time winner Froome, now recovering from career-threatening broken bones, robbed the team of its ace. Thomas’ own preparations were hampered by a crash at the Tour of Switzerland last month.

And Egan Bernal, being groomed by Brailsford to succeed Froome and Thomas, looks increasingly unable to compete for the title this year. Bernal was fifth on the Tourmalet and is fourth overall, 3 minutes behind Alaphilippe.

Pinot, now sixth overall and 3:12 behind Alaphilippe, is showing remarkable grit in bouncing back from his Stage 10 misfortune, when he was part of a group that got separated from other title contenders in crosswinds.

“I have this rage inside me, because in my opinion it was an injustice,” said Pinot, a podium finisher in 2014.

“Since the start of the Tour I had this stage in the back of my mind. The Tourmalet, it’s mythical,” said Pinot, who has three career stage wins at the Tour.

French President Emmanuel Macron, on hand at the top of the Tourmalet to see Pinot win and Alaphilippe extend his lead, gushed about the “two fantastic riders.”

“They attack and they have heart,” Macron said.

Watch world-class cycling events throughout the year with the NBC Sports Gold Cycling Pass, including all 21 stages of the Tour de France live & commercial-free, plus access to renowned races like La Vuelta, Paris-Roubaix, the UCI World Championships and many more.

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