Yevgenia Medvedeva repeats as world champ; Karen Chen saves U.S.

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With another record score, Russian Yevgenia Medvedeva became the first female figure skater to repeat as world champion since Michelle Kwan in 2001 in Helsinki on Friday.

U.S. champion Karen Chen, in her worlds debut, finished fourth to clinch the maximum three 2018 Olympic spots for the U.S. women.

The skaters to fill those spots will be announced after the January 2018 U.S. Championships.

Chen is now the front-runner after her surprise U.S. title in January and the struggles of 2016 World silver medalist Ashley Wagner (seventh at these worlds) and two-time U.S. champion Gracie Gold (failed to make worlds) this season.

There is no doubting Medvedeva, a 17-year-old who enjoys cartoons and K-pop, is the clear favorite for Olympic gold in PyeongChang.

Medvedeva smashed her world record for free-skate and total scores Friday, ending up with a flawless seven triple jumps and 233.41 points. She won by a whopping 13.28 points over Canadian Kaetlyn Osmond. Another Canadian, Gabrielle Daleman, took bronze.

“A little bit nervous [in] 6-minute warm-up before my [free] skate,” Medvedeva said. “I just told [myself], Yevgenia, you must keep calm. I skated well and had fun.”

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Medvedeva hasn’t lost since November 2015, which was her only defeat in two seasons as a senior skater. She just completed the most dominant two-year stretch in women’s skating since Katarina Witt in the 1980s.

She is the face of Olympic sports in her scrutinized country at the moment, one of two Russians to win individual world titles in Olympic events this winter sports season.

Medvedeva was asked this in Friday night’s press conference:

It’s been a tough time for Russian sport in general, in many respects. How important is it for you to do well for Russian sport, and what does this victory perhaps mean for Russian sport in general?

After a translator interpreted the question, Medvedeva took 10 seconds to gather her thoughts. She then spoke in Russian for 75 seconds, one of the longest answers she has given in such a setting.

“That’s one of the most difficult questions I’ve had,” Medvedeva said. “I hope that all the work that my coaches and myself are inputting every day brings something positive to the country. Yeah, it is sad to hear all the news and read the news and hear the news. I think we just should support each other. I know from my own experience what a great role support plays. We should not give up and move forward.”

Osmond and Daleman are the first Canadian women’s medalists since Joannie Rochette in 2009. It’s the first time two Canadian women made the podium at a worlds or Olympics.

Chen, a 17-year-old with Taiwanese parents, was a revelation at the U.S. Championships, bagging gold in January after placing eighth the year before.

She struggled at her most recent event, taking 12th at the Four Continents Championships in February, where she was slowed by the flu, nerves and boot problems.

But she rebounded in Helsinki, placing fifth in the short program with a personal best by 5.52 points. In the free skate, she had a personal best by 8.2 points, despite falling and stepping out of the landing on her last two jumps.

“That was everything that I dreamed of,” said Chen, who shares a hometown of Fremont, Calif., with mentor Kristi Yamaguchi, the 1992 Olympic champion.

Chen skated under the pressure of knowing she needed a relatively strong program to ensure the U.S. would get three Olympic spots. The U.S. had at least three women’s skaters at all but two Winter Olympics since the first Winter Games in 1924.

Before she went onto the ice for warm-up, Chen saw that Wagner was in third place with six skaters left. Chen and Wagner’s placements needed to add up to 13 or fewer for the U.S. to get three Olympic spots.

If the final group of six skaters, including Chen, skated decently, Wagner would finish ninth, meaning Chen would need to improve from fifth after the short program to finish fourth.

“I needed to skate pretty close to clean,” Chen said of her thoughts as she prepared for the most important program of her young career. “Right after I had that thought, I blocked it out right away and just realized that I’m here, and it’s my first time here and I wanted to enjoy this moment and I want to be relaxed and calm because that’s when I know I skate best.”

Chen clinched the three spots when she skated into the lead by 1.41 points.

The Americans ended up qualifying three spots easily, because Russians Maria Sotskova and Anna Pogorilaya, both in the final group, had poor free skates and slotted in behind Wagner.

That didn’t change the fact that Chen delivered for her teammates.

“Let’s take a moment to all thank [Chen] for saving America because let’s be honest she did,” Wagner tweeted. “First time at worlds and she saves the day.”

Wagner, at her seventh worlds, struggled with her combination jumps Friday. She had the seventh-best score in the short program and the 10th-best in the free skate, ending her worst season since 2010-11.

“Medaling at the Olympic Games is my ultimate goal,” said Wagner, who was also seventh in Sochi. “Looking at the way I performed here, that might not seem very tangible right now, but I know the athlete I am, I know how prepared I am and I just didn’t skate that way today.”

The third American, Mariah Bell, was 12th in her worlds debut.

“I’ve gone from competition to competition feeling little variations of my nerves,” Bell said. “This one was probably the worst. I had trouble sleeping and a little bit of trouble during my practices.”

The world championships conclude with the men’s free skate and free dance on Saturday, with coverage on NBCSN, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app starting at 12:30 p.m. ET.

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Women’s Results
Gold: Yevgenia Medvedeva (RUS) — 233.41
Silver: Kaetlyn Osmond (CAN) — 218.13

Bronze: Gabrielle Daleman (CAN) — 213.52
4. Karen Chen (USA) — 199.29
7. Ashley Wagner (USA) — 193.54
12. Mariah Bell (USA) — 187.23

Richard Callaghan, figure skating coach, banned for life

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Richard Callaghan, a figure skating coach best known for helping Tara Lipinski earn 1998 Olympic gold, was ruled permanently ineligible for violations including sexual misconduct involving a minor.

Callaghan can still appeal the sexual misconduct violation, according to the U.S. Center for SafeSport, a watchdog for U.S. Olympic sports organizations that updated Callaghan’s status Wednesday.

He was first suspended in March 2018 pending an investigation into allegations first made against him more than 20 years ago.

Earlier this month, another former skater, Adam Schmidt, said in a lawsuit that he was sexually molested as a teenager by Callaghan starting in 1999.

Callaghan was previously accused of sexual misconduct in April 1999 by Craig Maurizi, one of his former students and later an assistant to him in San Diego and Detroit.

Maurizi told The New York Times that Callaghan had engaged in inappropriate sexual contact with him beginning when he was 15 years old. The alleged misconduct had begun nearly 20 years earlier. Callaghan denied the allegations.

In March 2018, Callaghan told ABC News: “That’s 19 or 20 years ago. I have nothing to say.”

Maurizi’s previous grievance against Callaghan with the U.S. Figure Skating Association, the precursor to U.S. Figure Skating, was dismissed on procedural grounds.

He was Callaghan’s assistant at the Detroit Skating Club until they split after Lipinski turned pro, left Callaghan and decided to train with Maurizi.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Pita Taufatofua, Tonga flag bearer, finishes last in kayak debut

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Pita Taufatofua, the Tonga Olympic flag bearer who went viral in Rio and PyeongChang, began his quest to make a third straight Olympics in a third different sport with a last-place finish in his opening-round heat at the world sprint kayak championships in Hungary on Wednesday.

The start of the heat appeared delayed as Taufatofua struggled to get his kayak into position in the water. He was left at the start as the other six kayakers raced out and finished between 33 and 40 seconds. Taufatofua took 58.19 seconds, the slowest of 53 finishers among seven total heats.

“Well that was slightly better than the first time I competed in Taekwondo or skiing,” was tweeted from Taufatofua’s account. “Would have liked to start facing the right way but that’s life.”

Taufatofua, 35, was the oldest athlete in the heat by nearly a decade. He is also entered in doubles races with Tonga canoe federation president Malakai Ahokava with heats Thursday and Friday.

Taufatofua hopes to compete at the Tokyo Olympics in taekwondo, where he competed in Rio, and in sprint kayak.

But he hasn’t competed in taekwondo in three years and just started training kayak this spring. At worlds, Taufatofua told the BBC he is still having trouble staying afloat in the water.

Taufatofua said in announcing the new sport in April that it would be “largely impossible” to qualify for Tokyo. He could be the first athlete to compete in a different sport in three straight Olympics (Summer and Winter) since the Winter Games began in 1924, according to the OlyMADMen.

“It’s certainly going to be the greatest challenge that I’ve ever had to embark on,” he said then.

Taufatofua’s results at worlds this week has little bearing on his Olympic qualifying prospects. Rather, he just needed to compete in Hungary to stay eligible for the Olympics.

The key will be an Oceania qualifying event early next year, where one Olympic bid is available. He will likely have to beat the best kayakers from Australia and New Zealand to grab it. Australian Stephen Bird placed eighth at the Rio Olympics and 11th at the 2018 World Championships.

If Taufatofua fails, he could receive a special tripartite invitation sometimes offered to smaller nations like Tonga.

Taufatofua became a social-media celebrity by marching into the Rio Olympic Opening Ceremony shirtless and oiled up. He then lost in the first round via mercy rule in his taekwondo tournament.

He made a quixotic bid for the PyeongChang Winter Games in cross-country skiing — and accomplished the feat, barely, in a sport that has lenient qualifying requirements for nations with a lack of Winter Games depth.

Taufatofua finished 114th out of 116 in his 15km Olympic cross-country skiing race, nearly 23 minutes behind the winner.

If Taufatofua is able to carry the Tongan flag at a third Opening Ceremony, he will definitely be shirtless again, in a similar outfit to what he wore in Rio and PyeongChang, he said last year.

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