Yuzuru Hanyu rallies for world title; Nathan Chen struggles in free skate

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Japan’s Yuzuru Hanyu rallied with a record free-skate score to win his second world title on Saturday.

U.S. champion Nathan Chen finished sixth, falling twice while attempting a record six quadruple jumps in Helsinki.

The Olympic champion Hanyu, fifth after Thursday’s short program, silenced the doubters by landing four quadruple jumps in a flawless free. Hanyu broke his scoring record by 3.72 points in Helsinki.

His total score was 321.59 points, the third-highest of all time. Hanyu also owns Nos. 1 and 2.

Countryman Shoma Uno was second, 2.28 points behind, followed by China’s Jin Boyang. Uno and Jin, both 19 years old, broke their personal-best total scores.

Spain’s Javier Fernandez, the 2015 and 2016 World champion, fell from first after the short program to fourth overall.

Later Saturday, Canadians Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir capped an undefeated comeback season with their third world title and first since 2012. That despite Moir tripping during their free dance.

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Hanyu had led after the short program at the previous two worlds, only to drop to silver behind training partner Fernandez with errors in his free skate both times.

Hanyu trailed Fernandez by 10.66 points following Thursday’s short, after a poor landing on his jumping combination.

“After the short program I was quite depressed, I was so deeply depressed,” Hanyu said after winning Saturday, according to a Japanese translator. “But I think the fans and my team believed in me, so I was able to pull off this performance today.”

Chen, a 17-year-old with aspirations of becoming the youngest men’s world champion ever, fell in both his short program and free skate.

In the free, he snapped a streak of 20 straight quadruple jumps landed in competition dating to December.

“I planned this program because I’m a strong technical skater, and that’s something that has been working for me this season,” said Chen, who upped his free-skate content from five quads to six. “I threw in that extra quad, but it didn’t really play out how I wanted it to. It’s a good step for me. This is the longest season that I’ve ever had and we’re here at Worlds, so it’s a good experience for me. I’ve learned a lot this week.”

Chen said this week that he had trouble sleeping due to nerves and was dealing with boot problems. He scored 16.74 points lower overall than at the Four Continents Championships last month. The Four Continents score was the highest in the world this season coming into worlds. Hanyu and Uno surpassed it this week.

Chen finished directly above countryman Jason Brown in the final standings (though separated by 21.15 points), earning the U.S. three men’s spots at the 2018 Olympics after they had two in Sochi.

The Sochi Olympian Brown attempted one quad, falling, but otherwise had a clean free skate.

The three-man U.S. team for the PyeongChang Olympics will be announced after January’s U.S. Championships, taking into account results not only from nationals but also the two most recent seasons.

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MORE: Karen Chen saves U.S. women

Men’s Results
Gold: Yuzuru Hanyu (JPN) — 321.59
Silver: Shoma Uno (JPN) — 319.31

Bronze: Jin Boyang (CHN) — 303.58
6. Nathan Chen (USA) — 290.72
7. Jason Brown (USA) — 269.57

U.S. women’s basketball team, statistically greatest ever, rolls to FIBA World Cup title

FIBA Women's World Cup
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The revamped U.S. women’s basketball team may have been the greatest of all time.

The Americans completed, statistically, their most dominant global championship ever by routing China 83-61 in the FIBA World Cup final on Saturday in Sydney — giving them 60 consecutive wins between the Olympics and worlds dating to 2006.

It marked the largest margin of victory in a World Cup final since the event converted from a fully round-robin format in 1983.

For the tournament, the U.S. drubbed its opponents by an average of 40.75 points per game, beating its previous record between the Olympics and worlds of 37.625 points from the 2008 Beijing Games. It was just off the 1992 U.S. Olympic men’s Dream Team’s legendary margin 43.8 points per game. This U.S. team scored 98.75 points per game, its largest at worlds since 1994.

“We came here on a mission, a business trip,” tournament MVP A’ja Wilson said in a post-game press conference before turning to coach Cheryl Reeve. “We played pretty good, I think, coach.”

Since the U.S. won a seventh consecutive Olympic title in Tokyo, Sue Bird and Sylvia Fowles retired. Tina Charles ceded her national team spot to younger players. Brittney Griner was detained in Russia (and still is). Diana Taurasi suffered a WNBA season-ending quad injury that ruled her out of World Cup participation (who knows if the 40-year-old Taurasi will play for the U.S. again).

Not only that, but Cheryl Reeve of the Minnesota Lynx succeeded Dawn Staley as head coach, implementing a new uptempo system.

“There was probably great concern, and maybe around the world they kind of looked at it and said, ‘Hey, now is the time to get the USA,'” Reeve said Saturday.

The U.S. response was encapsulated by power forward Alyssa Thomas, the oldest player on the roster at age 30 who made the U.S. team for the first time in her career, started every game and was called the team’s glue and MVP going into the final.

Wilson and Tokyo Olympic MVP Breanna Stewart were the leaders. Guard Kelsey Plum, a Tokyo Olympic 3×3 player, blossomed this past WNBA season and was third in the league’s MVP voting. She averaged the most minutes on the team, scored 15.8 points per game and had 17 in the final.

“The depth of talent that we have was on display,” Reeve said. “What I am most pleased about was the trust and buy-in.”

For the first time since 1994, no player on the U.S. roster was over the age of 30, creating a scary thought for the 2024 Paris Olympics: the Americans could get even better.

“When you say best-ever, I’m always really cautious with that, because, obviously, there are great teams,” Reeve said when asked specifically about the team’s defense. “This group was really hard to play against.”

Earlier Saturday, 41-year-old Australian legend Lauren Jackson turned back the clock with a 30-point performance off the bench in her final game as an Opal, a 95-65 victory over Canada for the bronze. Jackson, who came out of a six-year retirement and played her first major tournament since the 2012 Olympics, had her best scoring performance since the 2008 Olympics.

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IOC looks for ways Russian athletes ‘who do not support war’ could compete as neutrals

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GENEVA (AP) — Russian athletes who do not endorse their country’s war in Ukraine could be accepted back into international sports, competing under a neutral flag, IOC president Thomas Bach said in an interview published Friday.

“It’s about having athletes with a Russian passport who do not support the war back in competition,” Bach told Italian daily Corriere della Sera, adding, “We have to think about the future.”

Most sports followed IOC advice in February and banned Russian teams and athletes from their events within days of the country’s military invasion of Ukraine.

With Russians starting to miss events that feed into qualifying for the 2024 Paris Olympics, an exile extending into next year could effectively become a wider ban from those Games.

In an interview in Rome, Bach hinted at IOC thinking after recent rounds of calls with Olympic stakeholders asked for views on Russia’s pathway back from pariah status.

“To be clear, it is not about necessarily having Russia back,” he said. “On the other hand — and here comes our dilemma — this war has not been started by the Russian athletes.”

Bach did not suggest how athletes could express opposition to the war when dissent and criticism of the Russian military risks jail sentences of several years.

Some Russian athletes publicly supported the war in March and are serving bans imposed by their sport’s governing body.

Olympic gold medalist swimmer Yevgeny Rylov appeared at a pro-war rally attended by Vladimir Putin in Moscow. Gymnast Ivan Kuliak displayed a pro-military “Z” symbol on his uniform at an international event.

Russian former international athletes are being called up for military service in the current mobilization, according to media reports. They include former heavyweight boxing champion Nikolai Valuev and soccer player Diniyar Bilyaletdinov.

Russians have continued to compete during the war as individuals in tennis and cycling, without national symbols such as flags and anthems, even when teams have been banned.

Bach told Corriere della Sera it was the IOC’s mission to be politically neutral and “to have the Olympic Games, and to have sport in general, as something that still unifies people and humanity.”

“For all these reasons, we are in a real dilemma at this moment with regard to the Russian invasion in Ukraine,” he suggested. “We also have to see, and to study, to monitor, how and when we can come back to accomplish our mission to have everybody back again, under which format whatsoever.”

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