Adam Rippon’s broken foot provides new perspective on rest of career

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NEW YORK — Adam Rippon had plenty of time to think about his future while confined to a walking boot for 12 weeks this winter.

Rippon, who couldn’t defend his U.S. title this year due to a broken foot, is only more motivated to make his first Olympic team next year. And motivated to compete beyond 2018.

“If I can come away stronger from this, I can skate longer than I felt that I would be able to [before breaking the foot],” Rippon said while at the Rink at Rockefeller Center on Monday, two weeks after shedding the boot. “Going forward past this Olympic season, I think as long as I feel like I’m still competitive, still strong, still improving, I think there’s no reason why I shouldn’t continue.

“Before I had this, I was like, I’m going to go to the Olympics and then go on vacation.”

Rippon, 27, is the elder statesman of U.S. figure skating. He competed in eight straight U.S. Championships before sitting out this past season. PyeongChang appears to be his last realistic shot at an Olympic team.

To make it, he’ll have to come back from his first major injury. Rippon said he had never before taken more than a week or two off, only withdrawn once from more than 40 senior competitions in the last decade.

Rippon was the two-time reigning world junior champion going into the 2010 U.S. Championships, where he finished fifth. The field was pretty deep then, with past U.S. champions Evan LysacekJohnny Weir and Jeremy Abbott, and Rippon was still blooming.

It looked like 2014 would be Rippon’s year. He was the top U.S. man in the fall 2013 Grand Prix season but dropped to a career-worst eighth at nationals.

He continued on and won his first U.S. title last season. This season, before the broken foot, he qualified for December’s Grand Prix Final for the first time. That event takes the top six skaters in the world from the Grand Prix season.

While Rippon was sidelined in January, February and March, spending four hours per day in the gym, he saw the U.S. men’s depth chart get crowded.

Training partner Nathan Chen established himself as an overwhelming favorite to lead the three-man Olympic team, winning the U.S. title in January and the Four Continents crown in February.

Jason Brown, a Sochi Olympian and 2015 U.S. champion, came back from injuries to post a score at worlds in March that bettered Rippon’s personal best.

And Vincent Zhou, who was 8 years old when Rippon debuted at senior nationals, won the world junior title with three quadruple jumps in his free skate.

Brown and Rippon both won their U.S. titles without landing a single quad. Rippon isn’t committing to a set number of quads next season, but said he plans to work on flip, Lutz and toe loop once he’s allowed full-go on the ice in June.

If Zhou’s progression continues, Brown and Rippon may be left to vie for the third and final Olympic team spot come January.

“So many of those faces change, but to stay relevant, you always have to focus on yourself and keep pushing yourself,” Rippon said. “Because those new faces come and they go. Or, sometimes, they stay. Or sometimes they’re your rival. Or sometimes they’re only here for one year.”

Rippon could look at his injury as a setback. Or, he could take the mindset of longtime friend and training partner Ashley Wagner, who just completed her least successful season since 2011.

“She has a four-year plan, kind of like I do,” Rippon said. “So when I broke my foot, I didn’t feel discouraged. When she had the skates that she did [seventh place at worlds after silver in 2016], she didn’t feel discouraged. She’s looking at the big picture. She has a great resumé, and I feel like I have a strong resumé, too, going into next season, and that’s what matters.”

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MORE: Chen, Wagner return for one more event this season

Germany opens bobsled worlds with double gold; Kaillie Humphries gets silver

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Germans Laura Nolte and Johannes Lochner dethroned the reigning Olympic and world champions to open the world bobsled championships in St. Moritz, Switzerland, this weekend.

Nolte, the Olympic two-woman champion driver, won the four-run monobob by four tenths of a second over American Kaillie Humphries, who won the first world title in the event in 2021 and the first Olympic title in the event in 2022. Another German, Lisa Buckwitz, took bronze.

In the two-man, Lochner became the first driver to beat countryman Francesco Friedrich in an Olympic or world championships event since 2016, ending Friedrich’s record 12-event streak at global championships between two-man and four-man.

Friedrich, defeated by 49 hundredths, saw his streak of seven consecutive world two-man titles also snapped.

Lochner, 32, won his first outright global title after seven Olympic or world silvers, plus a shared four-man gold with Friedrich in 2017.

Swiss Michael Vogt drove to bronze, one hundredth behind Friedrich. Geoff Gadbois and Martin Christofferson filled the top American sled in 18th.

Americans Steven Holcomb and Steven Langton were the last non-Germans to win a world two-man title in 2012.

Bobsled worlds finish next weekend with the two-woman and four-man events.

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Novak Djokovic wins 10th Australian Open, ties Rafael Nadal for most men’s Slam titles

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MELBOURNE, Australia — Novak Djokovic climbed into the Rod Laver Arena stands to celebrate his 10th Australian Open championship and record-tying 22nd Grand Slam title Sunday and, after jumping and pumping his fists with his team, he collapsed onto his back, crying.

When he returned to the playing surface, Djokovic sat on his sideline bench, buried his face in a white towel and sobbed some more.

This trip to Australia was far more successful than that of a year ago, when he was deported from the country because he was not vaccinated against COVID-19. And Djokovic accomplished all he could have possibly wanted in his return: He resumed his winning ways at Melbourne Park and made it back to the top of tennis, declaring: “This probably is the, I would say, biggest victory of my life.”

Only briefly challenged in the final, Djokovic was simply better at the most crucial moments and beat Stefanos Tsitsipas 6-3, 7-6 (4), 7-6 (5). As a bonus, Djokovic will vault from No. 5 to No. 1 in the ATP rankings, a spot he already has held for more weeks than any other man.

“I want to say this has been one of the most challenging tournaments I’ve ever played in my life, considering the circumstances. Not playing last year; coming back this year,” Djokovic said, wearing a zip-up white jacket with a “22” on his chest. “And I want to thank all the people that made me feel welcome, made me feel comfortable, to be in Melbourne, to be in Australia.”

The 35-year-old from Serbia stretched his unbeaten streak in Melbourne to 28 matches, the longest run there in the Open era, which dates to 1968. He adds trophy No. 10 to the seven from Wimbledon, three from the U.S. Open — where he also was absent last year because of no coronavirus shots — and two from the French Open, to match rival Rafael Nadal for the most by a man.

Only two women — Margaret Court, with 24, and Serena Williams, with 23 — are ahead of him.

This was also the 93rd ATP tour-level title for Djokovic, breaking a tie with Nadal for the fourth-most.

“I would like to thank you for pushing our sport so far,” Tsitsipas told Djokovic.

Djokovic was participating in his 33rd major final, Tsitsipas in his second — and the 24-year-old from Greece also lost the other, at the 2021 French Open, to Djokovic.

On a cool evening under a cloud-filled sky, and with a soundtrack of chants from supporters of both men prompting repeated pleas for quiet from the chair umpire, Djokovic was superior throughout, especially so in the two tiebreakers.

He took a 4-1 lead in the first, then reeled off the last three points. He led 5-0 in the closing tiebreaker and, when it finished, he pointed to his temple before screaming, a prelude to all of the tears.

“Very emotional for us. Very emotional for him,” said Djokovic’s coach, Goran Ivanisevic. “It’s a great achievement. It was a really tough three weeks for him. He managed to overcome everything.”

Perhaps surprisingly, Tsitsipas was willing to engage in the kind of leg-wearying, lung-searing back-and-forths upon which Djokovic has built his superlative career. How did that work out? Of points lasting at least five strokes, Djokovic won 43, Tsitsipas 30.

Then again, on those rare occasions that Tsitsipas did charge the net, Djokovic often conjured up a passing shot that was too tough to handle.

It’s not as though Tsitsipas played all that poorly, other than a rash of early miscues that seemed to be more a product of tension than anything.

It’s that Djokovic was too unyielding. Too accurate with his strokes, making merely 22 unforced errors, 20 fewer than his foe. Too speedy and flexible chasing shots (other than on one second-set point, when, running to his left, Djokovic took a tumble).

“I did everything possible,” said Tsitsipas, who also would have moved to No. 1 with a victory, replacing Carlos Alcaraz, who sat out the Australian Open with a leg injury.

Perhaps. Yet Djokovic pushes and pushes and pushes some more, until it’s the opponent who is something less than perfect on one swing, either missing or providing an opening to pounce.

That’s what happened when Tsitsipas held his first break point — which was also a set point — while ahead 5-4 in the second and Djokovic serving at 30-40. Might this be a fulcrum? Might Djokovic relent? Might Tsitsipas surge?

Uh, no.

A 15-stroke point concluded with Djokovic smacking a cross-court forehand winner that felt like a statement. Two misses by Tsitsipas followed: A backhand long, a forehand wide. Those felt like capitulation. Even when Tsitsipas actually did break in the third, Djokovic broke right back.

There has been more than forehands and backhands on Djokovic’s mind over the past two weeks.

There was the not-so-small matter of last year’s legal saga — he has alternately acknowledged the whole thing served as a form of motivation but also said the other day, “I’m over it” — and curiosity about the sort of reception he would get when allowed to enter Australia because pandemic restrictions were eased.

He heard a ton of loud support, but also dealt with some persistent heckling while competing, including applause after faults Sunday.

There was the sore left hamstring that has been heavily bandaged for every match — until the final, that is, when only a single piece of beige athletic tape was visible.

And then there was the complicated matter of his father, Srdjan, being filmed with a group of people with Russian flags — one with an image of Vladimir Putin — after Djokovic’s quarterfinal. The tournament banned spectators from carrying flags of Russia or Belarus, saying they would cause disruption because of the ongoing invasion of Ukraine. Djokovic and his father said it was a misunderstanding; Srdjan thought he was with Serbian fans.

Still, Srdjan Djokovic did not attend his son’s semifinal or the final.

No matter any of it, Djokovic excelled as he so often has.

“He is the greatest,” Tsitsipas said, “that has ever held a tennis racket.”

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