Mirai Nagasu, inspired by RuPaul, is top U.S. woman at season opener

2 Comments

It’s a new season for Mirai Nagasu, the beloved U.S. figure skater tearfully left off the 2014 Olympic team.

Season five, to be exact.

“Today, before I competed, I watched season five, episode one of ‘RuPaul‘s Drag Race,’ so that I could channel my inner queen,” Nagasu said after finishing second at the U.S. International Classic on Saturday night.

Japan’s Marin Honda, 16 and the country’s new female face after Mao Asada‘s retirement, won the international season opener by 11.79 points in Salt Lake City.

Full scores are here.

That was to be expected, even though Honda had never before skated on the senior international level.

That’s how ballyhooed she is. Honda has 217,000 Instagram followers. Her personal-best score from last season — in junior competition — was higher than any U.S. senior woman at worlds.

Instead, the drama as the Olympic season began concerned three of the top four U.S. women from last year.

It’s rare that so many Olympic team contenders gather for one competition in September, five months before the Winter Games.

Nagasu, fourth at the last two U.S. Championships, overtook U.S. champion Karen Chen for silver by 1.22 points at the B-level International Classic after being in third place after Friday’s short program.

Nagasu easily outdistanced U.S. bronze medalist Mariah Bell by 14.88 points.

None of the three skaters were close to clean.

Nagasu, though she became the second U.S. woman to land a triple Axel in international competition (after Tonya Harding), two-footed landings on the jump in both programs. Not so bad.

But what hurt more was having six other jumps called under-rotated in her free skate, including a fall.

It’s the kind of performance that, if repeated at the U.S. Championships in January, could give Olympic team selectors reason to leave Nagasu home again.

“My butt hurts a little bit, so I’m going to go ice it,” Nagasu said. “Which is ironic, because I fell on ice.”

Chen and Bell also both fell in their free skates.

The Olympic team of three women will be announced after nationals. Nagasu’s finish there will largely determine whether she makes her second Olympic team at age 24 — eight years after placing fourth in Vancouver.

But, as what showed four years ago when Nagasu was third at nationals and passed over, results before the U.S. Championships matter.

Nagasu will go into the fall Grand Prix series knowing she has bettered two of her main rivals for places in PyeongChang.

But Nagasu was not the highest-scoring American this weekend. Bradie Tennell, 19 and making her senior international debut in Italy, tallied 13.16 points more than Nagasu.

Granted, scores at the Italian competition were higher across the board than in Salt Lake City.

Three-time U.S. champion Ashley Wagner‘s season debut is set for October.

Earlier Saturday, world silver medalist Shoma Uno won the Lombardia Trophy with the fourth-best score of all time — 319.84 points. Only Olympic and world champion Yuzuru Hanyu has scored higher.

Uno’s total was also the highest score ever in a competition in September, the month some (but not all) skaters ease into their seasons at lower-level events.

The previous high was 275.04, set by Nathan Chen at the U.S. International Classic earlier this week.

Comparing scores between B-level events isn’t quite apples to apples, but that Uno outscored Chen by 44.8 points this week was noteworthy.

They are the only male Olympic medal contenders to compete internationally so far this season.

Uno attempted and landed seven quadruple jumps between two programs at Lombardia. Chen, who has the ability to throw seven quads, eased into the Olympic season with three quads in Salt Lake City.

At Lombardia, Uno distanced second-place Jason Brown by a whopping 59.96 points.

Brown, a Sochi Olympian and 2015 U.S. champion, is in the running for one of three U.S. Olympic spots along with Chen, Vincent Zhou and Adam Rippon, among others.

Brown attempted one quad at Lombardia, falling in the short program. His score — 259.88 — was 1.67 points fewer than 2013 U.S. champion Max Aaron totaled at the U.S. Classic this week.

The figure skating season continues next week with the last two male world champions — training partners Hanyu and Javier Fernandez — facing off at the Autumn Classic in Montreal. Medvedeva also makes her international season debut in Slovakia.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: Olympic figure skating season starts with September must-sees

Abdulrashid Sadulayev pins Kyle Snyder in Rematch of the Century

Leave a comment

Kyle Snyder called out Abdulrashid Sadulayev in the spring, saying he could beat the Russian more soundly than in the 2017 Match of the Century. That Sadulayev was getting bad advice from those who told him he could beat Snyder if he entered the world championships in the 97kg freestyle division again this year.

Turns out, Sadulayev’s advisers were right.

The Russian Tank pinned Snyder for gold in the Rematch of the Century at wrestling worlds in Budapest on Tuesday. It was over in 70 seconds.

Sadulayev took control with a single-leg shot at 40 seconds, quickly took Snyder down and, after 20 seconds of jostling, used his 215 pounds on top of Snyder to get the American’s shoulders on the mat.

“Ended quickly,” Snyder said. “That stunk. Everybody knows Sadulayev’s a very talented wrestler. He hit me in a good move, and it worked out well for him. … This one doesn’t even really hurt too much right now.”

Snyder, 22, lost on the global championship stage for the first time. In 2015, he became the youngest American to win a world title. In 2016, he became the youngest U.S. Olympic wrestling champion. In 2017, he beat Sadulayev in the worlds final 6-5, overcoming a two-point deficit in the final minute in a battle of Olympic gold medalists.

Former Russian freestyle coach Magomed Guseynov was proven prophetic Tuesday.

“Sadulayev wasn’t prepared well last time,” he told United World Wrestling. “[Sadulayev] is 10 times better than Snyder. … Being a coach with 47 years of experience, I guarantee that Sadulayev won’t give him a chance to score a single point. Sadulayev will wrestle as if Snyder is an amateur.”

Sadulayev, a 22-year-old from Dagestan, was undefeated at the senior international level from November 2013 up to that 2017 World final. He beat four Rio Olympic 86kg opponents by a combined 28-1.

Sadulayev was more impressive than Snyder in Monday’s early rounds, winning all four matches by the 10-point mercy rule. Snyder’s closest match was his semifinal, a 3-0 win over two-time world medalist Pavlo Oliynyk of Hungary.

In other divisions Tuesday, three-time world champion Adeline Gray beat Olympic gold medalist Erica Wiebe of Canada to reach Wednesday’s 76kg final. Gray took 2017 off to recover from injuries after surprisingly missing the medals at her first Olympics in Rio.

Helen Maroulis, a 2015 and 2017 World champion and Rio gold medalist, opens her bid Wednesday to tie Tricia Saunders for the U.S. female record of four combined Olympic and world titles.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: Wrestling worlds TV schedule

Skate America champ Satoko Miyahara hopes to challenge Russians

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Like many elite figure skating coaches, Mie Hamada trains two of her country’s top athletes: Satoko Miyahara, the four-time and reigning Japanese champion who won her second straight Skate America title on Sunday; and Rika Kihira, the sport’s leading female proponent of the triple axel.

Also in common with many of her colleagues, both of Hamada’s star pupils will compete at the same Grand Prix event: NHK Trophy, held Nov. 9-11 in Hiroshima, Japan.

Unlike most coaches, though, Hamada is clear about which student she wants to win, be it at NHK or this season’s Japanese and world championships.

“I hope the champion is 18, because we want to see a senior lady, not a senior girl, don’t you think?” Hamada said in Everett. “A skater who has a story, not only jumps.”

A skater like Miyahara, who at age 20 is about four years Kihira’s senior.

“Jumps are very important, we know that, but the five (program) components, the artistry, should also count,” Hamada said.

“This is figure skating,” she added, drawing out each syllable for emphasis.I hope judges understand what is important for the sport.”

In Everett, Miyahara had it all: two intricate, elegant programs; gorgeous spins and steps; clean triple jumps – everything except a triple axel. She was the only lady in the event to land a triple lutz, triple toe combination that wasn’t judged under rotated. In fact, none of her jumps received the dreaded “<” – quite a feat, given some of her prior results and the new, more stringent international judging system (IJS) guidelines.

“During the off-season I did some training with very light weights, and it was very new for me,” said the tiny Miyahara, who is listed in her ISU bio as five feet tall. “I was training to make my hamstrings stronger. I had a bad habit of not using the butt and the hamstrings, only to use the front side (of my thighs), and that was not good for big jumps.”

Hamada, weary of the under rotations that have cost Miyahara dearly in the past, is behind the new regimen.

“This year, Satoko has a new strength trainer, and she worked very hard in the summer time, so she gets extra muscle,” Hamada said. “Then in October, we just relaxed and did some easier exercises before (Skate America).”

Miyahara has grown stronger in other ways. At last season’s Skate America, the skater spoke of her dangerous calcium deficiency, for which she was taking supplements. That has improved, but Miyahara remains underweight. Off-ice in Everett, she was never without a small canvas bag packed with snacks, and she apologetically delayed our interview so she could sit down and eat some.

“I like to eat, so it’s not hard for me, but I don’t know why I lose weight when I come to competitions,” Miyahara said. “There is no practice like the usual practice, it’s a lot less, but I think maybe I am using my mind a lot and I need food.”

Hamada speculates the weight problem is due to her skater’s deep work ethic, which includes her studies at Kansai University in Osaka.

“Each day, every day, every moment, she is working hard,” Hamada said. “She has to think about nutrition all of the time. Most skaters her age are trying to lose weight, but she is the opposite. She has to take carbohydrates, she has to take everything.”

Both coach and skater hope the increased strength – plus a revised judging system that includes grades of execution (GOE) for elements ranging from -5 to +5 – help Miyahara challenge the Russian contingent this season, including Olympic champion Alina Zagitova and two-time world champion Yevgenia Medvedeva.

“It is not a very easy thing, but I think I have to improve my programs and jumps, and everything, to get more (GOE) pluses,” Miyahara said. “When I compete with Russians, I always watch them and think, ‘why do they jump like machines?’”

For now, though, Miyahara’s main competition is training partner Kihara. In the few weeks leading up to NHK, they will share the ice in Osaka, where they always skate together in the same sessions.

“Rika learns how to use her edges from Satoko, who has beautiful edges and skates without any noise,” Hamada said. “But Satoko learns how to jump from Rika, so it’s a good situation. They are not enemies, they are good rivals. It is very important to have a good rival.”

Kihira – the first lady to land a triple axel-triple toe loop combination in history, at the Junior Grand Prix Final last season – plans two triple axels in her free skate at NHK, Hamada said. Although she is working on quadruple jumps, including toe loop and salchow, she likely will not attempt them this season.

“(Kihira) is working very hard on the artistry, because I want her to become a very beautiful lady skater with triple axel and quad,” Hamada said. “This year I am not planning to have quads in her programs but I want beautiful edges, beautiful flow.”

And Miyahara, as always, vows to work harder.

“It’s a very good environment for me to practice (with Kihira), because she pushes me and I feel like I have to do more,” she said.

As a reminder, you can watch the ISU Grand Prix Series live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. Go to NBCsports.com/gold/figure-skating to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season. NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: Starr Andrews, 17, could be a figure skating star in the making