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

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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.

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

Major League Baseball sponsors U.S. Olympic softball team

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NEW YORK (AP) — Major League Baseball is using its financial muscle to support the U.S. women’s softball team, which already is assured a spot in the Tokyo Olympics while the American men’s baseball team struggles to qualify.

MLB announced an agreement Thursday to become presenting sponsor of the women’s “Stand Beside Her” tour, a slate of exhibition games leading up to the Olympic tournament from July 22-28.

“We’re both bat and ball sports. Even though we’re not the same sport, there are so many similarities that you just can’t ignore,” said Kim Ng, MLB’s senior vice president for baseball operations. “It was important for us to make sure that they have this acknowledgment and recognition of their ability and their talent.”

Softball began as an Olympic sport for the 1996 Atlanta Games. The U.S. won gold medals in 1996, 2000 and 2004 with players that included Dot Richardson, Jennie Finch and Jessica Mendoza, then lost to Japan in the 2008 gold-medal game.

Baseball and softball were dropped for the next two Olympics, then restored for this year, when the U.S. and Japan will be joined by Australia, Canada, Italy and Mexico for games in Fukushima and Yokohama but not Tokyo. The sports are likely to be dropped for 2024 in Paris but could return four years later in Los Angeles.

The U.S. men’s baseball team stumbled in its first attempt to qualify, wasting a ninth-inning lead against Mexico in the final game of the Premier12 tournament in November and losing in the 10th. The U.S. has two more chances to join Israel, Japan, Mexico and South Korea in the Olympic field: an Americas tournament in Arizona from March 22-26 and a final tournament in Taiwan from April 1-5.

MLB is not allowing players on 40-man big league rosters to compete in qualifying, and few top pitching prospects were at the November tournament.

Softball has no such issues. The Olympics are the sport’s highest-profile event.

“The platform for us is 10 times bigger,” American outfielder Haylie McCleney said. “For us, it’s a great opportunity for people that have never watched softball before, people that have only followed it at the collegiate level, to really see how fun our game is to watch, how pure it is. If people are baseball fans, I guarantee they’re going to love softball because it’s pretty much just a faster game – it’s shorter, it’s quicker, it’s more entertaining to watch, in my opinion.”

The 2008 gold-medal softball game took 1 hours, 45 minutes — less than half the 3:45 average for this year’s World Series.

As part of the deal with MLB, the softball team’s official training facility will be at the Jackie Robinson Training Complex in Vero Beach, Florida, the old Dodgertown spring training camp.

MLB Network will include programming from the tour, which currently starts Feb. 4 in Tampa and has about three dozen stops.

The U.S. women’s soccer team has attracted huge television audiences. MLB sees softball as an opportunity for the sport’s growth.

“These are world-class athletes,” Ng said. “Because we have not been in the Olympics for the last 12 years, they just haven’t had that stage. So it’s really important at this point that we show as much support as we can for them.”

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MORE: U.S. athletes qualified for Tokyo Olympics

Rafael Nadal advances at Australian Open; American back on Slam stage

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Rafael Nadal joined Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic in the Australian Open third round, sweeping Argentine Federico Delbonis 6-3, 7-6 (4), 6-1 on Thursday.

Nadal, whose lone Australian Open title came in 2009, gets countryman Pablo Carreno Busta in Saturday’s third round. He could face No. 23 Nick Kyrgios of Australia in round four, but neither Federer nor Djokovic until the final.

No. 4 Daniil Medvedeva and No. 2 Karolina Pliskova and No. 4 Simona Halep were also winners Thursday. Friday’s third-round action is headlined by defending champion Naomi Osaka facing 15-year-old U.S. phenom Coco Gauff.

AUSTRALIAN OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women

The only top-20 seed to lose so far Thursday was No. 20 Karolina Muchova of the Czech Republic. American CiCi Bellis bounced her 6-4, 6-4.

This was a big deal for Bellis: Two full years and four right arm operations have come and gone since she was last healthy enough to participate in a Grand Slam tournament.

Bellis was something of a teen prodigy. In her very first tour-level match, at age 15 at the 2014 U.S. Open, she stunned 12th-seeded Dominika Cibulkova, an Australian Open runner-up, to become the youngest American to win a match at Flushing Meadows in 28 years.

She reached No. 35 in the rankings at 17, when she won WTA Newcomer of the Year honors.

Then came the series of health problems, including for torn tendons in her wrist, to shorten a bone in her arm and for bone spurs in her elbow. All the time away from the tour has her at No. 600 in the rankings currently, but she was able to get into the draw in Australia via the protected ranking rule.

In other action, U.S. Open runner-up Medvedev  found himself seated in the nosebleed section at Margaret Court Arena, even though he was playing his second-round match there.

That’s because the No. 4-seeded Russian found himself dealing with something he said happens to him a couple of times each year: a nosebleed.

Medvedev blotted his nose with a towel and then was treated by a trainer while his 7-5, 6-1, 6-3 over Spanish qualifier Pedro Martinez was delayed for more than five minutes late in the second set.

“Can happen to me sometimes. Doesn’t usually happen during the match, so I had to stop (playing). Usually takes like four minutes — three, four minutes. … But it’s nothing,” Medvedev said.

MORE: Another top U.S. tennis player cools on Olympics

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