Alina Zagitova, Russia’s newest skating star, wins Cup of China (video)

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 Alina Zagitova of Russia, last season’s world junior champion, announced herself as an Olympic podium contender by winning Cup of China in her senior Grand Prix debut.

The 15-year-old trains with two-time world champion Yevgenia Medvedeva, a fellow Russian teen who is a heavy favorite for gold in PyeongChang. Zagitova finished second behind Medvedeva (who didn’t compete at Cup of China) at the most recent Russian national championships.

With a program that strategically placed all of her jumping passes in the second half to receive additional bonus points, Zagitova outscored a field that included Canada’s Gabrielle Daleman, the 2017 world bronze medalist and the leader after the short program.

After the short program, the top three — Daleman, Japan’s Wakaba Higuchi and Russia’s Yelena Radionova — were separated by just .17, while Zagitova was about a point behind the leaders after a fall.

Higuchi and Radionova held onto their second and third place positions, respectively, while Daleman dropped to sixth due to a near-fall on her final jump.

The lone American in the field, Amber Glenn, finished 10th. Gracie Gold was originally slated to compete at this Grand Prix event, but withdrew last month after announcing she was in treatment for depression, anxiety and an eating disorder.

Russia earned three Olympic berths in ladies’ figure skating. Medvedeva is all but assured to claim one. and with today’s Grand Prix win Zagitova looks likely to claim another. Among those fighting for the third spot will be Radionova, Maria Sotskova (who won silver at Skate Canada), and Anna Pogorilaya, who won bronze at last season’s Grand Prix final but seriously struggled at both the 2017 Worlds and her first Grand Prix event last week.

In the men’s event, Russia’s Mikhail Kolyada held onto his lead from the short program to claim the gold medal. Eighth and fourth at the last two world championships, Kolyada won his first ever major international competition today over top competitors Javier Fernandez, the two-time world champion from Spain, world bronze medalist Jin Boyang from China, and world junior champion Vincent Zhou from the U.S.

Kolyada, Fernandez and Boyang all had error-filled free skates, with Kolyada and Boyang falling once each and Fernandez putting his hand down on two landings. That left the door open for another American, Max Aaron, to claim a bronze medal after he cleanly landed three quads in his free skate and earned a personal best score. Zhou, who also suffered a fall, finished fourth.

There were fewer surprises in the ice dance competition, which saw the top three teams after the short dance all finish in the same spots after the free dance. France’s Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron won gold, Americans Madison Chock and Evan Bates earned silver and Russia’s Yekaterina Bobrova and Dmitry Soloviyev claimed bronze.

Papadakis and Cizeron are the 2015 and 2016 world champions, but fell to silver behind Canada’s Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir at the 2017 Worlds. At last weekend’s Skate Canada, Virtue and Moir won with the highest total score ever recorded, 199.86. Their record didn’t last long, however, as Papadakis and Cizeron earned a total score of 200.43 here and became the first ice dance team ever to earn over 200 total points.

The standings in the pairs competition also stayed mostly consistent from the short program to the free program, with Sui Wenjing and Han Cong, the world champions from China, staying in the lead to win gold.

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Cup of China
Women
Gold: Alina Zagitova (RUS) — 213.88
Silver: Wakaba Higuchi (JPN) — 212.52
Bronze: Yelena Radionova (RUS) — 206.82
10. Amber Glenn (USA) — 151.14

Men
Gold: Mikhail Kolyada (RUS) — 279.38 S
Silver: Jin Boyang (CHN) —264.48
Bronze: Max Aaron (USA) — 259.69
4. Vincent Zhou (USA) — 256.66
6. Javier Fernandez (ESP)
9. Grant Hochstein (USA)

Ice dance
Gold: Gabriella Papadakis/Guillaume Cizeron (FRA) — 200.43 WR
Silver: Madison Chock/Evan Bates (USA) — 184.50
Bronze: Yekaterina Bobrova/Dmitry Soloviyev (RUS) — 182.84
5. Lorraine McNamara/Quinn Carpenter (USA) — 157.61
7. Elliana Pogrebinsky/Alex Benoit (USA) — 150.47

Pairs
Gold: Sui Wenjing/Han Cong (CHN) — 231.07
Silver: Yu Xiaoyu/Zhang Hao (CHN) — 205.54
Bronze: Kirsten Moore-Towers/Michael Marinaro (CAN) – 194.52
6. Ashley Cain/Tim LeDuc (USA) — 154.36

FIFA rules on Olympic men’s soccer tournament age eligibility

Gabriel Jesus
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For the first time since 1988, some 24-year-olds will be eligible for the Olympic men’s soccer tournament without using an over-age exception.

FIFA announced Friday that it will use the same age eligibility criteria for the Tokyo Olympics in 2021 that it intended to use in 2020 — that players born on or after Jan. 1, 1997 are eligible, plus three over-age exceptions. FIFA chose not to move the birthdate deadline back a year after the Olympics were postponed by one year.

Olympic men’s soccer tournaments have been U-23 events — save those exceptions — since the 1992 Barcelona Games. In 1984 and 1988, restrictions kept European and South American players with World Cup experience ineligible. Before that, professionals weren’t allowed at all.

Fourteen of the 16 men’s soccer teams already qualified for the Games using players from under-23 national teams. The last two spots are to be filled by CONCACAF nations, potentially the U.S. qualifying a men’s team for the first time since 2008.

The U.S.’ biggest star, Christian Pulisic, and French superstar Kylian Mbappe were both born in 1998 and thus would have been under the age limit even if FIFA moved the deadline to Jan. 1, 1998.

Perhaps the most high-profile player affected by FIFA’s decision is Brazilian forward Gabriel Jesus. The Manchester City star was born April 3, 1997, and thus would have become an over-age exception if FIFA pushed the birthdate rule back a year.

Instead, Brazil could name him to the Olympic team and still keep all of its over-age exceptions.

However, players need permission from their professional club teams to play in the Olympics, often limiting the availability of stars.

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Jenny Thompson’s new team is on the front line fighting coronavirus

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Two weeks ago, Jenny Thompson, the 12-time Olympic swimming medalist turned anesthesiologist, told close friends about the worrisome situation at her hospital in Charleston, S.C.

Thompson and her perioperative team of 40 or 50 were stressed that they would not have the most effective personal protective equipment (PPE) for when the coronavirus pandemic peaks there, projected to be later this month.

The messages caused fellow former Stanford swimmers and Olympic teammates Gabrielle Rose and Lea Maurer to act.

“She almost never asks for any sort of help or support,” Maurer said. “She’s Herculean in her ability to take on life and all its challenges.”

Rose and Maurer started a GoFundMe titled “Go Jenny Go” on March 22 for help to purchase PPE for the hospital. At the time, critical care doctors were “scrambling to piece together purchases on their own in anticipation of their high risk patients,” Maurer wrote.

Thompson said the PPE situation is better now. The GoFundMe was suspended Wednesday. Future support is directed to help those in New York City. Thompson specifically noted a GoFundMe for NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital and the COVID-19 Emergency Relief Fund.

More than $9,000 was raised in less than two weeks. Also, the hospital started receiving more PPE on its own. Thompson’s team now feels prepared for what’s to come.

“People were responding and donating from all chapters of my life,” Thompson said by phone Thursday. “People I didn’t even know. Family from USA Swimming and international swimming. It’s really touched me to know that so many people care and are able to donate, help share the message.”

Thompson woke at 4 a.m. several days this week with thoughts of her peers in New York City. Healthcare workers there have cited a lack of PPE in putting their own lives at risk while they fight to save others. Some have contracted the virus.

“We’ve been fortunate [in South Carolina]. I feel lucky,” Thompson said. “We’ll definitely be in a place where we’re taking care of a lot of Covid patients, but we’re not there yet.

“I’ve heard people say, people in healthcare knew what they were signing up for. I never signed up to get sick and potentially die from this job. I always assumed that I would have the protection or the supplies needed to help me do my job, and that’s been a real struggle nationwide.”

Thompson went to medical school in New York at Columbia University starting in 2001.

“I’d been there maybe a couple weeks at Columbia, when 9/11 happened,” she said. “I remember feeling very helpless as a first-year medical student. I wanted to help so badly, but there really wasn’t much I could do. All my classmates felt the same way. I’ve always had that as part of the making of me as a doctor, having to go through crisis, but I never imagined a pandemic. I guess some people prepare for this sort of thing their whole life, but I didn’t.”

The term “front lines” has been applied to healthcare workers around the globe. Thompson said it’s apt at her hospital.

“We definitely have Covid here, but we have not had a major outbreak like some other cities,” she said. “We consider every patient who we give general anesthesia and intubate to be a potential risk. As anesthesia providers and people who intubate the airway, we are on the front line. We are at a much higher risk of getting sick without the right PPE.”

Thompson’s team feels more ready for the peak with every passing day. They’re simulating, donning and doffing and scheduling to work longer shifts starting next week. The preparation extends home, where she has a husband and three children.

“I have, like, four different pairs of shoes,” Thompson said. “I spray my socks with fabric disinfectant. I take them off in the car, and then I put on flip-flops. Then when I get home, I shower and put my clothes in the wash immediately. It’s a strange place to be, but just consider everything I touch to be contaminated in an effort to protect myself.”

Both Rose and Maurer still see in Thompson that swimmer who awed them in college. As Thompson trained to become the most decorated female U.S. Olympian in history, she studied at Stanford and then Columbia to become a doctor.

“I knew I wanted to take care of critically ill patients,” she said.

As a swimmer, Thompson was known as the ultimate teammate. Eight Olympic gold medals in relays, often an anchor. Always there. Dependable.

“She knows that she’s going to make a difference,” Maurer said. “She knows that she’s going to achieve that goal. She knows that she’s going to help to make people better. And so she does it.”

Thompson believes the next few weeks will be unlike anything she’s ever faced.

“Everybody was sort of freaking out in the beginning and feeling very stressed, and I think that at some level has not gone away,” she said. “That’s going to stay with us, but we have a we-can-do-this-together fighting mentality that we are leaning on each other for. It’s really no different than being a part of any kind of team.”