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

U.S. Olympic women’s tennis qualifying already looks intense

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Serena Williams is in strong early position to make the 2020 U.S. Olympic team. For everyone else, including older sister Venus Williams, every set of ranking points could be crucial over the next 10 months, including at the upcoming U.S. Open.

The U.S. has seven women in the world top 36 — not including 52nd-ranked Venus — but only four singles players can go to an Olympics from any one country come the rankings cutoff next June.

Serena Williams leads the way for Americans in second place overall in Olympic qualifying — which counts WTA rankings points starting after the 2019 French Open and running through the 2020 French Open. She has 1,885 points despite playing just two events the last two months, taking runner-up at Wimbledon and the Canadian Open.

Only Wimbledon champion Simona Halep, who has already been named Romania’s Opening Ceremony flag bearer, has more Olympic qualifying points (2,395).

After Serena, three more U.S. women are in the top 10 in Olympic qualifying — Sonya Kenin (No. 5), Madison Keys (No. 8) and Alison Riske (No. 10).

Keys, a quarterfinalist or better at all four Grand Slams in her career, jumped from outside the top 20 among Americans to the No. 3 American by notching her biggest title in Ohio last week.

Notables who must improve their ranking start with Venus Williams, who moved from 18th on the U.S. list to eighth by reaching the Cincinnati quarterfinals. She turns 40 before the Tokyo Games and could become the oldest Olympic singles player since the sport returned to the Olympic program following a 64-year break in 1988. She already owns the modern-era record of five Olympic tennis medals from her five previous Games and could still get to the Olympics in doubles if she doesn’t qualify in singles.

Sloane Stephens, the 2017 U.S. Open champion, is 12th in U.S. Olympic qualifying, winning a total of three matches among four tournaments in the window.

The veterans Williams sisters, Keys and Stephens, who made up the 2016 U.S. Olympic singles team, must fend off an emerging class.

Kenin, 20, backed up her French Open upset of Serena Williams by winning a lower-level event in June and then beating the world Nos. 1 and 2 the last two weeks.

Riske is playing some of the best tennis of her career at age 29. She beat world then-No. 1 Ash Barty to make her first Slam quarterfinal at Wimbledon, a week before her wedding.

Then there are two of the phenoms of the year. Coco Gauff, 15, is ninth in U.S. Olympic qualifying after a run to the Wimbledon fourth round. Gauff was granted a wild card into the U.S. Open, after which she can’t play in more than five senior tournaments (and possibly no more than three) until her 16th birthday in March due to WTA age restrictions to keep young teens from burnout.

Amanda Anisimova, 17, is 13th in U.S. Olympic qualifying. Her best results this year — French Open semifinal, Australian Open fourth round — came before the Olympic qualifying window.

It’s looking like the toughest U.S. Olympic women’s singles team to make outright since 2004. Back then, the U.S. had Nos. 4 (Lindsay Davenport), 7 (Jennifer Capriati), 8 (Venus Williams), 11 (Serena Williams) and 18 (Chanda Rubin). Davenport, Capriati and Serena didn’t play at the Athens Games, opening the door for Lisa Raymond to play singles and doubles in Athens.

In 2000, Serena Williams didn’t make the Olympic singles field despite being ranked eighth in the world. A max of three players per nation were taken to Sydney, and the U.S. had Nos. 2, 3 and 6 in Davenport, Venus Williams and Monica Seles.

An Olympic rule mandating a minimum of Fed Cup appearances could affect Tokyo 2020 eligibility. However, the fine print allows for that to be bypassed in discretionary exceptional circumstances.

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U.S. Olympic Women’s Singles Qualifying Standings (Max. 4 can qualify)
1. Serena Williams — 1,885 points
2. Sonya Kenin — 1,081
3. Madison Keys — 972
4. Alison Riske — 802
5. Jennifer Brady — 356
6. Jessica Pegula — 348
7. Madison Brengle — 344
8. Venus Williams — 302
9. Coco Cauff — 298
10. Bernarda Pera — 280
11. Lauren Davis — 245
12. Sloane Stephens — 238
13. Amanda Anisimova — 230

U.S. athletes qualified for 2020 Tokyo Olympics

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The U.S. Olympic team roster for the 2020 Tokyo Games will eventually reach more than 500 athletes. It is currently at seven.

Qualifying competitions and Olympic Trials events dot the schedule from now into early summer 2020.

Athletes qualified so far:

Modern Pentathlon
Samantha Achterberg
Amro Elgeziry

Sport Climbing
Brooke Raboutou

Swimming
Haley Anderson
Ashley Twichell
Jordan Wilimovsky

Triathlon
Summer Rappaport

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