Adam Rippon gets second as Russians sweep NHK Trophy (video)

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What a 28th birthday for Adam Rippon.

The 2016 U.S. champion took second in his first top-level competition in 11 months, emphatically returning from a broken foot that kept him out last winter.

Rippon landed an under-rotated quadruple Lutz plus eight triples in his free skate at NHK Trophy on Saturday. He tallied 261.99 points, finishing 9.13 behind Russian winner Sergei Voronov.

“Being 28 rocks!” Rippon said after his skate in Osaka, Japan.

It was a Russian sweep of the singles titles at the fourth of six Grand Prix events this fall.

Olympic super favorite Yevgenia Medvedeva fell in a free skate at a second straight Grand Prix and still extended her two-year winning streak.

NHK TROPHY: Scores | Figure Skating TV Schedule

Conversely, Voronov used a personal best by 18.57 points, along with two quads in his free skate, to win his first Grand Prix in his 12th season. The 30-year-old became the oldest man to win a Grand Prix event by nearly three years (Daisuke Takahashi, 2013 NHK Trophy).

Voronov and Rippon will both compete at Skate America in two weeks, eyeing berths in December’s Grand Prix Final, which takes the top six men from the fall Grand Prix season.

Jason Brown, a 2014 U.S. Olympian and 2015 U.S. champion, saw a great opportunity to all but book his first Grand Prix Final berth slip through his fingers this weekend. Brown, third after the short program, fell on both of his triple Axels in the free skate and ended up fourth.

Brown went into NHK as the leading man after the withdrawals of Olympic gold and silver medalists Yuzuru Hanyu and Patrick Chan.

A runner-up would have put Brown in all-but-safe position to make the Grand Prix Final. Now, he must wait and watch the results of the next two Grand Prix events to see where he stands.

Medvedeva tallied 224.39 points, beating Olympic bronze medalist Carolina Kostner of Italy by 12.15 points. Both Medvedeva and Kostner qualified for December’s six-skater Grand Prix Final, the second-biggest annual event.

Kostner, 30, broke American Todd Eldredge‘s record as the oldest singles skater to qualify for a Grand Prix Final.

Russian Polina Tsurskaya was third, followed by American Mirai Nagasu. Nagasu boosted her resume for Olympic consideration with the highest Grand Prix score by a U.S. woman this season.

U.S. bronze medalist Mariah Bell was ninth after she placed sixth at her previous Grand Prix. Neither Nagasu nor Bell qualified for the Grand Prix Final.

Also Saturday, Chinese Sui Wenjing and Han Cong won their second Grand Prix in as many weeks. The world champions prevailed by a comfortable 11.79 over Russians Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov.

Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Christopher Knierim, the favorites to grab the one U.S. Olympic pairs spot, finished fifth with a score 11.11 points better than any other Americans this season.

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MORE: U.S. Olympic figure skating picture at Grand Prix midpoint

NHK Trophy Results
Men

1. Sergey Voronov (RUS) — 271.12
2. Adam Rippon (USA) — 261.99
3. Alexei Bychenko (ISR) — 252.07
4. Jason Brown (USA) — 245.95

Women
1. Yevgenia Medvedeva (RUS) — 224.39
2. Carolina Kostner (ITA) — 212.24
3. Polina Tsurskaya (RUS) — 210.19
4. Mirai Nagasu (USA) — 194.46
9. Mariah Bell (USA) — 166.04

Pairs
1. Sui Wenjing/Han Cong (CHN) — 234.53
2. Ksenia Stolbova/Fedor Klimov (RUS) — 222.74
3. Kristina Astakhova/Alexei Rogonov (RUS) — 203.64
5. Alexa Scimeca Knierim/Christopher Knierim (USA) — 192.51

Mark Spitz takes on Katie Ledecky’s challenge

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Swimmers around the world took on Katie Ledecky‘s milk-glass challenge since it became a social media sensation, including one of the few Americans with more Olympic gold medals.

Mark Spitz, who won seven golds at the 1972 Munich Games, took 10 strokes in an at-home pool while perfectly balancing a glass of what appeared to be water on his head.

“Would’ve been faster with the ‘stache, @markspitzusa, but I still give this 7 out of 7 gold medals,” Ledecky tweeted.

Spitz joined fellow Olympic champions Susie O’Neill of Australia and American Matt Grevers in posting similar videos to what Ledecky first shared Monday.

In Tokyo next year, Ledecky can pass Spitz’s career gold-medal count of nine if she wins all of her expected events — 200m, 400m, 800m and 1500m freestyles and the 4x200m free relay.

Then she would trail one athlete from any country in any sport — Michael Phelps, the 23-time gold medalist who has yet to post video of swimming while balancing a glass on his head.

MORE: Spitz puts Michael Phelps’ career in perspective

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Serena Williams, reclusive amid pandemic, returns to tennis eyeing Grand Slam record

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Serena Williams travels with “like 50 masks” and has been a little bit of a recluse since early March and the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.

“I don’t have full lung capacity, so I’m not sure what would happen to me,” Williams said Saturday, two days before the start of the WTA’s Top Seed Open in Lexington, Ky., her first tournament since playing Fed Cup in early February. “I’m sure I’ll be OK, but I don’t want to find out.”

Williams, 38, has a history of blood clots and pulmonary embolisms. She faced life-threatening complications following her Sept. 1, 2017, childbirth that confined her to a bed for six weeks. She said her daily routine was surgery and that she lost count after the first four.

More recently, Williams enjoyed “every part” of the last six months at home in Florida, her longest time grounded since her teens.

“I’ve been a little neurotic, to an extent,” on health and safety, she said. “Everyone in the Serena bubble is really protected.”

Williams is entered to play next week in Lexington and at consecutive tournaments in New York City later this month — the Western & Southern Open and U.S. Open, the latter starting Aug. 31.

Williams is the highest-ranked player in the Lexington field at No. 9. Others include 2017 U.S. Open champion Sloane Stephens, older sister Venus Williams and 16-year-old Coco Gauff.

She has been bidding ever since having daughter Olympia to tie Margaret Court‘s record 24 Grand Slam singles titles, albeit many of Court’s crowns came before the Open Era and, notably at the Australian Open, against small fields lacking the world’s best players. Williams reached the last two Wimbledon and U.S. Open finals, losing all of them.

She showed her seriousness in committing early to this year’s U.S. Open by installing a court at home with the same surface. Three of the top 10 female singles players already said they will skip the U.S. Open due to travel and/or virus concerns, including No. 1 Ash Barty.

“Tennis is naturally a socially distanced sport, so it was kind of easy to go back and just walk on my side of the court and have my hitter walk on his side of the court,” Williams said.

The French Open starts two weeks after the U.S. Open ends. Williams was asked if she will fly to Europe for tournaments this autumn.

“I see myself doing it all, if it happens,” she said.

The Tokyo Olympics are too far away to make plans.

“We’ll have to kind of wait to see what happens in the fall,” she said. “One thing I have learned with this pandemic is don’t plan.”

MORE: Past U.S. Open champions get wild cards

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