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Russian 15-year-old wins Grand Prix Final; U.S. gets ice dance bronze

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Russian women went one-two in the Grand Prix Final, even without their superstar.

Alina Zagitova, the 15-year-old training partner of injured world champion Yevgenia Medvedeva, won the biggest pre-Olympic competition this season in Nagoya, Japan, on Saturday.

Zagitova, the world junior champion undefeated in her first senior season, scored a personal-best 223.20 points to win the prestigious six-skater event.

Zagitova landed seven triple jumps with only minor errors, ranking only behind Medvedeva in top scores this season. Medvedeva withdrew before the Grand Prix Final, which she won the last two years, with a broken foot.

Zagitova prevailed by 6.92 points over countrywoman Maria Sotskova, all but assuring they will join Medvedeva on Russia’s three-woman Olympic team named later this winter. Assuming an IOC panel selects them.

Canadian Kaetlyn Osmond was third. No U.S. women qualified for the Grand Prix Final for a second straight year.

Grand Prix Final: Full Scores | Full Season TV Schedule

In ice dance, France’s Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron broke the world record total score for a third straight time in beating Canadian training partners Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir for the first time.

Papadakis and Cizeron, the 2015 and 2016 World champs, tallied 202.16 points and have broken 200 points three times. No other couple has done it once.

Virtue and Moir, who won gold and silver at the last two Olympics and were undefeated in their comeback season a year ago, matched their personal best with 199.86.

U.S. couples went third, fourth and fifth, led by national champions Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani, who took their second straight Grand Prix Final bronze medal.

They did so with their lowest score of the season, a distant 14.16 points behind the French.

“It was not the performance we wanted to have today, unfortunately,” Alex Shibutani said, according to U.S. Figure Skating. “We felt pretty good this week overall, and there was a lot of stuff that we made progress on, but I just had issues with the twizzles this week. That’s very uncharacteristic of me.”

The Shibutani siblings and fourth- and fifth-place finishers Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue and Madison Chock and Evan Bates are massive favorites to make up the three-couple U.S. Olympic team named after nationals in January.

German pair Aljona Savchenko and Bruno Massot pulled off the only surprise of the Grand Prix Final, toppling the world champions from China with the highest free skate score under a 13-year-old points system.

Savchenko, born in Ukraine, and Massot, born in France, didn’t officially become eligible to represent Germany at the Olympics until Massot finalized his citizenship last month.

They totaled the third-highest score ever, 236.68 points. Only the 2014 Olympic champions — Tatyana Volosozhar and Maksim Trankov of Russia — have been better.

China’s Sui Wenjing and Han Cong, who were undefeated since returning from Sui’s ankle and foot surgeries in February, took silver, 5.79 points behind the Germans.

Canadians Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford, the 2015 and 2016 World champions, took bronze. No Americans were in the field.

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Grand Prix Final Results
Women
Gold: Alina Zagitova (RUS) — 223.20
Silver: Maria Sotskova (RUS) — 216.28
Bronze: Kaetlyn Osmond (CAN) — 215.16
4. Carolina Kostner (ITA) — 214.65
5. Satoko Miyahara (JPN) — 213.49
6. Wakaba Higuchi (JPN) — 202.11

Ice Dance
Gold: Gabriella Papadakis/Guillaume Cizeron (FRA) — 202.16 WR

Silver: Tessa Virtue/Scott Moir (CAN) — 199.86
Bronze: Maia Shibutani/Alex Shibutani (USA) — 188
4. Madison Hubbell/Zachary Donohue (USA) — 187.4
5. Madison Chock/Evan Bates (USA) — 187.15
6. Anna Cappellini/Luca Lanotte (ITA) — 185.23

Pairs
Gold: Aljona Savchenko/Bruno Massot (GER) — 236.68

Silver: Sui Wenjing/Han Cong (CHN) — 230.89
Bronze: Meagan Duhamel/Eric Radford (CAN) — 210.83
4. Ksenia Stolbova/Fedor Klimov (RUS) — 209.26
5. Yevgenia Tarasova/Vladimir Morozov (RUS) — 208.73
6. Yu Xiaoyu/Zhang Hao (CHN) — 207.14

Men (from Friday)
Gold: Nathan Chen (USA) — 286.51
Silver: Shoma Uno (JPN) — 286.01

Bronze: Mikhail Kolyada (RUS) — 282.00
4. Sergei Voronov (RUS) — 266.59
5. Adam Rippon (USA) — 254.33
6. Jason Brown (USA) — 253.81

Emily Sisson a U.S. Olympic marathon trials favorite, thanks to Ireland

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Emily Sisson didn’t think she would become a professional runner until her last year of college. Now, at 28, she goes into the U.S. Olympic marathon trials as a contender for one of three Tokyo spots, if not the overall favorite.

“I’ve only done one marathon, so I definitely don’t feel like I’m an experienced marathoner,” Sisson said by phone last week from her Arizona base. “That’s the one question mark I’ve had all build-up.”

Predicting a marathon can be a crapshoot, but a Podiumrunner.com experts panel pegged Sisson to win. She is younger than any female U.S. Olympic marathoner since Anne Marie Lauck in 1996 (though fellow contender Jordan Hasay is a month younger).

Confidence stems from last April 28. Sisson clocked the second-fastest debut marathon in U.S. women’s history, a 2:23:08 on a windy day in London, where the early pace was slow. She finished sixth — behind five East Africans. She crossed 3:25 ahead of sometimes training partner and mentor Molly Huddle, also a headliner at trials in Atlanta on Feb. 29 (12 p.m. ET, NBC).

“We wanted to run faster,” Sisson said that day in London. “There’s a lot of room for improvement.”

Sisson later mentioned a pre-race scare on the “Keeping Track” podcast. She tripped over a carpet jogging back from a bathroom, banged both knees 15 minutes before the start and got checked out physically by a chiropractor and mentally by her husband, who has a master’s degree in mental health counseling.

Sisson then covered the final half of that marathon alone, a foreign feeling for the longtime track runner. At one point, she thought about having never before run more than 23 miles.

Her mind could have also wandered to sports memories that led her to the world’s strongest marathon: Attending a 1999 Women’s World Cup match and seeing her hero, Mia Hamm. As a soccer-playing teenager, being asked by a friend to join a track relay team. Or being told during a record-breaking high school career that she was reminiscent of 2004 Olympic marathoner Jen Rhines.

Sisson, whose dad ran and mom did gymnastics at the University of Wisconsin, transferred after one year in Madison to Providence. She had a best NCAA Championships finish of fourth going into her last year. Before that final season, Sisson was prepared to leave competitive running once her NCAA eligibility exhausted in pursuit of an MBA.

“I had been going through a bit of a funk with running,” she said. “I was getting a little tired.”

Things changed the summer before her senior year. She vacationed with then-boyfriend/now-husband Shane Quinn, a fellow Providence runner, in Quinn’s native Ireland. At one point, they altered training, ditching tempo runs for local road races. Sisson never before competed on the roads. She doesn’t remember the distances being exact. She does remember winning.

“That was a new, fun thing that kept the sport kind of fresh for me,” she said. “You finish, and you go into a local pub and have sandwiches.”

Providence coach Ray Treacy put Sisson in more road races that fall. The opportunity was right. She had no cross-country eligibility left while she readied for the winter and spring track seasons. She went on to win the 2015 NCAA Indoor and Outdoor 5000m, a springboard to the pros (while still going after the MBA).

Sisson was set back by injury in 2016 and placed 10th in the Olympic trials 10,000m. She kept training under Treacy, and perhaps just as important, with Huddle, the American record holder at 10,000m. Huddle, seven years older than Sisson, made her marathon debut after the Rio Olympics.

“Emily really looks up to her and is inspired by her,” Treacy said. “Molly has helped her out in numerous ways in training. … Making sure she’s not going overboard with the training, not running too fast. She kind of keeps her under control.”

Sisson made the last two world championships teams in the 10,000m, but Treacy thought marathon since 2015. They signed her up for the 2019 London Marathon, in part because Huddle was going to race it as her third career 26.2-miler. And in part to get Sisson ready for the Olympic trials in 10 months’ time.

The build-up was better than ideal. Sisson ran the second-fastest half marathon in U.S. history (on a record-eligible course) in January. She became the third-fastest U.S. woman all-time at 10,000m in March.

Come April, Treacy was impressed again just by watching Sisson after she crossed the London finish line in what would be the second-fastest marathon for a U.S. woman in 2019.

“It didn’t look like it took anything out of her,” Treacy said. “She recovered really fast. Within minutes, she was feeling pretty good. That was a good sign.”

Sisson returned home to Quinn and their golden retriever, Desmond, who has 1,400 Instagram followers. She skipped a fall marathon to compete in the 10,000m at track worlds in Doha, placing a respectable 10th.

The recent marathon build-up for trials went just as well, if not better, than the training for London.

“I’m definitely putting a bit of pressure on myself with this one,” Sisson said. “But at the same time, I don’t get caught up in so much what other people say. I don’t really read the articles about who’s the favorite or what chance you have of making the team.”

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Brigid Kosgei beaten as another world record smashed in Nike shoes

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Ethiopian Ababel Yeshaneh broke the half marathon world record by 20 seconds, beating new marathon world-record holder Brigid Kosgei in the United Arab Emirates on Friday.

Nike-sponsored runners lowered the men’s and women’s marathon and half marathon records since September 2018, each appearing to race in versions of the apparel giant’s scrutinized Vaporfly shoes.

Yeshaneh, a 28-year-old who finished 14th in the 2016 Olympic 5000m, clocked 1:04:31 for 13.1 miles to better Kenyan Joyciline Jepkosgei‘s world record from 2017.

Kosgei, a 26-year-old Kenyan, also came in under the old world record but 18 seconds behind Yeshaneh.

Kosgei took 81 seconds off Paula Radcliffe‘s 16-year-old women’s marathon world record on Oct. 13, clocking 2:14:04 to win the Chicago Marathon.

Nike Vaporfly shoes, including the prototypes worn by Kenyan Eliud Kipchoge when he ran a sub-two-hour marathon, were deemed legal by World Athletics’ new shoe regulations last month, according to Nike.

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