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Vashti Cunningham takes silver in world indoors high jump

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Vashti Cunningham followed her breakout 2016 World Indoor high jump title with silver to open the biennial global championships in Birmingham, Great Britain, on Thursday.

Russian Maria Lasitskene took gold with a clearance of 1.96 meters (later clearing 2.01 and missing three tries at 2.07). Lasitskene is one of the world’s most dominant athletes, winning her last 38 finals dating to July 2016.

Cunningham, 20, cleared 1.93 meters to grab silver. She missed all three attempts at 1.96 despite clearing that height on her first attempt at her two previous meets this season.

The daughter of retired NFL quarterback Randall Cunningham was 13th at the Rio Olympics and 10th at last year’s world championships as a teenager. She is experienced yet also the youngest member of the 53-athlete U.S. roster in Birmingham.

Cunningham won the 2016 World Indoor title against a field that did not include Lasitskene but did include Spaniard Ruth Beitia, who went on to win the Rio Olympics and then retire last year.

In the men’s high jump Thursday, Russian Danil Lysenko upset Qatar’s Mutaz Barshim by clearing 2.36 meters for gold. Barshim had the world’s best clearances each of the last four years and relegated Lysenko to silver at the 2017 World Outdoor Championships.

American Erik Kynard, the 2012 Olympic silver medalist, took fourth.

Later Thursday, Ethiopian Genzebe Dibaba won her third straight world title in the 3000m. The indoor mile world-record holder went to the lead with 1000m to go and prevailed by .63 of a second in 8:45.05.

Ethiopian-born Dutchwoman Sifan Hassan held off Brit Laura Muir by one tenth for silver. The top American was Olympic 5000m finalist Shelby Houlihan in fifth.

World Indoors continues through Sunday on NBCSN, Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA and NBC Sports Gold, highlighted by new 60m sprint world-record holder Christian Coleman.

World Indoors marks the lone global meet of the year, since outdoor worlds are held in odd-numbered years, and the next Olympics are in 2020.

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WORLD INDOORS: Full Results | Broadcast Schedule

Chinese figure skating judges banned for biased Olympic scoring

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Two Chinese figure skating judges were suspended by the International Skating Union for biased judging at the PyeongChang Olympics.

Chen Weiguang and Huang Feng had “preferential marking” for top Chinese skaters Jin Boyang (fourth place in PyeongChang) and the silver medalist pairs’ team of Sui Wenjing and Han Cong, respectively, according to the ISU.

Chen was banned two years and excluded from the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing. Huang got a one-year ban.

Chen awarded her highest grades of execution scores of the men’s competition to Jin, as well as her second-highest program components scores, trailing only gold medalist Yuzuru Hanyu. Both sets of scores, in both the short and long programs, were out of line with the other eight judges.

“There is evidence of preference for the Chinese skater and prejudice against his strongest competitors,” an ISU report read. “Her marks were completely unrealistic.”

The pairs’ judge Huang “obviously favored his pair also vis-à-vis the other top candidates for the Olympic gold medal,” the ISU said in a report, referencing inflated scores for Sui and Han and lower scores for gold and bronze medalists Aljona Savchenko and Bruno Massot of Germany and Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford of Canada.

Huang was warned one month before the Olympics by the ISU for biased judging at the December 2017 Grand Prix Final pairs’ event.

Both suspensions are subject to appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

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Javier Fernandez to skip Grand Prix, still compete next season

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Javier Fernandez, who in PyeongChang became the first Spanish Olympic figure skating medalist, will skip the fall Grand Prix series but return for January’s European Championships, which could be his final competition.

Europeans will be Fernandez’s focus for the season, his agent said Tuesday.

Fernandez, 26, added an Olympic bronze medal to his 2015 and 2016 World titles. He has said that his third Olympics in PyeongChang would be his last. But Fernandez did not say he would retire after the Winter Games, though he did skip the world championships in March.

Fernandez now plans to compete in his 13th straight European Championships in Minsk in January. He won the last six titles. It’s unknown if he will continue on to the world championships in Saitama, Japan, in March.

In Fernandez’s absence, the top male singles skaters in the fall Grand Prix season should be double Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu, PyeongChang silver medalist Shoma Uno and American Nathan Chen, who was fifth at the Olympics after a disastrous short program but ran away with March’s world title by the largest margin in history.

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