Alina Zagitova eyes more gold at worlds; women’s preview

Alina Zagitova
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Alina Zagitova hasn’t lost internationally in 18 months, and that doesn’t figure to change this week at the world championships in Milan.

The 15-year-old Russian is favored to become the youngest world gold medalist since Tara Lipinski (duplicating her feat from the Olympics) and make it five straight Olympic or world titles for Russian women, the longest streak for one country since American Carol Heiss won six straight Olympic/world titles from 1956 through 1960.

Zagitova would also become the first Olympic women’s champion to win worlds the following month since Kristi Yamaguchi in 1992. That’s largely because Olympic champions usually skip worlds in Olympic years. Since Yamaguchi, the only one to compete was Yuna Kim, who grabbed silver in 2010.

Zagitova may be young, but she may not have the longevity of Kim to make it to a second Olympics. Russia turns over a new class of elite women’s skaters every year.

Two weeks ago, 13-year-old Alexandra Trusova won the world junior title as the first woman to land two different quadruple jumps in one program. Trusova isn’t old enough to compete at the senior worlds until 2020.

Zagitova’s current rival and training partner, Olympic silver medalist and 2016 and 2017 World champion Yevgenia Medvedeva, withdrew from worlds due to injury.

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Which leaves the last two Olympic bronze medalists, Kaetlyn Osmond of Canada and Carolina Kostner of Italy, plus PyeongChang fourth-place finisher Satoko Miyahara of Japan as the top challengers this week.

None finished within seven points of Zagitova at any competition this season, the Russian’s first on the senior international level.

Zagitova set herself apart at the Olympics by putting all of her jumps in the second half of her programs for 10 percent bonuses and landing them all with positive grades of execution.

The U.S. contingent includes national champion Bradie Tennell, two-time Olympian Mirai Nagasu and Mariah Bell (replacement for 2017 U.S. champion Karen Chen).

It is the end of a challenging season for U.S. women. In the autumn, none qualified for the Grand Prix Final for a second straight year (after at least one had done so each of the previous seven seasons).

In PyeongChang, no U.S. woman finished in the top six for the first time in Winter Games history. Tennell, who emerged this season after placing ninth at 2017 Nationals, was the top U.S. Olympic finisher in ninth.

Tennell goes into worlds as the top seeded American — seventh — by best international scores this season.

Key Short Program Start Times (Wednesday ET)
Bradie Tennell (USA) — 8:48 a.m.
Mirai Nagasu (USA) — 10:25 a.m.
Mariah Bell (USA) — 10:32 a.m.
Carolina Kostner (ITA) — 11:05 a.m.
Alina Zagitova (RUS) — 11:12 a.m.
Kaetlyn Osmond (CAN) — 11:25 a.m.
Satoko Miyahara (RUS) — 11:31 a.m.

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MORE: Best figure skating moments from PyeongChang

Hail Ilia Malinin’s first U.S. figure skating title for six-quad ambition, Jason Brown’s advice

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SAN JOSE, California – Ilia Malinin clearly will have mixed emotions when he remembers winning his first U.S. figure skating title.

That was apparent from his reaction after finishing Sunday’s free skate.

The 18-year-old with limitless potential and seemingly limitless confidence had been rattled by his worst free skate of the season.

He shook his head sadly. Then he shook it again.

“Of course, this wasn’t the skate I wanted, but there’s always ups and downs, and you just after get over it and move on,” Malinin said.

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He planned the hardest technical program anyone ever had attempted, with six quadruple jumps and two challenging combinations in the second half of the four-minute program. And he gamely kept trying to execute it, even after significant mistakes that would leave him second to surprising Andrew Torgashev in the free skate.

Malinin (287.74 total points) still finished comfortably ahead of the evergreen Jason Brown (277.31). Torgashev was third overall at 256.56.

Malinin skated with doggedness rather the dynamism that infused his brilliant short program Friday, by far his best short program of the season.

“I think I was just a little bit sluggish, and I just wasn’t prepared for what was about to happen,” he said.

Malinin fell on his opening jump, the quadruple Axel, then reeled off three other quads flawlessly. He popped two other planned quads into doubles, then turned his final jumping pass, planned as a sequence of two jumps, into an unprecedented triple Lutz-triple Axel-triple toe loop sequence. For context: only Malinin has done a triple Lutz-triple Axel sequence.

“I think its’s not that I was planning too much,” he said. “I think it was I wasn’t really prepared for this amount. And it was mostly because we were focusing on that short program.”

Brown, 28, who first competed at senior nationals 12 years ago, skated magnificently. If it weren’t for a fall on his ambitious final free skate jump, a triple flip coming out of a knee slide, Brown’s overall performance in both the short and free would have been as good as any he had done in the U.S. Championships.

With his longevity and insight, Brown, a two-time Olympian and seven-time national medalist (gold in 2015) was able to put what had befallen Malinin into accurate perspective and encourage him not to lose confidence over it.

Brown heard the press conference questions Malinin was getting over what went wrong, questions both legitimate and expected, and he wanted his younger teammate not to dwell on them.

“You did a triple Lutz-triple Axel-triple toe at the end of your program, and I did a knee slide and could barely stand up to do the flip,” Brown said to Malinin, sitting next to him at the dais.

“The way you keep pushing the sport is incredible. So don’t stop being you.”

Malinin, an unexpected second at last year’s nationals, came here under a spotlight brighter than any he had experienced, largely due to his history-making success earlier this season as the first to land a quad Axel in competition.

For all his disarming bravado, evidenced by choosing quadg0d as his social media name, Malinin is not immune to the pressure of a big event and his position as favorite.

“There is an amount of experience (necessary) that it takes time to get,” Brown said. “I’ve been through it all. I’ve had a lot of ups, I’ve had a lot of downs. As you (Malinin) said, it’s how you take this experience and learn from it and grow from it. That’s what you’re going to do.”

Both Malinin and Brown leave Monday to perform eight shows in three Swiss cities over 11 days with the Art on Ice tour. They are both expected to be on the U.S. team for the world championships this March in Japan.

Malinin leaves with the title and the satisfaction of not having minimized risk given his big lead after the short program.

“This was an opportunity for me to try this new layout,” Malinin said. “Of course, it didn’t go off the best. We’ll take advice from this and look forward to worlds.”

Philip Hersh, who has covered figure skating at the last 12 Winter Olympics, is a special contributor to NBCSports.com.

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Mark McMorris breaks Winter X Games medals record with slopestyle gold

Mark McMorris
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Canadian snowboarder Mark McMorris broke his tie with American Jamie Anderson for the most Winter X Games medals across all sites, earning his 22nd medal, a slopestyle gold, in Aspen, Colorado.

On the final run of Sunday’s contest, McMorris overtook Norway’s Marcus Kleveland with back-to-back 1620s on the last two jumps. McMorris’ last three Aspen slopestyle titles were all won on his final run (2019, 2022).

“It’s something I never thought would ever come to me as a kid from Saskatchewan,” McMorris, 29, said on the broadcast. “Everything’s just been a bonus since I became a pro snowboarder.”

In a format introduced three years ago, athletes were ranked on overall impression of their best run over the course of a jam session rather than scoring individual runs.

McMorris won his record-extending seventh X Games Aspen men’s slopestyle title, one day after finishing fourth in big air.

“It just keeps getting crazier because I keep getting older,” he said. “People just keep pushing the limits, pushing the limits. Last night was such a downer, almost bums me out, like, dude, do I still have it? … To have one of those miracle wins where you do it on the last run and someone makes you push yourself, those are the best feelings.”

McMorris won slopestyle bronze medals at each of the last three Olympics and reportedly said last February that he was planning to compete through the 2026 Milan-Cortina Winter Games.

Canadian Max Parrot, the 2022 Olympic slopestyle champion, is taking this season off from competition.

Anderson, a two-time Olympic snowboard slopestyle champion, is expecting her first child.

Later Sunday, U.S. Olympian Mac Forehand won men’s ski big air with a 2160 on his last run, according to commentators. It scored a perfect 50. Olympic gold medalist Birk Ruud of Norway followed with a triple cork 2160 of his own, according to commentators, and finished third.

Canadian skier Megan Oldham added slopestyle gold to her big air title from Friday, relegating Olympic champion Mathilde Gremaud of Switzerland to silver.

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