U.S. wins men’s freestyle wrestling world cup for first time in 15 years

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Even without powers Iran and Russia in the field, the U.S.’ first men’s freestyle world cup title in 15 years still meant plenty to Jordan Burroughs.

“I’ve won every single tournament I’ve ever competed in,” the 2012 Olympic and four-time world champion said, “except this one.”

Burroughs moved to 27-0 in his six-year world cup career, then watched as teammate and 2016 Olympic champion Kyle Snyder clinched the team victory over Azerbaijan in Sunday’s final in Iowa City.

“I would always pick myself to go out there and wrestle when it comes down to the team,” said Snyder, the youngest Olympic and world champion in USA Wrestling history. “We have a lot of good guys, but I feel real confident in my ability to wrestle under those type of circumstances.”

The eight-nation annual meet lost some sting with the absence of Russia, Iran and Turkey, which combined to win four of the six Olympic men’s freestyle gold medals in Rio. Iran and Turkey withdrew in the winter.

Then the Russian Foreign Ministry accused the U.S. of trying to bar Russian wrestlers as the U.S. embassy in Moscow said it was unable to fulfill a late visa request by the Russian Wrestling Federation to travel to Iowa City.

Iran won the men’s freestyle world cup the last six years. Russia was runner-up three of the last five years. The U.S. men’s freestyle team ranked No. 1 at the 2017 Worlds, though.

“I wouldn’t want to come 12 hours to compete against these 10 guys that we have anyway,” Burroughs said. “We’re the best team in the world. People are like, well, Iran, Russia, they’re the best teams. We’re the best team. We’re the reigning world champions. We’re the team champs. If they wanted to win a world cup, they should have prepared and been here to wrestle us. … We flew all the way out to Iran, 15-hour flight, to get there [to the world cup and finish second] last year. They should have been here this year.”

This 10-man U.S. team included not only the Olympic champions Burroughs and Snyder, but also Olympic bronze medalist J’den Cox, world champion Logan Stieber and world medalists James GreenThomas Gilman and Nick Gwiazdowski. Burroughs, 29, is the only man in that group older than 25.

“I think we’re the best team the United States has ever made, and we’re only going to get better,” Snyder said. “We’ve got people coming up in the developmental age groups. We have guys who haven’t made teams yet that are really, really good. I think this is the best team the United States has ever had, but I don’t even think it’ll be close to what we’re going to have when it comes to the Olympics and world championships in the future.”

Americans are preparing for the world team trials in June and the world championships in October in Budapest.

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MORE: Eight-time Olympic medalist set for first swim meet since Rio

United States 6, Azerbaijan 4
57kg: Giorgi Edisherashvili (Azerbaijan) dec. Thomas Gilman (USA), 8-7
61kg: Kendric Maple (USA) dec. Afghan Khashalov (Azerbaijan), 6-2
65kg: Logan Stieber (USA) dec. Haji Aliyev (Azerbaijan), 6-3
70kg: Joshgun Azimov (Azerbaijan) dec. James Green (USA), 4-4
74kg: Jordan Burroughs (USA) pin Gasjimurad Omarov (Azerbaijan), 3:15
79kg: Kyle Dake (USA) dec. Jabrayil Hasanov (Azerbaijan), 5-3
86kg: David Taylor (USA) tech. fall Aleksander Gostiev (Azerbaijan), 12-2
92kg: Aslanbek Alborov (Azerbaijan) dec. J’den Cox (USA), 4-4
97kg: Kyle Snyder (USA) tech fall Roman Bakirov (Azerbaijan), 14-3
125kg: Jamaladdin Magomedov (Azerbaijan) dec. Nick Gwiazdowski (USA) 4-3

Japanese pair edges Americans for historic Grand Prix Final figure skating title

Riku Miura, Ryuichi Kihara
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Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara won the biggest title ever for a Japanese figure skating pair, taking the Grand Prix Final and consolidating their status as the world’s top active team.

Miura and Kihara, last season’s world silver medalists, barely outscored world champions Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier in Turin, Italy, in both Thursday’s short program and Friday’s free skate to win the six-pair event that is a preview of March’s worlds.

The Japanese totaled 214.58 points, distancing the Americans by a mere 1.3 points after Frazier erred on both of their side-by-side jumping passes in the free skate. Italians Sara Conti and Niccolo Macii took bronze.

“We had a very late start to our season than initially planned, so as we have been performing at each event, I see us getting stronger, improving things,” said Frazier, who with Knierim had their best short program and free skate scores of the autumn.

Knierim and Frazier didn’t decide to continue competing together this season until July.

“I feel a little personally disappointed tonight just for myself for my jumps,” Frazier continued. “I was a little all over the place and, normally, I can execute better, so I feel a little bad, but I’m very proud of us overall. We’ve done a great job of improving each competition and looking forward to the second half of the season where we can start tapping into our best skating.”

GRAND PRIX FINAL: Results | Broadcast Schedule

Miura and Kihara, who partnered in June 2019 and train in Ontario, both waited with trepidation for their final score to be posted, worried that each’s separate mistake on jumps might cost them the title. When they learned they won, both burst into tears.

“This was the first time in eight years that I made a mistake with a Salchow, so I thought we might not get a good score, and it would be my fault,” Kihara said.

Miura and Kihara entered the competition ranked No. 1 in the world by best scores this season ahead of Knierim and Frazier, who in March became the first U.S. pair to win a world title since 1979.

Last season, Miura and Kihara became the second Japanese pair to make a Grand Prix podium and to earn a world championships medal. Their ascension helped Japan win its first Olympic figure skating team event medal in February (a bronze that could be upgraded to gold pending the Kamila Valiyeva case).

In Grand Prix Final history, Japan had won 11 gold medals and 40 total medals, all in singles, before this breakthrough.

Knierim and Frazier, already the first U.S. pair to compete in the Grand Prix Final since 2015, became the first U.S. pair to win a Grand Prix Final medal. The Final has been held annually since 1996, though it was canceled the last two seasons due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Miura and Kihara and Knierim and Frazier ascended to the top of the sport while the top five teams from the Olympics from Russia and China have not competed internationally since the Winter Games.

All Russian skaters are ineligible for international competition due to the war in Ukraine. China’s pairs, including Olympic champions Sui Wenjing and Han Cong, didn’t enter last March’s worlds and did not compete in the fall Grand Prix Series.

Later Friday, world champion Kaori Sakamoto of Japan led the women’s short program with 75.86 points, 1.28 ahead of countrywoman Mai Mihara. American Isabeau Levito, the 15-year-old world junior champion, was fifth of six skaters in her Grand Prix Final debut.

Canadians Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier topped the rhythm dance with 85.93 points, edging Americans Madison Chock and Evan Bates by .44. Both couples are bidding for the biggest international title of their careers. None of the Olympic medalists competed internationally this fall.

The Grand Prix Final ends Saturday with the men’s and women’s free skates and free dance, all live on Peacock.

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A Winter Olympic medal still being decided, 10 months later

Fanny Smith, Daniela Maier
It's still unknown whether Fanny Smith (green) or Daniela Maier (blue) is the Olympic ski cross bronze medalist. (Getty)
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There is a second Winter Olympic medal result still in question, 10 months after the Games.

While the figure skating team event results are still unknown due to the Kamila Valiyeva case, the bronze medal in women’s ski cross is also in dispute.

Originally, Swiss Fanny Smith crossed the finish line in third place in the four-woman final at the Winter Games in February. Upon review by the International Ski Federation (FIS) jury, she was minutes later demoted to fourth place after making contact with German Daniela Maier near the end of the course. Maier, who originally was fourth, was upgraded to bronze.

“I tried to be OK with the fourth place. I was very disappointed, I have to say, [then] the jury was like this,” Maier said then. “I am really sorry for Fanny that it’s like this right now. … The jury decided like this, so accept it and be happy with the medal.”

Smith and the Swiss ski federation appealed. FIS reinstated Smith as the bronze medalist nine days after the race and six days after the Closing Ceremony. A FIS appeals commission met four times and reviewed video and written documentation for several hours before deciding that “the close proximity of the racers at that moment resulted in action that was neither intentional or avoidable.”

But that wasn’t the end. The case ended up reportedly going to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), whose rulings are usually accepted as final. The CAS process is ongoing, European media reported this week.

CAS has not responded to a request for comment. A FIS contact said Friday, “There is currently no update to provide in regards to the bronze medal in ski cross. Should there be any update, we will inform you.”

Smith said there should be news soon regarding the case, according to Blick.

Maier still has the bronze medal at her home and enjoys looking at it, according to German media, which also reported that the German ski federation expects Maier to win the case and keep the medal. Smith and Maier spoke extensively about it in recent training sessions and cleared things up. Maier said the best outcome would be bronze medals for both of them, according to the report.

For now, FIS lists Smith as the bronze medalist. The IOC lists Maier as the bronze medalist.

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