New Zealand sweeps Rugby World Cup Sevens, celebrates with haka

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SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — New Zealand winger Akuila Rokolisoa took the offload from Trael Joass and split two English defenders. Seconds later he was somersaulting over the tryline with the ball, but he might as well have been carrying the Melrose Cup.

New Zealand rolled past England 33-12 on Sunday with a performance that featured speed, strength and a stout defense to repeat as Rugby World Cup Sevens champions and become the first three-time winner of the tournament.

The All Blacks Sevens players ripped off their shirts but kept their gold medals on for a celebratory post-match haka on the same field where the Black Ferns won the women’s competition less than 24 hours earlier. The results meant back-to-back World Cup doubles for the New Zealand teams.

“We were really proud of the girls how they played those two days,” New Zealand men’s sevens captain Scott Curry said. “It’s awesome to kind of simulate what they did earlier and go back-to-back for the first time ever. It’ll be good to go home with two World Cups, that’s for sure.”

Rokolisoa’s try with less than a minute left pushed New Zealand’s advantage to 14 points and Joass’ try on the final movement was merely an exclamation point to the match and the beginning of the celebration.

South Africa outlasted Olympic champion Fiji 24-19 to win the bronze after the tournament’s top two seeds were bounced in the semifinals.

Two-time reigning world series champions and top-seeded South Africa scored the opening try in its semifinal against England but was blanked the rest of the way in 29-7 loss. England needed overtime to beat the United States in the quarterfinals.

“Right now, it’s still hard,” English captain Tom Mitchell said shortly after losing to New Zealand. “You come into these tournaments wanting to be world champions. That’s why we’re all here. But I think we’ll look back at it and be proud of the effort the boys put in.”

The U.S. smothered Scotland 28-0 but tackled poorly and didn’t take care of the ball in a 33-7 loss to Argentina in the fifth-place game. Neither the American men nor women earned a medal at the Rugby Sevens global showcase but players and coaches agreed the three-day event, which sold more than 100,000 tickets, was important in raising USA Rugby’s profile. The sixth-place finish represents the best for the Eagles in a Sevens World Cup.

“It’s disappointing to end the weekend like that,” U.S. captain Madison Hughes said. “The energy of the crowd was just absolutely awesome all weekend.”

The knockout style of the tournament — a departure from the regular system of a group stage followed by knockouts — drew some criticism from coaches and players but World Rugby CEO Brett Gosper on Sunday said the organization will evaluate to see if the format could be used in future World Cups or world series events.

“This format lends itself very well to a combined tournament,” Gosper said. “We’d like to see the women playing with the men in the same stadium, and to do that you change some formats.”

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MORE: U.S. women get fourth at Rugby World Cup Sevens

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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