Satoko Miyahara wins Skate America; U.S. women miss podium

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Japan’s Satoko Miyahara repeated as Skate America champion, while the U.S. failed to put a woman on the singles podium for the second time in the event’s 40-year history.

Miyahara, a two-time world medalist and fourth at the Olympics, became the first woman to win back-to-back Skate Americas since Yuna Kim in 2008 and 2009. She topped the short program and free skate, totaling 219.71 points and winning by 5.81.

She relegated countrywoman Kaori Sakamoto to silver at Skate America for a second straight year. Russian Sofia Samodurova, a 16-year-old in her Grand Prix debut, held on for bronze as the top of the standings went unchanged from after Saturday’s short.

SKATE AMERICA: Full Results

U.S. champion Bradie Tennell entered Skate America with the best total score of the field this season, but she had trouble with her triple Lutz-triple loop combination both days.

Tennell finished fourth, one spot lower than at her Grand Prix debut breakout at Skate America a year ago. The difficult triple Lutz-triple loop combo was done by just one senior woman last season — Olympic champion Alina Zagitova.

“I came into this competition feeling very prepared, and yesterday’s [triple-triple combo] mistake kind of threw me off a little bit,” Tennell, the only U.S. Olympian doing two Grand Prix events this fall, told Andrea Joyce on NBCSN. “But I’m proud of how I recovered from that, both in that [short] program and this [free skate]. I have a lot to work on.”

The only other time the U.S. didn’t put a woman on the Skate America podium was 10 years ago, when it was also held in Everett, Wash.

Miyahara, 20, has been the leading Japanese woman for most of the last four years, filling the void left by Mao Asada. Only 4-foot-11, Miyahara hasn’t challenged top Russians Zagitova and Yevgenia Medvedeva in jumping consistency, but her artistry has helped her make the podium in 10 of 12 Grand Prix starts.

Miyahara is arguably the top threat to the Russians this season with world champion Kaetlyn Osmond of Canada taking the year off and Italian Carolina Kostner out of the Grand Prix series with a hip injury. Two other Japanese may have a strong say — 16-year-old Rika Kihira, who landed two triple Axels in her senior international debut last month, and world silver medalist Wakaba Higuchi.

Earlier Sunday, Madison Hubbell and Zach Donohue earned the U.S.’ 10th straight Skate America ice dance title. More on the new leading U.S. couple here.

The Grand Prix season continues next week with Skate Canada featuring Olympic silver medalist Medvedeva with coverage on NBC and NBC Sports Gold.

As a reminder, you can watch the ISU Grand Prix Series live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. GO HERE to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season…NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.

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MORE: Nathan Chen wins Skate America by record margin

Richard Callaghan, figure skating coach, banned for life

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Richard Callaghan, a figure skating coach best known for helping Tara Lipinski earn 1998 Olympic gold, was ruled permanently ineligible for violations including sexual misconduct involving a minor.

Callaghan can still appeal the sexual misconduct violation, according to the U.S. Center for SafeSport, a watchdog for U.S. Olympic sports organizations that updated Callaghan’s status Wednesday.

He was first suspended in March 2018 pending an investigation into allegations first made against him more than 20 years ago.

Earlier this month, another former skater, Adam Schmidt, said in a lawsuit that he was sexually molested as a teenager by Callaghan starting in 1999.

Callaghan was previously accused of sexual misconduct in April 1999 by Craig Maurizi, one of his former students and later an assistant to him in San Diego and Detroit.

Maurizi told The New York Times that Callaghan had engaged in inappropriate sexual contact with him beginning when he was 15 years old. The alleged misconduct had begun nearly 20 years earlier. Callaghan denied the allegations.

In March 2018, Callaghan told ABC News: “That’s 19 or 20 years ago. I have nothing to say.”

Maurizi’s previous grievance against Callaghan with the U.S. Figure Skating Association, the precursor to U.S. Figure Skating, was dismissed on procedural grounds.

He was Callaghan’s assistant at the Detroit Skating Club until they split after Lipinski turned pro, left Callaghan and decided to train with Maurizi.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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MORE: Eight matchups to watch in figure skating Grand Prix Series

Pita Taufatofua, Tonga flag bearer, finishes last in kayak debut

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Pita Taufatofua, the Tonga Olympic flag bearer who went viral in Rio and PyeongChang, began his quest to make a third straight Olympics in a third different sport with a last-place finish in his opening-round heat at the world sprint kayak championships in Hungary on Wednesday.

The start of the heat appeared delayed as Taufatofua struggled to get his kayak into position in the water. He was left at the start as the other six kayakers raced out and finished between 33 and 40 seconds. Taufatofua took 58.19 seconds, the slowest of 53 finishers among seven total heats.

“Well that was slightly better than the first time I competed in Taekwondo or skiing,” was tweeted from Taufatofua’s account. “Would have liked to start facing the right way but that’s life.”

Taufatofua, 35, was the oldest athlete in the heat by nearly a decade. He is also entered in doubles races with Tonga canoe federation president Malakai Ahokava with heats Thursday and Friday.

Taufatofua hopes to compete at the Tokyo Olympics in taekwondo, where he competed in Rio, and in sprint kayak.

But he hasn’t competed in taekwondo in three years and just started training kayak this spring. At worlds, Taufatofua told the BBC he is still having trouble staying afloat in the water.

Taufatofua said in announcing the new sport in April that it would be “largely impossible” to qualify for Tokyo. He could be the first athlete to compete in a different sport in three straight Olympics (Summer and Winter) since the Winter Games began in 1924, according to the OlyMADMen.

“It’s certainly going to be the greatest challenge that I’ve ever had to embark on,” he said then.

Taufatofua’s results at worlds this week has little bearing on his Olympic qualifying prospects. Rather, he just needed to compete in Hungary to stay eligible for the Olympics.

The key will be an Oceania qualifying event early next year, where one Olympic bid is available. He will likely have to beat the best kayakers from Australia and New Zealand to grab it. Australian Stephen Bird placed eighth at the Rio Olympics and 11th at the 2018 World Championships.

If Taufatofua fails, he could receive a special tripartite invitation sometimes offered to smaller nations like Tonga.

Taufatofua became a social-media celebrity by marching into the Rio Olympic Opening Ceremony shirtless and oiled up. He then lost in the first round via mercy rule in his taekwondo tournament.

He made a quixotic bid for the PyeongChang Winter Games in cross-country skiing — and accomplished the feat, barely, in a sport that has lenient qualifying requirements for nations with a lack of Winter Games depth.

Taufatofua finished 114th out of 116 in his 15km Olympic cross-country skiing race, nearly 23 minutes behind the winner.

If Taufatofua is able to carry the Tongan flag at a third Opening Ceremony, he will definitely be shirtless again, in a similar outfit to what he wore in Rio and PyeongChang, he said last year.

MORE: Five-time Olympic kayak medalist banned four years

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