China steals men’s gymnastics world title after Russian drama; U.S. 4th

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Russia hoped for its first men’s world team title since the breakup of the Soviet Union.

Instead, China is back atop the sport after a three-year hiatus, via the smallest margin of victory in modern gymnastics history.

Russian Nikita Nagornyy‘s error on high bar on Monday’s last routine, muscling out of a handstand, handed the Chinese gold by .049 in the closest Olympic or world men’s or women’s team final since the perfect-10 scoring system was replaced in 2006.

“Almost everyone cried,” Russian Olympian Nikolai Kuksenkov said, according to R-Sport.

Nagornyy said he thought upon dismounting that it was enough for gold. Russia would have prevailed if he repeated his score from last week’s qualifying in Doha.

The 21-year-old Olympian has a tattoo on his ribs that says “salvame y guardame,” which roughly translates to “save and protect me” in Spanish and is a common Russian Orthodox phrase.

China won despite falls from world all-around champion Xiao Ruoteng on its first and last routines. Japan, the reigning Olympic and world champion, took bronze, 1.75 points ahead of the U.S.

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China captured 10 of 11 world team titles from 1994 through 2014 before Japan’s resurgence. China dropped to bronze in Rio but now looks more determined to spoil one of the most important events for the host country at the 2020 Tokyo Games.

Russia was in position for a breakthrough title, leading by 1.919 after four rotations. Then Artur Dalaloyan fell off the parallel bars. China busted through the opening, outscoring the Russians by 2.867 on the apparatus.

Japan led at the halfway point but was also done in on bars. Two-time Olympian Yusuke Tanaka came off on the fourth rotation, dropping the Japanese to third place. Eight-time Olympic and world all-around champion Kohei Uchimura is limited by an ankle injury, sitting out floor exercise and vault.

The U.S.’ fourth-place finish was the best it could have hoped for without significant help from China, Japan and Russia. The Americans were fifth at the Rio Olympics and at the last worlds with a team event in 2015. They missed the podium at three straight global championships for the first time since 1997, 1999 and 2000.

“The expectations for us weren’t very high,” Two-time Olympian Sam Mikulak said in a USA Gymnastics interview. “Going into it, people didn’t see us on the podium, but I think we showed that we’re a lot closer to being on that podium than people expected us to be. The biggest takeaway for us is get our starts [routine difficulty] up just a little bit more within this group, get a couple of guys healthy that are hurt right now.”

Mikulak, who last week qualified for five of the seven individual finals (most by an American since 1979), fell on the opening rotation on pommel horse, long the U.S.’ nemesis apparatus in team finals. He rallied for the day’s best high bar score — 14.5.

Mikulak qualified third into Wednesday’s all-around final, where the two-time Olympian can earn his first individual Olympic or world medal.

Worlds continue with the women’s team final Tuesday, live at 9 a.m. ET on Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA. The U.S., led by Simone Biles, is an overwhelming favorite to win a sixth straight Olympic or world title.

NBC Olympic Research contributed to this report.

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Javier Fernandez, Alina Zagitova highlight action at European Championships

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Spain’s Javier Fernandez competes for what is expected to be the final time this weekend at the European Figure Skating Championships in Minsk, Belarus. Olympic champion Alina Zagitova of Russia is also looking to defend her title in the ladies’ field.

NBC Sports Gold’s “Figure Skating Pass” will live stream every program starting on Wednesday, and NBCSN and NBC will also have coverage.

MORE: Schedule/ How to watch

Men

Fernandez, the 2018 PyeongChang bronze medalist, owns six European titles. No man since Austrian Karl Schaefer – who won eight consecutive European titles beginning in 1929 – has won as many straight titles as Fernandez. Fernandez traded world titles during the last Olympic quadrennial with his training partner Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan. They both train in Toronto under Brian Orser.

Also in the field are Michal Brezina from the Czech Republic, who most recently finished fourth at the Grand Prix Final at age 28, and three Russian men: Mikhail Kolyada, Maxim Kovtun, and Alexander Samarin.

Ladies

Reigning Olympic gold medalist Zagitova could lead a Russian podium sweep at the 2019 European Championships with teammates Stanislava Konstantinova and Sofia Samodurova.

The competition-within-the-competition at Europeans is also notable: Russia will not choose their World team until after the event. For example, two-time world champion Yevgenia Medvedeva is not competing at Europeans, and 2015 world champion Elizaveta Tuktamysheva was already told to train for Worlds despite not competing at Europeans.

Pairs

French pair Vanessa James and Morgan Cipres will try and buck a trend at Europeans, where teams representing Russia or the Soviet Union have won 47 of the last 54 titles. Russians Yevgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov are looking for a three-peat, though have been inconsistent so far this season and recently returned to last season’s short program.

James and Cipres missed out on bronze by 0.01 points at the 2018 Europeans, and could become the first French pair to win the event since 1932. The last non-Russian team to win Europeans was Germany’s Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy in 2011.

Ice dance

Three-time world champions Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron of France should coast to the gold medal in Minsk for a fifth consecutive title. Other dance teams have won more European titles, but no team has ever won five in a row.

The rest of the podium is more unclear. The Italians, Charlene Guignard and Marco Fabbri, will likely split the difference between the two Russian teams – who have their own domestic battle to contend with: Victoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov and Alexandra Stepanova and Ivan Bukin.

As a reminder, you can watch the European Championships live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. Go to NBCsports.com/gold/figure-skating 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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How to watch the European Figure Skating Championships

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Javier Fernandez returns to competition for probably a final time with his eyes on a seventh title at the European Figure Skating Championships in Minsk, Belarus Jan. 23-27.

Olympic champion Alina Zagitova looks for a second European title in the ladies’ field, while two couples from France look to top the podiums in the dance and pairs’ fields.

NBC Sports Gold’s “Figure Skating Pass” will live stream every program from Minsk starting Wednesday with the ladies’ short program.

NBCSN and NBC will also have coverage throughout the weekend.

Preview: Javier Fernandez, Alina Zagitova highlight Europeans

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European Figure Skating Championships broadcast schedule (all times Eastern)

Wednesday

Ladies’ short program: 3 a.m. (GOLD) begins at 4:30 p.m. on NBCSN

Pairs’ short program: 10:45 a.m. (GOLD)

 

Thursday

Men’s short program: 4 a.m. (GOLD) begins at 7 p.m. on NBCSN

Pairs’ free skate: 11 a.m. (GOLD), begins at 11 p.m. on NBCSN

 

Friday

Rhythm dance: 3:30 a.m. (GOLD) begins at 2 p.m. on NBCSN

Ladies’ free skate: 10 a.m. (GOLD) begins at 6 p.m. on NBCSN

 

Saturday

Men’s free skate: 3:15 a.m. (GOLD) begins at 11 a.m. on NBCSN

Free dance: 8:25 a.m. (GOLD)

 

Sunday

Ladies’ and men’s free skate: 1:30 p.m. on NBC