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Alina Zagitova tops Grand Prix Helsinki short program

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Olympic champion Alina Zagitova leads at Grand Prix Helsinki despite a short program jumping error in her first top-level event of the season.

Zagitova, who in PyeongChang became the second-youngest singles gold medalist after Tara Lipinski, singled the back end of her opening triple-triple combination on Friday.

She scored 68.9 points and leads by 5.13 going into Saturday’s free skate after the other top women also made mistakes. Japan’s Yuna Shiraiwa is in second place, followed by Belgian Loena Hendrickx.

Zagitova’s score is 11 points fewer than she tallied at a lower-level event in September. The 16-year-old later noted she is two inches taller than at the Olympics.

“I don’t really know why everybody is so interested in how much I’ve been growing,” Zagitova said through a translator.

Japan’s Kaori Sakamoto was Zagitova’s biggest threat going in, but she fell twice and into seventh place.

Earlier, Italians Nicole Della Monica and Matteo Guarise topped the pairs’ short program.

Later, Russians Alexandra Stepanova and Ivan Bukin led the rhythm dance with 78.18 points. U.S. couples Lorraine McNamara and Quinn Carpenter and Christina Carreira and Anthony Ponomarenko were third and fourth.

Nobody in the Helsinki field has won an Olympic or world pairs’ or dance medal or a Grand Prix event.

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Zagitova, 16, can afford mistakes this week given her top rivals — namely Olympic silver medalist and former training partner Yevgenia Medvedeva — are not in the Helsinki field. Zagitova will not face Medvedeva until December.

Sakamoto earned silver medals at the last two Skate Americas and ranks third among the deep Japanese on the early season.

Another Olympic champion, Yuzuru Hanyu, makes his Grand Prix season debut in Helsinki on Saturday. Hanyu has never won his Grand Prix season debut.

This is the first top-level event with both reigning Olympic singles champions since the 1992 World Championships.

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: Medvedeva thanks Brian Orser for late-night Skate Canada talk

Does Lance Armstrong believe doping contributed to cancer?

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Lance Armstrong said on Sunday’s ESPN film “Lance” that he didn’t know whether he got testicular cancer because of his doping in the early-to-mid 1990s.

“I don’t know the answer to that,” he said. “And I don’t want to say no because I don’t think that’s right, either. I don’t know if it’s yes or no, but I certainly wouldn’t say no. The only thing I will tell you is the only time in my life that I ever did growth hormone was the 1996 season [before being diagnosed with moderate to advanced cancer in October 1996]. So just in my head, I’m like ‘growth, growing, hormones and cells.’ Like, if anything good needs to be grown, it does. But wouldn’t it also make sense that if anything bad is there, that it, too, would grow?”

Armstrong was asked a similar question by Oprah Winfrey in his January 2013 doping confession.

“Do you think that banned substances contributed to you getting cancer?” Winfrey asked.

“I don’t think so,” Armstrong said then. “I’m not a doctor, I’ve never had a doctor tell me that or suggest that to me personally, but I don’t believe so.”

That was not the first time doping and cancer were part of the same conversation.

Teammate Frankie Andreu and then-fiancee Betsy said that Armstrong told a doctor on Oct. 27, 1996, at Indiana University Hospital that he had taken performance-enhancing drugs; EPO, testosterone, growth hormone, cortisone and steroids.

Armstrong said he probably began doping at age 21, in 1992 or 1993.

“I remember when we were on a training ride in 2002, Lance told me that [Michele] Ferrari [the infamous doctor who provided performance-enhancing drugs] had been paranoid that he had helped cause the cancer and became more conservative after that,” former teammate Floyd Landis said in 2011, according to Sports Illustrated.

TIMELINE: Lance Armstrong’s rise and fall

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Cortina requests to postpone Alpine skiing worlds from 2021 to 2022

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The Italian Winter Sports Federation was making a formal request on Monday to postpone next year’s world Alpine skiing championships in Cortina d’Ampezzo until March 2022.

Italian Olympic Committee president Giovanni Malagò revealed the plans during an interview with RAI state TV on Sunday night.

Considering the fallout in Italy from the coronavirus pandemic, Malagò said “this is the best solution” in order to avoid the championships being canceled or shortened.

“It’s a decision in which we both lose but we realize this is the best — or maybe the only thing — to do,” Malago said.

The Italian federation confirmed that the proposal would be presented during an International Ski Federation (FIS) board meeting Monday. The Italian federation added that the decision to make the proposal was made jointly by the organizing committee in Cortina, the Veneto region and the Italian government.

It will be up to FIS to decide on any postponement.

Cortina was already forced to cancel the World Cup Finals in March this year due to the advancing virus, which has now accounted for more than 30,000 deaths in Italy.

Moving the worlds to March 2022 would put the event one month after the Beijing Olympics and likely force FIS to cancel that season’s finals in Méribel and Courchevel, France.

The Cortina worlds are currently scheduled for Feb. 7-21, 2021.

Worlds are usually held every other winter, in odd years.

Cortina is also slated to host Alpine events during the 2026 Milan-Cortina Olympics.

MORE: Anna Veith retires, leaves Austrian Alpine skiing in unfamiliar territory

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