Sam Mikulak earns first individual world championships medal

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Sam Mikulak had to wait until the very last routine of the world championships, but it had to be worth it. He’s finally an individual medalist.

The two-time Olympian and five-time U.S. all-around champion earned bronze on high bar in Doha, breaking through after four previous fourth-place finishes in Olympic or world finals. Including two this week and one earlier Saturday on parallel bars.

Mikulak will no longer be known as arguably the best gymnast in U.S. history without individual hardware.

“It’s a big weight off my chest,” he said. “It’s been such a emotional roller-coaster throughout this entire meet. … I can finally rest easy, go home and hang out with [bull terrier] Marshall and [girlfriend] Mia.”

Flying Dutchman Epke Zonderland earned gold with 15.1 for his baffling release moves, adding to his Olympic and world titles from 2012, 2013 and 2014. Japan’s Kohei Uchimura took silver with 14.8, his 21st career world medal. Mikulak snagged bronze with 14.533, just .033 ahead of 2017 World champ Tin Srbic of Croatia.

No man had a better meet than Russian Artur Dalaloyan, who became the first man to earn five medals at a worlds since Vitaly Scherbo in 1991.

GYM WORLDS: Full Results | TV Schedule

It had been a difficult week for Mikulak. The 26-year-old took perhaps the hardest defeat of his career on Wednesday, when he erred on high bar on the last rotation of the all-around final. He entered that routine in third place and would have earned at least bronze with a hit.

After, the normally California cool Mikulak said he was “pissed” and that he would either “go home dying, or I’m going to get a medal.”

He had four more chances in apparatus finals Friday and Saturday but finished seventh on floor exercise and fourth on pommel horse and parallel bars. However, high bar is Mikulak’s best event, despite those mistakes in the all-around.

“Today was a lot of redemption from all-around finals, being able to prove that I can go out, rock a set under this kind of pressure,” he said. “All-around finals, I played a little bit of the conservative route, played it too safe. You can never play it safe in this sport. That’s how you get in trouble. Sometimes you’ve got to let everything go.”

Mikulak saved the U.S. men from going medal-less at an Olympics or worlds for the first time since 2009, though the team finished fourth and Yul Moldauer was fourth on floor. Mikulak is the only active team member with Olympic experience.

“I feel like a veteran, finally, in this sport,” he said. “People have been saying I’m a veteran, but I think this is the first time I’ve proven I’m one of those.”

Also Saturday, North Korean Olympic champion Ri Se Gwang won vault for the third time at worlds.

Chinese Zou Jingyuan earned his second straight world title on parallel bars with a 16.433-point routine, topping Olympic champion Oleg Verniaiev‘s 15.591.

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MORE: Why Simone Biles can win with two falls

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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