Yevgenia Medvedeva must rally to make Grand Prix Final

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Coach Brian Orser gave Yevgenia Medvedeva another post-short program pep talk Friday, this one after the Russian stood third at Internationaux de France, but within a half-point of first place.

“There’s a lot of pressure on the short program, OK?” Orser told the two-time world champion and Olympic silver medalist. “And we’re getting there. You’re a little bit behind, so guess what? Kill it in the long, just like we did at Skate Canada. … You’ve got to be feisty.”

The standings must change in Saturday’s free skate, or Medvedeva will fail to qualify for December’s six-skater Grand Prix Final, the biggest annual event outside of the world championships.

Her short program looked smooth until she doubled the back end of her planned triple-triple combination. She tallied 67.55 points, trailing Japanese Mai Mihara and Rika Kihira by .4 and .09, respectively.

U.S. champion Bradie Tennell is sixth after struggling with jumps, hurting her already minute chance of making the Grand Prix Final. Tennell almost surely must win, or it will mark a third straight season with no U.S. woman in the Final.

GP FRANCE: Full Results | TV/Stream Schedule

The two-time world champ Medvedeva finished second or third at her last four events dating to January, since withdrawing before last season’s Grand Prix Final with a broken bone in her right foot. She moved from Moscow to Toronto in the offseason, began training under Orser and rebounded from a seventh-place short program to finish third in her Grand Prix season debut at Skate Canada last month.

Orser referred to her leading Skate Canada free skate in his kiss-and-cry urging to Medvedeva on Friday.

“I feel more alive than after the short program at Skate Canada,” Medvedeva said, according to the International Skating Union “I have the opportunity to fight.”

Medvedeva will automatically make the Grand Prix Final by winning Saturday. If she finishes second, it may come down to a tiebreaker. Olympic champion and former training partner Alina Zagitova is already in the Final. The two Russians haven’t faced off since Zagitova edged Medvedeva for gold in PyeongChang by 1.31.

Mihara is the surprise leader in France despite under-rotating the back end of her triple-triple combo. She finished fourth at her last four Grand Prix starts but is now in position to make her first Grand Prix Final.

Kihira, who won her senior Grand Prix debut two weeks ago, is in third place after popping her opening Axel. Kihira, ranked second in the world this season, landed two triple Axels in her leading free skate at NHK Trophy two weeks ago.

Tennell struggled with her difficult, opening triple Lutz-triple loop combination, as she did en route to a fourth-place finish at October’s Skate America. She two-footed her Lutz landing and was unable to add a second jump, forcing her to tack a triple toe loop onto her triple flip later in the program. Three of her four jumps were called under-rotated.

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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April Ross, Alix Klineman back atop Olympic beach volleyball qualifying

April Ross, Alix Klineman
FIVB World Tour
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Two-time Olympic medalist April Ross and new partner Alix Klineman moved back on top of the U.S. Olympic beach volleyball qualifying standings by winning an event in Itapema, Brazil this week.

Ross, who split from Kerri Walsh Jennings in 2017, and Klineman beat Canadians Sarah Pavan and Melissa Humana-Paredes 25-23, 18-21, 15-10 in Sunday’s final for their third title in 11 FIVB World Tour tournaments together.

“Every victory is important, but this counts for more,” Klineman said, according to the FIVB. “We want to send a message and we want to be consistently the best.

Ross and Klineman supplanted Walsh Jennings and her new partner, Brooke Sweat, for the lead in the early U.S. Olympic qualifying rankings with still more than a year of events ahead.

1. Ross/Klineman – 3,240 (5 events played)
2. Walsh Jennings/Sweat – 3,100 (7 events)
3. Day/Flint – 2,180 (5 events)
4. Hughes/Ross — 2,000 (4 events)
5. Larsen/Stockman — 1,840 (5 events)
6. Sponcil/Claes — 1,600 (3 events)

Each team’s 12 best results from Sept. 1, 2018, to June 14, 2020, go into the Olympic qualifying rankings. That means Ross and Klineman are comfortably in front, having played two fewer events than Walsh Jennings and Sweat, who lost in the quarterfinals in Itapema.

The top two U.S. pairs come June 15, 2020, provided they’re ranked high enough internationally, will qualify for Tokyo. Most of the qualifying events, including the ones with the most points available, are still to come this summer.

Ross, 36, picked up Klineman, 29, after Walsh Jennings didn’t join her in signing a domestic AVP contract in 2017. The 6-foot-5 Klineman primarily played indoor the previous decade, including at Stanford from 2007-10 after being the Gatorade National Player of the Year coming out of high school.

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Katie Ledecky extends 5-year win streak

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Katie Ledecky extended a five-year domestic win streak by taking the 200m freestyle at the Tyr Pro Swim Series at Bloomington on Saturday.

In her last full meet before July’s world championships, Ledecky clocked 1:55.80 to beat training partner Simone Manuel by 1.44 seconds for her second win in as many days. Ledecky is also entered in Sunday’s 800m free on the last day of the meet.

Ledecky, who also cruised to a 400m free victory on Friday, ranks third in the world in the 200m free this year, behind Australian Ariarne Titmus and Swede Sarah Sjöström (the Olympic silver medalist who is not expected to race the 200m free at worlds).

Ledecky, a five-time Olympic champion, hasn’t lost a 200m, 400m, 800m or 1500m free final at a domestic meet since Allison Schmitt beat her in a 200m free on Jan. 18, 2014 when Ledecky was 16 years old.

BLOOMINGTON: Full Results

But Ledecky lost the two biggest 200m frees of this Olympic cycle so far, at the 2017 World Championships and the 2018 Pan Pacific Championships. Italian veteran Federica Pellegrini handed Ledecky her first individual final defeat at a major international meet at 2017 Worlds.

Ledecky dropped to third in the 200m free at Pan Pacs in Tokyo last year, beaten by younger swimmers Taylor Ruck of Canada and Rikako Ikee of Japan.

Ruck, who like Ledecky trains at Stanford, is in Bloomington, but she chose not to swim the 200m free on Saturday. She instead swam the 200m backstroke about 45 minutes after the 200m free and was upset by 17-year-old Regan Smith. Smith won in 2:06.47, moving to No. 3 in the world this year.

In other events Saturday, Ella Eastin captured the 400m individual medley in 4:37.18, taking 1.25 seconds off her personal best and moving to fifth in the world this year. Eastin is not on the world championships team after an untimely bout with mono before qualifying meets last summer.

Blake Pieroni won the men’s 200m free in 1:47.25. No American ranks in the top 20 in the world this year. World silver medalist Townley Haas did not enter Bloomington.

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