Alina Zagitova leads European ladies’ short program

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Just one year ago, a newcomer to the senior ranks stole the show at the Europeans, winning her first European title over her teammate, double world champion Yevgenia Medvedeva, who was coming back from an injury.

One year later, the small girl had the poise to come back with an Olympic gold medal under her belt, ready to fight again: Alina Zagitova didn’t lose much time after her Olympics. Again, she proved that she was the queen of Europe, winning a clear victory in the short program Wednesday afternoon in Minsk, Belarus. Two of the top three skaters, Russia’s Sofia Samodurova and Swiss Alexia Paganini, are newcomers to the top of European ranks.

Results: Ladies’ short program

Skating first of the final group, Zagitova landed her opening triple Lutz, triple loop combination, although less stellar than her morning practice. Her triple loop was deemed underrotated. Her program, set to “The Phantom of the Opera,” was exquisitely devised, however. She amassed the best artistic score of the day, 36.40 points, and 75.00 points overall.

“We’ve discussed with my coaches and we decided that I needed to develop personally,” Zagitova said during the post-event press conference. “That led to indeed a complex musical composition. I must say that at first, it was difficult to live in the moment, while being fully aware of the character I had to represent. We talked a lot with my coaches and they helped me understand who I had to embody. It’s become much easier now.”

Samodurova’s program, which she skated to Nyah, from Mission Impossible II, may not have been as complex as Zagitova’s, but her technical mastery was superlative. Samodurova’s rotation was fast and precise. Her triple flip, triple toe combination garnered 11.24 points on its own. Samodurova received the best technical score, 39.25 points, 0.60 point ahead of Zagitova’s, and 72.88 points overall, a new season’s best.

“I don’t know how that happens. I just jumped and that was it!” she laughed afterward.

“The secret here is to show the best skating, whatever the results,” she added. “You should come here with only positive emotions about your performance”.

A crop of Russian flags rose from the stands as she ended her routine, as if Russia already had found an alternate queen ready to take over.

Many thought that the competition could lead to a Russian sweep again, but Stanislava Konstantinova, the third Russian woman, lost her chance twice. Once, when she doubled the opening Lutz of her planned triple Lutz, triple toe combination. And then, when she fell at the end of the triple flip, triple toe she went for at the end of her program instead.

No Russian sweep this time – but an incredibly strong duo took the lead of the championship. Samodurova will advance to the free program some 7.22 points ahead of third placed, Paganini.

Paganini was the last skater to take the ice. Her program to “Yo Soy Maria” was as crisp and lively as her music was powerful and slow. Paganini amassed 65.64 points, cracking her season’s best by some 2.21 points.

“I really worked hard to get the level of each element to maximize my points,” she said.

It worked quite well, as all of Paganini’s elements earned a Level 4.

Just .03 point behind Paganini, Finland’s Viveca Lindfors, provided the sensation of the day. Europe will have lots to say on the global stage!

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

MORE: Behind the Scenes at the European Championships: Day 1

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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Chicago Marathon features Emily Sisson’s return, Conner Mantz’s debut, live on Peacock

Emily Sisson
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At Sunday’s Chicago Marathon, Emily Sisson makes her return, nearly three years after Olympic Trials disappointment. Conner Mantz makes one of the most anticipated U.S. men’s debuts in 26.2-mile racing.

It is not the norm, but an American will be one of the spotlight runners in both the men’s and women’s elite races at a major marathon. Peacock airs live coverage at 8 a.m. ET.

Sisson, 30, starts her first mass marathon since dropping out of the Olympic Trials on Feb. 29, 2020, her legs “destroyed” on the hilly Atlanta course where she started as arguably the favorite. She ran the virtual New York City Marathon later in 2020, but that was solo (and not in New York City). Her 2:38:00 isn’t recorded in her official results on her World Athletics bio.

Since, Sisson won the Olympic Trials 10,000m on the track and was the top American in Tokyo in 10th place. She moved back to the roads, winning national titles at 15km and the half marathon and breaking the American record in the latter.

Sisson vaulted into the elite group of U.S. female marathoners in 2019, when she clocked the second-fastest debut marathon in American history, a 2:23:08 on a windy day in London, where the early pace was slow.

At the time, it was the 12th-best U.S. performance all-time. In the last two years, Keira D’Amato, 37, and Sara Hall, 39, combined to run seven faster marathons. At Chicago, a flat course that produced a world record three years ago, Sisson can answer them and perhaps get close to D’Amato’s American record 2:19:12.

“I’m hoping sub-2:20,” coach Ray Treacy said, according to LetsRun.com. “With the [super] shoes and the training behind her, I would think that’s [worth] at least three minutes.”

It is less likely that Sisson can challenge for the win on Sunday given the presence of Kenyan Ruth Chepngetich, the 2019 World champion and defending champion in the Windy City. The 28-year-old mom is the fifth-fastest woman in history with a personal best of 2:17:08. And Ethiopian Ruti Aga, a podium finisher in Berlin, New York City and Tokyo with a best time of 2:18:34, though she has one marathon finish since the pandemic (a seventh place).

Like Sisson, Mantz has shown strong recent road racing form. The American men’s debut marathon record of 2:07:56 (Leonard Korir) is in play. If he can break that, Mantz will be among the five fastest U.S. marathoners in history.

Rarely has a U.S. male distance runner as accomplished as Mantz moved up to the marathon at such a young age (25). At BYU, he won NCAA cross-country titles in 2020 and 2021 and placed fifth in the Olympic Trials 10,000m, then turned pro and won the U.S. Half Marathon Championships last December.

“If everything goes as planned, I think sub-2:08 is realistic,” Mantz said in a Citius Mag video interview last month. “If everything goes perfect on the day, I think a sub-2:07, that’s a big stretch goal.”

The men’s field doesn’t have the singular star power of Chepngetich, but a large group of East Africans with personal bests around 2:05. The most notable: defending champion Seifu Tura of Ethiopia and 2021 Boston Marathon winner Benson Kipruto of Kenya.

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Alpine skiing to test new format for combined race

Alpine Skiing Combined
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Alpine skiing officials will test a new format for the combined event, a race that is under review to remain on the Olympic program.

French newspaper L’Equipe reported that the International Ski Federation (FIS) will test a new team format for the combined, which has been an individual event on the Olympic program since 1988. L’Equipe reported that a nation can use a different skier for the downhill and slalom in the new setup, quoting FIS secretary general Michel Vion.

For example, the U.S. could use Breezy Johnson in the downhill run and sub her out for Mikaela Shiffrin in the slalom run, should the format be adopted into senior competition.

The format will be tested at the world junior championships in January in St. Anton, Austria, according to the report.

In response to the report, a FIS spokesperson said, “Regarding the new format of the combined is correct, and our directors are working on the rules so for the moment the only thing we can confirm is that there will be this new format for the Alpine combined that has been proposed by the athletes’ commission.”

Some version of the combined event has been provisionally included on the 2026 Olympic program, with a final IOC decision on its place coming by April.

This will be the third consecutive World Cup season with no combined events. Instead, FIS has included more parallel races in recent years. The individual combined remains on the biennial world championships program.

L’Equipe also reported that the mixed team parallel event, which is being dropped from the Olympics, will also be dropped from the biennial world championships after this season.

“There is nothing definitive about that yet, but it is a project in the making,” a FIS spokesperson said in commenting on the report.

Vion said the mixed team event, which debuted at the Olympics in 2018, was not a hit at the Beijing Games and did not draw a strong audience, according to L’Equipe.

The World Cup season starts in two weeks with the traditional opening giant slaloms in Soelden, Austria.

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