Javier Fernandez, in final competition, third in men’s field

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The audiences of the world have learnt to change flags rapidly nowadays. Thursday afternoon in Minsk, Belarus, the Russian flag mushroomed from every part of the stands for Maxim Kovtun’s skate, it reappeared again for Alexander Samarin’s, and stayed even longer for Mikhail Kolyada’s. Then it got replaced by the Spanish gold and red banner all over the stands, as Javier Fernandez skated. But in the end, the Russian flag prevailed during the men’s short program at the European Championships.

Kolyada took a strong lead for the gold, as he was the only one of the afternoon to crack the 100-point bar. Samarin is standing second before Saturday’s free program, some 8.51 points behind his Russian teammate. Fernandez is standing in third, a mere 0.14 point behind Samarin.

Results: Men’s short program

Kolyada didn’t let his numerous fans down. His program, set to Muse’s “I Belong to You,” was an instant hit and grabbed the audience’s applause right from the start. Kolyada landed all his elements (a quad toe, triple toe combination, a triple Lutz and a triple Axel) with ease. He has polished his skating and displayed fluid and smooth edges, pure lines, and yet his trademark presence on the ice. Kolyada is so present in each of his steps, fully living the moment in connection with his audience. He amassed 100.48 points for his program, a new season’s best.

“The main difference from previous outings is that now I’m healthy,” Kolyada offered. “It’s definitely easier to skate when you’re healthy. This was a good performance.”

Kolyada won his first small gold medal (awarded after short programs at major competitions) in an ISU event.

“But this day can’t be a special day in my life yet,” he added. “It’s important now not to let out the emotions, I need to keep them for the free.”

Samarin opted for the most difficult content. He opened with a magnificent quad Lutz, triple toe, but tripled his subsequent quad flip attempt. The audience nonetheless gave him a strong ovation at the end, up-to-par with the energy he had displayed throughout. Belarussian and Russian audiences appreciate the energy of competitors more than any other people. Samarin garnered 91.97 points, a new season’s best.

“I wanted to show more,” Samarin offered. “I practiced quad flip and it went well in training, so I thought I could include it, although I was afraid that I wouldn’t have enough experience to include it.

“Well, now I’ll have more experience,” he said, smiling.

Fernandez skated to his charm-routine, Malagueña. He opened with a quad toe, double toe. Rather surprisingly, his subsequent quad Salchow was deemed underrotated by the panel.

“I’ve been away quite a bit this season, but I think that I’m still able to recognize a few things in skating. I saw the landing of my quad Salchow on the ice. I rotated not even half of a straight angle on the ice, so the jump should have been validated, and it was not,” he offered at the post-event press conference.

Fernandez’s component score went slightly above Kolyada’s (46.64 points for the Spaniard, 46.44 points for the Russian), but his total, 91.84 points, meant that he’ll have to fight in the free.

“Oh yes, I’ll fight!” he promised. “In the free, 9 points is nothing. I want to show that I can do more than 91 points.”

The sensation of the day came from French skater Kevin Aymoz, who displayed an exhilarating and crisp program to Bryce Fox’s “Horns.” He captivated the audience and wound up in fourth place, 0.32 point ahead of Kovtun, who missed his opening quad toe.

MORE: How to watch Europeans

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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USOPC proposes more athletes on board as part of overhaul

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DENVER (AP) — The U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee is proposing an increase in athlete representation on its board and a recasting of its mission statement to include the job of promoting athletes’ well-being.

These changes are part of a proposal, released Monday, to rewrite the USOPC bylaws.

The rewrite comes 20 days after federal lawmakers — looking for a shake-up in the wake of the sex-abuse scandal that has tainted the U.S. Olympic movement — proposed their own drastic overhaul of the law governing the USOPC.

The USOPC portrayed its proposals as merely a first step, and, indeed, the measures lack many of Congress’ more aggressive proposals.

But they would heed athletes’ calls for more representation, by increasing their makeup on the board from 20% to 33%.

They would also change the mission statement to read: “empower Team USA athletes to achieve sustained competitive excellence and well-being,” where previously the well-being part was not mentioned.

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Why a 62-year-old played at the world badminton championships

Mathew Fogarty
Courtesy Mathew Fogarty
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Mathew Fogarty said badminton’s European elite made fun of him for playing professionally at age 59. That was three years ago. Fogarty still competes at the sport’s highest level, taking part in the world championships that began Monday in Basel, Switzerland.

Fogarty, who turns 63 on Oct. 30, is older than any U.S. Olympian in any sport since the St. Louis 1904 Games, according to the OlyMADMen.

“I play because I can, and I’m a doctor, and I think sports is a really important part of people’s health and fitness,” said Fogarty, who has played competitively since age 7, whose full-time job is a psychoanalyst and who is based in the Los Angeles area. “I’ll stop badminton when I can no longer qualify. There’s still opportunity, and I love the sport. I’m going to continue to do the best I can.”

He lost in the first round of mixed doubles at worlds on Monday. Fogarty and partner Isabel Zhong, a 27-year-old with an IMBD profile, saw their world championships end in 23 minutes, a 21-9, 21-10 loss to a Ukrainian pair.

That was more competitive than Fogarty’s last two worlds appearances — a 21-6, 21-4 loss with Zhong in 2018 and a 21-2, 21-4 loss with another partner in 2017. Fogarty’s only international match wins in the last two years came via walkover or the one time his singles opponent retired after three points, according to his World Badminton Federation profile. He won an international tournament as recently as 2011 and said his career-high mixed doubles world ranking was 32.

He and Zhong paired because they were part of the same Manhattan Beach Badminton Club, and she wanted to qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Games, Fogarty said. Zhong did not respond to an interview request.

“I told her I didn’t know if we could do it, but we could try,” Fogarty said. “It’s extremely remote [chances] … slim to nil.”

The top mixed doubles team from the North and South American region is in line to qualify for the Olympics. The leaders in qualifying so far are Canadians ranked 19th in the world. Fogarty and Zhong, though they are the only U.S. mixed doubles team at worlds, are 67th in the world in Olympic qualifying and third among Americans.

The U.S. has never earned an Olympic medal in badminton, which debuted at the 1992 Barcelona Games. Mixed doubles was added starting at Atlanta 1996, but the U.S. has put just one mixed team into an Olympics, getting swept out of pool play in Rio.

Fogarty, who has never played at the Olympics, is able to play at worlds for a few reasons: he can fund his way to international events to accumulate ranking points; the U.S. is historically weak and has a lack of players with professional ambitions; mixed doubles is the least common of the Olympic disciplines.

“Matt takes it seriously,” said Dean Schoppe, a fellow 62-year-old who has known and played with Fogarty for nearly a half-century. Schoppe recently retired from pro badminton himself. “Matt still approaches the matches with the actual idea of winning,”

Schoppe called Fogarty the best American junior player of his generation in the late 1970s.

“Most badminton players retire at about 26 or 27 with their first catastrophic injury, which is usually a torn Achilles,” he said. “There are people who are born [to play], you see it in every sport. Magic Johnson, they have the peripheral vision. They have the balance. They have all the intangibles that other people have to try to learn and can’t.

“He has the gift. He can look at you peripherally and see that you’re leaning. … Fogarty can hold the serve and turn his shoulders and do crap that makes you fall over, and that infuriates.”

Mathew Fogarty
Badmintonphoto/BWF

Fogarty took breaks from the sport for medical school in the 1980s and ’90s. He returned in the late 1990s and kept playing deep into his 40s, 50s and now 60s in part, he said, to challenge corruption within the sport.

Fogarty had legal battles with USA Badminton. He said that past officials broke up his Olympic hopeful partnership with a teenager in men’s doubles to push others toward the 2000 Sydney Games.

“The last thing they wanted was a 42-year-old with an 18-year-old trying to make the Olympics,” Schoppe said.

USA Badminton recently had mass resignations among its board and top officials amid reports of the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee threatening decertification.

USA Badminton’s new interim CEO, 1992 and 1996 Olympian Linda French, declined comment on Fogarty’s past issues with the organization because she was not formally involved at the time.

“We’re hopeful to move forward in a positive manner and wish all our athletes continued success,” French said.

Fogarty does not know how much longer he will travel the world, or even the U.S., to play competitively. A 43-year-old told him at a recent event that Fogarty was his inspiration to keep playing.

“The nature of sports is you can’t predict what it’s going to be,” Fogarty said.

Schoppe dismissed a question of whether it’s easier to play badminton at such a ripe age than other physically demanding sports.

“Imagine pulling out James Worthy and say, OK, James you are now starting for Golden State and you’re playing the Lakers tomorrow,” Schoppe said. “You cannot be old in badminton and do well in badminton. It’s nothing like baseball.

“We were the anomaly of anomalies to have success in our 40s. Nobody does.”

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