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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Olympic flame to travel by sea for Paris 2024, welcomed by armada

Paris 2024 Olympic Torch Relay Marseille
Paris 2024
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The Olympic flame will travel from Athens to Marseille by ship in spring 2024 to begin the France portion of the torch relay that ends in Paris on July 26, 2024.

The torch relay always begins in the ancient Olympic site of Olympia, Greece, where the sun’s rays light the flame. It will be passed by torch until it reaches Athens.

It will then cross the Mediterranean Sea aboard the Belem, a three-masted ship, “reminiscent of a true Homeric epic,” according to Paris 2024. It will arrive at the Old Port of Marseille, welcomed by an armada of boats.

Marseille is a former Greek colony and the oldest city in France. It will host sailing and some soccer matches during the Paris Olympics.

The full 2024 Olympic torch relay route will be unveiled in May.

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Paris 2024 Olympic Torch Relay Marseille
Paris 2024

Mikaela Shiffrin heads to world championships with medal records in sight

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Before Mikaela Shiffrin can hold the World Cup wins record, she can become the most decorated Alpine skier in modern world championships history.

Shiffrin takes a respite from World Cup pursuits for the biennial world championships in France. She is expected to race at least four times, beginning with Monday’s combined.

Shiffrin has a tour-leading 11 World Cup victories in 23 starts this season, her best since her record 17-win 2018-19 campaign, but world championships do not count toward the World Cup.

Shiffrin remains one career victory behind Swede Ingemar Stenmark‘s record 86 World Cup wins until at least her next World Cup start in March.

Shiffrin has been more successful at worlds than at the Olympics and even on the World Cup. She has 11 medals in 13 world championships races dating to her 2013 debut, including making the podium in each of her last 10 events.

ALPINE SKIING WORLDS: Broadcast Schedule

She enters worlds one shy of the modern, post-World War II individual records for total medals (Norway’s Kjetil Andre Aamodt won 12) and gold medals (Austrian Toni Sailer, Frenchwoman Marielle Goitschel and Swede Anja Pärson won seven).

Worlds take place exactly one year after Shiffrin missed the medals in all of her Olympic races, but that’s not motivating her.

“If I learned anything last year, it’s that these big events, they can go amazing, and they can go terrible, and you’re going to survive no matter what,” she said after her most recent World Cup last Sunday. “So I kind of don’t care.”

Shiffrin ranks No. 1 in the world this season in the giant slalom (Feb. 16 at worlds) and slalom (Feb. 18).

This year’s combined is one run of super-G coupled with one run of slalom (rather than one downhill and one slalom), which also plays to her strengths. She won that event, with that format, at the last worlds in 2021. The combined isn’t contested on the World Cup, so it’s harder to project favorites.

Shiffrin is also a medal contender in the super-G (Feb. 8), despite starting just two of five World Cup super-Gs this season (winning one of them).

She is not planning to race the downhill (Feb. 11), which she often skips on the World Cup and has never contested at a worlds. Nor is she expected for the individual parallel (Feb. 15), a discipline she hasn’t raced in three years in part due to the strain it puts on her back with the format being several runs for the medalists.

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