Vanessa James, Morgan Cipres win European pairs’ title

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Victories often hide impressive stories. For many years France’s Vanessa James and Morgan Cipres had been chasing after a European medal. Two years ago, they had finally won one – a bronze. Thursday night in Minsk an even bigger dream came true, as they won the European crown, ahead of two Russian teams: Yevgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov, who had been reigning over pair skating at Europeans for the last two years, and newcomers Aleksandra Boikova and Dmitrii Kozlovskii.

James couldn’t hold her tears for a long while afterwards, going from one interview to the next and crying through her laughs (or was it the contrary?) each time. Cipres was savoring the historicity of the moment.

Results: Pairs’ final

Nothing had to be taken for granted, however. One year ago, James and Ciprès were also standing in first place before the free program, but a sub-par free put them in fourth overall, 0.01 points short of the podium.

Thursday, it could have been the same.

James had to struggle to hold on to their side-by-side triple toe, double toe, double toe combination. She had landed her triple toe quite leaning toward the front, but her flexibility and balance allowed her to catch her take-off position to launch the two following jumps, right in synch with her partner. The team even received a positive GOE (+0.78 point) for that combination, which proved to be the determining factor of the evening.

James put a hand while landing their side-by-side triple Salchow, but their throw triple flip and huge final Salchow were brilliant. Their lifts were particularly impressive, both athletic and intertwingling innovative positions, with interesting transitions from one to the next.

The Belarussian audience gave them a spontaneous standing ovation, and they had to remain on the ice for several minutes before leaving to the kiss and cry. They received 149.11 points for their free, a new season’s best, and 225.66 points overall.

“It’s an amazing feeling for us to be standing here tonight,” Cipres said.

“It’s a dream come true. We’ve dreamt of that forever,” James continued.

“It was not easy today, and we really had to fight for it. We’ll keep going to hopefully win more titles,” Cipres added.

Tarasova and Morozov also had a brilliant skate, as powerful and polished as only they can stand up to. Their music, Balmorhea’s “The Winter,” opened on silence gently punctuated by piano notes. Tarasova and Morozov’s power and charisma were enough to fill the empty space and make it live before the actual music started building on. They also beat their season’s best by 3.44 points, but that was not enough.

Rather amazingly, their only major mistake came on the same element the French had been struggling with right before. Tarasova landed the opening triple toe of their side-by-side combination, but missed the second one and came back too late for the last element. That element cost them a lot. It was a downgraded triple toe + combo, only earning them a mere 0.74 points, compared to the 7.58 points the French had received for the element.

Boikova and Kozlovskii had opened the last group. They appeared more tense than in their short program, and they also struggled with that same triple toe, double toe, double toe combination, which he interrupted at the landing of the first jump. Their usual energy came back after their throw triple loop. Their jumps were as lively and joyful as their Nutcracker music thereafter.

“We are physically and emotionally exhausted tonight, as this was the first major championship of our career. We are thinking of the other team which should have represented our country, so we really felt that we needed to stand on this podium,” Kozlovskii stated, referring to the absence of Natalia Zabiiako and Alexander Enbert.

Italy’s Nicole Della Monica and Matteo Guarise also had a great skate, marred with just a few mishaps, but they couldn’t hold to the third place they had won in the short. They ended up fourth.

MORE: Behind the scenes on the second day at the European Championships

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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Chinese swimmer Sun Yang gets rare open hearing in doping case

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The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) said Monday it will hear the World Anti-Doping Agency’s case against three-time Olympic gold medalist Sun Yang on Nov. 15 in front of reporters — possibly even live-streamed — at the Fairmont Le Montreux Palace in Montreux, Switzerland.

The hearing won’t be completely open. Registration will be required, and photographers and videographers “will be invited to leave the hearing room after the opening,” CAS said in a statement. But those outside the room may still get a glimpse of the proceedings.

“With the agreement of all parties, it is intended to live stream all or parts of the hearing on the CAS website,” CAS said.

CAS noted that it has only held one prior hearing that wasn’t in a private setting — the 1999 case involving Irish swimmer Michelle Smith de Bruin, who won three gold medals in the 1996 Olympics but was banned for four years for tampering with a urine sample, a case that still prompts soul-searching in the Irish media. De Bruin lost the appeal.

Sun is accused of smashing a vial of blood at a drug test last fall. FINA allowed him to continue to compete, but the WADA has appealed, seeking a substantial suspension.

The Chinese swimmer won two gold medals at the world championships this summer and snubbed by some rivals at each medal ceremony, leading to a confrontation with British swimmer Duncan Scott.

RECAP AND VIDEO: Sun taunts Scott after medal ceremony

Sun has won 11 world individual titles in several freestyle distances but also has a long history of controversies ranging from a prior positive drug test and confrontations with other swimmers.

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U.S. women’s volleyball team ends year with surprise loss to Dominican Republic

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The Dominican Republic surprised the U.S. women’s volleyball team in the final of the NORCECA (North, Central America and Caribbean) women’s continental championship Sunday in San Juan, Puerto Rico, winning the first two sets and regrouping after a U.S. rally to win the fifth set.

The final score of the back-and-forth match: 25-19, 25-23, 15-25, 20-25, 15-9. The U.S. women had defeated the Dominican Republic in three previous finals: 2011, 2013 and 2015. The Dominican Republic won a semifinal matchup on its way to the 2009 title.

In group play, the U.S. team had beaten the Dominican Republic in straight sets. The U.S. also breezed past Trinidad & Tobago and Mexico in group play and swept past Canada in the semifinals.

The loss doesn’t affect Olympic qualification. The U.S. women had already qualified for the 2020 Olympics by winning a qualification tournament in August in Bossier City, La.

MORE: U.S. women rally to qualify

Semifinalists Canada and Puerto Rico qualified for a last-chance Olympic qualifier that the Dominican Republic will host in January. Mexico defeated Cuba in the NORCECA fifth-place game to be the last of the four teams vying for one spot.

The Dominican Republic has had some success in women’s volleyball, finishing fifth in the 2014 world championships and reaching the 2012 Olympic quarterfinals before falling to the U.S. The team also won this year’s Pan Am Games, to which the U.S. did not send its top players. Currently, the team is ranked 10th in the world.

Earlier this year, the U.S. women had defeated the Dominican Republic in two tournament finals — the Pan American Cup and the NORCECA Champions Cup. The U.S. also won a matchup in the World Cup last month, but the Dominican Republic won another five-set match in the Nations League preliminary round in Italy.

The U.S. finishes the year with a 44-7 record in tournament play, including a first-place finish in the Nations League and second place in the World Cup.

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