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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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.

MORE: Olympic breaststroke champion faces ban for missed drug tests

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Noah Lyles wins duel with Christian Coleman in Shanghai

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Noah Lyles won the first of what will hopefully be multiple head-to-heads with Christian Coleman this season, taking a 100m at a Diamond League meet in Shanghai on Saturday.

Both U.S. sprint phenoms clocked 9.86 seconds, with Lyles coming from about fifth place at 50 meters to edge Coleman by .006 with a lean.

“This was a message to myself,” Lyles said, according to the IAAF. “The 100 has never been my dominant thing so I wanted to make sure this year that everybody knew I was a 100 and 200 runner, and not just a 200 runner kind of running the 100.”

It’s a personal best for Lyles. Coleman has run 9.79.

Lyles, undefeated in outdoor 200m races since finishing fourth at the 2016 Olympic Trials at age 18, beat Coleman for the first time in three career senior 100m head-to-heads.

While Lyles prefers the 200m, Coleman has said he hopes to qualify for this fall’s world championships in both the 100m and 200m.

If Coleman follows through on that, he and Lyles will face off in the 200m at the USATF Outdoor Championships in July. Saturday marked Coleman’s first individual race since Aug. 31.

“It is always a struggle to get in good form after such a long time away from competition, so I didn’t have any specific expectations for today,” Coleman said. “In general I am fine with 9.86 today.”

Full Shanghai results are here. The Diamond League next visits Stockholm on May 30.

In other events, Qatar’s Abderrahman Samba won his anticipated duel with Rai Benjamin in a matchup between the second- and third-fastest 400m hurdlers in history. Samba, who took up the event full-time two years ago, clocked 47.27 seconds, which would have been the fastest time in a decade if not for Samba and Benjamin’s rapid times last June.

Benjamin, born in the Bronx and raised partly in Antigua and Barbuda, was passed before the last hurdle and crossed in 47.80. Last June, Benjamin won the NCAA title in 47.02, then matching Edwin Moses as second-fastest in history. Samba ran 46.98 later that month.

Kevin Young remains the longest-standing world-record holder in men’s track racing, setting 46.78 in the 1992 Olympic final.

Sydney McLaughlin, who in Rio became the youngest U.S. track and field athlete to compete at an Olympics in 44 years, was an impressive second in the 400m in her Diamond League debut. The 19-year-old pro, whose focus is the 400m hurdles, clung to world 400m silver medalist Salwa Eid Naser in the final straight and crossed in 50.78, just .13 back of Naser.

Naser hasn’t lost to anyone other than Olympic and world champion Shaunae Miller-Uibo in the last two years. Miller-Uibo was absent from Shanghai.

U.S. champion Aleia Hobbs won her senior international 100m debut in 11.03 seconds, beating a field that included Olympic champ Elaine Thompson. Hobbs did so two weeks after fracturing a wrist playing laser tag. Thompson, who last won a Diamond League race in 2017, was third in 11.14.

Ethiopian Yomif Kejelcha won a battle among the three fastest active 5000m runners, bounding from Selemon Barega to win by .55 in 13:04.16. Barega won last year’s Diamond League Final in 12:43.02, the world’s fastest time in 13 years.

MORE: Allyson Felix on the 2 most terrifying days of her life

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