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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David Boudia adjusts diving event, goal for world championships

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David Boudia earned diving medals at his last three world championships and the 2012 and 2016 Olympics, but that was on the platform. He competes on the global stage on the springboard for the first time at worlds this week.

“I don’t have a lot of high hopes,” Boudia, who is still learning the springboard after switching to it in the last year, said in a phone interview from South Korea, where he begins competition Wednesday (TV schedule here). “But I think my biggest goal is to walk away with an Olympic spot.”

An Olympic spot not necessarily for himself, but for the U.S.

Boudia, a 30-year-old father of three, and any other American will clinch 2020 Olympic quota spots by placing in the top 12 in their respective individual events this week. Those spots, and any others earned at later competitions in the next year, will be filled at trials in June in Indianapolis.

NBC Sports analyst Cynthia Potter believes Boudia, who left the sport to sell homes in 2017 and came back and suffered a concussion off the platform in 2018, can meet his goal of making Friday’s 12-man final in Gwangju.

“He would have to dive well, but not better than he’s been diving,” she said. “His springboard is really well-timed, rhythmic, and he’s for a long time known how to go into the water without making a splash.”

But challenging Rio Olympic gold and silver medalists Cao Yuan of China and Jack Laugher of Great Britain, plus defending world champion Xie Siyi of China would be very tough.

Boudia lacks their degrees of difficulty, for now. He hopes to switch out two of his six dives before his first competition of 2020, though he could insert one of them should he make the world final.

“I need a good six months, so from August to December is when we’re kind of really drilling the fundamentals of learning those new dives and getting them perfected,” he said.

Boudia rallied to beat Rio Olympic springboard diver Michael Hixon for the title in May at nationals, where the top two per event earned world berths. But Boudia competed there with about a month of competition dive practice, about half as long as he would prefer.

“Hix and I are going to have a lot of training to do if we want to be even close to cracking that top five,” at worlds, Boudia said in May, according to TeamUSA.org.

Boudia is the lone U.S. diver to earn an individual world medal in an Olympic diving event since 2009.

The U.S. produced breakthroughs at worlds so far. Sarah Bacon became the first American woman to earn a world title since 2005, taking the non-Olympic 1m springboard event. Murphy Bromberg and Katrina Young bagged bronze in synchronized platform, ending a decade-long medal drought in any synchro event.

But Boudia’s goal must be shared among the whole team — as many top-12 finishes individually and top three in synchro events to gobble up Tokyo 2020 quota spots. The U.S. failed to qualify full teams for the 2012 and 2016 Olympics.

“Getting in the top 12 in the four individual Olympic events is the big deal right now,” Potter said. “Whether you are on the awards stand or not, that would be icing on the cake for a lot of these divers.”

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MORE: Diving Worlds TV Schedule

Anita Wlodarczyk, one of track and field’s most dominant, sidelined

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Poland hammer thrower Anita Wlodarczyk, the only woman to win the last five combined Olympic and world titles in a track and field event, will not go for a fourth straight world championship this fall.

Wlodarczyk had season-ending, arthroscopic left knee surgery on Monday, according to Polish media citing her coach.

Wlodarczyk, 33, has the top 15 throws on the IAAF’s all-time list, and 27 of the top 29. Her world record of 82.98 meters (scribbled on her leg pre-op) is 11 and a half feet farther the second-best woman in history. She originally took silver at the 2012 Olympics and 2013 Worlds but was upgraded to gold after Russian Tatyana Lysenko was stripped for doping.

Wlodarczyk won a reported 42 straight finals between 2014 and 2017, then suffered three losses in 2018 and two so far this year in three lower-level meets before the operation.

Americans DeAnna Price and Brooke Anderson rank Nos. 1 and 2 in the world this year. A U.S. woman has never finished in the top five of an Olympic or world championships hammer throw, which debuted at worlds in 1999 and the Olympics in 2000.

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