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Alina Zagitova surpassed by Sofia Samodurova for European title

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Reigning European champion and Olympic gold medalist Alina Zagitova of Russia was far from her best on Friday in the free skate, and she was surpassed for the title by countrywoman Sofia Samodurova. Samodurova defeated Zagitova by no less than 15.5 points. Finland’s Viveca Lindfors rose from fourth after the short program to claim the bronze medal, 19.54 points behind the winner.

Season after season, Russia seems to propel a new wonder to the sky of skating, and once more a first-year senior skater wins the European championships. Only Yevgenia Medvedeva could stay two years on top in the recent years.

Results: Ladies’ final

The ice Samodurova found as she entered was literally flooded with the plush toys that were sent to Zagitova, who had skated just before her. Samodurova had to start to land a first jump as if she were skating in a public session. That didn’t distract her, however, and she embarked into her program with poise and determination. As soon as Samodurova started her program, it became obvious that nothing could happen to her.

She landed a perfectly centered triple flip, triple toe combination. She had an edge call on her triple Lutz, but she then unfolded her program in the way it had been planned. Each one of her jumps from then on, loop, Salchow, double Axel, triple toe combination, flip, was punctuated by applause and “woos” from the audience. She struggled with her double Axel, double toe, double loop combination, but she was already in the steps of the winner. The audience then clapped for every step and every spin rotation. Samodurova even took the time to request more applause between her two final spins. The audience followed her request.

At the end of her program, she had overcome a 2.12-point deficit from the short program to tally a new season’s best free skate of 140.96 points for a total score of 213.84 points and the gold medal.

“I’m overwhelmed by emotions now, I can’t find words to describe what I’m feeling now,” Samodurova said as she left the ice. My coach [Alexei Mishin] told me to stop crying, but I can’t!”

Many wondered if Zagitova could hold on to the short victory she had taken in the short program. She skated fourth of the last group, and a forest of Russian banners and thunderous applause rose from the stands as she stepped on the ice. The opening double Axel of her “Carmen” routine and her subsequent triple Lutz were fantastic. The combined triple toe that followed started her nightmare.

Zagitova fell, then two-footed the landing of her triple Lutz, and turned out of the triple flip in combination with a single toe. Her triple flip, double toe, double toe looked so frail at the end. The audience supported her throughout, however, and hundreds of Carmen-red heart plush toys poured over the ice as soon as she ended her routine. Zagitova managed 123.34 points in the free skate, giving her 198.34 points overall to claim the silver.

“The audience and my friends really supported me during my whole performance, and I am very grateful to them,” she said afterwards. “I apologize not to have given them a better performance. The silver medal is good, still, considering I could have ended without any medal today. I could have skated a better performance, but so it is for now.”

Both Zagitova and Samodurova are 16, though Samodurova is a few months younger than Zagitova. The wheel kept turning again at the head of European skating.

Finland’s Viveca Lindfors had given an exquisite short program two days before. She offered an equally delightful and smooth performance to “Les Misérables.” Her opening triple Lutz, triple toe combination and triple flip were clear-cut. She wobbled landing her triple loop and doubled the toe of her second planned triple Lutz, triple toe combination. As she skated, Lindfors seemed to suspend her skate prior to any jump, as if to be completely focused and element, and present in the moment. She received 194.40 points, enough for a first European podium finish.

“This is a big victory for me,” she offered at the post-event press conference. “Skating has evolved so much since Finland won its last medal, so I feel very accomplished to have been able to reach the top at the European Championship,” she said.

Fourth overall, but second of the free, Russia’s third skater, Stanislava Konstantinova, delivered a powerful rendering to her “Anna Karenina” music. All her jumps earned positive GOEs, except her triple flip.

“I didn’t want to let it go after the short program,” she offered as she left the ice. “I don’t particularly associate myself to the character of Anna Karenina, but I tried to portray someone who lost everything she had. Well, that was a bit of my own story through these championships,” she said through an interpreter.

Unlike her heroine, however, she revived at the end – Konstantinova received 132.96 points for her free program and 189.72 points overall for fourth place.

MORE: Behind the scenes on day 3 of 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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Maria Sharapova wraps up tennis career after nearly two decades, career Slam

Maria Sharapova
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Maria Sharapova has announced her retirement after a professional tennis career that includes five Grand Slam wins, 36 singles titles and an Olympic silver medal.

Sharapova was only 17 when she won her first major in 2004 at Wimbledon. She won the U.S. Open in 2006 and the Australian Open in 2008 before completing her career Grand Slam in the 2012 French Open. She won the French Open again in 2014.

After moving from Russia to Florida at age 9 to train at the Bollettieri Academy, she made her professional debut just after her 14th birthday in 2001. She graduated to top-level events and majors within two years and reached the round of 16 at Wimbledon in 2003.

In 2004, she upset Lindsay Davenport and Serena Williams at Wimbledon and beat Williams again at the Tour Championships.

By 2005, the 6-foot-2 player had claimed the top spot in the world rankings. She remained in the top five for most of the next four years before suffering an injury to her right shoulder that limited her tournament schedule in 2008 and 2009. By 2011, she had reclaimed her status as a top-five player and remained there until 2016.

Her career declined after a positive drug test at the 2016 Australian Open. The substance in question, meldonium, had been given by Russian doctors to many athletes.

An initial suspension of two years was reduced to 15 months, but she wasn’t able to get back to her previous form. She won one more tournament in 2017 and reached the quarterfinals of the 2018 French Open, but she fared poorly in sporadic appearances in 2019. Her last match was a loss to Donna Vekic in the first round of the Australian Open in January.

SEE: Sharapova discusses reduced ban on TODAY

Her meldonium suspension also cost her commercial sponsorships and her role as a UN Development Program ambassador, which she earned with her work to help survivors of the nuclear disaster at Chernobyl.

She was involved in the Olympics as a silver medalist in 2012, losing to Williams in the final, and as one of the final torch bearers in the relay to the 2014 Olympics opening ceremony in her home country.

She’s also third on the all-time WTA earnings list behind Serena and Venus Williams, taking in more than $38m in her career on top of lucrative endorsement deals.

Federica Brignone hopes World Cup rival Mikaela Shiffrin will return soon

Shiffrin and Brignone
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Mikaela Shiffrin‘s prolonged absence from the World Cup Alpine skiing circuit has opened the door for Italy’s Federica Brignone to break the American’s grip on the season title, but Brignone hopes her friend and rival will be back in competition soon.

“I really do hope that she will return soon for herself so she can do again what she loves most,” Brignone said.

Brignone took the season lead from Shiffrin, who has won the last three World Cup overall titles, on Sunday and has a 73-point advantage with 11 of the season’s 40 races remaining. She also leads Shiffrin by 74 points in the giant slalom standings.

READ: Brignone moves into World Cup lead

No Italian woman has won the overall World Cup. Brignone was fifth in 2017 and won the Alpine combined discipline title last season.

Brignone will have a chance to clinch another Alpine combined discipline title and extend her overall lead in her home country this weekend. While some other sports events in Italy have been canceled or otherwise affected by the coronavirus outbreak, the host resort of La Thuile has so far been spared from the virus’ spread.

Slovakia’s Petra Vlhova, the only other skier with a realistic chance of winning the overall trophy, is dealing with a knee injury and might not be able to race this weekend. Vhlova leads Shiffrin by 20 points in the slalom standings.

Shiffrin has not competed since the death of her father Feb. 2, and she has not announced plans to return. She was not on pace to match her astounding 17-win 2018-19 season but still had six wins and had reached the podium in 13 of 19 races.

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