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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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Adam Jones, five-time MLB All-Star, becomes Olympic eligible

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Should the U.S. qualify for baseball’s Olympic return, a five-time MLB All-Star could be eligible for its roster in Tokyo. And he has interest.

Outfielder Adam Jones signed with the Orix Buffaloes of Japan’s domestic league, which, unlike MLB, will take an Olympic break next summer to allow players to take part in the first Olympic baseball tournament in 12 years.

Jones, 34, made no mention of Olympic eligibility in a social media post announcing the signing. His Instagram avatar is a photo of him in a Team USA jersey from the World Baseball Classic.

Jones’ agent later said that Jones does have interest in playing for the U.S. in Tokyo, should an American team qualify in the spring.

“To play over in Japan has always been a desire of Adam’s, and the timing worked out that the Olympics happens to be played in Tokyo the first year of his contract,” Jones’ agent wrote in an email. “It wasn’t one of the factors on his decision BUT more of a [sic] addition to the overall package to decide to go.”

Jones called being part of the U.S.’ 2017 WBC title, “probably the best experience of my life so far, especially with sports,” according to The Associated Press. He was one of five players to be on the U.S. team at each of the last two World Baseball Classics.

The U.S. still faces a difficult task to qualify for the Tokyo Games. It lost to Mexico last month in its first of up to three chances at qualifying tournaments, using a roster of mostly double-A and triple-A caliber players.

Major Leaguers are not expected to be made available for qualifying or for the Tokyo Games.

The next two qualifying tournaments will be in late March (an Americas qualifier in Arizona) and early April (a final, global qualifying event in Chinese Taipei). It remains to be seen how MLB clubs will go about releasing minor leaguers for a tournament that will take place during spring training.

Jones could become the third player with prior MLB All-Star experience to compete at the Olympics from any nation, joining Australian catcher Dave Nilsson and Canadian pitcher Jason Dickson.

Jones made five All-Star teams during an 11-year stint with the Baltimore Orioles from 2008-18 before playing for the Arizona Diamondbacks last season.

Many players competed at the Olympics before making an MLB All-Star team, including Stephen Strasburg and Jason Giambi.

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Russia boxers to boycott Olympics if sanctions not lifted

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Russian boxers will only take part in the Tokyo Olympics if doping sanctions forcing them to compete as neutral athletes are overturned, the general secretary of the Russian Boxing Federation told The Associated Press on Wednesday.

Umar Kremlev said he has spoken with the Olympic boxing team and they “unanimously” rejected the conditions laid out by the World Anti-Doping Agency as punishment for manipulating doping data.

The WADA sanctions, announced on Monday, ban the use of the Russian team name, flag or anthem at a range of major sports competitions over the next four years, including next year’s Olympics.

“They said we won’t go without our flag and anthem,” Kremlev said. “We aren’t going for medals, but for that feeling that I brought the highest honor home for my country.”

Separately, the speaker of Russia’s upper house of parliament said Russia could create an alternative to the Olympics.

“This ruling show the clear crisis in international sports institutions. I believe that Russia could host its own games at home,” Valentina Matvienko said in comments reported by the Interfax news agency.

There is a precedent. After the Russian Revolution of 1917, the Soviet Union refused to compete in the Olympics and hosted its own Spartakiads — named after the ancient rebel slave Spartacus — with a strong socialist slant. However, the Soviet Union began competing at the Olympics in 1952 and Russians generally take great pride in the country’s Olympic achievements since then.

If the sanctions aren’t overturned, Kremlev said Russian boxers would prefer to turn pro rather than compete at the Olympics.

“A world champion (in professional boxing) is better known than an Olympic champion,” Kremlev said, adding the Russian anthem would be played before pro title fights.

Kremlev said boxers are being asked to shoulder the blame for offenses committed in other sports. He said they would still stay at home even if Russia’s athletes in other sports decided to take part.

“If other sports are guilty and people have breached the WADA code, why are we punished?” he said. “We are for honest sport and against doping. We want our sport to be clean … If someone breaks the rules, we push them out.”

Russia is a major power in amateur and Olympic boxing. It hosted both men’s and women’s world championships this year, finishing at the top of the medals table at the women’s event and second in the men’s championships. The International Olympic Committee has taken direct charge of boxing at the Tokyo Olympics after criticizing chronic financial problems and infighting at the International Boxing Association.

Russian Sports Minister Pavel Kolobkov talked up Russia’s chances of overturning the WADA sanctions.

“I think that there is every basis to appeal the decision, because our experts have presented their position, and they have the same database as WADA does,” Kolobkov said in comments reported by state news agency TASS. “There is an answer to every question and the whole process is ahead of us.”

The official decision on whether to dispute the sanctions will be made on Dec. 19 by the Russian anti-doping agency’s supervisory board, but senior figures, including Russian President Vladimir Putin, have signaled their preference for taking the matter to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

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