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Alysa Liu makes history but wants to make more

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DETROIT — Twenty-five seconds into her short program Thursday, Alysa Liu made history.

She was the first woman to land a triple Axel in the short program at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships.

Not bad for a 13-year-old making her senior debut at nationals.

And not enough for Liu. She wants to make more.

“She definitely wants to be the youngest champion,” said her coach, Laura Lipetsky. “That’s in the back of her head.”

It won’t be easy. Liu, second after the short program, likely will need another historic performance to overcome reigning champion Bradie Tennell, who takes a 2.71-point lead into Friday’s free skate.

But one would not be wise to discount the possibility of Liu pulling it off.

After all, this is a young woman who replied to a question of whether she was confident about landing her triple Axel with a matter-of-fact, “Yeah.”

She was the third woman in U.S. history to hit one cleanly at nationals, following Tonya Harding (1991) and Kimmie Meissner (2005.)

In Friday’s free skate, Liu will try to become the first to land two in a program.

No wonder she is being talked about as the future of women’s skating in the United States, no matter that Liu will be too young to compete in senior international events for two seasons after this.

“I’ve only heard a few people say that, so I don’t think about it,” she said. “I don’t feel too much pressure.”

She seemed utterly nonplussed about moving into the big time, smiling broadly as she glided across the rink before the short program.  Liu nearly managed to pull off a flawless program, with an under-rotation on the second jump of the triple-triple combination the only error.

“I was a little bit nervous,” she admitted.

The magnitude of the moment finally hit the 4-foot, 7-inch Liu when it was over.

With the crowd standing to applaud her, Liu burst into tears. She broke down again 20 minutes later while describing the moment to the media.

“I was really happy because I did everything I wanted to,” Liu said.

And that gave her a chance to replace 1998 Olympic champion Tara Lipinski as the youngest woman to win nationals. Lipinski was 14 when she became U.S. champion in 1997.

Liu, a ninth grader from Richmond, Calif., has not let her youth deter her ambition to do such things.

“I hope to win, obviously,” Liu told me in December. “I’d never go into a competition hoping I medal. I always strive for first, even if it’s not possible.”

Lipetsky, who has coached Liu since she began skating at age 5, tries to temper but not dismiss Liu’s hopes for glory.

“We’ve told her she can’t control the results, she can only control doing her job,” Lipetsky said. “Wherever the scoring falls, it falls. We just want her to do two great programs and enjoy the experience.”

The first part of the experience made Liu cry.

And she couldn’t have been happier.

MORE: Alysa Liu with a “real chance” to win gold

As a reminder, you can watch the U.S. 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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Asbel Kiprop, Olympic 1500m champ, banned four years

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Kenyan Asbel Kiprop, the 2008 Olympic 1500m champion and a three-time world champ, was banned four years after testing positive for EPO in November 2017, according to track and field’s doping watchdog organization.

The ban is backdated to Feb. 3, 2018, when the 29-year-old was provisionally suspended after the failed test.

Kiprop repeatedly denied doping since last May, when he first acknowledged the positive test. Most recently, a 3,000-word defense from his lawyer was posted on Kiprop’s Facebook page.

Kiprop’s defenses included saying he was a victim of extortion and that he was offered “a reward” of becoming an anti-doping ambassador if he admitted guilt. The Athletics Integrity Unit (AIU), the IAAF’s independent organization to monitor doping and corruption, denied the latter last May.

A disciplinary panel dismissed six defenses from exonerating him, including the possibility his sample was spiked, in handing out the four-year ban.

Kiprop, the pre-eminent 1500m runner of the last decade, can appeal the ban.

At 19, he finished second in the Beijing Olympic 1500m but was upgraded to gold a year later after Bahrain’s Rashid Ramzi failed a drug test. He is the youngest Olympic 1500m medalist of all time, according to the OlyMADMen.

Kiprop went on to earn three straight world titles in the 1500m in 2011, 2013 and 2015, matching the feats of retired legends Noureddine Morceli and Hicham El Guerrouj.

He struggled in the 2012 and 2016 Olympics, finishing last in the London final with a hamstring injury and sixth in the Rio final won by American rival Matthew Centrowitz.

Kiprop has targeted El Guerrouj’s world record of 3:26:00, missing the mark by .69 of a second in 2015.

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Maggie Nichols is second woman in 20 years to repeat as NCAA all-around champ

Maggie Nichols
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Oklahoma junior and world champion gymnast Maggie Nichols became the first woman to repeat as NCAA all-around champion in 12 years, returning from a heel injury to compete on all four events for the first time since January on Friday.

Nichols, a Rio Olympic hopeful before being beset by a torn meniscus in 2016, joined 2004 Olympic silver medalist Courtney Kupets as the only women to win back-to-back NCAA all-arounds in the 2000s.

A junior, Nichols can next year join Jenny Hansen as the only women to three-peat in NCAA history.

Oklahoma goes for a third team title in four years on Saturday night against UCLA (featuring Olympic champions Madison Kocian and Kyla Ross), LSU and Denver.

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NCAA Women’s Gymnastics Championships Individual Results
All-Around
1. Maggie Nichols (Oklahoma) — 39.7125
2. Lexy Ramler (Minnesota) — 39.6625
2. Kyla Ross (UCLA) — 39.6625
4. Sarah Finnegan (LSU) — 39.65
5. Kennedi Edney (LSU) — 39.6

Vault
1. Kennedi Edney (LSU) — 9.95
1. Derrian Gobourne (Auburn)
1. Maggie Nichols (Oklahoma)
1. Kyla Ross (UCLA)

Uneven Bars
1. Sarah Finnegan (LSU) — 9.95

Balance Beam
1. Natalie Wojcik (Michigan) — 9.95

Floor Exercise
1. Alicia Boren (Florida) — 9.95
1. Lynnzee Brown (Denver)
1. Brenna Dowell (Oklahoma)
1. Kyla Ross (UCLA)