Reigning champions Papadakis, Cizeron in comfortable lead after rhythm dance at Europeans

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The Tango Romantica of the 2019 Rhythm Dance was danced in front of its creator, legendary coach Elena Chaykovskaya, who was in the stands.

Chaykovskaya witnessed the clear-cut victory of the four-time European champions, France’s Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron, who elevated the record score they had set at the Grand Prix de France earlier in the season. They earned 84.79 points, some 3.42 points ahead of Russia’s Alexandra Stepanova and Ivan Bukin, and 5.74 points ahead of third place skaters Charlene Guignard and Marco Fabbri from Italy.

Results: Rhythm dance

Papadakis and Cizeron had to wait before taking the ice, as they skated last. Their dance was smooth and fluid as usual, with the additional tonicity that Tango requires. Their step sequence and first Tango section received a level 2, their other elements a level 4. Still, the way they executed their elements (as reflected from the GOEs they received) was deemed the best of the evening – as were their components.

“As we were skating we could notice that our first Tango pattern was not completely clean,” Cizeron admitted afterwards. “It’s hard to skate full speed with passion and expression and do the key points at the same time. It’s something we’re better at when we practice than when we perform. But we’re working at it.”

“Tango is a dance we really like,” Papadakis added. “We haven’t had much experience with it, so we were really happy to learn it would be this year’s dance. It works well with the speed and glide, so it gives us another opportunity to express ourselves, as it combines both the strong character of the dance with glide.”

Stepanova and Bukin had their own personal approach to their dance. The audience cheered and applauded right from the start of their performance. Their Tango sections were rated level 2 and 4, their step sequence received a level 3. Their twizzles and lift were awarded a level 4.

“We have already won two bronze medals at previous Europeans, but this one will remain special,” Stepanova offered. “The assessment of our coaches was incredibly nice [after we skated], and it means a lot to us. Ice dance for us is when you show your emotions, your theatre, your show and the technical part at the same time. We are very happy to have surpassed the 80-point bar, especially at such a competition.”

“Everything comes with time,” Bukin added. “With experience you start to understand how and what to show and do it the best way.”

They totaled 81.37 points.

Guignard and Fabbri took the ice right after Stepanova and Bukin and the ovation they had received. The Italians delivered a lively rendering to their “Miedo a la Libertad” Tango (or “The fear of liberty” in Spanish), earning a level 3 for their step sequence and first Tango section, and a level 4 for all their other elements.

“It’s a very rewarding feeling for us, because we’ve worked a lot for this result,” Fabbri said afterwards. “This was the best rhythm dance of the season and the best score, so it’s great. This motivates us a lot for tomorrow’s free dance. We realize that we can compete with the best couples in the world. We can fight for the important medals.”

MORE: Behind the scenes at Europeans, day 3

As it has been the case since the season started, the key points of Tango Romantica were quite hard to get – and they remained so in Minsk. Only one team, Poland’s Natalia Kaliszek and Maksym Spodyriev, managed to receive a level 4 for both their Tango sections. They are currently standing in fourth place, with 72.87 points.

The last group of ice dancers opened with one of the main favorites, Russia’s Victoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov, and the audience soon rallied to the incredible energy they displayed right away. Too much energy maybe, as Katsalapov fell on his twizzles only half a minute after the start of their program. They will advance to Saturday’s free dance in fifth place, with 70.24 points under their belt, 14.55 points behind the French.

MORE: Papadakis, Cizeron look to new Olympic cycle

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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