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New European champion Sofia Samodurova eyes longevity in the sport

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With the European Championships come and gone, a new ladies’ champion was crowned in 16-year-old Sofia Samodurova. It was her first major senior-level event, and, afterward, she spoke with NBCSports.com/figure-skating about her victory and what it means to her as a late-bloomer. Samodurova hopes to start a long career like those of her idols, including Italy’s Carolina Kostner, who she shares a coach with in Alexei Mishin.

You won the European Championships by more than 15.5 points. Did you think that it was possible?

I didn’t think about winning in Minsk. But I did concentrate on my performance, in order to present two solid skates. I didn’t let myself distracted by Alina’s performance or marks [the Olympic champion Alina Zagitova, who skated just before her].

I didn’t listen and really tried to focus on my performance. I didn’t think of winning, since my results at the Lombardia Trophy had not been so good. [Note: She ended second to Russian Elizaveta Tuktamysheva]. I only realized that I had won when I saw the marks come up.

Are you close from your teammates, like Elizaveta or Carolina Kostner?

Oh yes! Lisa and I are girls and we discuss girl things. You know, like skating things but also cosmetics as well. I am also in awe in front of Carolina’s attitude. She loves skating so much. I can see that in her eyes. She always does everything our coach says, and she is always so happy to be on the ice.

Alexei Mishin always have funny sentences. What did he tell you before you took the ice in Minsk?

He said: “Don’t jump off your pants!” (She laughs).

Do you think this victory will change your mind?

I remain the same Sofia Samodurova as before. Although defeating Alina is not usual for me, it will give me more confidence for sure.

You manage to embody genuinely your free program, to the soundtrack of “Burlesque,” and to make it live with the audience. How do you relate to your programs?

Ilya Averbukh chose the music for this free program. Well, I like this program very much. It’s a lot of fun for me to skate to it and… Obviously you can see it. I have other programs in store, though, like the ones I display at my exhibitions. They present different characters and I like that.

“Burlesque,” the American movie your music comes from, stars two great singers, Cher and Christina Aguilera, and you mention that you like singing. What do you sing?

Everything! I sing a lot, any style. But it depends on my mood!

You projected lots of emotions through you skating in Minsk. Do you feel those emotions yourself, as you are skating?

In fact, I may seem quite emotional during my performances, but I’m not very emotional in real life. I mean, I’m a rather shy person. At the European Championships I had more responsibilities, of course, and that gave me more emotions. But I try to control emotions during skating, because it’s better to be focused!

Many girls in Russia are getting great results in juniors. You are coming up as a senior. Do you think it plays a role in your career?

This is true! I didn’t have that great results in the junior ranks. But maybe it was better that way for me, as I had less pressure when I arrived in the senior [ranks, this season].

What elements do you feel you need to work at in order to improve toward the world championships? Quads?

You know, I tried triple Axel two years ago. I think I’ll develop into that direction in the future, in order to land that jump. But for now, I need to work on steps (in my step sequence), on my transitions, and on the quality of each one of my elements.

Do you have a favorite sportsperson to look up to?

Yes: it’s Martin Fourcade, the French biathlete [Note: he who won five Olympic gold medals, two in Sochi in 2014 and three in PyeongChang in 2018]. I’d like to be like him, show solid performances regularly and compete at the highest level all the time. His career is stable at the top. I’d be like that: stable.

Would you like to have a long career, just like Carolina Kostner and Javier Fernandez?

Yes, I would, definitely.

Samodurova does speak English, but she elected to give her answers in Russian. Her words were translated in English by Irena Zakurdaeva, a Media Coordinator in Moscow.

MORE: European Championships analysis: Female Russian skaters stars rise fast, but burn out too soon

As a reminder, you can watch Four Continents and the world 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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Beach volleyball player’s dog becomes social media sensation

Mathias Berntsen
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Norwegian beach volleyball player Mathias Berntsen‘s dog, Kiara, captivated social media this weekend.

A video of Kiara peppering with Berntsen and a pair across the net on a grass field spread from Berntsen’s Instagram across platforms. Kiara now has 12,000 Instagram followers, more than twice the total of Berntsen.

Berntsen, 24, is one half of Norway’s second-best beach volleyball team.

He and partner Hendrik Mol are ranked 45th in the world and well outside the Tokyo Olympic picture (24 teams go to the Games), but could get in the mix depending on how qualification is amended once sports resume.

Berntsen and his cousin Mol are part of a group called the Beach Volley Vikings. Mol’s younger brother, Anders, and family friend Christian Sorum are the world’s top-ranked team (profiled here).

MORE: Beach volleyball players fly to Australia, learn event is canceled

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FIFA rules on Olympic men’s soccer tournament age eligibility

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For the first time since 1988, some 24-year-olds will be eligible for the Olympic men’s soccer tournament without using an over-age exception.

FIFA announced Friday that it will use the same age eligibility criteria for the Tokyo Olympics in 2021 that it intended to use in 2020 — that players born on or after Jan. 1, 1997 are eligible, plus three over-age exceptions. FIFA chose not to move the birthdate deadline back a year after the Olympics were postponed by one year.

Olympic men’s soccer tournaments have been U-23 events — save those exceptions — since the 1992 Barcelona Games. In 1984 and 1988, restrictions kept European and South American players with World Cup experience ineligible. Before that, professionals weren’t allowed at all.

Fourteen of the 16 men’s soccer teams already qualified for the Games using players from under-23 national teams. The last two spots are to be filled by CONCACAF nations, potentially the U.S. qualifying a men’s team for the first time since 2008.

The U.S.’ biggest star, Christian Pulisic, and French superstar Kylian Mbappe were both born in 1998 and thus would have been under the age limit even if FIFA moved the deadline to Jan. 1, 1998.

Perhaps the most high-profile player affected by FIFA’s decision is Brazilian forward Gabriel Jesus. The Manchester City star was born April 3, 1997, and thus would have become an over-age exception if FIFA pushed the birthdate rule back a year.

Instead, Brazil could name him to the Olympic team and still keep all of its over-age exceptions.

However, players need permission from their professional club teams to play in the Olympics, often limiting the availability of stars.

MORE: Noah Lyles details training near woods, dog walkers

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