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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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Regan Smith swims another historic backstroke time at Pro Series meet

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Regan Smith, who last summer broke both backstroke world records, put up the fastest 100m back in history outside of a major international meet or trials competition on Saturday.

Smith, a 17-year-old Minnesota high school senior, clocked 58.26 seconds to win at a Pro Series meet in Knoxville, Tenn. It tied for the 12th-fastest time in history. None of the other fastest dozen came in January, six months out from when swimmers peak for the world’s biggest events like the Olympics.

Making it more impressive: Smith did it 27 minutes after finishing second in the 200m butterfly, which she’s also expected to contest at June’s Olympic trials in Omaha.

“It actually wasn’t as bad, as I was nervous it was going to be,” Smith, whose world record is 57.57, said of the double on NBCSN. Smith entered two events per day at the three-day Knoxville meet, in part to prepare for the trials, where she is slated to race six straight days in a bid to make the Olympic team in enough events to swim eight straight days in Tokyo.

On Saturday, Smith held off fellow 17-year-old Phoebe Bacon by six tenths. Bacon beat Smith at the U.S. Open in December, posting the second-fastest time among Americans in the event for 2019.

The teen emergence puts pressure on Kathleen Baker, the Rio Olympic silver medalist who had the world record before Smith took it at worlds.

Full Knoxville results are here. USASwimming.org live streams the last night of finals Sunday at 6:30 ET.

In other events Saturday, world silver medalist Hali Flickinger overcame Smith in the 200m fly, winning in 2:08.34. Smith, third-fastest among Americans last season, was .39 behind. The second-fastest American last year, Katie Drabot, was not in the field. The top two at trials make the Olympic team.

Erika Brown beat world champion Simone Manuel in a freestyle sprint for a second straight meet, taking the 50m free in 24.57 seconds.

Brown, a University of Tennessee senior, edged Manuel by .06 and took .01 off her personal best. Brown ranked third among Americans last year behind Manuel (24.05) and Abbey Weitzeil (24.47).

Brown also defeated Manuel in the 100m free at the U.S. Open in December, moving to fourth-fastest in the U.S. last year in that event. The top six in the 100m free at trials are in line to make the Olympic team, given relay spots.

MORE: Australian swim star issues plea after hometown hit by fires

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Mikaela Shiffrin nearly makes it three-way tie for World Cup win

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Mikaela Shiffrin came .01 shy of making it a three-way tie for a World Cup giant slalom win on Saturday, confirming GS has been the most up-for-grabs discipline for either gender in recent years.

Shiffrin, beaten in her last two slaloms, had the fastest second run to place third behind co-winners Italian Federica Brignone and Slovakian Petra Vlhova in Sestriere, Italy. The reigning Olympic and World Cup champion in the GS rallied from fourth place and .42 behind after the first run.

Shiffrin still leads the World Cup overall standings by 233 points over Vlhova. The American last won Dec. 29. Though she made the podium in three of her four races since, Shiffrin expressed a lack of confidence heading into this weekend’s races at the 2006 Olympic venue.

“The most exciting thing for me is that people have stopped asking me, like, are you unbeatable?” said Shiffrin, who won a record 17 World Cup races last season and has four victories nearly halfway through this season, tied with Vlhova for most on tour. “I feel really good in GS. It’s just been a long time since [the last GS on Dec. 28].”

Vlhova earned her third victory this month after beating Shiffrin those last two slaloms. Brignone leads the GS season standings by 61 points over Shiffrin, seeking to become the sixth different woman to win that discipline title in the last six years. There are four more GS races left this season.

It’s the second straight season with a World Cup GS tie. Last Feb. 1, Shiffrin and Vlhova tied in Maribor, Slovenia.

It’s the first time the top three finishers were separated by such a small margin since the last three-way tie for a win in 2006, when Lindsey VonnMichaela Dorfmeister and Nadia Styger had the same super-G time, and fourth-place Kelly VanderBeek was .01 behind.

“Last season, I had the lucky side of the hundredths many times, so sometimes I’m not going to be on the lucky side, too,” said Shiffrin, who had three victories by .16 or tighter last season.

World Cup racing continues with a parallel giant slalom on Sunday at 5:45 a.m. ET on Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA and streaming on NBC Sports Gold.

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MORE: Shiffrin among 10 dominant Winter Olympians of 2010s decade