World Championships ladies’ preview: Japanese, Russian skaters face off for top prize

Alina Zagitova, Rika Kihira
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In all of her international competitions this season, phenom Rika Kihira of Japan has gone undefeated. Her only loss was at Japan’s national championships, won by Kaori Sakamoto. Four-time Japanese national champion Satoko Miyahara claimed the bronze.

All three will compete at the World Championships in Saitama, Japan from March 18-24 – home ice for the skaters in a country that loves skating like no other.

Their biggest challenges will come from the Russian ladies, though the best that country has to offer may be among the juniors. The strongest of Russia’s three ladies this year seems to be newly-crowned European champion Sofia Samodurova, who will be joined at worlds by two former training partners, Olympic gold and silver medalists Alina Zagitova and Yevgenia Medvedeva.

They will likely make up the top six in the field if they skate well. Here is a closer look:

Rika Kihira, Japan

Credentials: Grand Prix Final winner, Four Continents gold medalist

Kihira won both of her Grand Prix assignments in the fall to qualify and win at the Grand Prix Final in December, her first head-to-head with reigning Olympic gold medalist Zagitova. Worlds is a second chance to see how the 16-year-olds stack up against each other.

She has the highest short program score of the season as well as the second-highest free skate score this year.

Worth noting: Kihira will likely attempt triple Axels in both her short program and her free skate, as she’s done throughout the season.

Kaori Sakamoto, Japan

Credentials: Fourth at Four Continents, fourth at the Grand Prix Final, sixth place finish in PyeongChang, Japanese national champion

Sakamoto won Four Continents in 2018 before competing in PyeongChang and finishing sixth. The momentum continued through the fall, where she picked up a silver and bronze on the Grand Prix circuit. She clinched a spot in the Final and finished fourth before claiming her first Japanese national title. Most recently, she finished fourth at Four Continents in February.

Satoko Miyahara, Japan

Credentials: Two-time world medalist (silver, 2015; bronze, 2018), four-time Four Continents medalist, two-time Grand Prix Final silver medalist, fourth in PyeongChang

Miyahara has recorded some of the highest scores of the season. The four-time Japanese national champion is known for her delicate, artistic skating and sometimes being penalized for under-rotated jumps. Skating at home should only help in both of those realms.

Sofia Samodurova, Russia

Credentials: 2019 European champion, two-time Grand Prix series medalist (silver, bronze)

This is Samodurova’s first season as a senior skater, and she’s certainly stepped out with a bang. She qualified for the Grand Prix Final in December, finishing fifth, and then surpassed Alina Zagitova for the European crown in January.

Worth noting: With inconsistencies in both of her teammates’ results, Samodurova could be the highest-finishing Russian lady at Worlds.

Alina Zagitova, Russia

Credentials: Olympic gold medalist (2018), Olympic silver medalist (team event) European silver medalist (2019), Grand Prix Final champion (2017)

Zagitova won gold in PyeongChang when she was just 15 years old – one of her only recent clean free skates. This season, despite winning both of her Grand Prix assignments, it hasn’t been the same. She won a senior B early in the season, earned silver at the Grand Prix Final, but finished fifth at Russian nationals and went bust in the free skate at Europeans – yet still was able to manage a silver medal there. She figures to be in the mix as she hasn’t competed since, and should be well-rested.

Worth noting: Zagitova is beloved in Japan, which might ease her nerves. The country bestowed a dog on the Olympic champion, Masaru, who is equally popular. Masaru means “victory” in Japanese.

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🎈🐕 Масару сегодня 1 годик 🎀!!! С Днём Рождения, моя любимая 🐕! Моя радость, поддержка и вдохновение!!! Будь здоровой и послушной 🐶🎁🎉 🎈🐕今日、マサルが1歳の誕生日をむかえました🎀 私の愛犬、誕生日おめでとう!🐕あなたがいてくれて私は本当に幸せで、あなたは私の支えであり、私を鼓舞してくれる存在です!これからも素直で元気に過ごしてくれることを祈っています🐶🎁🎉 🎈🐕 Masaru is celebrating her 1st year today !!! Happy Birthday, my lovely dog! 🐕 You are my happiness, support and inspiration! Wish you to be healthy and obedient 🐶🎁🎉 #масару #акитаину #акита #собака #люблю #япония #masaru #マサル #秋田犬 #日本 # 愛してる #akitas # japan #puppy #mylove

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Yevgenia Medvedeva, Russia

Credentials: Two-time world champion (2016, 2017), Two-time Olympic silver medalist (team, individual), two-time Grand Prix Final champion

It would be wrong to discount Medvedeva, the two-time world champion who was undefeated in competition for nearly a two-year stretch. She moved to Toronto during the offseason to train under Brian Orser and had a disappointing showing at most of her competitions. Yet she was spot-on when it counted, at the Russian competition widely considered to be the world championship selection meet, beating out 2015 world champion Yelizaveta Tuktamysheva for the third spot behind Zagitova and Samodurova.

Worth noting: Medvedeva is competing with a different short program than earlier this season. She had been using Natalie Cole’s “Orange Colored Sky,” but swapped it for “Tosca” by Giacomo Puccini. She’s also immensely popular in Japan.

The U.S. ladies:

Bradie Tennell and Mariah Bell will represent the U.S. in Saitama, where one of their biggest challenges will be to secure a third spot for next year’s world championships. To do so, their combined finishes need to add up to less than 13; for example, if Tennell finished sixth and Bell finished seventh.

Tennell has been building momentum all season. She won her senior B season opener, followed by a fourth place and a bronze medal on the Grand Prix circuit, and a victory at another senior B competition. Then, she claimed silver at nationals in January and placed fifth at Four Continents in February. She told NBCSports.com/figure-skating she thinks she’s making artistic progress this season, too.

Bell, the two-time U.S. bronze medalist, has finished 12th at the world championships the past two years. She most recently finished sixth at Four Continents. She’s on the precipice of putting it all together, as she told NBCSports.com/figure-skating in January.

Alysa Liu, the 13-year-old who won U.S. nationals, is too young to compete at the World Championships or World Junior Championships, which took place two weeks ago.

Honorable mention: Kazakhstan’s Yelizabet Tursynbaeva, who trains alongside Zagitova in Moscow, will likely attempt a quadruple Salchow in the free skate. She was credited for a fully rotated attempt during her free skate at Four Continents in February, but fell. A clean quad has never been landed at a senior ladies’ international competition.

Canada’s Gabrielle Daleman won a gold medal in the team event at the PyeongChang Olympics, but has struggled on and off the ice this season. The 2017 World bronze medalist was sixth to open her season at a senior B competition, withdrew from the Grand Prix to focus on mental health, and then led after the short program at Canadian nationals but finished fifth overall. Due to a slip on the ice early in the season, she has suffered from concussion symptoms, on top of depression and anxiety, according to an interview her mother gave Canadian media. She has also opened up about having ADHD, a learning disability, and an eating disorder.

South Korea’s Lim Eun-soo, who trains with Bell under Rafael Arutunian in California, is another skater to watch. So is Belgium’s Loena Hendrickx.

MORE: Nathan Chen, student and skater, tries to have two parts in harmony again at world championships

As a reminder, you can watch 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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2022 Ironman Kona World Championships results

Ironman Kona World Championships
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2022 Ironman Kona World Championship top-10 results and notables (full, searchable pro and age group results are here) …

Pro Women
1. Chelsea Sodaro (USA) — 8:33:46
2. Lucy Charles-Barclay (GBR) — 8:41:37
3. Anne Haug (GER) — 8:42:22
4. Laura Philipp (GER) — 8:50:31
5. Lisa Norden (SWE) — 8:54:43
6. Fenella Langridge (GBR) — 8:56:26
7. Sarah Crowley (AUS) — 9:01:58
8. Daniela Ryf (SUI) — 9:02:26
9. Skye Moench (USA) — 9:04:31
10. Laura Siddall (GBR) — 9:07:49
16. Heather Jackson (USA) — 9:22:17
DNF. Sarah True (USA)

Pro Men
Race is on Saturday, live on Peacock at 12 p.m. ET.

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Chelsea Sodaro wins Ironman Kona World Championship, ends American drought

Chelsea Sodaro
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Chelsea Sodaro was the surprise winner of the Ironman Kona World Championships women’s race, ending the longest American victory drought in the event’s 44-year history.

Sodaro, a 33-year-old mom to an 18-month-old, prevailed in an unofficial 8 hours, 33 minutes, 46 seconds on Hawaii’s Big Island.

“My mind is a little bit blown right now,” she said in a finish area interview 25 minutes later, standing next to her daughter, Skylar. “This is the culmination of things being right in my life and having perspective. … This is freakin’ incredible, but the greatest gift at the end of the finish line is my little 18-month-old.”

Sodaro was in fifth place after the 2.6-mile swim and 112-mile bike, then recorded one of the fastest 26.2-mile marathon runs in event history (2:51:45) to win by 7 minutes, 50 seconds over Brit Lucy Charles-Barclay.

Swiss Daniela Ryf, who was eyeing her sixth Ironman world title, led after the bike but faded quickly on the run.

MORE: Ironman Kona Race Results

Sodaro, whose lone previous full Ironman was a second-place finish at June’s European Championships (reportedly in the second-fastest Ironman distance debut in history), became the first American to win in Kona since Tim DeBoom in 2002 and the first American to win the women’s race since Zimbabwean-turned-American Paula Newby-Fraser in 1996.

She is the first woman or man to win in their Kona debut since Brit Chrissie Wellington took the first of her four titles in 2007.

Sodaro (née Reilly) was an All-America runner at Cal, then placed 19th in the 10,000m at the 2016 U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials.

She turned to triathlon in 2017, made podiums on the World Cup circuit (just below the top-level World Series for Olympic hopefuls) and moved up to long-distance racing in 2018.

At the half Ironman distance, she was fourth at the 2019 World Championships, her last major championship start before the pandemic, pregnancy, childbirth and a move up to the full Ironman this year.

“I’m pretty stoked that I think I maybe get to take the rest of the year off and be a mom for a month or so,” Sodaro said.

The pro men’s race is Saturday, live on Peacock at 12 p.m. ET.

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