Alina Zagitova wins first World title; Yevgenia Medvedeva earns bronze

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PyeongChang Olympic gold medalist Alina Zagitova built on her lead after Wednesday’s short program to win her first World title in Saitama, Japan on Friday.

The 16-year-old Russian had one of her only clean free skates since the Olympics, enough to score 155.42 points and earn an overall score of 237.50 points. She skated to “Carmen.”

“My first thought at the very end of the performance was ‘yes, I did it,'” Zagitova told media. “Through hardships to the stars. I was very nervous, but I think the experience from the Olympic Games helped me somehow. I felt like at the Olympics, even worse (more nervous) probably. I was very nervous, because this season didn’t go so smoothly.”

Her pet dog, Masaru, was gifted to her by the country of Japan after her Olympic win and the name means “Victory” in Japanese. Fitting.

Kazakhstan’s Elizabet Tursynbayeva became the first senior lady to land a quadruple jump, a Salchow, in international competition. The element earned her 10.81 points alone. She scored 148.80 points in the free skate for a total of 224.76 points. Tursynbayeva’s world silver medal is the first ever for her country at this event.

“I still cannot believe that I have won the silver,” Tursynbayeva said. “I am pleased that I landed the quadruple Salchow. I will remember this Championship for a long time.”

Two-time world champion Yevgenia Medvedeva — at one point a question mark to even make the Russian team — scored a season’s best 149.57 for a total score of 223.80 points. The Olympic silver medalist took a bronze medal in Japan behind her former training partner after sitting in fourth place in the short program. Medvedeva moved to Toronto before the start of the season to train with Brian Orser, while Zagitova stayed in their longtime Moscow training base and currently trains with Tursynbayeva.

“Now it proved that I can work and move forward, I can bring joy to people,” Medvedeva told media. “It proved that I am here, on the top of the World Championships and I only had had to work harder. You will see strong and beautiful Medvedeva next season. Wait for it.”

Grand Prix Final champion and Four Continents champion Rika Kihira of Japan landed her triple Axel, triple toe combination but then fell on her next pass, a solo triple Axel attempt. She rallied for a clean performance the rest of the way, though, and scored 152.59 points for a total score of 223.49. She was the highest-finishing Japanese woman at their home world championships, landing in fourth place. Teammates Kaori Sakamoto and Satoko Miyahara finished fifth and sixth, respectively.

Full results are here.

Bradie Tennell skated a season’s best 143.97 points in the free skate, giving her a total score of 213.97 points. She finished in seventh place.

“I’m so happy with the way that I skated [tonight],” Tennell said through U.S. Figure Skating. “It’s been a goal of mine all season to have [that type of] performance and I don’t think it could have come at a better time.”

Combined with Mariah Bell’s ninth place (136.81 free skate score, 208.07 total), the U.S. women were unable to win back a third quota spot for the 2020 World Championships. They would’ve had to finish a combined placement of 13 or fewer, such as sixth and seventh place.

“I’m so proud that I was able to put out two strong programs this week,” Bell said. “I just focused on doing what I know how to do and it was special to perform in front of such a great crowd.”

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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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Tommy Ford ends U.S. men’s World Cup drought at Beaver Creek

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Tommy Ford earned his first World Cup win at age 30 and ended the U.S. men’s longest victory and podium droughts in two decades.

Ford won the giant slalom in Beaver Creek, Colo., on Sunday, the last North American race on tour this season. He prevailed by eight tenths of a second combining times over two runs.

Full results are here.

Ford became the first U.S. man to win a World Cup since Travis Ganong took a downhill on Jan. 27, 2017. He also became the first U.S. male podium finisher since Ted Ligety in January 2018. Both were the longest droughts for the program since the late 1990s.

Ford, a 2010 and 2018 Olympian who missed the 2014 Olympics due to a broken femur, had been working toward this moment. He finished a World Cup career-high fourth at the season-opening giant slalom in Soelden, Austria, on Oct. 27. Last season, he had a pair of top-five results.

The men’s World Cup moves to Val d’Isere, France, next weekend for a giant slalom and slalom.

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Katie Ledecky wins race by 30 seconds, takes back No. 1 ranking

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In her last race of the year, Katie Ledecky ensured she would finish 2019 as the world’s fastest 1500m freestyler.

Ledecky clocked 15:35.98 at the U.S. Open in Atlanta, winning the longest event on the Olympic pool program by 29.97 seconds. Typical for Ledecky, who owns the nine fastest times in history. This one came in at No. 8. Full meet results are here.

Ledecky scratched the 1500m free final at the summer world championships due to illness. Italian Simona Quadarella went on to win that title in 15:40.89, which was the world’s fastest time this year until Saturday night.

“I didn’t have time on my mind at all today. I just wanted to have a consistent swim,” Ledecky, undefeated in 1500m free finals for nine years, said on NBCSN. “That’s probably the best mile that I’ve had in a while.”

The women’s 1500m freestyle debuts at the Olympics in Tokyo. Ledecky is expected to add that to her Rio Olympic individual lineup of 200m, 400m and 800m frees, assuming she is top two in each event at the June Olympic trials.

In other events Saturday, Erika Brown handed Simone Manuel a rare defeat in the 100m freestyle. Brown, a University of Tennessee senior, clocked 53.42 and lowered her personal best by .71 between prelims and the final. Brown moved from sixth to fourth in the U.S. rankings this year, upping her stock as a contender to make the Olympic 4x100m free relay pool via a top-six finish at trials.

Brown previously lowered her personal best in the 50m free on Thursday. She ranks third in the U.S. this year in that event.

Emily Escobedo dealt Lilly King a rare domestic defeat in the 200m breaststroke. Escobedo lowered her personal best by .87 and clocked 2:22.00, moving to seventh fastest in the world this year and remaining fourth among Americans.

In the men’s 200m breast, Olympic champion Dmitriy Balandin of Kazakhstan was beaten by Cody Miller, the Olympic 100m breast silver medalist. Both were slower than their best times this year.

The next significant swim meet is a Tyr Pro Series stop in Knoxville, Tenn., from Jan. 16-19.

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