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.”

MORE: Papadakis, Cizeron lead rhythm dance; Americans within striking distance to podium

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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Justin Morneau nixes Olympic baseball qualifying return

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Justin Morneau, the 2006 AL MVP with the Minnesota Twins, was taken off Canada’s Olympic baseball qualifying roster before he would have played his first competitive game in more than two years.

Morneau, 38, experienced an unspecified setback in training and was replaced on Canada’s roster for next month’s Premier12. The global tournament marks the first opportunity for many world baseball powers to qualify for the sport’s return to the Olympics.

Morneau never played in the Olympics before baseball was cut from the Games after 2008; active MLB players have never competed in the Games. But he was on Canada’s roster at all four World Baseball Classics from 2006 through 2017.

At November’s Premier12, the top nation from North and South America will qualify for the Tokyo Olympics. Japan and Israel are already qualified. Those that do not qualify will get another chance next year.

Morneau could become the second Major League Baseball MVP to play Olympic baseball as a medal sport. The other was Jason Giambi, who made the U.S. team in 1992, the same summer he was drafted in the second round by the Oakland Athletics.

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MORE: Joe Girardi replaced as U.S. baseball manager by World Series champion

Kolohe Andino is first U.S. Olympic surfing qualifier; Kelly Slater faces last chance

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Kolohe Andino is the first American to qualify for surfing’s Olympic debut, which leaves one spot left for 47-year-old Kelly Slater to chase at the final contest of the season.

Andino, a 25-year-old Californian whose first name means “rascal” in Hawaiian, clinched his place in Tokyo on Friday at the penultimate stop on the World Surf League Championship Tour in Portugal. He is ranked fifth in the world, trailing a trio of Brazilians.

One more American man will join Andino on the Olympic team. It will be one of Slater, the 11-time world champion, John John Florence, the 2016 and 2017 World champion, and rising 22-year-old Hawaiian Seth Moniz.

Slater was handed a golden opportunity to qualify when Florence announced in early July that he tore an ACL for the second time in 13 months. Florence had won two of the first five events this season.

Slater has been chasing the sidelined Florence in the standings ever since. But it has not been easy.

Slater hasn’t made the quarterfinals in any of his last seven contests going into December’s finale — the prestigious Billabong Pipeline Masters on the North Shore of Oahu.

“Ninth place, to me, used to be a pretty awful result. I’m used to at least a quarterfinal on for most of my career,” he said in July, noting a back injury. “I’m not horrified by my results, but I’m also not surprised. Maybe other people are because everyone focuses on my age and that kind of thing. It’s not like I’m going to all of a sudden forget how to do this thing, you know?”

Slater, who won the Pipe Masters seven times between 1992 and 2013, must reach the quarterfinals at this year’s event to have any chance of passing Florence to qualify for the Olympics.

Complicating matters: Florence said in August it was his “goal to get better for Pipeline in case I have to come back and compete and gain points,” according to ESPN.com. If Florence does return for the December contest, and makes the quarterfinals, Slater could only pass him with a victory.

Moniz goes into the finale ranked one spot behind Slater, meaning he, too, can grab that second and final Olympic spot with a win or a runner-up.

Slater, who turns 48 on Feb. 11, would be the oldest U.S. Summer Olympic rookie competitor in a sport other than equestrian, sailing or shooting (or art competitions!) in the last 100 years, supplanting Martina Navratilova, according to the OlyMADMen.

MORE: Top U.S. surfer has links to Egg McMuffin, Guinness World Record holder

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