Papadakis, Cizeron win fourth world title; Hubbell, Donohue land on podium

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France’s Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron captured their fourth World Championship ice dance title on Saturday in Saitama, Japan.

Skating to selections from Rachael Yamagata, Papadakis and Cizeron scored a season’s best 134.23 points in the free skate for a total score of 222.65 points. They extended their short program lead over the field to 10.89 points. They now join six other ice dance teams in winning four World Championship titles; no team has one five, but one team has won six titles.

The last time the World Championships were held in Saitama, in 2014, Papadakis and Cizeron made their event debut and finished 13th. In the years to come, they went on to win three more titles: 2015, 2016, and 2018.

“We were exactly here five years ago for the World Championships in Saitama,” Papadakis recalled. “It’s funny to remember the whole experience we gained from those five years and where we were at that time, and where we are now. It’s incredible. We are just very, very proud of us.”

Viktoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov scored a season’s best 127.82 in their free dance for a total score of 211.76. They won their first World Championship medal, a silver, marking Russia’s first world ice dance medal since 2013. Their teammates, Alexandra Stepanova and Ivan Bukin finished fourth with 208.52 points.

Two-time U.S. champions Madison Hubbell and Zach Donohue scored a season’s best 127.31 in their “Romeo and Juliet” free dance which included all Level 4 elements. They notched a total score of 210.40 and the bronze medal. They won their first World medal, a silver, in 2018.

“We feel like we put our strongest performance this season here at Worlds, and that was our goal,” Hubbell said. “Our goal was to do our best performance and the rest we can’t control, that was really what we have achieved. Next season we would love to be competing for the top of the podium. We think that Team USA is incredibly strong in ice dance, so it keeps us on our toes. We would love to be the number one team heading into the Beijing Games [in 2022], and going to bring the gold home for Team USA — that is really the plan.”

Full results are here.

Canada’s Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje skated a tribute to their late friend and two-time world medalist Denis Ten of Kazakhstan.

Their free skate earned 122.78 points and all of their elements were called Level 4, except for Weaver’s twizzles, which earned a Level 2. They scored a total of 205.62 points and finished in fifth place. Notably, Weaver and Poje have been inside the Worlds top five for the past nine years, including a silver in 2014 and two bronzes (2015, 2018).

“When the tragedy struck, we knew our mission in this program was to do it for Denis,” Weaver told NBCSports.com/figure-skating earlier this season.

Americans Madison Chock and Evan Bates moved to Montreal for a new start this season and spent nearly 10 months away from competition before returning in January. The Four Continents gold medalists earned Level 3 on their one-foot step sequence and Level 4s on the rest of their elements in Saitama for a free skate score of 122.60 and an overall score of 204.92 points. They finished in sixth place.

“It feels so good that our best performance of the season happened here, on the World Championships,” Chock said afterwards. “Now we are going to go on with our next season, but firstly enjoy our vacation.”

“I think it is our favorite free dance that we have ever had, and it is really our tempo, especially the last piece of music. It is very audience-friendly,” Bates added, confirming it’s the last time they will compete the Elvis medley.

In what has been a personal storytelling vehicle for them this season, Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker‘s free dance to The Irrespressibles earned 113.16 points for an overall score of 189.06. Their ninth place at the World Championships caps their best season ever. At last year’s Worlds, they finished 10th and then moved to Montreal for a new training environment.

“It was a really great Worlds experience for us,” Hawayek told media. “It’s always such a pleasure to be in Japan and just continue to put out memorable performances for everyone and I think we set out with a goal of doing just that, and we are very happy to feel like we did that. We feel like we put out two solid and emotionally connected, memorable performances.”

World ice dance champions title leader board:

6 titles: Lyudmila Pakhomova/ Alexandr Gorshkov (Soviet Union; 1970-74, 1976)

4 titles: Jean Westwood/ Lawrence Demmy (Great Britain, 1952-56); Eva Romanova/ Pavel Roman (Czech Republic, 1962-65); Diane Towler/ Bernard Ford (Great Britain, 1966-69); Jayne Torvill/ Christopher Dean (Great Britain, 1981-84); Natalia Bestemianova/ Andrei Bukin (Soviet Union, 1985-88); Oksana Grishuk/ Yevgeni Platov (Russia, 1994-97); Gabriella Papadakis/ Guillaume Cizeron (France, 2015-16, 2018-19)

MORE: How to watch the World Figure Skating Championships | Sui Wenjing, Han Cong recapture world pair title | Nathan Chen, Jason Brown in first and second after men’s short | Alina Zagitova wins first world title | Nathan Chen defends world title, defeating Yuzuru Hanyu 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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Maya Moore withdraws from Olympic consideration

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Maya Moore, the U.S. second-leading scorer at the Rio Olympics, withdrew her name from Tokyo Olympic consideration and will skip a second straight WNBA season.

Moore is on hiatus from competitive basketball to focus on criminal justice reform. Specifically, the case of a man who was sentenced to 50 years in prison but Moore believes is innocent, according to The New York Times.

USA Basketball confirmed Wednesday’s Times report that Moore took her name out of consideration for the 12-player Tokyo Olympic team, which is expected to be named in late spring or early summer.

“We are going to miss Maya tremendously, but we also respect her decision,” U.S. women’s national team director Carol Callan said, according to the report. “A player of Maya’s ability does not walk away from the gym lightly. Everyone feels it. The thing that makes her so special is her approach, her dedication, which has always been contagious for our team.”

Moore last played for the U.S. in major competition at the Rio Olympics. She was one of the leaders on a team that earned a sixth straight gold medal. Moore started all eight games and averaged 12 points per game, second on the team behind fellow former University of Connecticut star Diana Taurasi.

Breanna Stewart, another former UConn standout, entered the starting lineup at the 2018 FIBA World Cup in Moore’s absence and earned tournament MVP. Stewart is returning after missing the entire 2019 WNBA season with an Achilles tear.

Moore also started five games at the 2012 London Olympics as the team’s youngest player.

Moore, 30, said “this is not the time” to retire, according to the Times, but it’s unknown when she might return to the national team or to the WNBA, where she won four titles and an MVP with the Minnesota Lynx from 2011-18.

“I got to experience the best of my craft, and I did that multiple times,” Moore said, according to the report. “There is nothing more I wish I could experience.”

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Major League Baseball sponsors U.S. Olympic softball team

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NEW YORK (AP) — Major League Baseball is using its financial muscle to support the U.S. women’s softball team, which already is assured a spot in the Tokyo Olympics while the American men’s baseball team struggles to qualify.

MLB announced an agreement Thursday to become presenting sponsor of the women’s “Stand Beside Her” tour, a slate of exhibition games leading up to the Olympic tournament from July 22-28.

“We’re both bat and ball sports. Even though we’re not the same sport, there are so many similarities that you just can’t ignore,” said Kim Ng, MLB’s senior vice president for baseball operations. “It was important for us to make sure that they have this acknowledgment and recognition of their ability and their talent.”

Softball began as an Olympic sport for the 1996 Atlanta Games. The U.S. won gold medals in 1996, 2000 and 2004 with players that included Dot Richardson, Jennie Finch and Jessica Mendoza, then lost to Japan in the 2008 gold-medal game.

Baseball and softball were dropped for the next two Olympics, then restored for this year, when the U.S. and Japan will be joined by Australia, Canada, Italy and Mexico for games in Fukushima and Yokohama but not Tokyo. The sports are likely to be dropped for 2024 in Paris but could return four years later in Los Angeles.

The U.S. men’s baseball team stumbled in its first attempt to qualify, wasting a ninth-inning lead against Mexico in the final game of the Premier12 tournament in November and losing in the 10th. The U.S. has two more chances to join Israel, Japan, Mexico and South Korea in the Olympic field: an Americas tournament in Arizona from March 22-26 and a final tournament in Taiwan from April 1-5.

MLB is not allowing players on 40-man big league rosters to compete in qualifying, and few top pitching prospects were at the November tournament.

Softball has no such issues. The Olympics are the sport’s highest-profile event.

“The platform for us is 10 times bigger,” American outfielder Haylie McCleney said. “For us, it’s a great opportunity for people that have never watched softball before, people that have only followed it at the collegiate level, to really see how fun our game is to watch, how pure it is. If people are baseball fans, I guarantee they’re going to love softball because it’s pretty much just a faster game – it’s shorter, it’s quicker, it’s more entertaining to watch, in my opinion.”

The 2008 gold-medal softball game took 1 hours, 45 minutes — less than half the 3:45 average for this year’s World Series.

As part of the deal with MLB, the softball team’s official training facility will be at the Jackie Robinson Training Complex in Vero Beach, Florida, the old Dodgertown spring training camp.

MLB Network will include programming from the tour, which currently starts Feb. 4 in Tampa and has about three dozen stops.

The U.S. women’s soccer team has attracted huge television audiences. MLB sees softball as an opportunity for the sport’s growth.

“These are world-class athletes,” Ng said. “Because we have not been in the Olympics for the last 12 years, they just haven’t had that stage. So it’s really important at this point that we show as much support as we can for them.”

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