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Alysa Liu is first U.S. woman to land quad, wins Junior Grand Prix debut

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LAKE PLACID, N.Y. — Alysa Liu had just become the first U.S. woman to land a quadruple jump – a Lutz, no less — in competition.

But to the 14-year-old Californian, it was just another day at the rink.

“It’s pretty cool,” she said. “I don’t obsess.”

“My triple Lutz, for me it’s easier than all my other triples. Salchow is harder than Lutz. It’s my favorite jump, and it’s the easiest to do.”

Liu made almost all of the elements in her free skate look easy Saturday, earning 138.80 points to scorch the field and win her debut Junior Grand Prix event. Her overall score, 208.10, outpaced silver medalist Park Yeonjeong of South Korea by 21.52.

The victory was the first for a U.S. woman in a Junior Grand Prix since Polina Edmunds in September 2013. It broke a string of 20 straight Junior Grand Prix wins for Russians.

“It’s a good learning experience, the first JGP,” said Liu, who in January became the youngest U.S. champion in history but is too young to compete on the senior international level until the 2022 Olympic season. “It’s my first big competition this season, and I’m just trying to learn from it.”

There was little to improve, jump-wise, on Saturday. After performing a clean short program on Friday (sans quad Lutz or triple Axel), Liu led by 2.07. Her free skate to Jennifer Thomas’ uplifting “New World Symphony,” choreographed by Lori Nichol, opened with a solid triple Axel-double toe loop combination, followed by the quad Lutz.

Although Liu fell on her second triple Axel, she landed two triple-triple combinations and gained top marks on her spins and step sequence.

“I practice my programs, like, a lot, and normally I can do all of the elements in my program,” Liu said. “I think I was too slow [on the second Axel], too hesitant. But normally I can do it.”

Other young women, including Russia’s reigning world junior champion Alexandra Trusova and world silver medalist Elizabet Tursynbayeva of Kazakhstan, perform quads, while others – Japan’s Rika Kihira, Elizaveta Tuktamysheva of Russia – compete triple Axels. But only Liu has landed both triple Axel and quad in competition.

“My favorite things to practice are jumps,” Liu said. “My least favorites are – well, I’m not sure what least favorite is. I like all of it, but I like jumps best.”

Liu’s exploits are inspiring other young skaters to up their technical ante.

“It’s very cool what she’s done, now we are all working on quads every day and triple Axels,” Emilia Murdock, seventh in Lake Placid, said. “She has shown that the U.S. ladies can beat the Russians, and we can beat the Japanese and Koreans. We just need to work on motivating each other. Alysa has helped the sport a lot.”

Laura Lipetsky, who has coached Liu since the skater was 5 years old, thinks her skater performs best under pressure. Lipetsky, along with Liu’s father, Arthur, kept the skater busy this week with strolls around Mirror Lake and window shopping along Lake Placid’s Main Street.

“There is a lot of work beforehand, as far as training,” Lipetsky said. “And then we have our own ritual before she gets on the ice. … We laugh a lot; we have a lot of fun. That’s what is important in the sport, working hard but having fun as well.”

Liu’s competition will likely get tougher as the season progresses. Just a single Russian competed in Lake Placid: Anastasia Tarakanova, seventh in Russian juniors last season, took bronze with 179.29 points. Ksenia Sinitsyna, fourth at last season’s junior worlds, was slated to compete but could not travel to the U.S. due to issues with travel documents.

As for Liu, don’t expect her to add another quad to her programs any time soon. There’s other work to be done before her next competition, a Junior Grand Prix in Poland in three weeks.

“I do more ballet to help my programs,” she said. “I’m working on my programs more, (doing choreography) with no jumps and spins. I’m doing skating skill exercises.”

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Israel is first nation to qualify for 2020 Olympic baseball tournament

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Israel’s baseball team, which captivated at the 2017 World Baseball Classic, is headed to its first Olympics next summer.

Israel won a joint European-African tournament to become the first nation to qualify for baseball’s return to the Games after the sport was voted off the program after Beijing 2008.

It joins host nation Japan. Four more countries will qualify — two at the global Premier12 in November, another from the Americas and one more from a last-chance qualifier next year.

Israel, ranked 19th in the world, advanced via its best opportunity in Italy this week. It upset the highest-ranked European nations — the Netherlands (No. 8) and host Italy (No. 16) — and wrapped it up with an 11-1 win over South Africa on Sunday.

Its run came two years after Israel, then ranked 41st, beat South Korea, Chinese Taipei, the Netherlands and Cuba before bowing out of the World Baseball Classic. And one week after Israel finished fourth at the European Championship.

Israel’s roster at this week’s Olympic qualifier lacked many of the MLB veterans that it had at the World Baseball Classic. Israeli citizenship was not required at the WBC.

Its most recognizable player is Danny Valencia, an infielder who played parts of nine MLB seasons from 2010-18.

MLB players are unlikely to feature at the Tokyo Games, but minor leaguers are expected to be eligible as in the past.

The rest of the Olympic field is likely to be nations from North America (such as the U.S., Cuba, Mexico or Canada) or Asia (South Korea, Chinese Taipei) or Australia.

Baseball will not be on the 2024 Olympic program but could be added for the 2028 Los Angeles Games.

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J’den Cox repeats as world wrestling champion; Kyle Snyder stunned

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If he wasn’t crowned already, it’s clear U.S. wrestling has a new king.

On a day when Rio Olympic champion Kyle Snyder was upset and London Olympic champ Jordan Burroughs rallied for another bronze medal, J’den Cox repeated as world champion in Kazakhstan.

Cox, the Rio Olympic 86kg bronze medalist, completed a perfect run through the 92kg division — not giving up a point in four matches — by dominating Iranian Alireza Karimi 4-0 in the final. He became the second U.S. man to win an Olympic or world title without surrendering a point in more than 30 years (joining Kyle Dake from last year).

“I don’t know why, but it feels like a ton better [than 2018],” said Cox, whose tattoos include one that reads in Latin, “If I cannot move heaven, I will raise hell.” “I made more sacrifices … I wanted to do it better.”

Earlier Saturday, Snyder was shocked by Azerbaijan’s Sharif Sharifov 5-2 in the 97kg semifinals, denying a third straight world final between Snyder and Russian Tank Abdulrashid Sadulayev. Sharifov, the 2012 Olympic 84kg champ, clinched his first world medal in eight years.

Snyder, who in Rio became the youngest U.S. Olympic wrestling champion at age 20, failed to make an Olympic or world final for the first time in his career. He will wrestle for bronze on Sunday, while Sharifov meets Sadulayev for gold.

Burroughs earned his seventh straight world championships medal and second straight bronze. Burroughs, the 2012 Olympic 74kg champion, rebounded from losing to Russian Zaurbeck Sidakov on Friday with a 10-0 technical fall over Japanese Mao Okui.

Burroughs gave up a lead on Sidakov with 1.3 seconds left in the semifinals, a year after Sidakov overtook him as time expired in the quarterfinals.

“A lot of people in 2016 called me a quitter,” said Burroughs, who tearfully missed the medals in Rio, “and I think that after watching the amount of devastation and heartbreak that I’ve taken over the last two years and still being able to come back and take third place is a testament.”

Burroughs, 31, shares third with Adeline Gray on the U.S. list of career world wrestling championships medals, trailing only Bruce Baumgartner and Kristie Davis, who each earned nine.

Burroughs’ bronze ensured he gets a bye into the 74kg final of the Olympic trials in April. But this will be the first time he goes into an Olympic year as anything other than a reigning world champion.

“At this juncture of my career, I feel I’m running out of time,” said Burroughs, who next year will be older than any previous U.S. Olympic wrestling champion. “That can be really scary.”

Dake marched to Sunday’s final in defense of his 2018 World title at 79kg (a non-Olympic weight) by going 23-4 over three matches. Dake, who at Cornell became the only wrestler to win NCAA titles at four weight classes or without a redshirt, gets Azerbaijan’s Jabrayil Hasanov in the final, a rematch of the 2018 gold-medal match.

Next year, Dake must move up to 86kg, where Cox will likely reside, or down to 74kg, where Burroughs has won every U.S. Olympic or world trials dating to 2011. There’s also David Taylor to reckon with. Taylor won the 86kg world title last year but missed this season due to injury.

“We’ve got a guy at 79 kilos that’s going to win a world championship tomorrow,” Burroughs said, smiling, of Dake, “I’m hopefully going to be waiting for [Dake at Olympic trials], healthy and prepared.”

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