Rika Kihira leads Skate Canada over 15-year-olds

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Japanese Rika Kihira leads Skate Canada after the women’s short program, topping a pair of 15-year-olds in their senior Grand Prix debuts going into Saturday’s free skate.

Kihira, who swept her three Grand Prix starts in her first senior season last year but was fourth at worlds, already had the world’s top short program score this season. She bettered it Friday with her trademark triple Axel and 81.35 points, taking a 3.13-point lead over South Korean You Young.

“The quality of my triple Axel and my triple loop was good, like in practice, but in some parts of the program I was nervous and I didn’t do my spins so well,” Kihira said, according to the International Skating Union (ISU).

NBC Sports Gold live streams all of the free programs on Saturday. A full broadcast schedule is here.

You became the 11th woman to land a triple Axel in international competition, according to skating media.

Another young teen, Russian Alexandra Trusova, is in third. Trusova landed four quadruple jumps in her most recent free skate but attempted none Friday as they are not permitted in short programs.

Bradie Tennell, the 2018 U.S. champion, is in fourth place. If Tennell can get on the podium, she will have a decent chance at becoming the first U.S. woman to qualify for December’s Grand Prix Final since 2015. She took silver at Skate America last week.

Olympic silver medalist and two-time world champion Yevgenia Medvedeva stands sixth, 15.33 behind. She stumbled out of a double Axel landing and then fell and slid into the boards on a triple Lutz.

“Doesn’t make any sense, does it?” coach Brian Orser said in the kiss-and-cry, generating no reaction from Medvedeva before the score came up.

Medvedeva last won on the top international level in November 2017 at the tail end of a two-year win streak.

Later Friday, Yuzuru Hanyu landed two quads en route to the world’s top short program score this season — 109.6 — and a 20.55-point lead over American Camden Pulkinen. Hanyu scored 6.89 points higher than Nathan Chen did at Skate America, though they will not go head-to-head until the Grand Prix Final at the earliest.

“It was not so great, but I felt I did my best today,” Hanyu said, according to the ISU. “I felt calm today, but I am not sure if my calmness led to me being more focused.”

Earlier in ice dance, two-time world medalists Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue began their march toward a fifth straight Grand Prix win and a spot in the Grand Prix Final.

Hubbell and Donohue topped the rhythm dance with 83.21 points, 1.76 off their world-leading score from Skate America last week. They lead Canadians Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier by .63 going into Saturday’s free dance.

World champions Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron of France make their Grand Prix season debut in France next week.

In pairs, Russians Aleksandra Boikova and Dmitriy Kozlovskiy took the lead in the short program with 76.45 points, best in the world this season. The teenagers topped Canadian champions Kirsten Moore-Towers and Michael Marinaro by .95 and relegated three-time world medalists Yevgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov to third.

Skate Canada
Women’s Short
1. Rika Kihira (JPN) — 81.35
2. You Young (KOR) — 78.22
3. Alexandra Trusova (RUS) — 74.40
4. Bradie Tennell (USA) — 72.92
5. Gabrielle Daleman (CAN) — 63.94
6. Yevgenia Medvedeva (RUS) — 62.89
7. Serafima Sakhanovich (RUS) — 62.63
8. Kim Yelim (KOR) — 61.23
9. Alexia Paganini (SUI) — 60.68
10. Marin Honda (USA) — 59.2
11. Alicia Pineault (CAN) — 57.59
12. Veronik Mallet (CAN) — 51.9

Men’s Short
1. Yuzuru Hanyu (JPN) — 109.6
2. Camden Pulkinen (USA) — 89.05
3. Nam Nguyen (CAN) — 84.08
4. Deniss Vasiljevs (LAT) — 84.01
5. Keiji Tanaka (JPN) — 80.11
6. Andrei Lazukin (RUS) — 78.99
7. Julian Zhi Jie Yee (MAS) — 75.64
8. Nicolas Nadeau (CAN) — 75.22
9. Matteo Rizzo (ITA) — 70.12
10. Paul Fentz (GER) — 66.32
11. Roman Sadovsky (CAN) — 65.29
12. Brendan Kerry (AUS) — 56.75

Pairs’ Short
1. Aleksandra Boikova/Dmitriy Kozlovskiy (RUS) — 76.45
2. Kirsten Moore-Towers/Michael Marinaro (CAN) — 75.5
3. Yevgenia Tarasova/Vladimir Morozov (RUS) — 73.57
4. Alexa Scimeca Knierim/Chris Knierim (USA) — 71.28
5. Liubov Ilyushechkina/Charlie Bilodeau (CAN) — 68.62
6. Jessica Calanag/Brian Johnson (USA) — 62.54
7. Tang Feiyao/Yang Yongchao (CHN) — 62.35
8. Evelyn Walsh/Trennt Michaud (CAN) — 56.09

Rhythm Dance
1. Madison Hubbell/Zachary Donohue (USA) — 83.21
2. Piper Gilles/Paul Poirier (CAN) — 82.58
3. Kaitlin Hawayek/Jean-Luc Baker (USA) — 79.52
4. Lilah Fear/Lewis Gibson (GBR) — 76.67
5. Sara Hurtado/Kirill Khaliavin (ESP) — 72.77
6. Betina Popova/Sergey Mozgov (RUS) — 71.44
7. Marjorie Lajoie/Zachary Lagha (CAN) — 70.50
8. Caroline Green/Michael Parsons (USA) — 69
9. Sofia Evdokimova/Egor Bazin (RUS) — 67.2
10. Haley Sales/Nikolas Wamsteeker (CAN) — 63.06

As a reminder, you can watch the events from the 2019-20 figure skating season 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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MORE: Tuktamysheva, armed with triple Axel, fights to compete with Russian teens

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Jordan Thompson, U.S. volleyball’s new weapon, took unique route to NCAA history

Jordan Thompson
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It was about this time last year that Jordan Thompson first appeared on the radar of U.S. women’s volleyball coach Karch Kiraly. Since, Thompson emerged as the youngest starter, and arguably a star, for the national team.

She goes into what could be her final weekend of college volleyball as one of the most dominant athletes in any sport. And one of the most unique stories in NCAA history.

Thompson plays not for a Big Ten or Pac-12 powerhouse, but for Cincinnati, a school that, before she arrived, never made it past the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

The unranked Bearcats upset second-ranked Pittsburgh in the second round last Saturday. They play Penn State, winner of six of the last 12 NCAA titles, in the Sweet 16 on Friday.

In 33 games this season, Thompson has registered a Division I-leading 768 kills, which is 143 more than the next most prolific attacker. That margin of 143 is the same number that separates No. 2 from No. 31.

Last season, she had 827 kills, which was 240 more than anybody else and a single-season record (by 112 kills) since NCAA match formats shifted from 30-point to 25-point sets in 2008.

She is a contender, if not a favorite, to be AVCA National Player of the Year. All of the previous winners dating to 1985 came from schools that reached at least one Final Four.

On Oct. 4, a UCF player’s face caught the wrong end of a Thompson attack. Cincinnati teammates watching from the bench dropped to the floor in astonishment.

Thompson tallied 50 kills in one match alone on Nov. 3, becoming the first D-I player to do so in 20 years.

That happened on Senior Day. Before that match, Thompson received a plaqued No. 23 jersey and flowers.

She posed for a photo standing with her husband, former Cincinnati offensive lineman Blake Yager, her mother, Mary, whose bribes helped Thompson develop into an attacker, and her father, 1990s Harlem Globetrotter Tyrone Doleman (and brother of Pro Football Hall of Famer Chris Doleman).

Mary has been most instrumental, raising Thompson as a single mom in Minnesota. Thompson, who is 6 feet, 4 inches now, was always tall for her age.

She played youth basketball against older girls and grew frustrated by the physical contact. Kneepads weren’t comfort enough. She decided to give volleyball a try in middle school.

“She was very timid,” Mary said of her daughter, who has since gotten 10 tattoos, including one of a hummingbird. “She would tell me she didn’t want to hurt anyone on the other side of the net. I told her I would give her a dollar for every time she would whack it. And I would give her $10 if she would actually hit someone on the other end of the court.”

It took a while, but Thompson was motivated by her love of horses. The payouts from her mom went toward a saddle and a bridal. A box with horse equipment remains in the family garage back home.

“She was trying to build up her supplies to be able to one day say to me, look, I’ve got a saddle, I’ve got all of my tack, I’ve got stuff to clean the hooves, can we get a horse now?” Mary said. 

After just two years of club volleyball, Thompson received her first Division-I scholarship offer. It came from Syracuse. Thompson was a high school sophomore.

“In the back of my head, I’m thinking, I’m never going to get another offer, so I better take this one,” she said.

Thompson was intent on Syracuse for a year before a coaching change led her to decommit. She wasn’t sure if many schools knew she had reopened her recruiting. A Minnesota club teammate had committed to Cincinnati and suggested Thompson take a visit.

The Bearcats went 3-29 the season before she committed.

“I said, Jordan, you can play D-I at Texas. You can go to Nebraska,” Mary said. “She was like, no, no, I want to play all four years. I actually want to get playing time, mom. She really struggled believing how good she could be.”

The biggest obstacle came junior year. In a preseason training session, Thompson collided with that Minnesota club teammate, Jade Tingelhoff, and tore the UCL in her dominant, right arm. She was in an armpit-to-wrist brace for two months post-Tommy John surgery, including three weeks with her arm locked in place.

She couldn’t brush her hair, had a hard time brushing her teeth and found it difficult showering and getting dressed.

She still went to every Bearcats game and traveled with the team. Cincinnati went from 22-10 her sophomore season to 13-19 that year without her on the court.

“It ended up being OK,” Tingelhoff said. “She came back that next season — I’m not kidding — 10 times as better than she was even the previous year.”

As a redshirt junior, Thompson and her 827 kills helped Cincinnati to a 26-8 record and its first NCAA Tournament win in seven years. She also caught the eye of Kiraly by the end of that 2018 season.

“She was one of the elite players in all of college volleyball,” he said. “Probably the only one who came from a conference other than the ones known for producing the most NCAA champions, like the Big Ten and the Pac-12.”

By last spring break, Thompson had become a favorite of U.S coaches at a camp to help select teams for summer international tournaments.

She had a one-on-one conversation with Kiraly, the only person to own Olympic indoor and beach gold medals. The legend told her she had potential to play at the Pan American Games. Later, he upped the praise to say she was ready for the top-level Nations League, a precursor to Olympic qualifying.

Thompson made her national team debut in May. By August, she came off the bench to help spur a comeback in a crucial Olympic qualifying match. The next day, she was in the starting lineup for the U.S.’ final Olympic qualifier, where the Americans clinched a Tokyo 2020 berth.

“I think a lot people don’t know she is still in college,” two-time U.S. Olympic outside hitter Jordan Larson said then. “She still has one more year left.”

Agents reached out, but Thompson had no intention of giving up her final year of NCAA eligibility. She wanted to make history at Cincinnati. That was secured with the Sweet 16 berth.

With the new year, she will trade the Cincinnati red and black for Team USA colors. She will keep in mind what the U.S. coaching staff told the team during Olympic qualifying and what she called a dream summer.

“My big goal in life was I just wanted to be in the USA gym,” said Thompson, who is working on her master’s in criminal justice. “To hear that we’re all working towards this goal of trying to make this roster, and we are being looked as potential players to make that roster, my jaw dropped. To know that it’s even a remote possibility is mind-blowing.”

VIDEO: Brazil volleyball star faints during courtside interview

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Tahiti chosen for Olympic surfing competition at 2024 Paris Games

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Paris 2024 Olympic organizers want the surfing competition to be held in Tahiti, an island in French Polynesia that is about 9,800 miles from Paris.

It would break the record for the farthest Olympic medal competition to be held outside the host. In 1956, equestrian events were moved out of Melbourne due to quarantine laws and held five months earlier in Stockholm, some 9,700 miles away.

The Paris 2024 executive board approved the site Thursday — specifically, the village of Teahupo’o — and will propose it to the IOC. It beat out other applicants Biarritz, Lacanau, Les Landes and La Torche, all part of mainland France.

“If, ever, we have two alternatives, and where one alternative gives the athletes of a particular sport more closeness to the heart of the Games and allows them to enjoy the magic and the spirit of the Games better, then in the interest of the athletes, we prefer this solution,” IOC President Thomas Bach said in June when asked about Tahiti’s interest in hosting surfing.

Surfing will debut at the 2020 Tokyo Games but is not on the permanent Olympic program. Surfing was among sports added to the Paris 2024 program in June and could be added for the 2028 Los Angeles Games.

MORE: U.S. athletes qualified for Tokyo Olympics

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