Alena Kostornaia leads Russian parade in Grand Prix Final short program

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In this season of the Russian Troika, Alena Kostornaia has clearly been the world’s best short program skater. She proved it again on Friday in the biggest competition to date.

Kostornaia, a 16-year-old, first-year senior, bettered her own world-leading short score, tallying 85.45 points to lead the Grand Prix Final going into Saturday’s free skate. A full TV and live stream schedule is here.

Kostornaia is attempting to win the senior Grand Prix Final, the second-biggest annual competition after worlds, a year after winning the Junior Grand Prix Final. She nailed a short program that included a triple Axel.

Russia boasts the top three in the six-skater field, looking to become the first nation to sweep any discipline at the Final in two decades.

Kostornaia is followed by reigning Olympic and world champion Alina Zagitova, who dropped behind younger countrywomen this season as she has neither a triple Axel or a quad. Anna Shcherbakova, who shares a coach with Kostornaia and Zagitova, is third.

Bradie Tennell, the first U.S. woman to qualify for the Final since 2015, is fourth after a clean short save one under-rotated jump.

Russian Alexandra Trusova and Japanese Rika Kihira, ranked Nos. 1 and 3 in the world this season, fell in the short program; Trusova on a triple Axel and Kihira on the back half of a triple flip-triple toe loop combination. They are in fifth and sixth place, respectively, 14 points behind.

That’s a boost for Kostornaia, who is not as strong in the free skate given she has never landed a quadruple jump in competition. Quads are not allowed in women’s short programs, but they are in the free skate (and Trusova can land four of them in one program).

“[Kostornaia] can blend the two aspects of the sport together that makes her, I think, almost a hope for figure skating purists who are probably in this time of change quite worried about what will happen to ladies’ figure skating with all these quads,” NBC Sports analyst Tara Lipinski said before the Final. “She is the skater who is proving to everyone that you can technically advance the sport as she has with her triple Axels — and quads to come, I’m assuming — and also not forget about the balance of what figure skating’s all about and bringing the skating skills and skating quality and emotion to the ice.”

Later in pairs, Sui Wenjing and Han Cong gave China its first Grand Prix Final title in a decade, extending their unbeaten streak since taking PyeongChang Olympic silver. They padded a short-program lead, despite free stake jumping mistakes, to win by 7.42 over fellow Chinese Peng Cheng and Jin Yang.

Earlier, French Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron overcame her twizzle error to top the rhythm dance with 83.83 points, which was 6.2 off their world-leading score this season. Papadakis and Cizeron are undefeated since taking silver at the PyeongChang Olympics.

Americans Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue, who won last year’s Final in the absence of their French training partners, are second after Hubbell’s twizzle error, 1.11 points behind. The free dance is Saturday.

Grand Prix Final
Women’s Short Program
1. Alena Kostornaia (RUS) — 85.45
2. Alina Zagitova (RUS) — 79.60
3. Anna Shcherbakova (RUS) — 78.27
4. Bradie Tennell (USA) — 72.20
5. Alexandra Trusova (RUS) — 71.45
6. Rika Kihira (JPN) — 70.71

Pairs’ Results
Gold: Sui Wenjing/Han Cong (CHN) — 211.69

Silver: Peng Cheng/Jin Yang (CHN) — 204.27
Bronze: Anastasia Mishina/Aleksandr Galliamov (RUS) — 203.13
4. Aleksandra Boikova / Dmitriy Kozlovskiy (RUS) — 201.84
5. Kirsten Moore-Towers/Michael Marinaro (CAN) — 197.99
6. Daria Pavliuchenko/Denis Khodykin (RUS) — 194.75

Rhythm Dance
1. Gabriella Papadakis/Guillaume Cizeron (FRA) — 83.83
2. Madison Hubbell/Zachary Donohue (USA) — 82.72
3. Madison Chock/Evan Bates (USA) — 81.67
4. Victoria Sinitsina/Nikita Katsalapov (RUS) — 81.51
5. Alexandra Stepanova/Ivan Bukin (RUS) — 81.14
6. Piper Gilles/Paul Poirier (CAN) — 79.53

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MORE: Alysa Liu takes Junior Grand Prix Final silver with historic jump list

LA 2028, Delta unveil first-of-its-kind emblems for Olympics, Paralympics

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Emblems for the 2028 Los Angeles Games that include logos of Delta Air Lines is the first integration of its kind in Olympic and Paralympic history.

Organizers released the latest set of emblems for the LA 2028 Olympics and Paralympics on Thursday, each with a Delta symbol occupying the “A” spot in LA 28.

Two years ago, the LA 2028 logo concept was unveiled with an ever-changing “A” that allowed for infinite possibilities. Many athletes already created their own logos, as has NBC.

“You can make your own,” LA28 chairperson Casey Wasserman said in 2020. “There’s not one way to represent Los Angeles, and there is strength in our diverse cultures. We have to represent the creativity and imagination of Los Angeles, the diversity of our community and the big dreams the Olympic and Paralympic Games provide.”

Also in 2020, Delta was announced as LA 2028’s inaugural founding partner. Becoming the first partner to have an integrated LA 2028 emblem was “extremely important for us,” said Emmakate Young, Delta’s managing director, brand marketing and sponsorships.

“It is a symbol of our partnership with LA, our commitment to the people there, as well as those who come through LA, and a commitment to the Olympics,” she said.

The ever-changing emblem succeeds an angelic bid logo unveiled in February 2016 when the city was going for the 2024 Games, along with the slogan, “Follow the Sun.” In July 2017, the IOC made a historic double awarding of the Olympics and Paralympics — to Paris for 2024 and Los Angeles for 2028.

The U.S. will host its first Olympics and Paralympics since 2002 (and first Summer Games since 1996), ending its longest drought between hosting the Games since the 28-year gap between 1932 and 1960.

Delta began an eight-year Olympic partnership in 2021, becoming the official airline of Team USA and the 2028 Los Angeles Games.

Athletes flew to this year’s Winter Games in Beijing on chartered Delta flights and will do so for every Games through at least 2028.

Previously, Delta sponsored the last two Olympics held in the U.S. — the 1996 Atlanta Games and the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Games.

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Eliud Kipchoge’s marathon world record was the product of pain, rain

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When Eliud Kipchoge broke the marathon world record in Berlin on Sunday, he began his celebration near the finish line by doing the same thing he did upon breaking the record in Berlin four years earlier.

He hugged longtime coach Patrick Sang.

The embrace was brief. Not much was said. They shook hands, Kipchoge appeared to stop his watch and Sang wiped his pupil’s sweaty face off with a towel. Kipchoge continued on his congratulatory tour.

“It felt good,” Sang said by phone from his native Kenya on Thursday. “I told him, ‘I’m proud of you and what you have achieved today.'”

Later, they met again and reflected together on the 2:01:09 performance, chopping 30 seconds off his world record in 2018 in the German capital.

“I mentioned to him that probably it was slightly a little bit too fast in the beginning, in the first half,” Sang said of Kipchoge going out in 59 minutes, 51 seconds for the first 13.1 miles (a sub-two-hour pace he did not maintain in the final miles). “But he said he felt good.

“Besides that, I think it was just to appreciate the effort that he put in in training. Sometimes, if you don’t acknowledge that, then it looks like you’re only looking at the performance. We looked at the sacrifice.”

Sang thought about the abnormally wet season in southwestern Kenya, where Kipchoge logs his daily miles more than a mile above sea level.

“Sometimes he had to run in the rain,” said Sang, the 1992 Olympic 3000m steeplechase silver medalist. “Those are small things you reflect and say, it’s worth sacrificing sometimes. Taking the pain training, and it pays off.”

When Sang analyzes his athletes, he looks beyond times. He studies their faces.

The way Kipchoge carried himself in the months leading into Berlin — running at 6 a.m. “rain or shine,” Sang said — reminded the coach of the runner’s sunny disposition in the summer of 2019. On Oct. 12 of that year, Kipchoge clocked 1:59:40 in the Austrian capital in a non-record-eligible event (rather than a traditional race) to become the first person to cover 26.2 miles on foot in less than two hours.

Sang said he does not discuss time goals with his students — “Putting specific targets puts pressure on the athlete, and you can easily go the wrong direction,” he said.

In looking back on the race, there is some wonder whether Kipchoge’s plan was to see how long he could keep a pace of sub-two hours. Sang refused to speculate, but he was not surprised to see Kipchoge hit the halfway point 61 seconds faster than the pacers’ prescribed 60:50 at 13.1 miles.

“Having gone two hours in Monza [2:00:25 in a sub-two-hour attempt in 2017], having run the unofficial 1:59 and so many times 2:01, 2:02, 2:03, the potential was written all over,” Sang said. “So I mean, to think any differently would be really under underrating the potential. Of course, then adding on top of that the aspect of the mental strength. He has a unique one.”

Kipchoge slowed in the second half, but not significantly. He started out averaging about 2 minutes, 50 seconds per kilometer (equivalent to 13.2 miles per hour). He came down to 2:57 per kilometer near the end.

Regret is not in Kipchoge’s nature. We may never know the extent of his sub-two thoughts on Sunday. Sang noted that Kipchoge, whose marathon career began a decade ago after he failed to make the London Olympic team on the track, does not dwell on the past.

“If you talk to him now, he probably is telling you about tomorrow,” Sang joked.

The future is what is intriguing about Kipchoge. Approaching 38 years old, he continues to improve beyond peak age for almost every elite marathoner. Can Kipchoge go even faster? It would likely require a return next year to Berlin, whose pancake-flat roads produced the last eight men’s marathon world records. But Kipchoge also wants to run, and win, another prestigious fall marathon in New York City.

Sang can see the appeal of both options in 2023 and leaves the decision to Kipchoge and his management team.

‘If we can find the motivation for him, or he finds it within himself, that he believes he can still run for some time, for a cause, for a reason … I think the guy can still even do better than what he did in Berlin,” Sang said. “We are learning a lot about the possibilities of good performance at an advanced age. It’s an inspiration and should be an inspiration for anybody at any level.”

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