Alina Zagitova extends break from figure skating competition

Alina Zagitova
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Alina Zagitova, the reigning Olympic and world figure skating champion, is extending her indefinite break from major competition and will not enter any top-level events until 2021 at the earliest.

Zagitova, who in PyeongChang became the second-youngest Olympic women’s singles champion at age 15, will not compete in the Russian Championships in December, according to the Russian skating federation, confirming a TASS report from Monday.

That likely means that Zagitova will not be selected for the Russian team for the European Championships in January, nor the world championships in March. The top two spots go to the first- and second-place finishers at nationals. The third spot is subjectively chosen and could be filled by a skater who does not compete at nationals.

“Everything will depend on Alina’s form and readiness,” a Russian federation spokesperson said Wednesday.

Zagitova last competed at the December 2019 Grand Prix Final, finishing sixth in a six-skater field. Three younger Russian teens swept the podium with either triple Axels or quadruple jumps, neither of which Zagitova has attempted in competition.

She announced an indefinite break from skating on Dec. 13 and, this fall, has been hosting a Russian skating-themed TV show rather than entering the Grand Prix Series. Zagitova will not take part in nationals because she’s not participating in other competitions, according to Russia’s federation.

Zagitova said in December that she needed to find the motivation to compete again, would continue training and learn new elements.

“This is her decision, and, regretfully, it did not come out of thin air,” her coach Eteri Tutberidze said in December, according to TASS. “Alina has been talking about this for about 18 months.

“The past 18 months when she kept competing and fighting, were difficult.”

Since Katarina Witt won back-to-back Olympic titles in 1984 and 1988, one of the eight Olympic women’s singles gold medalists returned to defend her title — South Korean Yuna Kim, who took silver in Sochi in 2014. Even Kim took a break after gold in Vancouver in 2010, going about a year and a half between competitions from 2011 to 2012.

The Russian system produced a conveyor belt of female singles skaters in the last decade, with new teens constantly replacing past champions.

Adelina Sotnikova and Yuliya Lipnitskaya earned gold medals in Sochi, then stopped competing in 2016.

Elizaveta Tuktamysheva swept Grand Prix Final, European and world titles in 2014-15, but while competitive since has not returned to worlds or competed in an Olympics.

Yevgenia Medvedeva went undefeated for two years from 2015-17 before being supplanted by Zagitova in PyeongChang. She left Tutberidze’s group, took bronze behind Zagitova at 2019 Worlds under Brian Orser, then returned to Tutberidze last month while in Moscow during the pandemic, thousands of miles from Orser in Toronto.

All of the top Russians from last season — Alena Kostornaya, Anna Shcherbakova and Alexandra Trusova — are entered in the Russian stop of the Grand Prix Series next month.

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Brigid Kosgei, world record holder, to miss London Marathon

Brigid Kosgei

World record holder Brigid Kosgei withdrew before Sunday’s London Marathon due to a right hamstring injury that has bothered her for the last month.

“My training has been up and down and not the way I would like to prepare to be in top condition,” was posted on Kosgei’s social media. “We’ve decided it’s best I withdraw from this year’s race and get further treatment on my injuries in order to enter 2023 stronger than ever.”

Kosgei, a 28-year-old Kenyan mother of twins, shattered the world record by 81 seconds at the 2019 Chicago Marathon. She clocked 2:14:04 to smash Brit Paula Radcliffe‘s record from 2003.

Since, Kosgei won the 2020 London Marathon, took silver at the Tokyo Olympics, placed fourth at the 2021 London Marathon and won this past March’s Tokyo Marathon in what was then the third-fastest time in history (2:16:02).

Ethiopian Tigist Assefa moved into the top three by winning the Berlin Marathon last Sunday in 2:15:37.

The London Marathon women’s field includes Kenyan Joyciline Jepkosgei, a winner in New York City (2019) and London (2021), and Yalemzerf Yehualaw, who was the Ethiopian record holder until Assefa won in Berlin.

The men’s field is headlined by Ethiopian Kenenisa Bekele, the second-fastest male marathoner in history, and Brit Mo Farah, a four-time Olympic champion on the track.

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Dmitriy Balandin, surprise Olympic swimming champion, retires

Dmitriy Balandin

Dmitriy Balandin, the Kazakh swimmer who pulled off one of the biggest upsets of the 2016 Rio Olympics, retired at age 27.

“Today I would like to announce the end of my sports career,” Balandin said last week, according to Kazakhstan’s Olympic Committee. “I am still inspired. A new phase of my life begins. I have a lot of cool projects in my head that will soon be implemented.”

Balandin reportedly has coaching aspirations.

In 2016, he won the Olympic men’s 200m breaststroke out of lane eight as the last qualifier into the final. He edged American Josh Prenot by seven hundredths of a second and became Kazakhstan’s first Olympic swimming medalist.

He followed that up with 11th- and 17th-place finishes in the breaststrokes in Tokyo last year.

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