Sinitsina/Katsalapov win first world title as Russians take three golds at skating worlds

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Russian figure skaters earned their third gold medal – out of four up for grabs – of the 2021 ISU World Figure Skating Championships when Viktoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov won the ice dance competition Saturday night.

The Russians, who were technically representing the Russian Skating Federation as the nation’s flag and anthem are barred from major international sporting events this season due to doping issues, claimed six of 12 total medals awarded in Stockholm.

Anna Shcherbakova won the women’s competition in a Russian sweep, while Anastasia Mishina and Aleksandr Galliamov topped pairs at their first worlds. American Nathan Chen won the men’s event for his third consecutive world title.

FIGURE SKATING WORLDS: Results | TV, Stream Schedule

Sinitsina and Katsalapov took their first world title in the only event that did not have a past world champion entered. They won both programs and ended with a total score of 221.17 points.

“This medal has a huge significance for us and is very dear to us,” Sinitsina said, after improving upon their silver medal at the last world championships in 2019. “We’ve been through a lot of difficulties.”

Both Sinitsina and Katsalapov contracted COVID-19 in December, withdrawing from competitions. Katsalapov revealed at the time that his was mild and Sinitsina’s worse, including “partial lung damage.”

“It’s true, it was a very difficult time, but it’s behind us now,” Sinitsina said. “I am feeling great, we are feeling great, and we worked a lot. I really missed the training and working on the ice, so every day I went to practice on the ice and I looked into the eyes of Nikita. I trust him and I trust the coaches, and I am just very happy to be here at this competition.”

The U.S. team of Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue performed their “Hallelujah” program and finished with silver, maintaining their ranking from Friday’s rhythm dance, with 214.71 points. They expressed disappointment and frustration for not reaching their goal of gold, but remained proud of their third consecutive world medal, after silver in 2018 and bronze in 2019.

“We know that takes a lot of work and so we’re proud of ourselves for being consistently at the peak of our performance,” Hubbell said.

With the second-best free dance performance, Canadians Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier surpassed Americans Madison Chock and Evan Bates, who were third Friday, claiming bronze with 214.35 points.

“This is our first time on the world podium, so a very exciting milestone in our career,” Poirier said. “I think we’ve been open and unapologetic about wanting to be on the Olympic podium next year, so I think being on the world podium this year is very encouraging to the two of us.”

Chock and Bates finished fourth after a few minor errors from Bates in their popular “The Snake and the Snake Charmer” dance, missing out on what looked to be their first world medal in five years, with a 212.69.

“Madi was so excited when she finished, then she looked at me and I said, ‘Uh, I didn’t skate as well as you did, babe,’” Bates shared. “There were certainly a few seconds in the program where I made some technical errors that were obviously costly, and honestly I’m quite disappointed about it.

“That’s kind of what we love about the sport is that if it was a guaranteed thing every time and we could just show up and win the gold medal, then that’d be just very easy and fun, but the real pleasure comes from working really hard, getting knocked down and coming back stronger. We’ve been through a lot of those moments, and I think this is one moment in particular that is quite disappointing for us, but we’re still going to come back next season stronger and still with the same goals in mind.”

The combined placements of Hubbell/Donohue and Chock/Bates guaranteed the U.S. will send three ice dance teams to the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics for the fifth Games in a row.

The third U.S. team, Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker, improved from 11th in the rhythm dance to ninth overall (188.51), tying their best worlds placement.

“We finished program feeling very happy with the end result,” Hawayek said. “There wasn’t a moment where we felt like we held back, and we felt like we performed from the beginning to end. We were certainly disappointed with the scores that we received and we didn’t necessarily think they reflected the skate that we put out, but in terms of what we could control, which is the skate, we performed very well.”

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Diana Taurasi says 2024 Paris Olympics ‘on my radar’

Diana Taurasi
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Diana Taurasi said immediately after winning her fifth Olympic gold medal in Tokyo that she might try for a record sixth in Paris.

It’s still on her mind 17 months out of the 2024 Paris Olympics.

“It’s something that it’s on my radar,” Taurasi told The Associated Press in a phone interview Tuesday after the first day of a USA Basketball training camp in Minnesota, her first national team activity since Tokyo. “I’m still competitive, still driven, still want to play, I still love being a part of USA Basketball.”

Taurasi will be 42 at the time of the Paris Games — older than any previous Olympic basketball player — but said if she’s healthy enough she’d like to give it a go.

“If the opportunity comes to play and be a part of it, it’s something I’ve always taken a lot of pride in,” said Taurasi, who shares the record of five Olympic basketball gold medals with the retired Sue Bird. “When you get to my age at this point in my career, you just try to win every day. Right now this is a good opportunity to be part of this team moving forward we’ll see what happens.”

She said she would have played at the FIBA World Cup last year in Australia, but had a quad strain that kept her out of the end of the WNBA season.

“I got hurt a little bit before. I had a good conversation with Coach (Cheryl) Reeve and (USA Basketball CEO Jim) Tooley. I felt like I hadn’t played enough basketball to be out there and help,” Taurasi said. “That’s the biggest thing with USA Basketball is being able to help the team win.”

Reeve said Monday that when she succeeded Dawn Staley as head coach a few months after Tokyo, she wasn’t sure whether Taurasi would play for the national team again. That was before her conversation with Taurasi.

“I look forward to having a chance to have her be around and be, as I told her, a great voice,” Reeve said. “Obviously, the competitive fire that she competes with is something that we all do well with.”

In Tokyo, Taurasi started all six games and averaged 18.8 minutes per game, sixth-most on the team (fewer than backup guard Chelsea Gray). Her 5.8 points per game were her fewest in her Olympic career, though she was dealing with a hip injury.

Taurasi is an unrestricted free agent although she is expected to return back to Phoenix where she’s spent her entire career since getting drafted No. 1 overall in 2003.

“Phoenix still has things they need to work out,” the WNBA’s all-time leading scorer said.

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Alexis Pinturault wins world championships combined; American in fourth

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France’s Alexis Pinturault won the world Alpine skiing championships combined at his home venue after defending world champion Marco Schwarz blew a lead in the final seconds of his slalom run.

Pinturault, a 31-year-old who hadn’t won a race in nearly two years (the longest drought of his distinguished career), prevailed by one tenth of a second over the Austrian Schwarz in Courchevel, France.

“I hope to enjoy it because it was pretty difficult some months ago,” Pinturault said.

Austrian Raphael Haaser took bronze in an event that combined times from a morning super-G run and an afternoon slalom run, one day after his older sister took bronze in the women’s combined.

River Radamus was fourth, a quarter of a second from becoming the first U.S. man to win an Alpine worlds medal since 2015. Radamus’ best event is the giant slalom, which is scheduled for Feb. 17 at worlds.

“It’s nice, but honestly, you don’t come to world championships hoping to get fourth,” Radamus said.

Five skiers finished within 2.98 seconds of the winner in an event that has been dropped from the annual World Cup schedule and is under review to remain on the Olympic program.

ALPINE WORLDS: Results | Broadcast Schedule

Pinturault had the fastest super-G run by six hundredths over Schwarz. Schwarz, a slightly better slalom skier than Pinturault, erased that deficit early in the slalom and had a three tenths lead at the last intermediate split.

He gave it all away about six gates from the finish, slamming on the brakes. Moments later, he crossed the finish line one tenth behind Pinturault, who reacted by pumping his fists in the air.

The Frenchman earned his first race victory since the March 2021 World Cup Finals giant slalom, where he clinched his first World Cup overall title, the biggest annual prize in ski racing. Last season, Pinturault went winless on the World Cup for the first time since he was a teenage rookie in 2011, plus went medal-less at the Olympics.

Pinturault, who grew up in Courchevel and now co-owns the family’s five-star Hotel Annapurna there, had retirement cross his mind in the offseason, according to Eurosport. He skipped a pre-worlds Sunday press conference due to illness.

Nonetheless, Pinturault was on the front page of French newspapers this week, including L’Equipe on Tuesday. In a sports cover story for Le Figaro, Pinturault said that, given the circumstances, it would be almost a “nice surprise” to go for a medal at these worlds.

Olympic champion Johannes Strolz of Austria skied out of the slalom after tying for 29th in the super-G.

Olympic silver and bronze medalists Aleksander Aamodt Kilde of Norway and Jack Crawford of Canada were among the speed specialists who did not start the slalom. They essentially used the event as a training run for Thursday’s super-G.

Worlds continue Wednesday with the women’s super-G, where Mikaela Shiffrin is a medal contender but not the favorite. She can tie the modern-era records for individual world championships gold medals (seven) and total medals (12).

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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