Angelina Melnikova is first non-American to win gymnastics world title in over a decade

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Angelina Melnikova won the women’s all-around title at the Artistic Gymnastics World Championships on Thursday in Kitakyushu, Japan.

Representing the Russian Gymnastics Federation (as Russia is currently banned from Olympic and world championship competition), Melnikova outscored the field by 0.292 points for her first global all-around win nearly three months after earning bronze at the Tokyo Olympics and two years after taking bronze at the 2019 World Championships. She also won team gold and floor exercise bronze in Tokyo.

The 21-year-old has qualified for all four individual event finals in Kitakyushu as well.

“I’m very happy with this result because I only had one month to prepare,” Melnikova said, according to reports. “I feel like I made history tonight. I would be very happy if I could get five gold medals here.”

Melnikova is the first Russian to win the world or Olympic all-around title since Aliya Mustafina in 2010 and also the first non-American to do so following an 11-year era largely dominated by Simone Biles.

Jordyn Wieber began the Americans’ reign at the 2011 World Championships, then Gabby Douglas won the Olympic gold the following year. Biles won worlds in 2013, 2014, 2015, 2018 and 2019, plus the Olympic all-around gold in 2016. Morgan Hurd earned it in 2017, Biles’ only full season off since her senior debut in 2013, and Suni Lee was this year’s Olympic champion after Biles withdrew from most of the Tokyo finals to focus on her mental health and overcome a case of the twisties.

With Biles and Lee not at the 2021 Worlds – the former crossing the country on her Gold Over America Tour and the latter competing on “Dancing with the Stars” while beginning Auburn schoolwork – it was time for a new group of Americans to shine.

While they were unable to continue the winninf streak, Olympic alternates Leanne Wong and Kayla DiCello landed on the podium, giving the U.S. two of the three women’s all-around medals in six of the last nine world or Olympic competitions.

Melnikova had the highest score of the day on uneven bars (14.533) and was second on the other three apparatuses.

Wong, 18, earned silver with an all-around score of 56.34 points thanks to her high scores on balance beam (13.9) and floor exercise (14.033). She was third on uneven bars and fifth on vault.

Wong spent most of her Olympic experience in quarantine after her roommate, Kara Eaker, tested positive for Covid-19.

The 17-year-old DiCello took bronze with 54.566 points and had the top score on vault (14.6).

“I’m really happy with this experience since last time (in Tokyo) I didn’t even really get to work out,” Wong said. “I think we did a really good job for the next generation and setting the stage.”

The Tokyo Olympic silver medalist, Rebecca Andrade of Brazil, chose not to compete in the all-around due to injury but is qualified for the balance beam, uneven bars and vault finals.

DiCello and Wong are both in this weekend’s balance beam and floor finals.

The men’s all-around final is Friday. Reigning Olympic all-around champion Daiki Hashimoto of Japan qualified first, followed by China’s Zhang Boheng and Turkey’s Adem Asil. Yul Moldauer is the lone American in the final; he was 13th in qualification.

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Alexa Knierim, Brandon Frazier top pairs’ short at U.S. Figure Skating Championships

Alexa Knierim, Brandon Frazier
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World champions Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier lead after the pairs’ short program in what may be their last U.S. Figure Skating Championships.

Knierim and Frazier, who last March became the first U.S. pair to win a world title since 1979, tallied 81.96 points to open the four-day nationals on Thursday.

They lead by 15.1 over Emily Chan and Spencer Howe going into Saturday’s free skate in San Jose, California. The top three teams from last year’s event — which Knierim and Frazier missed due to him contracting COVID-19 — are no longer competing together.

After nationals, a committee selects three U.S. pairs for March’s world championships in Japan.

FIGURE SKATING NATIONALS: Full Scores | Broadcast Schedule

Before the fall Grand Prix Series, the 31-year-old Knierim said this will probably be their last season competing together, though the pair also thought they were done last spring. They don’t expect to make a final decision until after a Stars on Ice tour this spring.

“I don’t like to just put it out there and say it is the last or not going to be the last because life just has that way of throwing curveballs, and you just never know,” Frazier said this month. “But I would say that this is the first nationals where I’m going to go in really trying to soak up every second as if it is my last because you just don’t know.”

Knierim is going for a fifth U.S. title, which would tie the record for a pairs’ skater since World War II, joining Kyoka Ina, Tai Babilonia, Randy Gardner, Karol Kennedy and Peter Kennedy. Knierim’s first three titles, and her first Olympics in 2018, were with husband Chris, who retired in 2020.

Knierim is also trying to become the first female pairs’ skater in her 30s to win a national title since 1993. Knierim and ice dancer Madison Chock are trying to become the first female skaters in their 30s to win a U.S. title in any discipline since 1995.

After being unable to defend their 2021 U.S. title last year, Knierim and Frazier reeled off a series of historic results in what had long been the country’s weakest discipline.

They successfully petitioned for an Olympic spot and placed sixth at the Games, best for a U.S. pair since 2002. They considered retirement after their world title, which was won without the top five teams from the Olympics in attendance. They returned in part to compete as world champions and to give back to U.S. skating, helping set up younger pairs for success.

They became the first U.S. pair to win two Grand Prix Series events, then in December became the first U.S. pair to make a Grand Prix Final podium (second place). The world’s top pairs were absent; Russians banned due to the war in Ukraine and Olympic champions Sui Wenjing and Han Cong from China leaving competition ice (for now).

Knierim and Frazier’s real test isn’t nationals. It’s worlds, where they will likely be the underdog to home favorites Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara, who edged the Americans by 1.3 points in the closest Grand Prix Final pairs’ competition in 12 years.

Nationals continue with the rhythm dance and women’s short program later Thursday.

NBC Sports’ Sarah Hughes (not the figure skater) contributed to this report.

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2023 U.S. Figure Skating Championships scores, results

2023 U.S. Figure Skating Championships
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Full scores and results from the 2023 U.S. Figure Skating Championships in San Jose …

Pairs Short Program
1. Alexa Knierim/Brandon Frazier — 81.96
2. Emily Chan/Spencer Howe — 66.86
3. Ellie Kam/Danny O’Shea —- 65.75
4. Valentina Plazas/Maximiliano Fernandez — 63.45
5. Sonia Baram/Danil Tioumentsev —- 63.12
6. Katie McBeath/Nathan Bartholomay —- 56.96
7. Nica Digerness/Mark Sadusky — 50.72
8. Maria Mokhova/Ivan Mokhov —- 46.96
9. Grace Hanns / Danny Neudecker — 46.81
10. Linzy Fitzpatrick/Keyton Bearinger — 45.27
11. Nina Ouellette/Rique Newby-Estrella — 43.99

FIGURE SKATING NATIONALS: Broadcast Schedule | New Era for U.S.

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