Stephen Nedoroscik wins U.S.’ first pommel horse world title


Stephen Nedoroscik did what no American has before him: win a world title on pommel horse.

The 22-year-old gymnast’s accomplishment on Saturday night in Kitakyushu, Japan, was notable for several reasons:

Of the six men’s artistic gymnastics events, the U.S. has long been weakest on pommel horse. Its only previous world medals on the apparatus are Kurt Thomas‘ silver in 1979 and Sasha Artemev‘s 2006 bronze.

Nedoroscik’s win came in a pommel horse final that, somewhat shockingly, included two Americans.

The U.S. last won a men’s world title in any event 10 years ago when Danell Leyva topped the parallel bars podium.

This was Nedoroscik’s first world championships and the biggest meet of his career to date.

Perhaps most significant, he wasn’t wearing the trademark goggles he has worn at every competition since receiving them during in a Secret Santa gift exchange his freshman year at Penn State.

He forgot them, Nedoroscik told media in Kitakyushu.

“I’m kind of in shock now,” Nedoroscik said, according to the Associated Press. “I’m so proud of what I did, all the odds were against me coming here. I’ve always thought a gold medal would be possible for me. I’ve always had confidence in myself.”

As the penultimate athlete to go in the final, Nedoroscik scored 15.266 points; he had the highest execution at 8.766.

China’s Weng Hao and Japan’s Kazuma Kaya tied for silver, earning 14.9 points.

Kaya earned the Olympic bronze medal this summer in Tokyo. The Olympic gold and silver medalists, Great Britain’s Max Whitlock and Lee Chih-kai of Chinese Taipei, did not compete at worlds.

U.S. Olympian Alec Yoder was fifth with a score of 14.766, losing a tiebreaker to Kazakhstan’s Nariman Kurbanov.

Yoder was selected to the Olympic team over Nedoroscik for a sole specialist spot this summer; he was sixth in Tokyo.

Both Americans scored higher in qualification on Wednesday when Nedoscik’s 15.366 was second and Yoder’s 15.3 third. Weng qualified in first with 15.6 points.

Olympic all-around silver medalist and vault world champion Rebecca Andrade of Brazil was arguably the most successful gymnast in Saturday’s finals.

The 22-year-old had the top score on vault with a two-vault 14.966 average for her first world title. Italian Asia D’Amato was second and all-around world champion Angelina Melnikova of Russia third.

Later in the night, Andrade was second on uneven bars, beating China’s Luo Rui in the tiebreaker. Luo’s teammate Wei Xiaoyuan won gold with 0.1 advantage.

Italy earned three men’s medals in the remaining two finals.

Nicola Bartolini won floor exercise for his country’s first world title on the apparatus, followed by Kazuki Minami of Japan and Finland’s Emil Soravuo. It was the first world medal for all three.

China’s Lan Xingyu won still rings. Marco Lodadio of Italy took silver for his third consecutive world medal in the event. Teammate Salvatore Maresca and Russian Grigory Klimentev tied for bronze; they had the same difficulty and execution scores.

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Mikaela Shiffrin wins 85th World Cup, can tie overall record Sunday

Mikaela Shiffrin

Mikaela Shiffrin earned her 85th World Cup win on Saturday and can tie the Alpine skiing World Cup victories record on Sunday.

Shiffrin won the first of back-to-back slaloms in Spindleruv Mlyn, Czech Republic, site of her World Cup debut in 2011 at age 15, for her 11th victory in 22 starts this season.

She prevailed by six tenths of a second over German Lena Duerr combining times from two runs. Then she celebrated with an uncharacteristic shoulder shimmy before “Simply the Best” by Tina Turner began playing over loudspeakers in the finish area.

It’s not the first time that song has been played after a Shiffrin victory this season.

“I knew it would take some risk,” she said. “There’s a chance I don’t finish at all.”

ALPINE SKIING: Full Results | Broadcast Schedule

Shiffrin, having her best season since her record 17-win campaign in 2018-19, is now one victory shy of the Alpine World Cup record held by Swede Ingemar Stenmark, who won 86 times between slalom and giant slalom in the 1970s and ’80s.

Stenmark has held the record since January 1982.

Shiffrin races in another slalom on Sunday in Spindleruv Mlyn, the last women’s race before February’s world championships. World championships races do not count as World Cups. The World Cup season resumes following worlds in late February.

Shiffrin is on her second winning streak this season and has won nine of her last 14 races dating to Dec. 18. Last Tuesday, she won a giant slalom in Kronplatz, Italy, to break her tie with Lindsey Vonn for the women’s Alpine World Cup wins record. On Wednesday, she won another GS In Kronplatz.

She leads the standings for the World Cup overall title, the biggest annual prize in ski racing, by more than 600 points through 27 of 39 scheduled races. At this rate, she could clinch her fifth overall title before March’s World Cup Finals.

She is currently tied with Vonn for the second-most women’s overall titles behind Austrian Annemarie Moser-Pröll, who won five in the 1970s.

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Aryna Sabalenka wins Australian Open for first Grand Slam singles title

Aryna Sabalenka Australian Open 2023

MELBOURNE, Australia — Aryna Sabalenka won her first Grand Slam title by coming back to beat Elena Rybakina 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 in the Australian Open women’s final Saturday.

The 24-year-old Sabalenka, who is from Belarus, was appearing in her first major final.

She improved to 11-0 in 2023, and the only set she has dropped all season was the opener on Saturday against Wimbledon champion Rybakina.

But Sabalenka turned things around with an aggressive style that resulted in 51 winners, 20 more than her opponent. She used 17 aces to overcome seven double-faults. And she managed to break the big-serving Rybakina three times, the last coming for a 4-3 lead in the third set that she never relinquished.

Still, Sabalenka needed to work for the championship while serving in what would be the last game, double-faulting on her initial match point and requiring three more to close things out.

When Rybakina sent a forehand long to cap the final after nearly 2 1/2 hours, Sabalenka dropped to her back on the court and stayed down for a bit, covering her face as her eyes welled with tears.

Sabalenka is a powerful player whose most glowing strength was also her most glaring shortfall: her serve. Long capable of hammering aces, she also had a well-known problem with double-faulting, leading the tour in that category last year with nearly 400, including more than 20 apiece in some matches.

After much prodding from her team, she finally agreed to undergo an overhaul of her serving mechanics last August. That, along with a commitment to trying to stay calm in the most high-pressure moments, is really paying off now.

Sabalenka was 0-3 in Grand Slam semifinals until eliminating Magda Linette in Melbourne. Now Sabalenka has done one better and will rise to No. 2 in the rankings.

As seagulls were squawking loudly while flying overhead at Rod Laver Arena, Rybakina and Sabalenka traded booming serves. Rybakina’s fastest arrived at 121 mph, Sabalenka’s at 119 mph. They traded zooming groundstrokes from the baseline, often untouchable, resulting in winner after winner.

The key statistic, ultimately, was this: Sabalenka accumulated 13 break points, Rybakina seven. And although Sabalenka converted just a trio of them, that was enough, and the constant pressure she managed to apply during Rybakina’s service games had to take a toll.

Sabalenka had been broken just six times in 55 service games through the course of these two weeks, an average of once per match. It took Rybakina fewer than 10 minutes of action and all of two receiving games to get the measure of things and lead 2-1, helped by getting back one serve that arrived at 117 mph (189 kph).

A few games later, Sabalenka returned the favor, also putting her racket on one of Rybakina’s offerings at that same speed. Then, when Sabalenka grooved a down-the-line backhand passing winner to grab her first break and pull even at 4-all, she looked at her coach and fitness coach in the stands, raised a fist and shouted.

In the next game, though, Sabalenka gave that right back, double-faulting twice — including on break point — to give Rybakina a 5-4 edge. This time, Sabalenka again turned toward her entourage, but with a sigh and an eye roll and arms extended, as if to say, “Can you believe it?”

Soon after, Rybakina held at love to own that set.

Sabalenka changed the momentum right from the get-go in the second set. Aggressively attacking, she broke to go up 3-1, held for 4-1 and eventually served it out, fittingly, with an ace — on a second serve, no less.

Sabalenka acknowledged ahead of time that she expected to be nervous. Which makes perfect sense: This was the most important match of her career to date.

And if those jitters were evident ever-so-briefly early — she double-faulted on the evening’s very first point — and appeared to be resurfacing as the end neared, Sabalenka controlled them well enough to finish the job.

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