With a surprising medal at worlds, Vincent Zhou starts to step out of his Olympic pit

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Vincent Zhou apologized a couple days ago for sounding like a broken record, stuck at the point of describing his Olympic nightmare, a story that sounded just as poignant and painful in every retelling.

The fates conspired to overwhelm Zhou last month in Beijing, leaving him to deal with the sadness of missed opportunities while spending a week in COVID-19 quarantine.

It was bad enough that a positive COVID-19 test forced him to withdraw from the singles competition after having helped the U.S. finish second to the Russian Olympic Committee in the team event. Then he lost the chance to celebrate the team medal in Beijing because the doping case involving Russian Kamila Valieva meant that medal presentation has been delayed until it is resolved, likely several months from now.

Finally, there was insult added to injury: when Zhou tried to board the bus for the Closing Ceremony, where he hoped to find some redemptive joy in his Olympic experience, an official said he had been identified as a COVID-19 close contact and could not go.

Three weeks later, waking up with the sense of being in what he called a “bottomless pit,” Zhou told his agent and coaches and others close to him that he felt his whole career has been a failure and for nothing.

In that mental state, he was ready to drop out of the World Championships in Montpellier, France, until another emotion took over, the feeling of not wanting to live with the regret of not having tried. Somehow, Zhou pulled himself together to do more than just try, and he wound up skating well enough to win the bronze medal, a result that reminded the two-time Olympian not to lose faith in himself.

FIGURE SKATING WORLDS: Results | Broadcast Schedule

“This is definitely one of the most significant and meaningful moments of my career,” said Zhou, 21, also a world bronze medalist in 2019.

With a sixth in Thursday’s short program and a fourth in Saturday’s free skate, Zhou finished third with 277.38 points to two Japanese skaters, Shoma Uno (312.48) and Yuma Kagiyama (297.60.)

“The most important lesson for me is no matter the difficulties thrown at you, you just have to keep moving forward,” Zhou said. “If you can’t move forward one step at a time, move forward half a step at a time.”

Zhou’s unexpected medal was not the only surprising result for the U.S. men.

Camden Pulkinen, who said immediately after finishing the free that his performance showed he could “contend for the top 10,” did far better, moving from 12th in the short program to fifth overall. Pulkinen was third in the free, where he had two solid quads in the first clean (no negative grades of execution) free skate of a seven-year international career.

It also was the only clean free among the top 20 men in Montpellier. It was good enough for Pulkinen to beat his old free skate and total personal bests by some 26 points, with scores of 182.19 and 271.69.

“I’m happy I gave myself a nice 22nd birthday present,” said Pulkinen, whose birthday was Friday.

Ilia Malinin, who dazzled the world in finishing second at January’s U.S. Championships, was in the thick of world medal contention after finishing fourth in the short. After opening the free with two lights-out quads, lutz and toe loop, and a big triple axel, he had a hard fall on a quad salchow and came undone, making two more major mistakes to finish 11th in the free and ninth overall.

“It was just a mess,” said Malinin, 17, the youngest in the men’s singles field. “It’s hard to explain what happened.”

Zhou’s mistakes included four jumps that were called short of the intended number of rotations. Solid grades of execution on his first two quads made back enough of the lost points to give him a margin of 5.35 over fourth finisher Morisi Kvitelashvili of Georgia, who needed very generous scores to stay .34 ahead of Pulkinen.

“Obviously, I’m a little disappointed in the mistakes, but as I said after the short program, it’s a miracle for me even being here,” Zhou said.

It would be nice if this medal allowed him to wipe the 2022 Olympics from his memory. It would also be unrealistic. The record may no longer be stuck, but the scratch that caused it to play on a maddening loop still is there.

“The grief of losing my opportunity at the Olympics is something that will stay with me a long time,” Zhou said. “Dealing with mental or emotional trauma like that, for lack of a better word, sometimes takes month and years.

“I’m sure there will be some difficult times for me ahead, where I still have to process the feelings related to what happened at the Olympics.”

For Zhou, the days ahead also will include a busy show schedule and, in August, resuming studies at Brown University. He left after his first semester in December 2019 because of issues with finding practice ice and his need to have face-to-face coaching.

Zhou had suddenly moved into the world elite at 17 with an unforeseen, impressive and expectation-raising sixth at the 2018 Olympics. At the end of a subsequent four-year cycle that was draining even before his 2022 Olympic calamity, Zhou is ready to take time just to enjoy being on the ice before thinking of whether he wants to keep competing.

“But the decision to come here and compete and walking away with a medal will help me a lot and reinforce my faith in myself,” Zhou said. “There is a lot more deep within me than I think is possible at times.”

A broken record can only move ahead in a new groove.

Philip Hersh, who has covered figure skating at every Winter Olympics since 1980, is a special contributor to NBCSports.com.

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Eliud Kipchoge breaks marathon world record in Berlin

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Kenyan Eliud Kipchoge broke his own world record in winning the Berlin Marathon, clocking 2:01:09 to lower the previous record time of 2:01:39 he set in the German capital in 2018.

Kipchoge, 37 and a two-time Olympic champion, earned his 15th win in 17 career marathons to bolster his claim as the greatest runner in history over 26.2 miles.

His pacing was not ideal. Kipchoge slowed in the final miles, running 61:18 for the second half after going out in an unprecedented 59:51 for the first 13.1 miles. He still won by 4:49 over Kenyan Mark Korir.

“I was planning to go through it [the halfway mark] 60:50, 60:40,” Kipchoge said. “My legs were running actually very fast. I thought, let me just try to run two hours flat, but all in all, I am happy with the performance.

“We went too fast [in the first half]. It takes energy from the muscles. … There’s still more in my legs [to possibly lower the record again].”

MORE: Berlin Marathon Results

Ethiopian Tigist Assefa won the women’s race in 2:15:37, the third-fastest time in history for somebody who ran one prior marathon in 2:34:01. Only Brigid Kosgei (2:14:14 in Chicago in 2019) and Paula Radcliffe (2:15:25 in London in 2003) have gone faster.

American record holder Keira D’Amato, who entered as the top seed, was sixth in 2:21:48. D’Amato, who went nearly a decade between competitive races after college, owns the American record of 2:19:12 and now also the 10th-best time in U.S. history.

“Today wasn’t my best day ever, but it was the best I could do today,” she said in a text message, according to Race Results Weekly, adding that she briefly stopped and walked late in the race.

The last eight instances the men’s marathon world record has been broken, it has come on the pancake-flat roads of Berlin. It began in 2003, when Kenyan Paul Tergat became the first man to break 2:05.

The world record was 2:02:57 — set by Kenyan Dennis Kimetto in 2014 — until Kipchoge broke it for the first time four years ago.

The following year, Kipchoge became the first person to cover 26.2 miles in under two hours, clocking 1:59:40 in a non-record-eligible showcase rather than a race.

Kipchoge’s focus going forward is trying to become the first runner to win three Olympic marathon titles in Paris in 2024. He also wants to win all six annual World Marathon Majors. He’s checked off four of them, only missing Boston (run in April) and New York City (run every November).

Kipchoge grew up on a farm in Kapsabet in Kenya’s Rift Valley, often hauling by bike several gallons of the family’s milk to sell at the local market. Raised by a nursery school teacher, he ran more than three miles to and from school. He saved for five months to get his first pair of running shoes.

At 18, he upset legends Hicham El Guerrouj and Kenenisa Bekele to win the 2003 World 5000m title on the track. He won Olympic 5000m medals (bronze in 2004 and silver in 2008), then moved to the marathon after failing to make the 2012 Olympic team on the track.

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2022 FIBA Women’s World Cup schedule, results

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The U.S. goes for its fourth consecutive title at the FIBA World Cup in Sydney — and eighth global gold in a row overall when including the Olympics.

A’ja Wilson, a two-time WNBA MVP, and Breanna Stewart, the Tokyo Olympic MVP, headline a U.S. roster that, for the first time since 2000, includes neither Sue Bird (retired) nor Diana Taurasi (injured).

The new-look team includes nobody over the age of 30 for the first time since 1994, before the U.S. began its dynasty at the 1996 Atlanta Games. The Americans have won 52 consecutive games between worlds and the Olympics dating to the 2006 Worlds bronze-medal game.

The field also includes host Australia, the U.S.’ former primary rival, and Olympic silver medalist Japan.

Nigeria, which played the U.S. the closest of any foe in Tokyo (losing by nine points), isn’t present after its federation withdrew the team over governance issues. Spain, ranked second in the world, failed to qualify.

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2022 FIBA Women’s World Cup Schedule

Date Time (ET) Game Round
Wed., Sept. 21 8:30 p.m. Puerto Rico 82, Bosnia and Herzegovina 58 Group A
9:30 p.m. USA 87, Belgium 72 Group A
11 p.m. Canada 67, Serbia 60 Group B
Thurs., Sept. 22 12 a.m. Japan 89, Mali 56 Group B
3:30 a.m. China 107, South Korea 44 Group A
6:30 a.m. France 70, Australia 57 Group B
8:30 p.m. USA 106, Puerto Rico 42 Group A
10 p.m. Serbia 69, Japan 64 Group B
11 p.m. Belgium 84, South Korea 61 Group A
Fri., Sept. 23 12:30 a.m. China 98, Bosnia and Herzegovina 51 Group A
4 a.m. Canada 59, France 45 Group B
6:30 a.m. Australia 118, Mali 58 Group B
Sat., Sept. 24 12:30 a.m. USA 77, China 63 Group A
4 a.m. South Korea 99, Bosnia and Herzegovina 66 Group A
6:30 a.m. Belgium 68, Puerto Rico 65 Group A
Sun., Sept. 25 12:30 a.m. France 74, Mali 59 Group B
4 a.m. Australia 69, Serbia 54 Group B
6:30 a.m. Canada 70, Japan 56 Group B
9:30 p.m. Belgium vs. Bosnia and Herzegovina Group A
11:30 p.m. Mali vs. Serbia Group B
Mon., Sept. 26 12 a.m. USA vs. South Korea Group A
2 a.m. France vs. Japan Group B
3:30 a.m. China vs. Puerto Rico Group A
6:30 a.m. Australia vs. Canada Group B
9:30 p.m. Puerto Rico vs. South Korea Group A
11:30 p.m. Belgium vs. China Group A
Tues., Sept. 27 12 a.m. USA vs. Bosnia and Herzegovina Group A
2 a.m. Canada vs. Mali Group B
3:30 a.m. France vs. Serbia Group B
6:30 a.m. Australia vs. Japan Group B
Wed., Sept. 28 10 p.m. Quarterfinal
Thurs., Sept. 29 12:30 a.m. Quarterfinal
4 a.m. Quarterfinal
6:30 a.m. Quarterfinal
Fri., Sept. 30 3 .m. Semifinal
5:30 a.m. Semifinal
11 p.m. Third-Place Game
Sat., Oct. 1 2 a.m. Final