Isabeau Levito digs out final piece of U.S. gold rush at World Junior skating

ISU World Junior Figure Skating Championships - Tallinn
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One after another, the final four skaters in the women’s free skate at the World Junior Championships performed with assurance and compelling quality, brightening the end of a long and muddled figure skating season.

All did clean programs, the best by surprising Jia Shin of South Korea, who won the free and nearly upset favored Isabeau Levito of the United States for the title Sunday in Tallinn, Estonia.

Levito, gritting her way through the free and getting some benefit of the doubt from the judges, held on by just 0.54 points to become the first U.S. woman atop the world junior podium since Rachael Flatt in 2008. Compatriot Lindsay Thorngren earned the bronze.

Levito’s gold medal, following those in ice dance by brother-sister team Oona and Gage Brown and in men’s singles by Ilia Malinin, gave Team USA three of the four world junior titles for the first time since 2008.

“We put in all the work in our training, so when we get to the competition, we’re really just collecting our scores and our medals,” Levito said. “Our medal is just a reflection on our training and how we did with our nerves.”

She totaled 206.55 to 206.01 for Shin and 199.42 for Thorngren.

The strong U.S. showing came in a season beset again by Covid complications – the world juniors were cancelled in 2021 and moved and postponed five weeks this year because of the pandemic. This season was further disarrayed by things Russian, first a still unresolved doping case revealed during the Olympics and then bans on Russian skaters after their country’s unprovoked and ongoing invasion of Ukraine.

Russian women had won the previous four world junior titles and nine of the previous 10. The most recent Russian winner (2020) was Kamila Valieva, who had been the leading senior woman in the world this season before the revelation before the Olympic women’s singles competition of her positive doping control from a Dec. 25 test. Valieva staggered to fourth at the Olympics after winning the short program.

Levito, 15, battled herself after taking a lead of more than three points over Shin into the free skate. Two of her final three jump combinations were problematic, but she emerged with positive grades of execution on them and finished the program with two strong spins.

“I just focused one element at a time until the music ended,” Levito said.

Asked if she had been more nervous than she expected, Levito said, “I think so, yes. I try to think what I will be feeling but you can’t really know how you are going to feel until it’s really happening.”

Component scores in the short and free programs provided Levito a 3.49-point advantage over Shin.

Shin, who turned 14 less than a month ago (no one in the event was younger), bettered her free skate personal best by 14 points. She is the second South Korean to win a world junior medal, joining Yuna Kim, gold medalist in 2006 and silver medalist in 2005.

South Koreans Ahsun Yun and Seoyeong Wi were fourth and fifth. Yun, part of the fab final four, crushed her old career best by 17 points.

Levito, who finished third in the senior event at this year’s U.S. Championships, was unsure about whether she would move up to the senior level internationally next season.

“It’s a little bit of a mystery,” she said.

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

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Joel Embiid gains U.S. citizenship, mum on Olympic nationality

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Philadelphia 76ers All-Star center Joel Embiid said he is now a U.S. citizen and it’s way too early to think about what nation he would represent at the Olympics.

“I just want to be healthy and win a championship and go from there,” he said, according to The Associated Press.

Embiid, 28, was born in Cameroon and has never competed in a major international tournament. In July, he gained French nationality, a step toward being able to represent that nation at the 2024 Paris Olympics.

In the spring, French media reported that Embiid started the process to become eligible to represent France in international basketball, quoting national team general manager Boris Diaw.

Embiid was second in NBA MVP voting this season behind Serbian Nikola Jokic. He was the All-NBA second team center.

What nation Embiid represents could have a major impact on the Paris Games.

In Tokyo, a French team led by another center, Rudy Gobert, handed the U.S. its first Olympic defeat since 2004. That was in group play. The Americans then beat the French in the gold-medal game 87-82.

That France team had five NBA players to the U.S.’ 12: Nicolas BatumEvan FournierTimothe Luwawu-CabarrotFrank Ntilikina and Gobert.

Anthony Davis, who skipped the Tokyo Olympics, is the lone U.S. center to make an All-NBA team in the last five seasons. In that time, Embiid made four All-NBA second teams and Gobert made three All-NBA third teams.

No Olympic team other than the U.S. has ever had two reigning All-NBA players on its roster.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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LA 2028, Delta unveil first-of-its-kind emblems for Olympics, Paralympics

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Emblems for the 2028 Los Angeles Games that include logos of Delta Air Lines is the first integration of its kind in Olympic and Paralympic history.

Organizers released the latest set of emblems for the LA 2028 Olympics and Paralympics on Thursday, each with a Delta symbol occupying the “A” spot in LA 28.

Two years ago, the LA 2028 logo concept was unveiled with an ever-changing “A” that allowed for infinite possibilities. Many athletes already created their own logos, as has NBC.

“You can make your own,” LA28 chairperson Casey Wasserman said in 2020. “There’s not one way to represent Los Angeles, and there is strength in our diverse cultures. We have to represent the creativity and imagination of Los Angeles, the diversity of our community and the big dreams the Olympic and Paralympic Games provide.”

Also in 2020, Delta was announced as LA 2028’s inaugural founding partner. Becoming the first partner to have an integrated LA 2028 emblem was “extremely important for us,” said Emmakate Young, Delta’s managing director, brand marketing and sponsorships.

“It is a symbol of our partnership with LA, our commitment to the people there, as well as those who come through LA, and a commitment to the Olympics,” she said.

The ever-changing emblem succeeds an angelic bid logo unveiled in February 2016 when the city was going for the 2024 Games, along with the slogan, “Follow the Sun.” In July 2017, the IOC made a historic double awarding of the Olympics and Paralympics — to Paris for 2024 and Los Angeles for 2028.

The U.S. will host its first Olympics and Paralympics since 2002 (and first Summer Games since 1996), ending its longest drought between hosting the Games since the 28-year gap between 1932 and 1960.

Delta began an eight-year Olympic partnership in 2021, becoming the official airline of Team USA and the 2028 Los Angeles Games.

Athletes flew to this year’s Winter Games in Beijing on chartered Delta flights and will do so for every Games through at least 2028.

Previously, Delta sponsored the last two Olympics held in the U.S. — the 1996 Atlanta Games and the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Games.

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