November 17, 2012

PARIS (AP) -- Ashley Wagner of the United States and Takahito Mura of Japan had strong free programs to win the Trophee Bompard on Saturday.

Both rallied past the overnight leaders. Wagner nailed her jumps to overtake 14-year-old Julia Lipnitskaia of Russia, while Mura beat American Jeremy Abbott.

Wagner has added extra resilience to the extra confidence she gained at Skate America last month, overcoming illness and stress this time.

"I think from this I'm going to be able to take the focus that I had today, because going into it I was honestly worried because I felt horrible," Wagner said. "As soon as the music turned on I got focused."

Wagner said she put her "Almost Girl" tag behind her by winning at Skate America, and she thinks the last few weeks have been a psychological breakthrough in her career.

"I definitely think it is. That definitely gives me a bit more confidence."

Lipnitskaia finished third behind 15-year-old Elizaveta Tuktamysheva, the Russian defending champion.

Wagner qualified for the season-ending Grand Prix finals next month in Sochi, Russia. She also battled a head cold.

"Today was a huge accomplishment for me," Wagner said. "To be able to accomplish that program not at my best was great to mentally show myself that I don't always have to be at the top of my game."

Wagner feels confident she can do well in Sochi providing she gets her "spin levels up."

Tuktamysheva, who drew a standing ovation from the crowd at the Bercy arena, was tearful at the end of her program and fell into the arms of her coach.

"I was really overwhelmed by my emotions," she said. "I was in shock and I was just ecstatic."

Mura, who finished eighth at Skate Canada last month, was second overnight and started his free skate confidently with clean landings on his quad toeloop and his triple lutz-triple toeloop.

"A year ago I couldn't even imagine I could win the competition here. I'm very surprised," said Mura, whose parents were competitive figure skaters. "The challenge for me is to keep the consistency and keep at a certain level. Even if I fail on the quad, I have to nail the triple axel for sure ... keep the quality high overall."

Although Mura pulled out of a triple flip toward the end of his program he scored enough to beat Abbott, 230.68 points to 227.63. The American expressed reservations on Friday about how well his sore back would react to the longer free exercise. He appeared to be slightly restricted in his movement.

"I had a couple of mistakes and some issues with spin levels, and that cost me first place," Abbott said. "But I love this program and I love skating in it. I'm happy that I'm done and I'm in one piece."

A technically strong free skate by Frenchman Florent Amodio produced the best score of 154.12 in the free and moved him from seventh overnight to third place.

"My goal was to fight like I do every day in practice," Amodio said. "It shows me that everything is possible and you should never give up, anytime, anywhere. I'm proud of myself."

Brian Joubert, third overnight, dropped to fifth.

Joubert fell backward on his first jump, a quad toeloop-double toeloop, and stumbled late in his program when he attempted a triple axel. The former world champion skated without much punch to the low-key "Inception" by Hans Zimmer.

Earlier, Yuko Kavaguti and Alexander Smirnov of Russia resisted stiff competition to win the pairs, doing just enough to hold off a strong performance from Canadians Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford.

After falling on a triple lutz in Friday's short program, Duhamel made good on their promise to make amends, posting the best score of 124.43 in the free skate.

"It's very bitter-sweet," Duhamel said. "When you look at the points and you see how close it was you start thinking `If only my lutz was like that yesterday."'

Their performance was not enough to topple overnight leaders Kavaguti and Smirnov, who scored 121.21 for an overall tally of 187.99 compared to 186.71 for the Canadians, who secured a spot for Sochi.

Italian pair Stefania Berton and Ondrej Hotarek improved from fourth overnight to take the bronze medal, but were far behind overall.

Also, European champions Nathalie Pechalat and Fabian Bourzat of France won the ice dance to book their tickets to Sochi.

They finished ahead of Italians Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte, with Russian duo Ekaterina Riazanova and Ilia Tkachenko in third.

PARK CITY, Utah (AP) -- Alexander Zubkov put together two solid runs Saturday to win the World Cup four-man bobsled event, depriving Park City native Steven Holcomb of a gold-medal sweep on his home course.

"It's hard to be upset when you're losing to Zubkov," Holcomb said about the four-time Olympian who's gunning for gold in his homeland at the 2014 Sochi Games. "He's pretty much the only one who has more experience than I do."

Holcomb won gold in two-man bobsled Friday - his second consecutive World Cup win in that event this season.

Like a week ago in Lake Placid, N.Y., he couldn't catch Zubkov, who now has won four-man gold in back-to-back World Cups - the first to accomplish the feat since Holcomb in 2007-08.

Zubkov and his team of Alexey Negodaylo, Dmitry Trunenkov and Maxim Mokrousov finished two runs down the Utah Olympic Park course in 1 minute, 36.26 seconds combined, 0.12 seconds faster than Holcomb's team (1:36.38). The German team driven by Manuel Machata took bronze (1:36.40).

Zubkov led by .09 after the first run and held a perfect line in the second.

Holcomb said he was happy to hold onto second, even if friends are now jokingly calling him the No. 1 loser, a tag that made the Park City native laugh.

It was an emotional week for the 32-year-old reigning Olympic champion, who on Friday talked publicly for the first time about a 2007 failed suicide attempt - a dark secret Holcomb revealed in his recently released book.

Holcomb said that incident made him want to make the most of second chances, and he has, winning four-man gold in his "Night Train" sled at the 2010 Olympics, then claiming the 2012 world championship in both two -and four-man.

The ultimate goal is gold in Sochi in 2014, where Zubkov should have a distinct advantage. Zubkov acknowledges as much, saying he will get in between 500 and 600 runs on the new course by the time the Games arrive. Holcomb figures he'll make several dozen.

"He'll get in a lot of runs, have a lot of experience and it will be tough to beat, but at the same time, we only had 40 runs in Canada and the Canadians had quite a few and we still beat them," Holcomb said.

HEERENVEEN, Netherlands (AP) -- South Korea's Sang-Hwa Lee has won her second 500-meter World Cup race of the season, finishing in a time of 37.92 seconds Saturday.

Lee beat American Heather Richardson, who finished in 38.13 seconds.

The two also finished in the same order in the event Friday.

In other races, Canada's Christine Nesbitt won the women's 1,500 in 1 minute, 56.35 seconds.

In men's competition, Finland's Pekka Koskela won the 500 in 34.96 seconds, beating Poland's Artur Was and South Korea's Mo Tae-Bum. Koskela also took second in the men's 1,000, behind Denny Morrison of Canada, who won in 1:09.43.

PARK CITY, Utah (AP) -- Latvia's Martins Dukurs extended his World Cup dominance, claiming gold Saturday in the men's skeleton event at Utah Olympic Park.

His combined time for two runs was 1 minute, 39.71 seconds, edging Germany's Alexander Kroeckel (1:39.76). Russia's Alexander Tretjyakov won bronze (1:39.82).

Dukurs is the two-time defending world champion and has won both World Cup races this year. He turned in the fastest times in both runs Saturday with a slight drizzle falling.

John Daly was the top American finisher in seventh place (1:40.38). Teammates Matthew Antoine was ninth (1:40.87) and Kyle Tress finished 20th (1:42.06).

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