Two-time Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu nearly became the first skater to land a quadruple axel while easily outpacing Shoma Uno and Yumi Kagayami to win the Japanese national championship Sunday. Hanyu tried the jump, which unlike other quads includes an additional half rotation, at the beginning of his free skate at Saitama Super Arena. He ultimately two-footed the landing and the jump was downgraded to a triple axel, but it still set the stage for a program that included three more quads and left him with 322.36 points. Uno packed five quads into his free skate but barely hung onto his quad flip and quad toe and fell on another quad toe, leaving him with 295.82 points and the silver medal. Kagiyami finished with 292.41 points. The trio of Japanese skaters are expected to be the toughest competition for American star Nathan Chen at the Winter Olympics in Beijing, which is set to begin in just under six weeks. Chen competes at US nationals in two weeks. In another potential Olympic preview this weekend, Russian star Kamila Valieva drove home her status as the overwhelming favorite in Beijing with a record-setting performance at her national championship. The winner of Skate Canada and the Rostelecom Cup scored 193.10 points in her free skate, eclipsing her record 185.29 set earlier this year, and finished with an astounding 283.48 points. Valieva had set the record for a Grand Prix event with her score of 272.71 points at the Rostelecom Cup.
Date set for USWNT appeal in court
Oral arguments in the appeal by players on the US women’s national soccer team who are seeking equal pay have been scheduled for March. The 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals said Sunday the hearing will take place at 9:30 a.m. on March 7 in Pasadena, Calif. Under circuit court procedures, the identities of the three judges on the panel will be released publicly Feb. 28. “We hope 2022 will be the year of peace and health — and equal pay. We look forward to these oral arguments,” players spokeswoman Molly Levinson said in a statement. Players, led by Alex Morgan, sued the US Soccer Federation in March 2019, contending they have not been paid equitably under their collective bargaining agreement compared with what the men’s team receives under its agreement, which expired in December 2018. The women asked for more than $64 million in damages plus $3 million in interest under the Equal Pay Act and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The USSF has said the women accepted a labor contract with greater guaranteed pay than the men and additional benefits. The USSF said Sept. 14 it had offered identical contracts to the men’s and women’s unions, which are separate and have no obligation under federal labor law to agree to similar terms.
Alabama arrives healthy, though minus two coaches
Top-ranked Alabama arrived in North Texas without offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien or offensive line coach Doug Marrone, but coach Nick Saban expected both assistants to make it for the playoff semifinal game at the Cotton Bowl. The Crimson Tide said last Wednesday that O’Brien and Marrone had tested positive for the coronavirus and were isolating with mild symptoms. Saban, who said Alabama’s entire team is vaccinated and that more than 90 percent of the players also have had booster shots, also said there were no known COVID-19 issues among players. Saban said both coaches were doing well back in Tuscaloosa, Ala., and would participate in meetings and practice via Zoom until they could join the team before Friday’s game against Cincinnati. “They will do all their work and coaching virtually with players, very similarly to the way I did it when I tested positive before the Auburn game a year ago,” Saban said. “They’ll be here for the game . . . No one is, you know, really that bad sick that they can’t function and do things that they need to do with our players.” The Bearcats (13-0), the first team from outside a Power Five conference to make the College Football Playoff, arrived later Sunday. “If you want to have a shot at the title, you’ve got to beat the champs, and this is what we have. We have a shot to beat the champs,” Cincinnati coach Luke Fickell said. “The best team doesn’t always win the game. It’s just a reality, the teams that play the best win the football game.” Cincinnati’s football team got to Texas on the same day that the American Athletic Conference announced that the Bearcats’ league opener in men’s basketball, scheduled Tuesday in Houston, had been canceled due to COVID issues for the Cougars. The game was declared a no-contest and Cincinnati given a forfeit win.
Storms batter Sydney to Hobart race
Super maxi Black Jack was leading a much-reduced Sydney to Hobart race fleet after strong winds and high seas forced almost a quarter of the boats to retire. The storm forced 21 of the original 88 starters out of the race, and the other 67 were hoping for less taxing conditions after being battered by heavy southerlies through the latter part of the day. While the three super maxis remained in the race, the big list of casualties included the TP52 Gweilo, which was considered one of the main contenders to win overall honors. The 628 nautical-mile race (about 720 miles) sails from Sydney down the south coast of New South Wales state and across Bass Strait to Hobart, the capital of the island state of Tasmania. Monaco’s Black Jack continued to lead in the battle for line honors. She was ahead of rival super maxis LawConnect and SHK Scallywag 100, The size of Black Jack’s lead was hard to confirm as LawConnect had issues with reporting the boat’s exact position. Last year’s race was canceled the week before it was due to start because of coronavirus-related quarantine issues, but the 2021 edition is proceeding with mass virus-testing protocols in place. Skippers have been told boats must immediately retire from the race if a crew member receives a message from health authorities saying they have tested positive for COVID-19.
Martha Earnhardt, racing matriarch, dead at 91
Martha Earnhardt, the matriarch of one of NASCAR’s best-known families, has died. She was 91. Grandchildren Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kelley Earnhardt Miller said in a statement that she died Saturday night in Kannapolis, N.C. “As we grieve her loss and begin to imagine life without our beloved ‘Mamaw,’ we find solace in knowing she is at peace in eternal glory and in joyous reunion with her husband Ralph and sons Dale, Randy, and Danny,” the statement said. Martha Earnhardt was married to Ralph Earnhardt from 1947 until the NASCAR driver’s death. Her son, the late Dale Earnhardt Sr., was a seven-time NASCAR champion and father of of Dale Jr. and Kelley. Martha and Ralph Earnhardt raised five children — daughters Kaye and Cathy and the three sons — in a modest home with an auto shop in the back at the corner of V-8 and Sedan Avenue in Kannapolis’ “Car Hill” community. Danny died two weeks ago at age 66.