Tatiana Volosozhar, Maxim Trankov

Top Russian pairs skaters not fazed by impending Olympic pressure

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DETROIT — Russian figure skating isn’t what it once was: a nation responsible for 14 medals over three Olympics in the 1990s — and 12 straight pairs golds from 1964 and 2006 — may win one skating medal at the Sochi Olympics.

The best hope is the pairs team of Tatyana Volosozhar and Maksim Trankov, the reigning World Champions who reset their short program and free skate world records at Skate America in Detroit last weekend.

The Moscow-based skaters are motivated and not deterred by the immense pressure.

“We only have pressure for each other — we push each other every day,” Trankov said. “I think it’s most important to keep working. You never know, especially with the Olympics, what will happen. You cannot plan these competitions. You just work and hope that everything will be OK.”

It wasn’t OK for the Russians at the 2010 Games, when — for the first time since 1960 — no Russian (or Soviet) pair landed on the podium. Trankov was eighth with a different partner and Volosozhar, then competing for Ukraine, was ninth. China’s Shen Xue and Zhao Hongbo won gold.

“There is an old tradition for pairs skating in our country,” Trankov said. “The last Olympics were won by the Chinese, but they skated like Soviet pairs skaters; they were good and were champions. The way they skated was kind of Russian. We just want to win back a medal for our country in pairs.”

Volosozhar and Trankov can win a second medal with the debut of the Olympic figure skating team event. Trankov thinks he and Volosozhar will do the short program and give another Russian pair the opportunity to sub in for the free skate.

Volosozhar explained further, noting the turnaround from the team event free skate (Feb. 8) to the start of the pairs competition (Feb. 11).

“We want to skate,” she said. “We just don’t understand why it is before the main competition. Because for pairs, we start way earlier. There are only two days between the team competition and the main one.”

Volosozhar and Trankov are confident that the Russian team can win a medal — if not gold — particularly if they have three-time Olympic medalist and 2006 Olympic champion Yevgeny Plushenko. The U.S., Canada and Japan are considered medal favorites along with Russia.

Plushenko has battled injuries since winning silver at the 2010 Olympics and hasn’t competed since January. Russia earned one men’s spot at the Games. Plushenko is thought to be a lock to receive it if he proves healthy.

“He said he wants to skate for the team event for sure,” Trankov said. “He will skate both programs, and we’re very to happy to have him on our team. It’s a really good chance for us to win a medal.”

The Russians have a respectable team in Ekaterina Bobrova and Dmitri Soloviev in ice dancing, bronze medalists at the World Championships in March, and Adelina Sotnikova, ninth at Worlds at 16.

“Maybe not gold, but we for sure we can win a team medal,” Trankov said. “We have good girls and pairs and not bad ice dancers. I think we’ll do it. If Evgeni will help us, that will make it even better.”

And the eight years since a pairs gold in Russia?

“That helps us a little bit,” Volosozhar said. “Because we want to win a medal for Russia.”

Quad quandary for top U.S. men

Rio Olympic, Paralympic medals to be unveiled June 16

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The medals for the Rio Olympic and Paralympic Games will be unveiled June 16, 50 days before the Olympic Opening Ceremony, Rio Games and International Paralympic Committee officials said Friday.

The Olympic and Paralympic medals are different designs.

It’s the closest to the Opening Ceremony that Olympic medals have been unveiled since 2000:

Sochi 2014 — Eight months ahead of time
London 2012 — One year ahead
Vancouver 2010 — Four months ahead
Beijing 2008 — 17 months ahead
Torino 2006 — Two months ahead
Athens 2004 — 13 months ahead
Salt Lake City 2002 — Four months ahead
Sydney 2000 — One month ahead

MORE: Pelé on Rio Olympics, lighting the cauldron

Bob Bowman talks new book, Olympic memories, Michael Phelps

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While at TODAY to discuss his new book, “The Golden Rules,” with Matt Lauer, U.S. Olympic men’s swimming head coach Bob Bowman sat down with OlympicTalk last week.

In “The Golden Rules,” Bowman details 10 steps to world-class excellence in life and work, illustrating them with lessons learned from coaching not only Michael Phelps, but also several more world-class swimmers and his own personal experiences.

Bowman answered questions about his book, Phelps’ training for the Olympic Trials and his memories from coaching the past two decades:

OlympicTalk: Why write and come out with a book now?

Bowman: Well, quite honestly, I think this is when it could get the most widespread coverage. The message can be the most effectively given, because it’s in our Olympic window. I’ve been working on it for four years, so it’s kind of been a long process. Right after London I started working on it. It just seemed like this year is perfect timing.

OlympicTalk: In May 2012, you said you would take a year off from coaching after the Olympics. Now that you’re back, and now coaching a college program, how much longer do you see yourself coaching?

Bowman: I think a long time now. One thing I learned on that break, I’m a terrible vacationer. I have to make myself sit at the beach. I’m probably going to work as long as I can work. It’s what I love to do. So, I’m healthy, don’t see why I won’t go for a long time.

EXCERPT: Bowman and Phelps’ first conversation about a comeback

OlympicTalk: Do you and Phelps have an idea of what you’d like to focus on in his final pre-Olympic Trials meet in Austin (June 3-5)?

Bowman: There are a couple of things that he needs to do. You know, he hasn’t really done too many 200m frees [in his comeback]. I think you’ll see him in a 200m free. And he has some goals that he has for the other events that he’d like to hit before trials, so that’s what we’re working on.

OlympicTalk: If Phelps wants to swim the 4x100m and 4x200m free relays in Rio, does he need to put up a fast time at trials?

Bowman: Well, I think he needs to put up a time, sometime, to let us know that he’s on that level. Intuitively, we know, but, yeah, he’s going to have to put up some times. It could be [in Austin].

OlympicTalk: As U.S. Olympic men’s head coach, what are your early thoughts on the relays?

Bowman: I think in the 4x200m [free], we’re looking pretty strong. I think we have some young guys that are very good. We’ve got Michael, Ryan [Lochte], the kind of mainstays. Conor [Dwyer] is on fire. He’s been training with us in altitude

The 4x100m is still a little bit of a question mark, but I feel better about it as we go along. I think we’ve got some young guys coming up who are going to step up. Nathan [Adrian] is obviously very solid. I think Michael put in a really solid 100m. So I feel better about it. I don’t know exactly how far we can go, but I think we’re a lot better than we were a year ago.

Editor’s Note: The U.S. had a disastrous 11th-place finish in preliminaries at the World Championships 4x100m free relay on Aug. 2, without Phelps, Lochte or Adrian.

OlympicTalk: Two years ago, we were all concerned about Allison Schmitt after she failed to make the World Championships team. She’s swimming well again. What happened in the last two years? 

Bowman: She’s really just gone through some very tough times, battling depression, and she’s kind of come out the other side. I think she’s really worked very hard on her mental aspects of swimming. The physical was never really a question. She’s trying to put all the pieces together. And now she’s really kind of become a much stronger person, and it’s really showing. Her training is as good as it’s ever been.

Editor’s Note: Bowman expects Schmitt to swim three events at the Olympic Trials — 100m, 200m and 400m freestyles. Schmitt took gold in the 200m and silver in the 400m at the 2012 Olympics.

MORE: Phelps’ concussion, more highlights from ‘The Golden Rules’

OlympicTalk: Other than those you’ve coached, who is the most impressive swimmer you’ve seen?

Bowman: I’d have to say [Katie] Ledecky. She has been so consistent at such a high level. Someone asked me about the most amazing swims I’ve ever seen are, and I’m going to have to say that one of them is certainly Katie’s 8:06 that she swam in Austin [an 800m freestyle world record on Jan. 17]. 4:03/4:03 [splits]. For a long time, 4:03 was a world record [in the 400m freestyle], and I thought it would never be touched. To do two of those? Absolutely amazing.

OlympicTalk: What about international swimmers?

Bowman: I’ve always been a big Ian Thorpe fan. He’s such an incredible swimmer at his peak. There have been so many. [Kosuke] Kitajima the breaststroker. There have been some really, really kind of dominant swimmers during their window in time. Which, as I see that now, I’m even more amazed that Michael’s been able to maintain that level for so long.

OlympicTalk: What’s your favorite of Phelps’ Olympic swims?

Bowman: That’s hard to say. His best in terms of just a pure performance was his 200m free in Beijing [then a world record; Phelps has said that’s his best swim at an Olympics]. A dominating performance. My personal favorite is the 4:03 [400m individual medley] from Beijing [still a world record]. But I also love his 400m IM from Athens, his first gold medal. So those are kind of my top three.

OlympicTalk: We’ve all heard the stories of Phelps in Sydney in 2000, forgetting his credential and leaving his suit strings untied. What do you remember about those Games?

Bowman: I remember that we were so happy to be there, and the thing I loved is he got faster. Every time he swam, he got faster. He did a best time every time he swam. But there was so much more left to do. I’ve just seen a video, NBC’s doing a little promo this week, they show him diving in in Sydney. He kicks his legs back. He doesn’t kick underwater. There are like a million things he could have done better. So that’s what I remember. He was just a kid having fun.

OlympicTalk: Did you make any rookie Olympic mistakes as a coach in Atlanta or Sydney?

Bowman: No, because the kid [I coached in Atlanta] was the same age as me [laughs]. I didn’t have to do anything. Eric Wunderlich, he trained himself [Wunderlich was 26 in Atlanta; Bowman was 32]. Actually, in Sydney, I don’t know if I made any mistakes, but I probably just didn’t know how the game was played. It was just inexperience in the schedule, reminding Michael to have his credential. Those kinds of things. I think that’s what I didn’t really think of.

VIDEO: Bowman discusses ‘The Golden Rules’ on TODAY