Dmitry Chernyshenko

Sochi Organizing Committee chief addresses Olympic issues on TODAY (video)

Leave a comment

Dmitry Chernyshenko, the head of the Sochi Olympic Organizing Committee, discussed the city’s readiness to host the Games, security and Russia’s anti-gay law among other topics in a TODAY interview Thursday.

“Of course we are ready,” Chernyshenko, 45, told Matt Lauer. “We already successfully tested all our competition venues during the most extensive test event season last winter. It was 22 international level World Cup sports championships, and the athletes were all happy with what they’ve seen.”

Some U.S. athletes have been in Sochi this week for more venue testing and have seen the power go out multiple times.

Of Russia’s anti-gay law, Chernyshenko said athletes will not be arrested if they march with a rainbow pin or speak in a press conference about gay rights.

“What else can I add? My president already several times expressed the guarantees on behalf of the state leaders that there will be no discrimination, whether by race, religion or sexual orientation,” Chernyshenko said. “We organizers keep social inclusivity a key for our Games. Moreover, the rainbow color is not exclusively belongs to someone. For example, our official uniforms for Games organizers is full of rainbow color.”

Protests or rallies, banned around Games time by Russian president Vladimir Putin in August, are a different matter.

“In accordance to Olympic Charter, rule No. 50, any propaganda or any demonstrations is prohibited during the Games,” Chernyshenko said.

The Sochi organizing president repeated that these will be “the safest Games ever.”

“Because we understand from the very beginning of our successful campaign that the safety is a key priority of the organizers,” he said. “Terrorism, it’s a global threat. Take Boston for example. This is an illustration that terrorism has no boundaries.”

Chernyshenko also repeated that U.S. and Russian officials have collaborated on security plans and that military security will not be dressed in standard uniforms but with a more festive look.

As for the Games themselves, Chernyshenko looked forward to one potential matchup in men’s hockey.

“The most desirable scenario in Russia we are looking for is Russia and USA in the final, and Russia win,” Chernyshenko said, adding a thank you to NHL commissioner Gary Bettman for NHL players returning to the Olympics for a fifth straight time.

The U.S. and Russia are scheduled to play on the second Saturday of the Olympics but could also meet in the playoff round if both advance.

Finally, Lauer asked Chernyshenko how to pronounce the name of the host city.

“So-chee,” not So-she, he said.

Photos: Olympic torch blasts off into space aboard Russian rocket

Ashley Wagner ‘sick’ of hearing about her age

Leave a comment

KANSAS CITY — Ashley Wagner can become the oldest U.S. women’s figure skating champion in 90 years, but it would not be wise to tell her that.

“I think that this sport focuses on age way too much,” the three-time U.S. champion Wagner, 25, said in a press conference after Thursday night’s short program at Sprint Center (recap, videos here). “I’m so sick of hearing about my age. I’m so sick of it guys. If anybody asks me one more question about my age, I’ll just stop talking. It’s ridiculous.”

Wagner placed third in the short program, 1.88 points behind leader Karen Chen, who is 17 years old. She’ll try to surpass Chen in the free skate Saturday (8 p.m. ET, NBC, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app).

Chen sat in Thursday’s press conference between Wagner and second-place Mirai Nagasu, a 23-year-old who won the U.S. title way back in 2008.

“They’re my role models,” Chen said. “I watched them skate for years and years.”

Wagner then interjected before the next question.

“You just made both of us feel so old,” Wagner said, drawing laughter.

Truth is, Wagner is often asked about her age, her experience, her highs and lows, and answers respectfully and with wisdom. She did again after competing Thursday night for the first time in nearly two months, under the pressure as U.S. Championships favorite.

“I choose to view the word ‘veteran’ as experienced, and experience is never a bad thing, because I’ve gone through the good experiences and the brutally terrible awful experiences,” said Wagner, who last season earned world championships silver, ending a 10-year U.S. women’s drought.

NBC Olympics analyst Tara Lipinski was surprised to learn Wagner wasn’t particularly interested in questions about her age.

“Age is definitely a factor,” Lipinski said Friday. “You can pretend it’s not, but it is. I tried to pretend that it wasn’t, but it was. It was talked about a lot. I was too young [winning the Olympics at age 15]. Whether it’s the opposite [age] range, age is a factor.”

Wagner competes in a sport where, in other top countries, crops of teens are replaced by the next crop of teens. At last month’s Japanese and Russian Championships, the oldest women’s podium finisher was 18 years old.

Wagner may be past the usual prime years for skaters, but Lipinski pointed out that being (very) young has its disadvantages.

“I felt that I didn’t have a lot to draw on,” said Lipinski, who at 14 became the youngest U.S. women’s champion in 1997. “I didn’t have a lot of outside perspectives. Skating was my life. So any small mistake took me so down, and it was very hard for me to put this sport in perspective.”

Wagner was asked if she worried she may have peaked with that 2016 World Championships silver medal.

“If I peaked,” she said, “I would have retired.”

If Wagner makes the PyeongChang Winter Games, she would become the oldest U.S. Olympic women’s singles skater since 1928. Which would actually be an incredible accomplishment in a teen-dominated sport.

That sort of statistic was probably furthest from her mind in Thursday’s press conference.

“We definitely need a new crop of girls to come in,” Wagner said, cracking a smile, “because I will die one day.”

MORE: U.S. Figure Skating head says Russia shouldn’t be in PyeongChang

How to watch U.S. Figure Skating Championships on Friday

FILE - In this Dec. 8, 2016, file photo, Nathan Chen of the United States, competes in the men's short program at the Grand Prix of Figure Skating final in Marseille, southern France. The 17-year-old's revelatory performance at last month's Grand Prix final in France has made him American figure skating's bright new star. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena, File)
AP
Leave a comment

U.S. Figure Skating Championships coverage continues Friday, live on NBCSN, Universal HD and streamed on NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app, starting at 6 p.m. ET.

The short dance and men’s short programs are scheduled in Kansas City.

The NBC Sports All-Access page will provide live scoring and more all week.

Short dance
6-8 p.m. ET, NBCSN, NBCSports.com/live, NBC Sports app
STREAM LINK | SKATE ORDER | PREVIEW

Men’s short program
8:30 p.m.-midnight ET, Universal HD
SKATE ORDER | PREVIEW

In dance, defending champions Maia and Alex Shibutani take on two-time world medalists Madison Chock and Evan Bates and Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue. They’re heavy favorites for the three world championships berths.

Nathan Chen leads the men’s field, seeking to become the youngest U.S. men’s champion since 1966. He faces past champions Jason Brown and Max Aaron with two worlds berths at stake this weekend

The free dance will be Saturday and the men’s free skate Sunday, both on NBC and streamed on NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app. A full broadcast schedule is here.

MORE: U.S. Figure Skating boss says Russia shouldn’t be in PyeongChang