Ex-roller skating champ Matteo Guarise makes smooth transtion to ice for Olympics

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SOCHI, Russia – Glancing at Matteo Guarise’s biography, it’s easy to glaze over the fact that he was a world champion in 2008. But look a little more closely and a single word pops out: roller skating world champion.

Right, roller skating.

As the Vancouver Games got underway in 2010, Guarise, a 21-year-old Italian who had won the 2008 World Roller Figure Skating Championships, made a promise to himself: he would be in Sochi in four years’ time. As a figure skater.

“My friends told me I was crazy,” Guarise tells NBCOlympics.com, smiling. “They laughed at me.”

It seemed to be a laughable proposition for Guarise, who strapped on ice skates for the first time in his life in January 2010 and began to chase a lifelong dream, even as he struggled to stay on his feets while on the ice.

VIDEO: Russian pair are “superstars”

“For me, the easiest stuff was the hardest because of the blade,” Guarise explains alongside partner Nicole Della Monica. “Every time I pushed off I wasn’t able to control what I was doing. It was impossible to do crossovers, but then I could easily do a triple toe jump. If you looked at me on the ice I looked like a beginner, but then I could do a triple jump. People were saying, ‘What’s wrong with this guy?’”

Watching roller skating – if you’ve never dived into it on YouTube – is eerily similar to figure skating. The pairs skate to the same moving music, wear the same colorful costumes and perform the spins, throws and jumps that you see on the ice – but instead on wooden floors, wearing the four-wheeled skates most American kids grew up flying down the sidewalk on.

“Sometimes I tell Matteo, ‘Come on! This is so easy!’ says Della Monica, who was an Olympian in 2010 with a different partner. “But then I realize that he’s only been skating on the ice for four years. It’s already amazing what he’s doing now.”

After his roller skating world title in 2008 with partner Sara Venerucci, Guarise was ready to give up the sport, though they skated together for the following year, winning another national title in Italy. Guarise finally hung up his (roller) skates, moving to Milan in 2009 and traveling for a year as a model, all the while still dreaming of being an Olympian.

“It wasn’t the life for me,” Guarise explains of modeling. “I wanted competition.”

Living just across the street from a rink in Milan, Guarise began skating there a few times a week, then moved to Russia to try out with one pairs partner (it didn’t go well) before being sent to Colordao (that didn’t pan out, either) and landing in Detroit, where he partnered with Caitlin Yankowskas, the 2011 pairs champion.

“I never competed in this whole time I was traveling, it was always just trying out with new partners,” Guarise says. “But it didn’t work out with Caitlin, so I went back home and thought I would give up. That’s when a coach suggested Nicole.”

Della Monica had hung up her (ice) skates after the 2010 Vancouver Games, her partner going back to France and she returning to school. But when a call came from Matteo he “sounded nice” and she was “pleasantly surprised.”

“I didn’t actually want to come back, but they called me and I was missing skating a little bit,” Della Monica remembers. “I took one year off and thought, ‘You know this might happen.’”

The pair skated together for three weeks, first in November of 2011, before going to the Italian National Championships and being sent to the World Championships in 2012, only four months after they had joined forces and just two years after Guarise first set foot on ice.

“I changed to the ice because of my Olympic dream,” says Guarise, who grew up in the Italian beach town of Rimini. “For me, I thought, ‘What am I doing if I can’t participate in the Olympics?’ Being in Sochi, for me, is unbelievable.”

There are plenty of roller skaters who have made the transition from that sport to the ice, including 2012 U.S. pairs champion Caydee Denney and Tara Lipinski, the 1998 Olympic champion. But Guarise’s turnaround time – from stepping onto the ice for the first time in January 2010 to skating at the Olympics in 2014 – is unheralded.

“It’s different technique, but it’s all similar. A lift is a lift, a jump is a jump, but they are different so I had to adjust each and every element,” says Guarise. “The worst was just simply skating. I had no feeling on the ice. I started from zero. I think a lot of people thought it was impossible for me to go to the Olympics.”

Della Monica and Guarise skated second Tuesday night at the Iceberg Skating Palace, and as if telling his transition story on ice, the 25-year-old stumbled in the opening seconds of their short program, the crowd gasping because he went down when, well, he was just simply skating.

“These are not our Olympic Games this time,” Della Monica explains the day before. “We are looking forward to 2018 – or past it. This time is just to feel the experience.”

And the goal in Pyeongchang?

“The goal is to win a medal,” smiles Guarise.

“Yeah, why not?” Della Monica adds. “This can be our dream and whatever will come, will come.”

World Wrestling Championships broadcast schedule

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Olympic champions Kyle SnyderHelen Maroulis and Jordan Burroughs headline the U.S. team for the world wrestling championships, with daily live coverage on Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA all next week.

Olympic Channel coverage of medal rounds will go from 1-3:30 p.m. ET from Monday through Saturday. NBCSN will air additional recap broadcasts.

Snyder and Burroughs will wrestle in their respective weight classes on Saturday. Maroulis goes on Wednesday. J’den Cox, a Rio bronze medalist, is scheduled Friday.

Snyder could have the most salivating matchup of all if he and Russian Abdulrashid Sadulayev meet in the 97kg bracket. Snyder, 21, owned 97kg the last two years, becoming the youngest American wrestler to win a world title in 2015 and an Olympic title in 2016.

Sadulayev, also 21, is undefeated at the senior international level since November 2013. He won the 2014 and 2015 World titles and 2016 Olympic gold at 86kg. This year, he moved up to 97kg to potentially meet Snyder for the first time.

Maroulis won the first U.S. Olympic women’s wrestling gold medal in Rio, upsetting three-time Olympic champion Saori Yoshida of Japan at 53kg. Yoshida isn’t entered at worlds, not that it matters for Maroulis, who moved up to 58kg.

Then there’s Burroughs, who is looking to make up for a medal-less effort in Rio. The 2012 Olympic champion will go for a fourth world title in a 74kg bracket that lacks the Rio gold and silver medalists.

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Day Time (ET) Network Finals
Monday 1-3:30 p.m. Olympic Channel | STREAM Greco-Roman 71, 75, 85, 98
Tuesday 1-3:30 p.m. Olympic Channel | STREAM Greco-Roman 59, 66, 80, 130
Wednesday 1-3:30 p.m. Olympic Channel | STREAM Women 55, 58, 63, 75
Wednesday 3:30-5 p.m.* NBCSN Recap
Thursday 1-3:30 p.m. Olympic Channel | STREAM Women 48, 53, 60, 69
Thursday 4-5 p.m.* NBCSN Recap
Friday 1-3:30 p.m. Olympic Channel | STREAM Men Freestyle 57, 61, 86, 125
Friday 7-9 p.m.* NBCSN Recap
Saturday 1-3:30 p.m. Olympic Channel | STREAM Men Freestyle 65, 70, 74, 97
Sunday 3-5 p.m.* NBCSN Recap

*Tape delay

Marcel Hirscher set to miss start of Alpine skiing season

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Marcel Hirscher, the world’s best Alpine skier, likely will not race until December, missing the start of the World Cup schedule in the Olympic season.

The Austrian is likely out 12 to 15 weeks after breaking his left ankle Thursday, according to the Austria Press Agency, which quoted Hirscher’s doctor.

Hirscher, the winner of a record six straight World Cup overall titles, is set to miss the season-opening giant slalom in Soelden, Austria, on Oct. 29. He’s likely out of the following race, a Nov. 12 slalom in Levi, Finland, if the reported timetable holds up.

The next set of technical races — Hirscher’s favored events — are Dec. 9-10.

Hirscher still would have easily won the World Cup overall title the last two years if excluding his points from Soelden and Levi.

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time for a break 🙈

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