Elvis Stojko

Elvis Stojko not a fan of new Olympic figure skating team event

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Elvis Stojko, the two-time Olympic silver medalist, is known for expressing strong opinions on the state of figure skating.

At the 2010 Games, Stojko wrote that Evan Lysacek‘s performance was not “Olympic champion material” in a column titled, “The night they killed figure skating.” The retired Canadian lamented the absence of a quadruple jump in Lysacek’s arsenal.

The quad is now more prevalent in men’s skating, but all is still not right. Stojko is unimpressed with the new figure skating event for the Sochi Olympics — the team competition.

The team event will begin the night before the opening ceremony (Thursday, Feb. 6) and wrap up two nights after the cauldron is lit (Sunday, Feb. 9).

Each nation entered will have men’s, women’s, pairs and ice dance skaters perform one short program and one free skate each (total of eight). The event will include 10 nations with a cut down to five after the short programs. The highest cumulative scores will determine the medals.

Two skaters (or two couples or one skater and one couple) may be subbed out after the short program. For example, the U.S. could enter Ashley Wagner in the women’s short and Gracie Gold in the women’s free skate, granted Wagner and Gold make the Olympic team in singles.

Stojko wasn’t fully familiar with the particulars of the event but, upon being told details, didn’t like the premise.

“I don’t know if that’s such a great thing,” he said at the opening The Rink at Rockefeller Center in New York on Monday. “It makes for audience, one way it can work. But for skaters, to be able to do another competition right before the Olympics, if they’re trying to get trained, it’s great. If they’re at their peak, it might be tough. The ones that will be able to balance it out, they might not push very hard because they’re going to save it for the next week because that takes a lot out of you, for sure, to be able to be at that level, and then have to do it right before the Olympics, right before their actual competition.

“It’ll be tough. I don’t know if it’s such a great choice if they want to have good skating for the actual (individual) events.”

Stojko, 41, said he probably wouldn’t have done the team event if it was part of the Olympic program when he competed in 1992, 1994, 1998 and 2002.

“Because I would be so focused on my individual stuff,” he said. “It’d be really tough. If I was not in medal contention for Olympics in solo, then maybe I would consider it, but still then it would be really tough. It’s really hard for us to do the technical stuff we’re doing to do it once and then do it again like a week later.

“Year after year, we know our schedule, and then, all of a sudden, they’re like, ‘OK, we’re doing a team event this year.’ It’s kind of tough. I’d still probably veer away from it.”

The coach for Germany’s top pairs team agrees with Stojko. Ingo Steuer said four-time world champions Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy will not take part in the team event.

The pairs short program is three nights after the pairs free skate in the team event.

“It is too close to our own competition,” Steuer said, according to icenetwork.com. “The gold medal in our individual event is more important to us. It is why we have been working so hard since 2010.”

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Rafael Nadal can tie Roger Federer’s Slam record with 13th French Open

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For all of the many qualities contributing to Rafael Nadal’s unprecedented superiority at the French Open — the bullwhip of a high-bouncing lefty forehand, the reflex returns, the cover-every-corner athleticism, the endless energy and grit — there’s one element that stands above all the rest.

According to the opponent Nadal beat in the last two finals in Paris, anyway.

“You go into the match knowing that even your best tennis, even if you play it over three, four hours, might not be enough. I mean, if you do it, you maybe have a little chance, but you have to go to your limit on every single rally, every single point,” Dominic Thiem, who won the U.S. Open less than two weeks ago, told The Associated Press.

“That makes it not easy to go into the match,” Thiem said. “And that’s the mental part, I guess.”

When main-draw competition begins Sunday at Roland Garros, Thiem and every other player in the men’s bracket will be pursuing Nadal as the 34-year-old from Spain pursues history.

If Nadal manages to claim a 13th French Open championship — extending his own record for the most singles trophies won by anyone at any major tennis tournament — he would, more significantly, also collect his 20th Grand Slam title overall, tying Roger Federer’s record for a man.

FRENCH OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women | TV Schedule

Nadal’s tally elsewhere: four U.S. Opens, two Wimbledons, one Australian Open.

He spoke Friday in Paris about what “probably are the most difficult conditions for me ever in Roland Garros” — a lack of matches in 2020; a new brand of tennis balls (“super slow, heavy”); cooler weather and plenty of rain in the forecast.

“But you know what?” Nadal said. “I am here to fight and to play with the highest intensity possible.”

Asked recently about the possibility of catching the 39-year-old Federer, out for the rest of the season after a pair of operations on his right knee, Nadal expressed a sentiment he’s uttered before.

Climbing the Grand Slam list, Nadal said, is “not an obsession at all.”

“I know that you put a lot of attention on all of this,” he replied when the topic was raised last week at the Italian Open, Nadal’s first tournament since February because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Of course I would love to finish my career with 25, but (that’s) something that probably will not happen. I’m going to keep fighting to produce chances, and then when I finish my career, let’s see, no?” he said. “I just want to keep enjoying tennis. And that’s it. If I am playing well, I know I normally have my chances. If not, going to be impossible. That’s it.”

There is, of course, another great of the game playing during this era and, like Nadal, gaining on Federer.

That would be No. 1-ranked Novak Djokovic, who had won five of seven major titles to raise his total to 17 before being disqualified at the U.S. Open for accidentally hitting a line judge with a ball while walking to a changeover.

In this oddest of years, the Grand Slam season will drawing to a close in France; the clay-court major was postponed from May until now because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Roland Garros is the last Slam, the last opportunity of this season. So we all know who the main favorite is there: Obviously, it’s Nadal. And everything that he has achieved there, losing maybe a couple matches in his entire career on that court … is probably the most impressive record that anybody has on any court,” Djokovic said. “So, yeah, of course you would put him right there in front as a favorite to win it.”

For the record: Nadal has won 93 of 95 matches in the French Open and his last 21 in a row.

So what makes him so dominant there?

“He’s an unbelievably great tennis player. Probably on clay, a little bit better than on the other surfaces,” Thiem said. “He’s left-handed, which makes it very uncomfortable. And then his forehand, the topspin on the clay, it’s cruel to play.”

Thiem takes notes and hopes to emulate aspects of Nadal’s game.

So do others.

In Rome, for example, two-time Grand Slam champion Simona Halep and one of her coaches, Artemon Apostu-Efremov, caught one of Nadal’s training sessions.

“We were watching the way he hits the ball, the acceleration, the energy he has on the court and the way he practices 100%. It’s always an inspiration,” Apostu-Efremov said.

“This dedication on the court and focus on court,” he said, “it’s something that, for sure, could be transferred to Simona.”

Nadal wound up losing his third match in Italy, which is neither ideal form nor the sort of prep work he is accustomed to ahead of Roland Garros.

Still, Nadal at the French Open is unlike anyone else, anywhere else.

“Regardless of how he feels, I’m sure he’ll find a way,” said Stefanos Tsitsipas, a 2019 Australian Open semifinalist seeded No. 5 in Paris. “He always finds a way, every single year. Clay is his surface. I’m sure he’s going to do well.”

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Skate America will not have fans

Skate America
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Skate America, the top annual international figure skating competition held in the U.S., will not have spectators in Las Vegas from Oct. 23-25.

U.S. Figure Skating said the restriction was “due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and in strict accordance with the Nevada Gaming Control Board guidelines.”

Skate America is the first top-level event of the season, kicking off the six-stop Grand Prix Series leading up to December’s Grand Prix Final, which is scheduled this season for Beijing.

The series has already been modified to restrict fields to skaters from the host country or to the event closest to their training location.

Grand Prix fields have not been announced, though two-time world champion Nathan Chen said last month he hoped to go for a fourth straight Skate America title.

Chen trains in California. Most, if not all, top U.S. skaters train in the U.S. or Canada, which means they will compete in Skate America or Skate Canada if they participate in the Grand Prix Series at all.

Two-time U.S. women’s champion Alysa Liu will not be old enough to compete on the Grand Prix until the 2021-22 Olympic season.

Skaters are limited to one Grand Prix start this season. In past seasons, they’ve typically competed twice.

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