Anthony Lobello, Ariana Fontana

Anthony Lobello’s country switch a Winter Olympic first

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SOCHI, Russia — One U.S. short track speed skater from the 2006 Olympics made it back for 2014. He’s not wearing the red, white and blue this time, though.

In Sochi, Anthony Lobello will become the first athlete to compete in a Winter Olympics for the U.S. and then a later Winter Olympics for another nation, according to OlympStats.com.

As an American, Lobello finished 23rd in the 500m at the 2006 Olympics and then failed to make the 2010 U.S. Olympic Team.

In 2012, he began dating Italian Arianna Fontana, the 2010 Olympic 500m bronze medalist. Also that year, Lobello saw an opportunity to compete for Italy as a dual citizen since his paternal grandfather is Italian.

“I never looked into engaging my birthright, but I knew it existed,” Lobello, 29, told the Olympic News Service (ONS) in Sochi. “I never took it on as something I really wanted to do. But I met a girl, saw a different course for my life and took a chance.”

Lobello’s move also came as result of the “wild ride” relationship he had with US Speedskating that included suspensions, according to a blog post on his website.

Lobello’s surely much happier now, having proposed to Fontana at his family’s Alabama home last year.

“It was a little bit crazy, because that day I was cooking for the whole family,” Fontana told ONS. “So, I was nervous because I wanted to do great for them. While I was cooking, he was talking to me and said, ‘You know, when you find the right person, you don’t want to wait to spend the rest of your life with her.’

“I turned to listen to him, and he was on his knee with a ring. I didn’t know what to say, and the whole family started to yell and clap their hands. It was very exciting.”

Lobello’s love story is similar to that of snowboarder Vic Wild, who left the U.S. for Russia. Wild, though, did not reach the Olympics as an American before switching to Russia.

The three U.S. Winter Olympians who competed for other countries in previous Winter Games were, according to OlympStats:

Rena Inoue, figure skating (1992, 94-Japan, 2006-U.S.)
Clay Ives, luge (1994, 98-Canada, 02-U.S.)
Bengt Walden
, luge (1994, 98, 02-Sweden, 2010-U.S.)

On and off the ice, Jason Brown can put on a show

Nathan Chen ‘in control of everything’ going for fourth straight national title

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GREENSBORO, N.C. – Nathan Chen came to last year’s U.S. Championships in Detroit with a lot of uncertainty left about what would happen to his skating now that his time and energy were split between being an elite figure skater and being a freshman at Yale, 3,000 miles from his coach, trying to get training help via video chat.

Sure, he was still winning, both his 2018 Grand Prix events and the Grand Prix Final, but there were a lot of mistakes, a lot of inconsistency, a lot of questions about whether he could make his new normal work.

And then he blew the doors off the Little Caesars Arena twice, skating marvelously in both the short and long programs to win his third national title in a walkover.

Chen came to this year’s nationals after two magnificent performances at the Grand Prix Final in early December, where he routed two-time Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan by more than 43 points. That extended his winning streak to nine – including two world titles – since his fifth place at the 2018 Olympics.

Yet Chen still carried uncertainty with him because he had been laid low by a virus for two weeks this January, and its lingering effects meant only being able to train effectively again in the past week.

And then he blew the doors off the Greensboro Coliseum in Saturday’s short program, taking a commanding lead on a day when the top five finishers all skated impressively, with five clean quadruple jumps in five attempts.

Just when you think Chen can’t be better than he has… he is.

“That was probably one of the best short programs I’ve ever skated,” he said. “Everything felt really calm, really paced. I felt like I was really in control of everything I was doing.”

Quad flip. Triple Axel. Quad toe-triple toe. All received a flood of fours and fives (the maximum grade) for technical execution, as did his step sequence and final two spins. Among his 45 component scores, which measure quality of skating and artistry, were 11 perfect 10s.

That added up to 114.13 points, a whisker more than his score a year ago. He takes a lead of more than 13 points into Sunday afternoon’s free skate.

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For all that, Chen knew there were things that could have been better, like his edge work in the footwork sequence and the artistry in his performance to “La Boheme,” the signature work of renowned French singer Charles Aznavour. He expects his short program choreographer, Shae-Lynn Bourne, to point out those flaws as soon as they speak next.

“She’ll tell me a million things I could’ve done better,” Chen said “Having people like that is awesome. It really keeps you in a grounded state of mind.”

Chen was followed in the short program standings by the consummate artist on ice, Jason Brown. He did a quad-less program with such extraordinary technical and performance polish it earned 100.99, with GOE marks even higher than Chen’s and 13 perfect components scores.

Brown, the 2015 U.S. champion, has been erratic all season because of both a late August concussion and his ongoing battle to master the techniques taught by the coaching team – Tracy Wilson and Brian Orser – he joined 18 months ago. Saturday, he embodied their guiding philosophy for his skating: do everything with such high quality the execution grades can help compensate for the lack of a quad.

“It wasn’t just the concussion,” Brown said about his unremarkable performances earlier this season. “It has been a constant trial-and-error struggle. Sticking with all the changes with the adrenaline of a performance is what we have been working on.”

Andrew Torgashev (quad toe) was a surprising third at 97.87. Vincent Zhou (quad Salchow), the reigning world bronze medalist, was an almost unexpectedly strong fourth at 94.82, given that Zhou has turned his life inside out in the last month, taking a leave from Brown University after one semester of his freshman year and moving to Toronto to train.

Tomoki Hiwatashi (quad toe), the reigning world junior champion, was just behind Zhou at 94.21.

Chen, 20, continues to face constant challenges trying for excellence at the most demanding level of the sport and at one of the world’s most demanding universities.

He has been comfortable enough with the absence of a coach that the video chats with coach Rafael Arutunian, who is based in California, have become infrequent. They now see each other primarily at competitions and during holiday and summer breaks. The rest of the time, Chen coaches himself.

Arutunian tells his students they should be able to do that after three years with him. He has coached Chen for nearly 10.

“Raf trains us to be pretty self-sufficient even as kids,” Chen said. “By the time that we are at this level, we still need him of course, and he’s still a great guiding force in all of our training. But we generally know exactly what we need to get done that day.

“We’re the ones who have to self-correct as a program goes on. I think being able to understand how to orient practices and learn how to fix things on your own is a great skill to have.”

While Yale has been tremendously helpful in giving Chen ice time weekday afternoons at its busy on-campus rink, he does not learn until a few hours before what time it will be available, and he still has to drive 30 minutes each way to another rink for his second daily practice.

He does not have the access to support (medical team, training table) a varsity athlete does. Yet he takes off his hat to varsity athletes who have far more competitions each year than his five or six.

“These guys have tournaments like every other weekend, meets every other weekend,” Chen said. “Some of these athletes are some of the smartest people on campus. They do incredible, incredible majors – double majoring in a lot of crazy things with the demand of athletics. It’s really inspiring.

“That being said, I definitely think that because we (Yale athletes) have so much extra to do, extra obligations throughout the day, the times that we have to study are a lot more focused and a lot more intensive. I’ve seen a lot of other students who have all day to study but don’t really do much and procrastinate, do a lot of other things. I think having the balance (between sports and academics) definitely forces us to be a little bit more productive.”

Nevertheless, Chen thinks he will need time away from Yale to prepare for the 2022 Olympics. His courses in statistics and data science will include more lab work in his junior and senior years, and scheduling practice around them will be difficult.

Chen has already talked to his dean about such plans. She told him not to worry about it until the end of this academic year in May.

“Ultimately skating’s the most important thing as the Olympics come up,” Chen said. “So, I don’t want anything getting in the way of that.”

There is, of course, the idea that if something is not broken, don’t fix it. And Chen has done by far the finest skating of his career since enrolling at Yale, with short and long programs of surpassing brilliance at the 2019 nationals, 2019 worlds and 2019 Grand Prix Final.

“I feel like this is a great way of maintaining what I’m have (technically), but I still want to continue progressing,” Chen said. “Either way, I’ll figure out what’s best for me.”

Philip Hersh, who has covered figure skating at the last 11 Winter Olympics, is a special contributor to NBCSports.com/figure-skating.

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MORE: Adam Rippon takes pleasure in new role — coaching U.S. silver medalist

As a reminder, you can watch the events from the 2019-20 figure skating season live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. Go to NBCsports.com/gold/figure-skating to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season. NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.

Meryl Davis, Charlie White, Kimmie Meissner, Casey entering skating Hall of Fame

Meryl Davis, Charlie White
AP
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GREENSBORO, N.C. (AP) — As they enter the U.S. Figure Skating Hall of Fame, Meryl Davis and Charlie White ponder just who they are joining in receiving one of the highest honors in their sport.

“One of the things that makes it so special is we are friends with and respect so much so many previous people who have gone into the Hall of Fame,” Davis said before the induction ceremony Saturday. “Scott Hamilton, Kristi Yamguchi, Brian Boitano — people we look up to and now we are in their company.”

As are 2006 world champion Kimmie Meissner and the late Kathy Casey, one of American figure skating’s most successful coaches.

Davis and White, along with training partners and friends Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto, were at the forefront of bringing ice dance to previously unreachable heights for Americans. Once the abyss of the sport, Americans now tend to populate podiums in international competitions.

In 2010 at the Vancouver Olympics, Davis and White followed Belbin and Agosto four years earlier as silver medalists. At the Sochi Games in 2014, they edged Canada’s Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, the 2010 champions, for the gold.

Davis and White won every U.S. title from 2009-14, plus two world crowns.

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But Davis and White were — and are — about so much more than their on-ice performances. He now coaches and she has been instrumental in the startup and development of Figure Skating in Detroit, an offshoot of the inner city Figure Skating in Harlem program that has been a rousing success in New York City.

“When we were young skaters and took the lay of the land of the sport,” White said, “we thought about becoming leaders of the sport. We recognized we would have a role as we were ascending and we felt it was a real responsibility. Be thoughtful and considerate with anyone you deal with. We tried to let our skating do the talking as competitors, but we wanted the way we conducted ourselves off the ice to be professional and helpful to the sport.

“We have felt the responsibility because of everything skating has given to us to give back responsibly and, in the end, to always be grateful.”

Meissner, still one of the few American women to master the triple Axel, also is one of those rare athletes to be a champion on all level. She won novice, junior and senior U.S. titles.

Her performance at age 16 at Calgary worlds soon after finishing sixth at the Turin Olympics as the youngest U.S. athlete not only was a highlight of her career but of any world championships.

“I was ready for that moment,” said Meissner, who also coaches and is in school to become a physician’s assistant. “I had been practicing that way pretty much before the Olympics. It was nerves at the Olympics and I was happy to salvage what I did.

“At worlds, I was not shocked at all that I skated clean at a time when it really needs to happen.”

Casey, who died in September, spent more than 50 years in the sport. She helped advance the biomechanical studies of jumps and was expert at helping skaters correct technical aspects of their performances. In 2005, she was the U.S. Olympic Committee’s Sports Science Coach of the Year.

The official U.S. coach at three Olympics, Casey coached two-time U.S. champion Scott Davis (1993-94). She was the Professional Skaters Association president from 1989 to 1994, was inducted into its Hall of Fame in 2008.

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MORE: Nathan Chen leads men’s short program, followed by world team battle

As a reminder, you can watch the events from the 2019-20 figure skating season live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. Go to NBCsports.com/gold/figure-skating to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season. NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.