Watching Yulia Lipnitskaya through the eyes of another prodigy … Nadia Comaneci

1 Comment

SOCHI, Russia – There is plain silence, and then there is the sort of silence that smothers the Iceberg Skating Palace when a little girl named Yulia Lipnitskaya kneels near the center of the ice and waits for the music to begin. She is 15 years old but she looks 12 and a country holds its breath for her.

More than 6,000 miles away, in the American heartland, a woman holds her breath for her, too.

“I’m so excited to see her,” Nadia Comaneci said a couple of hours before the music starts. “She is so wonderful she makes you forget that she wasn’t born with these moves.”

Not so long ago – wait, can it really be 38 years? – that was what people were saying about Nadia. You could forget that she wasn’t born with these moves. She was 14 years old, she looked 12, and in a few days in Montreal at the Summer Olympics she changed the world. She took to the uneven bars as part of the Romanian gymnastics team and put on a performance so perfect, so blindingly perfect, that judges for the first time in international competition simply could not find a flaw.

The scoreboard flashed 1.00 because there was no capacity to display a perfect 10.

From that moment on, perfection in sports meant something different and little girls across the world wanted to be Nadia Comaneci, winner of three gold medals – including the all-around – in 1976. She would go on to win two more gold medals in 1980.

“People talk about nerves of someone so young,” Nadia says. “But when you are that young, you do not think about the same things as you do when you are older. I can understand how (Yulia) feels. When I think of being 14, nobody knew me. There was no buildup. There was no pressure. I was free.”

The music begins at the Iceberg Skating Palace – the song is “You Don’t Give Up on Love” by the Russian composer Mark Minkov – and Lipnitskaya begins tracing a heart on the ice. She performed this short program once already at these Games, in the team competition, and that performance made her a worldwide sensation.

“Lipnitskaya Is A Goddess” a Russian headline read.

“Russian teenager soars to gold, stardom, with more to come,” was the headline for U.S. News and World Report.

“Fifteen-Year-Old is Sensation of Sochi,” read a German newspaper.

VIDEO: Watch Lipnitskaya’s short program routine

It is striking to see someone so young perform so brilliantly under the world’s glare. I ask Nadia why it moves us so much. She suggests that maybe it makes us remember being young and feeling invincible ourselves.

“Yes, I love to see young athletes, 14 or 15 or 16 years old, do so wonderfully,” Nadia said. “I don’t know if I think about myself, but I love to see that young confidence. You can see it in her. You can see she just goes there, and she’s just doing what she loves and has trained to do. She knows she’s good.”

Lipnitskaya stops tracing, gets up, acts like she is getting out of the race. And she begins. She is so light and small, you wonder if her skates even make a sound on the ice. She builds up speed. Her first jump is a combination triple Lutz-triple toe loop. Someone says this will tell us everything about her nerves. The silence of the mostly Russian crowd has never broken. When she lands the first jump, there are halted cheers. When she lands the second, the noise seems loud enough to lift her off the ice.

“I remember what I told myself before I went out in Montreal,” Nadia had said. “I thought of my best routine in practice. And I told myself, ‘OK, just do that.’ It seemed so easy for me because of that. Just do what you did in practice. …  She knows she only has to do what she does in practice. She does not have to do any more or less. It’s when you try to do more that you can lose focus.”

The first two jumps cleared, Lipnitskaya skates beautifully. The experts all around are nodding to each other as she lands her double Axel and then runs through various artistic moves in time with the music. The crowd can begin to sense something wonderful is happening and their cheers begin to crescendo. Lipnitskaya seems to sense their confidence, and she skates a little faster.

For Nadia, once she got that first 10 in Montreal, what followed was a wonderful blur – she scored six more 10s, won three gold medals, success fed success.

“Oh, I remember when I was finished,” she says, “people were saying, ‘Who is this girl? And where is Romania by the way?’ … That was my introduction. And that was what (Yulia) looked like when she was skating at first. Like she was introducing herself. She doesn’t say anything. She’s a mystery. Except for her beautiful skating.”

Nadia Comaneci has never met Yulia Lipnitskaya nor does she live a life where she likely ever will. She and her husband, Bart Conner, live in Oklahoma. She’s just a distant fan, a mother, an inspirational speaker. But maybe she knows things about Lipnitskaya. Maybe there is a connection between athletic prodigies.

VIDEO: Nancy Kerrigan’s take on the short program

“There is one thing that is different for her,” Nadia said. “She is performing in her home country. For me, I was in Montreal, nowhere near where I was from. That was different. There was no pressure on me there. But for her to be at home, in Russia, with everyone wanting her to win, she will have to deal with a different pressure than I had to deal with.”

As Lipnitskaya makes her way around for her third and final jump of the short program, there is a lot of noise and joy and everyone senses her conviction, her self-assurance. This is the little girl they had all fallen in love with less than two weeks ago in the team competition. This is their Russian darling. Just a short while before the competition began, the Russian hockey team had lost to Finland in the quarterfinals, a bitter disappointment, and now the gaze is firmly on Lipnitskaya.

And then, on the third jump, Lipnitskaya falls.

The gasps throughout the arena are, in their own way, louder than any cheers.

She finishes her routine in an airless arena and then is met with thunderous applause. Bouquets and teddy bears rain on the ice. It is as if no one in Russia can bear to see her cry, and she does not cry. The response cannot help but make her smile a little. Her score of 65.23 places her fifth – more than nine points behind the top three. She has lost more or less any chance for gold, and at this point winning any medal would take a monumental shift during Thursday’s free skate. It almost certainly will not happen. Not this time.

In an odd twist, the Russian who is in gold medal contention is 17-year-old Adelina Sotnikova, who was once the country’s skating phenom. She won the national championship when she was just 12. She was viewed as the great hope for Sochi, but inconsistencies seemed to wreck her. Sometimes she was brilliant, other times hopeless. Wednesday, she was brilliant. Nobody knows quite what to expect on Thursday. Such is the fluctuation of youthful brilliance.

VIDEO: Sotnikova surprisingly sits in second

“That is something about the Olympics,” Nadia said before Lipnitskaya skated. “You only get one chance. That’s it. You get one time down the mountain, one time to skate, one time on the floor exercise, one time to swim. There is no second chance. Well, there is another chance at the next Olympics, but that is four years away. And four years is a long time.”

Then she laughed a little bit.

“Well,” she said, “fortunately, four years is not so long a time when you are young.”

Vincent Zhou withdraws from 2019 Grand Prix events

AP
Leave a comment

Reigning World bronze medalist Vincent Zhou withdrew from his fall Grand Prix assignments, Cup of China and Rostelecom Cup, U.S. Figure Skating announced on Thursday.

“It’s really difficult to balance classes and training at the same time,” said Zhou, who is in the middle of his freshman year at Brown University. “I want to perform at the highest level on the ice and in the classroom, and I have not been able to dedicate the necessary time to my skating with my rigorous class schedule. Unfortunately, the timing of my midterms has fallen right in the middle of an important training period for me this fall. This was a tough decision because I love to perform in front of the fans, but this is the best decision for me right now.”

Cup of China is set for Nov. 8-10 in Chongqing, China, while Rostelecom Cup will take place in Moscow, Nov. 15-17. While Skate America concluded this weekend in Las Vegas, next weekend, the skating world turns to Kelowna, British Columbia for Skate Canada.

MORE: Final Skate America takeaways

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.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

2019-20 Alpine skiing season TV schedule

Getty Images
Leave a comment

NBC Sports and Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA will combine to air every Alpine skiing World Cup race this season.

Coverage is spread among NBC, NBCSN and Olympic Channel. Every race streams live on NBC Sports Gold’s “Snow Pass.”

Mikaela Shiffrin headlines the October-through-March circuit that includes stops in the U.S. (Killington, Vt., for the women and Beaver Creek, Colo., for the men).

Shiffrin eyes her fourth straight World Cup overall title — not done by a woman in 45 years — and will likely ascend to No. 3 on the career wins list behind Ingemar Stenmark and Lindsey Vonn.

The retirements of Vonn, Marcel Hirscher and Aksel Lund Svindal leave openings for other young skiers to fill as the Winter Olympic cycle hits its midpoint.

MORE: NBC Sports Gold launches 2019-20 Snow Pass

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

2019-20 Alpine skiing World Cup broadcast schedule

Date Time (ET) Event Network
Oct. 26 5 a.m. Women’s GS – Soelden NBC Sports Gold
Oct. 27 5 a.m. Men’s GS – Soelden NBC Sports Gold
Nov. 23 7 a.m. Women’s SL – Levi Olympic Channel
6 p.m.* Women’s SL – Levi NBCSN
Nov. 24 7 a.m. Men’s SL – Levi Olympic Channel
Nov. 30 12:30 p.m. Women’s GS – Killington NBCSN
2 p.m. Men’s DH — Lake Louise Olympic Channel
3:30 p.m.* Women’s GS – Killington NBC
6 p.m.* Women’s GS – Killington Olympic Channel
9 p.m.* Men’s DH — Lake Louise NBCSN
Dec. 1 12:30 p.m. Women’s SL – Killington NBC
2 p.m. Men’s SG — Lake Louise NBC
6 p.m.* Men’s SG — Lake Louise Olympic Channel
7:30 p.m.* Women’s SL – Killington NBCSN
Dec. 6 12:30 p.m. Men’s SG – Beaver Creek NBCSN
2:30 p.m. Women’s DH – Lake Louise Olympic Channel
11 p.m.* Women’s DH – Lake Louise NBCSN
Dec. 7 1 p.m. Men’s DH – Beaver Creek Olympic Channel
2:30 p.m. Women’s DH – Lake Louise Olympic Channel
11 p.m.* Men’s DH – Beaver Creek NBCSN
Dec. 8 1 p.m. Women’s SG – Lake Louise Olympic Channel
2:30 p.m. Men’s GS – Beaver Creek Olympic Channel
5 p.m.* Men’s GS – Beaver Creek NBC
6 p.m.* Women’s SG – Lake Louise NBCSN
Dec. 14 4:30 a.m. Women’s SG – St. Moritz Olympic Channel
7 a.m. Men’s GS — Val d’Isere Olympic Channel
9:30 p.m.* Women’s SG – St. Moritz NBCSN
Dec. 15 6:30 a.m. Men’s SL — Val d’Isere Olympic Channel
7:30 a.m. Women’s PSL – St. Moritz Olympic Channel
8 p.m.* Women’s PSL – St. Moritz NBCSN
Dec. 17 7:30 a.m. Women’s GS — Courchevel Olympic Channe
6 p.m.* Women’s GS — Courchevel NBCSN
Dec. 20 6 a.m. Men’s SG — Val Gardena Olympic Channel
Dec. 21 4:30 a.m. Women’s DH – Val d’Isere Olympic Channel
5:45 a.m. Men’s DH — Val Gardena Olympic Channel
8:30 p.m.* Men’s DH — Val Gardena NBCSN
Dec. 22 6 a.m. Men’s GS – Alta Badia Olympic Channel
7 a.m. Women’s SC – Val d’Isere Olympic Channel
7:30 p.m.* Women’s SC – Val d’Isere NBCSN
Dec. 23 12 p.m. Men’s PGS – Alta Badia Olympic Channel
Dec. 28 4:15 a.m. Women’s GS – Lienz NBC Sports Gold
5:30 a.m. Men’s DH — Bormio Olympic Channel
Dec. 29 4 a.m. Women’s SL — Lienz NBC Sports Gold
8 a.m. Men’s SC – Bormio Olympic Channel
Jan. 4 10 a.m. Women’s SL — Zagreb Olympic Channel
2 p.m.* Women’s SL — Zagreb NBCSN
Jan. 5 11:30 a.m. Men’s SL — Zagreb Olympic Channel
Jan. 6 1 a.m.* Men’s SL — Zagreb NBCSN
Jan. 8 2:30 p.m. Men’s SL – Madonna di Campiglio Olympic Channel
Jan. 11 5:45 a.m. Women’s DH — Altenmarkt NBC Sports Gold
7 a.m. Men’s GS — Adelboden Olympic Channel
11:30 p.m.* Men’s GS — Adelboden NBCSN
Jan. 12 3:15 a.m. Women’s SC — Altenmarkt NBC Sports Gold
7:30 a.m. Men’s SL — Adelboden Olympic Channel
Jan. 13 1 a.m.* Men’s SL — Adelboden NBCSN
Jan. 14 12 p.m.* Women’s SL — Flachau NBC Sports Gold
Jan. 17 8 a.m. Men’s SC — Wengen Olympic Channel
Jan. 18 6:30 a.m. Men’s DH — Wengen Olympic Channel
8 a.m. Women’s GS — Sestriere Olympic Channel
8 p.m.* Men’s DH — Wengen NBCSN
9 p.m.* Women’s GS — Sestriere NBCSN
Jan. 19 5:30 a.m. Women’s PSL — Sestriere Olympic Channel
7 a.m. Men’s SL — Wengen Olympic Channel
8 p.m.* Women’s PSL — Sestriere NBCSN
9 p.m.* Men’s SL — Wengen NBCSN
Jan. 24 5:30 a.m. Men’s SG — Kitzbuehel NBC Sports Gold
Jan. 25 3:30 a.m. Women’s DH – Bansko Olympic Channel
5:30 a.m. Men’s DH — Kitzbuehel NBC Sports Gold
9 a.m.* Women’s DH – Bansko NBCSN
Jan. 26 3 a.m. Women’s SG – Bansko Olympic Channel
4:30 a.m. Men’s SL — Kitzbuehel NBC Sports Gold
12:30 p.m.* Women’s SG – Bansko NBCSN
Jan. 27 1 p.m.* Men’s DH/SG – Kitzbuehel NBCSN
3 p.m.* Men’s SL – Kitzbuehel NBCSN
Jan. 28 11:45 a.m. Men’s SL — Schladming NBC Sports Gold
Feb. 1 3:30 a.m. Women’s DH — Rosa Khutor Olympic Channel
5:30 a.m. Men’s DH – Garmisch Olympic Channel
12:30 p.m.* Men’s DH – Garmisch NBCSN
Feb. 2 3 a.m. Women’s SG — Rosa Khutor Olympic Channel
7:30 a.m. Men’s GS – Garmisch Olympic Channel
4 p.m.* Men’s GS – Garmisch NBCSN
Feb. 8 5:30 a.m. Women’s DH — Garmisch Olympic Channel
7 a.m. Men’s SL – Chamonix Olympic Channel
2 p.m.* Women’s DH — Garmisch NBCSN
Feb. 9 5 a.m. Women’s SG – Garmisch Olympic Channel
7 a.m. Men’s PGS — Chamonix Olympic Channel
4:30 p.m.* Women’s SG – Garmisch NBCSN
Feb. 14 10 p.m. Men’s DH — Yanqing Olympic Channel
Feb. 15 7 a.m. Women’s GS – Maribor Olympic Channel
10 p.m. Men’s SG — Yanqing NBCSN
11:30 p.m.* Women’s GS — Maribor NBCSN
Feb. 16 7:30 a.m. Women’s SL — Maribor Olympic Channel
9:30 p.m.* Women’s SL — Maribor NBCSN
Feb. 21 11 p.m. Men’s GS — Naeba Olympic Channel
Feb. 22 4:30 a.m. Women’s DH — Crans-Montana Olympic Channel
11 p.m. Men’s SL — Naeba Olympic Channel
11:30 p.m.* Women’s DH — Crans-Montana NBCSN
Feb. 23 7:30 a.m. Women’s SC — Crans-Montana Olympic Channel
4:30 p.m.* Women’s SC — Crans-Montana NBCSN
Feb. 29 4:30 a.m. Women’s SG — La Thuile Olympic Channel
6:30 a.m. Men’s SG — Hinterstoder NBC Sports Gold
March 1 12 a.m.* Women’s SG — La Thuile NBCSN
3:45 a.m. Men’s SC — Hinterstoder NBC Sports Gold
8 a.m. Women’s SC — La Thuile Olympic Channel
March 7 5 a.m. Men’s DH — Kvitfjell Olympic Channel
6:30 a.m. Women’s GS — Ofterschwang Olympic Channel
March 8 12 a.m.* Women’s GS — Ofterschwang NBCSN
1 a.m.* Men’s DH — Kvitfjell NBCSN
4:30 a.m. Men’s SG — Kvitfjell Olympic Channel
6:30 a.m. Women’s SL — Ofterschwang Olympic Channel
March 9 1 a.m.* Women’s SL — Ofterschwang NBCSN
March 12 8 a.m. Women’s PSL — Are NBC Sports Gold
March 13 11 a.m. Women’s GS — Are Olympic Channel
5 p.m.* Women’s GS — Are NBCSN
March 14 10 a.m. Men’s GS — Kranjska Gora Olympic Channel
11 a.m. Women’s SL — Are Olympic Channel
March 15 3:30 a.m. Men’s SL — Kranjska Gora NBC Sports Gold
March 18 3:30 a.m. Men’s DH — World Cup Finals Olympic Channel
5 a.m. Women’s DH – World Cup Finals Olympic Channel
2:30 p.m.* Men’s DH — World Cup Finals NBCSN
3:30 p.m.* Women’s DH – World Cup Finals NBCSN
March 19 4 a.m. Women’s SG – World Cup Finals Olympic Channel
5 a.m. Men’s SG – World Cup Finals Olympic Channel
11 a.m.* Women’s SG – World Cup Finals NBCSN
March 20 6 a.m. Team Event – World Cup Finals Olympic Channel
11 a.m.* Team Event – World Cup Finals NBCSN
March 21 6 a.m. Men’s GS — World Cup Finals Olympic Channel
7 a.m. Women’s SL — World Cup Finals Olympic Channel
March 22 12 a.m.* Men’s GS — World Cup Finals NBCSN
1 a.m.* Women’s SL — World Cup Finals NBCSN
6 a.m. Women’s GS — World Cup Finals Olympic Channel
7 a.m. Men’s SL — World Cup Finals Olympic Channel
March 23 12 a.m.* Women’s GS – World Cup Finals NBCSN

*Delayed broadcast