Figures skaters use Olympics as regular reunion

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SOCHI, Russia – Olympic sports are different compared to their counterparts that gather on a yearly basis: Every four years the Games act as a certain kind of class reunion. This is the time that they’re sport – and themselves – are back in the spotlight for a short amount of time.

Figure skating is no different. In fact, it may the standout of the bunch.

There’s Katarina Witt, sitting in the TV booth doing commentary and watching if Yuna Kim can match her back-to-back Olympic gold mark. She somehow looks better than when she did in 1988 in Calgary, some 24 years ago.

There’s Tara Lipinski, 16 years after being a 15-year-old champion, calling the action for NBC Sports alongside fellow former Olympian Johnny Weir. The duo might win new golds for commentary glamor. Which somehow is a new event.

VIDEO: Watch the complete free skate replay

Scott Hamilton is also in the booth, as he has been for almost every Games since his memorable win in 1984 in Sarajevo. Paul Wylie runs back and forth to the media mixed zone, the 1992 silver medalist grabbing quotes and doing radio spots, his petite frame holding a microphone over the interview barrier.

“I was a long-program skater, too,” he tells Gracie Gold one night, reassuring her. On another he’s greeted warmly American ice dancers Meryl Davis and Charlie White, themselves new gold-medal winners.

At the practice rink, too, a close look in the crowd means several recognizable – and historic – faces: 2010 Olympic champion Evan Lysacek chats with two-time medalist Michelle Kwan while Jeremy Abbott works on his short program. Two-time silver medalist Elvis Stojko of Canada watches too, his brow furrowed as he studies the skaters on the ice.

VIDEO: Compare routines of Adelina Sotnikova and Yuna Kim

Russia’s Irina Slutskaya and Joannie Rochette of Canada, three medals between them, watch from the broadcasters’ booth as Adelina Sotnikova delivers a gold on Thursday night. Afterwards Slutskaya gets a picture with Lipinski, a then-and-now side-by-side.

Viktor Petrenko is at the boards, coaching both the Czech Republic’s Michal Brezina in the men’s event. Tanith Belbin, the U.S. ice dancer who won silver in 2006, interviews Maia Shibutani at one point in the seats of the Iceberg Skating Palace, talking about Maia’s free skate costume as it glitters under the TV lights.

Nancy Kerrigan happens through practice one day, the 1994 silver medalist watching 15-year-old American Polina Edmunds with curiosity, eventually making her way down to the mixed zone to observe the teen in press.

VIDEO: Sneak peek of Sunday’s Kerrigan-Harding documentary

Two-time Olympic silver medalist Brian Orser coaches Yuzuru Hanyu to gold, Japan’s first-ever men’s singles winner. It’s four years after Orser led Yuna Kim to gold in the ladies’ event. But here, he has to console another skater, Javier Fernandez of Spain, who finishes fourth in the men’s event.

And Kristi Yamaguchi, winner of gold in 1992, does spots around the grounds for different TV engagements, just over 20 years after her victory – at the age of 20.

“Every four years it’s amazing to be able to come back and be able to be a part of the Olympic movement,” Yamaguchi says. “We share similar experiences – there’s a bond. Whether you’ve won a medal or not, you’ve been to battle together. It’s something very special.”

Simone Biles returns to the gym, going from mental drain to physical pain

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For Simone Biles, this was supposed to be the stretch run of a legendary career.

Instead, she returned to her gym on May 18 with long-term thoughts of waiting 14 months until the Tokyo Olympics. And the immediate aches of a world-class gymnast who just missed nearly two months of regular training.

“After that amount of time off, it kind of sucks because your body hurts and then you get really sore,” Biles said in a pre-recorded ESPNW interview that aired Thursday. “So you just have to get back into the swing of things. But it felt nice to see my coaches, my teammates, and just to be back on the equipment and in the environment.”

In that same Texas gym three months ago, Biles had a far different outlook. One that would have put fear into any gymnast who still harbored ambition of ending her near-seven-year win streak.

“I never felt more ready this early in the season,” she said. “I was so ready for the Olympics to be this year.”

Biles repeated in interviews the last two months that the Olympic postponement to 2021 was devastating. Thoughts zig-zagged: How do I go on another year, at age 23, in a sport recently dominated by (but not limited to) teenagers?

“I’m getting pretty old,” she said in the interview published Thursday. “Will I be at the top of my game?”

Biles proved the last two years — after a year off — that she can win — and comfortably — while not at her best. She grabbed the 2018 World all-around title by a record margin — with two falls. Last year, she became the most decorated gymnast in world championships history. In Tokyo, she can become the first woman to repeat as Olympic all-around champion, and the only one older than 20, in more than 50 years.

This for a gymnast whose early goal was to earn a college scholarship. Biles did, to UCLA, but had to give it up by turning professional.

“So I’ve exceeded that,” Biles said. “And then I wanted to go to world championships and Olympics, and I’ve been to five worlds and one Olympic Games. So, I’d be more than happy [to walk away].”

After gymnastics, Biles has another goal — to be a voice for foster kids. She was in foster care multiple times before being adopted at age 6 by grandparents Ron and Nellie.

Those plans, along with so much else for Biles and so many others, have been pushed back a full year.

“I was already being mentally drained and almost, not done with the sport, but just going into the gym and feeling tired and being like, OK, I’m going to get my stuff [done], get out,” she said. “We have this one end goal, and now that it’s postponed another [year], it’s just like, how are we going to deal with that? We’re already being drained, and so it’s to keep the fire in the sport within yourself alive.”

MORE: Top U.S. gymnasts disagree with Tokyo Olympic age rule

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2022 Pan Pacific Championships canceled as swimming calendar shifts

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The Pan Pacific Swimming Championships, a quadrennial major international meet, will not be held in 2022 “out of respect for the recent changes to the international sporting calendar,” according to a press release.

The Pan Pacs’ charter nations — the U.S., Australia, Canada and Japan — agreed to the move. The 2026 event will be held in Canada, which was supposed to be the 2022 host.

The decision came after the 2021 World Championships were moved to May 2022, following the Tokyo Olympics moving from 2020 to 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic. The quadrennial multi-sport Commonwealth Games — which includes Australia and Canada, but not the U.S. or Japan — are scheduled for July 27-Aug. 7, 2022.

“Organizing a third major championships in that window presented several challenges,” according to the Pan Pacs release.

Pan Pacs mark the third-biggest major international meet for U.S. swimmers, held in non-Olympic, non-world championships years.

MORE: Caeleb Dressel co-hosts a podcast. It’s not about swimming.

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