Olympic figure skating stars discuss Pyeongchang plans


SOCHI, Russia – With figure skating complete at the 2014 Olympic Games, the biggest stars of the sport are unsure of what’s next – or if they’ll be in Pyeongchang four years from now.

“I don’t know how to explain what I’m going to do,” said Olympic champion Adelina Sotnikova through an interpreter. “We can’t predict the future. We want to take it one step at a time, so we’re not thinking about the Olympics.”

Sotnikova’s controversial upset win over South Korea’s Yuna Kim created a media storm. The day after she bubbled with excitement at a press conference, she was less definitive about the future of her career in an interview with NBCOlympics.com.

“I don’t know [if I’ll go to Pyeonchang],” the 17-year-old added. “Maybe. I would like to start to prepare for the next Olympic Games in one or two years. Right now I’m just happy because I won this gold medal for my country.”

Ice dancers Meryl Davis and Charlie White were unable to say what their future plans were, including if they would compete at the World Championships next month in Japan. The same went for their rivals and training partners, Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, who won the Olympic silver behind the Americans.

Yet Gracie Gold, the 18-year-old Chicago native who works with legendary coach Frank Carroll, was more forthcoming with her plans – and expectations.

RELATED: Frank Carroll is at another Olympics

“I want to finish off this season with a really strong World Championships,” Gold said after the gala exhibition. “I would like to win gold there and I think it’s a real possibility. We’ll sit down after and see what we can accomplish in the next four years.”

The reigning U.S. champion was fourth at the Olympics in singles after helping Team USA to bronze in the inaugural team event.

“Everyone has their dreams,” said Gold. “I don’t write my dreams down; they just live inside of me. My immediate goal is a medal, if not the gold in Pyeongchang. So much can change in four years, so I’ll just have to stick around.”

Gold, as well as teammates Ashley Wagner (22) and Polina Edmunds (15) have said they’ll stick around to try and qualify for Pyeongchang, as well.

Japan’s Mao Asada, who placed sixth after a disappointing short program put her in 16th, said she wasn’t sure if she’d make a third Olympic appearance.

“This time, my heart is very tired,” the 23-year-old, who won silver in Vancouver, told NBCOlympics.com. “My first Olympics I just wanted the gold medal, but this one was for me.”

Russia boasts a strong ladies crop – all under 18. In addition to Sotnikova, 15-year-old Yulia Lipnitskaya helped the team win gold earlier in the Games before placing fifth in the individual competition. Yelena Radiyonova, who turned 15 last month, was unable to compete in Sochi because of age restrictions.

“We have a very strong team for the next four years,” said Russian ice dancer Nikita Katsalapov, who won bronze with partner Yelena Ilinykh.

Bronze medalist Carolina Kostner, in her third Olympics, cautioned over-planning – or looking too far ahead.

“I think the best thing to do is to take it step by step,” said the 27-year-old Italian. “All you can do is try and improve on the little things season by season and that helps you make the big step.”

The bronze medalist in the men’s event, 20-year-old Denis Ten, was more sure of where he would be in four years’ time.

“I’m going to keep skating and expect that I’ll only get better and better. This isn’t my limit, I don’t think,” said Ten, who is also coached by Frank Carroll. “My dream is to go to Pyeongchang. It seems like four years are so far away but time will fly. At this moment I have nothing to say, but as the Olympics get closer, I’m sure I’ll have thoughts.”

“It starts now,” said Virtue, the Canadian ice dancer. “There’s always room for adaptation, but making a plan for Korea and then heading in that direction is the way to go.”

Her teammate, men’s silver medalist Patrick Chan, agreed.

“I wouldn’t suggest anyone looking four years ahead,” said the three-time world champion, who lost the gold to Japan’s Yuzuru Hanyu. “How many times have people planned so far ahead and things didn’t turn out right? When you start thinking about the future you start doubting and wondering and stressing. You should approach it year by year.”

2023 French Open men’s singles draw, scores

French Open Men's Draw
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The French Open men’s singles draw is missing injured 14-time champion Rafael Nadal for the first time since 2004, leaving the Coupe des Mousquetaires ripe for the taking.

The tournament airs live on NBC Sports, Peacock and Tennis Channel through championship points in Paris.

Novak Djokovic is not only bidding for a third crown at Roland Garros, but also to lift a 23rd Grand Slam singles trophy to break his tie with Nadal for the most in men’s history.

FRENCH OPEN: Broadcast Schedule | Women’s Draw

But the No. 1 seed is Spaniard Carlos Alcaraz, who won last year’s U.S. Open to become, at 19, the youngest man to win a major since Nadal’s first French Open title in 2005.

Now Alcaraz looks to become the second-youngest man to win at Roland Garros since 1989, after Nadal of course.

Alcaraz missed the Australian Open in January due to a right leg injury, but since went 30-3 with four titles. Notably, he has not faced Djokovic this year. They could meet in the semifinals.

Russian Daniil Medvedev, the No. 2 seed, was upset in the first round by 172nd-ranked Brazilian qualifier Thiago Seyboth Wild. It marked the first time a men’s top-two seed lost in the first round of any major since 2003 Wimbledon (Ivo Karlovic d. Lleyton Hewitt).

No. 9 Taylor Fritz, No. 12 Frances Tiafoe and No. 16 Tommy Paul are the highest-seeded Americans, all looking to become the first U.S. man to make the French Open quarterfinals since Andre Agassi in 2003. Since then, five different American men combined to make the fourth round on eight occasions.

MORE: All you need to know for 2023 French Open

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2023 French Open Men’s Singles Draw

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At the French Open, a Ukrainian mom makes her comeback


Ukraine’s Elina Svitolina, once the world’s third-ranked tennis player, is into the French Open third round in her first major tournament since childbirth.

Svitolina, 28, swept 2022 French Open semifinalist Martina Trevisan of Italy, then beat Australian qualifier Storm Hunter 2-6, 6-3, 6-1 to reach the last 32 at Roland Garros. She next plays 56th-ranked Russian Anna Blinkova, who took out the top French player, fifth seed Caroline Garcia, 4-6, 6-3, 7-5 on her ninth match point.

Svitolina’s husband, French player Gael Monfils, finished his first-round five-set win after midnight on Tuesday night/Wednesday morning. She watched that match on a computer before going to sleep ahead of her 11 a.m. start Wednesday.

“This morning, he told me, ‘I’m coming to your match, so make it worth it,'” she joked on Tennis Channel. “I was like, OK, no pressure.

“I don’t know what he’s doing here now. He should be resting.”

Also Wednesday, 108th-ranked Australian Thanasi Kokkinakis ousted three-time major champion Stan Wawrinka of Switzerland 3-6, 7-5, 6-3, 6-7 (4), 6-3 in four and a half hours. Wawrinka’s exit leaves Novak Djokovic as the lone man in the draw who has won the French Open and Djokovic and Carlos Alcaraz as the lone men left who have won any major.

The top seed Alcaraz beat 112th-ranked Taro Daniel of Japan 6-1, 3-6, 6-1, 6-2. The Spaniard gets 26th seed Denis Shapovalov of Canada in the third round. Djokovic, the No. 3 seed, swept 83rd-ranked Hungarian Marton Fucsovics 7-6 (2), 6-0, 6-3 to reach a third-round date with 29th seed Alejandro Davidovich Fokina of Spain.

FRENCH OPEN DRAWS: Women | Men | Broadcast Schedule

Svitolina made at least one major quarterfinal every year from 2017 through 2021, including the semifinals at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open in 2019. She married Monfils one week before the Tokyo Olympics, then won a singles bronze medal.

Svitolina played her last match before maternity leave on March 24, 2022, one month after Russia invaded her country. She gave birth to daughter Skai on Oct. 15.

Svitolina returned to competition in April. Last week, she won the tournament preceding the French Open, sweeping Blinkova to improve to 17-3 in her career in finals. She’s playing on a protected ranking of 27th after her year absence and, now, on a seven-match win streak.

“It was always in my head the plan to come back, but I didn’t put any pressure on myself, because obviously with the war going on, with the pregnancy, you never know how complicated it will go,” she said. “I’m as strong as I was before, maybe even stronger, because I feel that I can handle the work that I do off the court, and match by match I’m getting better. Also mentally, because mental can influence your physicality, as well.”

Svitolina said she’s motivated by goals to attain before she retires from the sport and to help Ukraine, such as donating her prize money from last week’s title in Strasbourg.

“These moments bring joy to people of Ukraine, to the kids as well, the kids who loved to play tennis before the war, and now maybe they don’t have the opportunity,” she said. “But these moments that can motivate them to look on the bright side and see these good moments and enjoy themselves as much as they can in this horrible situation.”

Svitolina was born in Odesa and has lived in Kharkiv, two cities that have been attacked by Russia.

“I talk a lot with my friends, with my family back in Ukraine, and it’s a horrible thing, but they are used to it now,” she said. “They are used to the alarms that are on. As soon as they hear something, they go to the bomb shelters. Sleepless nights. You know, it’s a terrible thing, but they tell me that now it’s a part of their life, which is very, very sad.”

Svitolina noted that she plays with a flag next to her name — unlike the Russians and Belarusians, who are allowed to play as neutral athletes.

“When I step on the court, I just try to think about the fighting spirit that all of us Ukrainians have and how Ukrainians are fighting for their values, for their freedom in Ukraine,” she said, “and me, I’m fighting here on my own front line.”

Svitolina said that she’s noticed “a lot of rubbish” concerning how tennis is reacting to the war.

“We have to focus on what the main point of what is going on,” she said. “Ukrainian people need help and need support. We are focusing on so many things like empty words, empty things that are not helping the situation, not helping anything.

“I want to invite everyone to focus on helping Ukrainians. That’s the main point of this, to help kids, to help women who lost their husbands because they are at the war, and they are fighting for Ukraine.

“You can donate. Couple of dollars might help and save lives. Or donate your time to something to help people.”

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