Jason Brown

U.S. figure skaters mixed on adding lyrics for next season

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Figure skaters have the option of performing to vocal music with lyrics next season, but top U.S. skaters aren’t committing to change just yet.

Olympians Jason BrownGracie Gold and Polina Edmunds said they would stick to music without lyrics for next season.

“I have no idea how people are going to utilize it and what they’re going to do,” Brown said, taking a wait-and-see approach.

Brown’s coach, Kori Ade, told The New York Times in February that she thought the idea would come off “really corny” and was afraid people would attempt it poorly, making the sport “look even stupider.”

The reigning U.S. champion Gold said she wants to see how judges react to the skaters who do skate to vocal music before she gives it a shot.

“We’ll let people experiment before me,” Gold said, “but maybe in a couple years.”

Edmunds said she had not thought about the new International Skating Union rule, which goes into effect for men, women and pairs. It had already been allowed in ice dance.

“But I think I’m going to keep it the classic way,” Edmunds said. “I think it’ll be interesting to see what everyone does with it.”

Two-time U.S. champion Ashley Wagner, with more senior experience than Brown, Gold and Edmunds, said she hasn’t decided if she will embrace the change yet.

“I think that it really is going to require a fine balance,” she said. “It needs to be done tastefully. I’m just so traditional when it comes to figure skating. Yeah, it’ll be awesome to have that extra choice. We’ll see. I think it would be really cool to bring some classic rock in with the lyrics. That would be really awesome. It would bring in a new crowd to figure skating.”

One skater bursting with excitement is Josh Farris, the 2013 world junior champion who finished fourth at the U.S. Championships in January. Farris is considering John Mayer or Jason Mraz songs.

“I really want to [skate to lyrics],” he said. “I’ve been talking with my coaches about it. I think it’s a great idea. I want to do something that’s light hearted.”

But Farris also cautioned.

“I think I need to get opinions of the officials,” he said.

Jeremy Abbott ‘kind of on the fence’ about retiring

Bernard Lagat reminded of Atlanta Games at U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials

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ATLANTA — As 45-year-old Bernard Lagat sat inside a hotel overlooking Centennial Olympic Park, he spoke one sentence that prefaced the start of his Olympic journey more than two decades ago.

“We are doing this in a special place,” he said of the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials, which finish at the park on Saturday (12 p.m. ET, NBC, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app).

Lagat is an underdog, but has a chance to make a sixth Olympic team by placing in the top three. He can break his own record as the oldest U.S. Olympic runner in history.

Lagat was reminded this week of the Atlanta Olympics that got away.

In 1996, the Kenyan-born runner was coming off his freshman year at Jomo Kenyatta University Agriculture and Technology in Nairobi. He studied mathematics and computer science.

Lagat debuted at the Kenyan Olympic Trials. He remembered finishing seventh in the 1500m, having exhausted himself by clocking a 3:37 semifinal.

“They had fancy shoes, nice clothing,” he said of the pros. “Me, I was like hand-me-down spikes.”

Lagat’s coach at the time, Nganga Ngata, arranged for him to transfer to Washington State later that summer. But first, Lagat watched on TV the Olympic 1500m final — famous for then-world-record holder Noureddine Morceli and current world-record holder Hicham El Guerrouj making contact at the bell; El Guerrouj fell, Morceli won.

Days later, Lagat headed to Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi. He was to fly to the United States for the first time, embarking on a journey that would lead to U.S. Olympic teams in 2008, 2012 and 2016 after he represented Kenya in 2000 and 2004.

Before a 21-year-old Lagat boarded his flight, he encountered a reception. The Kenyan Olympic team was arriving back from Atlanta after collecting eight medals, including in every men’s distance-running event.

“They had all these celebrations, traditional milk and the gourds,” Lagat said. “Oh, it was amazing. … That fire, seeing them coming home with medals, and I thought, I want to be like those guys.”

Lagat went on to earn eight combined Olympic and world championships medals between the 1500m and 5000m. Lagat qualified for one last Olympics on the track in 2016, going from sixth place at the bell to win the trials 5000m. He was fifth in Rio.

Then he turned to the marathon. Lagat has raced two of them. He clocked 2:17:20 in New York City in 2018, saying he was “running blind” with inexperience. He ran 2:12:10 at the 2019 Gold Coast Marathon in Australia, ranking him outside the 20 fastest Americans in this Olympic cycle.

Lagat went back to Kenya last month to train for the trials with the likes of world-record holder Eliud Kipchoge. Lagat soaked up so much that he likened it to a six-week school term.

At one point, Lagat was part of a 30km training run with Kipchoge. By the end he rounded a bend and saw the Olympic favorite just 60 seconds ahead.

“You think about Eliud being 60 seconds ahead of you in a 30K?” an incredulous Lagat said. “I thought, I’m done. Now I can buy my flight and go back to USA. I’m ready.”

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Chris Lillis, after missing Olympics, back atop aerials podium

Andrey Kulagin
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U.S. men’s aerials skiers had gone four years between World Cup victories. Now, they’ve won back-to-back events.

Chris Lillis prevailed in Kazakhstan on Friday, six days after Justin Schoenefeld ended the U.S.’ longest men’s victory drought since aerials became an Olympic medal sport in 1994.

Lillis, the 21-year-old brother of 2017 World champion Jon Lillis, landed a double full-full-full in the super final to score 121.27 points. Full results are here. He beat a field that included Schoenefeld (sixth place) and his older brother (14th) but lacked the world’s best from China and Russia.

“That was definitely one of the best jumps of my career,” Chris Lillis said. “Moving forward I’m feeling deadly.”

Chris has earned back-to-back World Cup podiums, his first top-three finishes since missing the PyeongChang Olympics with a torn ACL.

Also Friday, American Megan Nick finished second in the women’s event for her second runner-up this season. The last U.S. woman to win a World Cup was Kiley McKinnon on Jan. 6, 2018.

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