Reality show becomes possible road to Olympics

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COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) — The fact that Josh Williamson hadn’t stepped on ice until about a month ago hardly makes him an ideal candidate to become an Olympic bobsledder.

Then again, if Williamson completes the journey from the lacrosse fields in Florida to a bobsled track in Pyeongchang next year – or Beijing in 2022 – he will, in more than one way, be rewriting the script about how an American can become an Olympian.

He is one of eight athletes who have taken the newly opened reality-show route to earn a spot on a U.S. national team camp, which is where America’s Olympians are eventually chosen. Williamson was one of about 3,000 athletes who signed up at a 24 Hour Fitness, passed the initial tryout phase, then made the cut down to 91 athletes, who were invited to the Olympic Training Center for a made-for-TV tryout camp.

From there, eight made national team camps for rugby, track cycling, bobsled and skeleton. Those athletes’ names were announced at the end of a reality show that aired Friday night on NBCSN called “Scouting Camp: The Next Olympic Hopeful.” NBCSN will re-air “Scouting Camp: The Next Olympic Hopeful” at 8:30 p.m. ET on Tuesday, Aug. 29.

“I think the reason I’ve enjoyed it so much is because I haven’t expected any of it,” Williamson said. “I thought I’d go out, do my best, and with the work, some things have fallen in my lap.”

The 20-year-old Williamson grew up in Orlando, Florida, and traded in football pads for a lacrosse stick in junior high. He went to Mercer University in Georgia to play, but a series of injuries chased him out of the sport.

Back in Florida, he enrolled at Florida State and started working on a degree in finance. But he was a workout junkie, and never gave up on his dreams of making something more out of that. Williamson was planning on attending a bobsledding combine in August, when he heard about the U.S. Olympic Committee’s program.

Williamson signed up, and once in Colorado Springs for the training camp, it didn’t take long for U.S. bobsled coach Brian Shimer to recognize his talent.

“He’s only 20 years old, and very seldom do we get an athlete of that quality at that age,” Shimer said. “His speed, his strength, his power, the push, he’s everything we want to see in a bobsled athlete.”

Besides the eight winners, 23 athletes were invited to continue training in their respective sports.

The USOC’s director of sport performance, Alan Ashley, said this is an out-of-the-box way of identifying elite athletes – football players, runners and the like – whose skills might translate into an Olympic sport, many of which don’t get the mainstream attention as football, basketball, baseball and hockey in America.

“We’ve always believed in `talent transfer’ – high-level athletes who may not make it in one sport but could try out in another,” Ashley said. “But when you think about all the college athletes out there, this could be a stepping stone for people to think about this in a different way.”

Exhibit A could be Williamson, who participated in last month’s National Push Championships in Calgary, and has plans to work out with the U.S. team in Lake Placid, New York, next week. The Winter Olympics are less than six months away, and a spot on the team isn’t completely out of the question. The 2022 Games in Beijing might be more realistic.

Steve Langton, Lou Moreria, these are guys I follow through Instagram, and now I’m there with them,” Williamson said of two of the best push athletes in the United States. “These are kind of my heroes, and I’m sitting next to them trying to compete. I figure no matter how I did, that was enough for me.”

However far he goes, Williamson can already say he made it to the Big Time, at least in a way.

On the reality show, he was a survivor.

“It was interesting, is the best way to put it,” he said of having the tryouts shot for packaging into the two-hour documentary-style program. “It’s harder for them, and sometimes they’d have to do a bunch of takes to make it look good on TV. The difference is, in athletics, you only get one shot at it.”

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Alysa Liu repeats as U.S. figure skating champion at age 14

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Alysa Liu repeated as U.S. figure skating champion, continuing her build toward the 2022 Beijing Olympics by becoming the first woman to land a quadruple jump (albeit under-rotated) at the national championships.

Liu, who last year became the youngest U.S. champion in history at 13, rallied from a short-program deficit to distance Mariah Bell by 10.31 points in Greensboro, N.C. Liu became the first repeat women’s champion since Ashley Wagner in 2013, performing under pressure as the last skater going after Bell brought the house down.

“I was like, wow,” Liu said of Bell. “I was kind of clapping along with the crowd. I guess I was kind of inspired by her emotion and her happiness. I guess that inspired me at the end of my program to relax and be happy and just kind of be aware of the moment.”

Bradie Tennell, the short-program leader, dropped to third after falling on a triple loop.

The night’s emotional moment occurred two hours earlier. Gracie Gold, in her first nationals in three years, was brought to tears after coming back from an eating disorder, depression and anxiety.

“The full arena pulling for my existence, like, on the ice,” said Gold, who finished 12th, lacking the most difficult jumping combinations but determined to continue next season. “I want everything now when I demand it, but I have to remind myself of that it is a progression. And next, we just kind of keep the train going.”

More on Gold’s night here.

Nationals continue Saturday with the pairs’ free skate, free dance and the men’s short program, live on NBC Sports.

NATIONALS: TV Schedule | Full Results

Liu nailed a pair of triple Axels — as she did last year — and (barely) an under-rotated quad Lutz in her free skate. No other active U.S. senior woman has landed either of those jumps in competition. At least one is necessary to contend with the world’s best — Russians competing at the European Championships this week.

Liu is too young to compete on the senior international level until the 2022 Olympic season. She ranks third in the world among junior skaters this season, behind two Russians, going into March’s junior world championships.

Bell, the oldest skater in the last group at 23, had her best nationals result after bronze medals in 2017 and 2019. She skated clean with seven triple jumps, much to the delight of her coaches at rink level — Rafael Arutunian and Olympian Adam Rippon.

Tennell, who couldn’t bend one of her arms on Wednesday, fell on the last of her 10 jumps in the free skate, a triple loop.

For the second straight year, Tennell topped the nationals short program, fell in the free skate and dropped down the podium. Stunning given Tennell broke through in the 2017-18 season as the only elite international skater without a fall going into the Olympics.

Bell and Tennell, the 2018 U.S. champion, will likely make up March’s senior world team for a second straight year. A U.S. Figure Skating committee makes that decision.

Earlier, Madison Chock and Evan Bates topped the rhythm dance with 87.63 points, taking a 1.32-point lead over two-time defending champions Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue going into Saturday’s free dance. They could become the first U.S. skater, couple or pair to go five years between national titles in many decades.

Chock and Bates came out of the Sochi Olympics as the top U.S. couple, succeeding Meryl Davis and Charlie White. But they fell behind both Hubbell and Donohue and Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani going into the PyeongChang Olympics.

After that, Chock underwent ankle surgery. The couple moved from Michigan to Montreal. They now train with Hubbell and Donohue and world champions Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron.

“We’re just finding our groove right now,” Bates said. “It feels like we’re just having a bit of a renaissance with our career.”

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MORE: Vincent Zhou put Ivy League classes on hold to return to figure skating

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.

Gracie Gold in tears at figure skating nationals after emotional comeback

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GREENSBORO, N.C. – Gracie Gold received a standing ovation from the crowd inside the Greensboro Coliseum after her free skate Friday night. It was her first nationals performance in three years after time away from the sport to treat depression, anxiety and an eating disorder.

“Truthfully, I was almost so overwhelmed that I was just very much existing in the moment because I couldn’t exist anywhere else,” she said of being brought to tears at center ice when her program concluded. “Then, obviously, the audience reaction I felt like was very powerful.”

Gold has received other standing ovations in the past, at the conclusions of her two national title-winning free skates in 2014 and 2016.

“It reminded me a little bit more of 2014, where, yes, I had skated well but people were also standing because it was semi-clear that I had won aka I had qualified for the Olympics,” she said. “People were up before the end. It had that kind of energy where even as I was getting into the knee slide, it felt like it got bigger. Obviously, the skating didn’t warrant a full-arena standing ‘O.’ It didn’t.”

She was 13th after Thursday’s short program and 12th overall in a field of 18 skaters. In her free skate, set to Sara Bareilles’ “She Used to be Mine,” Gold landed four triple jumps but several planned triples ended up doubles or singles.

Eagle-eyed fans might have noticed a moth tattoo peaking out of her costume. She explained that she got it during her retirement, and it had a special meaning.

“It’s representative of a moment that I had in treatment with some of the other girls,” she said. “We were discussing tattoos, and a lot of them had different ink. One had had a skull, and she was gonna change it into a moth. I asked her, why a moth? She said, ‘It’s because they always find the light.’ I kid you not, a large black moth came and landed in the middle of our table and didn’t move. So, in retirement, I of course found my way into a tattoo parlor. And yes, now I have a piece.”

Audiences haven’t seen the last of her, she said. Gold isn’t finished with the comeback and has plans to skate next season.

“I think we’ve earned that,” she said.

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NATIONALS: TV Schedule | Full Results

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.