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Norway Olympic curling team unveils this year’s crazy pants

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Just in case the sweeping and the shouting and the chess-like strategy isn’t enough to draw in the fans at the Olympics, the Norwegian curling team is again calling on its secret weapon.

Crazy pants!

For the third straight Winter Games, the men’s team from Norway will be shaking up the staid, 600-year-old sport by wearing brightly colored trousers in competition.

Among the uniforms for PyeongChang unveiled on Tuesday is one that makes them look like they were the losing team in a patriotic paintball outing.

“Curling is kind of similar to golf, very traditional,” Norwegian second Christoffer Svae said in a telephone interview from New York, where the team — well, mostly the pants — was doing a media blitz. “When we started playing in colored pants, it was breaking tradition. It was turning heads, for sure.”

The pants first attracted attention at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, where they debuted as a red, white and blue argyle in a field filled with black or other dark trousers.

They — the pants, not the curlers — soon had a Facebook page that now has nearly 500,000 followers and its own email address to field media inquiries.

Back then, the team just ordered and paid for the pants off the rack, but it soon became a sponsorship opportunity.

Loudmouth, which had mostly marketed toward golfers, signed on for the Sochi Games and designed pants just for the team, including a pattern featuring the Norwegian flag and another outfit with high socks and knickers.

The company, which declined through a spokeswoman to comment on the value of the deal, has also backed an American beach volleyball team at the London Olympics, golfer John Daly and Peter “Snakebite” Wright, the No. 2 darts player in the world.

But its biggest splash has come with the Norwegian curlers, and it is backing them again in PyeongChang.

Svae said they will have 12 different outfits — enough to get them through the medal round — and some cash to pay for travel and other expenses.

In a niche, largely self-funded sport like curling, that comes in handy.

“It’s huge,” Svae said. “We get funding from Loudmouth to cover travel expenses, and also the fame we get from the Loudmouth clothes get us other sponsors in Norway, because they want to be associated with the brand we’ve made.”

In addition to Svae, the team includes lead Haavard Vad Petersson, vice-skip Torger Nergaard and skip Thomas Ulsrud.

They will be attending their third straight Olympics, having won a silver medal in Vancouver. (Nergaard won gold as part of a different foursome in 2002).

As the idea man behind the pants phenomenon, Svae said there is more to it than just free publicity.

Curlers understand that the gimmicks might call attention to their sport, but they hope that people who tune in for the pants will take a liking to it.

“I think all curlers are eager to promote the sport,” he said.

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VIDEO: Minnesota Vikings celebrate TD by curling

Members of the Norwegian men’s Olympic curling team, from left Christoffer Svae, Thomas Ulsrud, Haavard Peterson and Torger Nergaard pose in their unique uniforms, Tuesday Jan. 23, 2018, in New York. The team is expected to be a fan favorite for a third straight Olympics, thanks to the brightly colored pants that stand out. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

 

Members of the Norwegian men’s Olympic curling team, from left, Christoffer Svae, Thomas Ulsrud, Haavard Peterson and Torger Nergaard pose in their unique uniforms, Tuesday Jan. 23, 2018, in New York. The team is expected to be a fan favorite for a third straight Olympics, thanks to the brightly colored pants that stand out. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

Chock and Bates step out to slim lead over longtime rivals Hubbell and Donohue

Chock and Bates
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When this reporter asked Madison Chock and Evan Bates, and Madison Hubbell and Zach Donohue, about the near decade-long rivalry that has shaped their ice dance careers, Hubbell laughed out loud.

“My rivalry with Evan Bates has been going on much longer than 10 years,” she said. “Don’t count the years, because we’re getting old.”

Hubbell, 28, was right, of course. Both she and the 31-year-old Bates hail from southeast Michigan, where they squared off in competitions throughout their childhoods. In 2005, the year Bates won the U.S. novice title with former partner Emily Samuelson, Hubbell and older brother Keiffer placed fifth.

Fast forward 15 years and they’re still at it. The teams have squared off at the U.S. Championships eight times; Chock and Bates hold a 5-3 edge in placements, but Hubbell and Donohue have won the last two U.S. titles. Along the way, each couple has won two world medals.

Since last season, they have trained together at Gadbois Centre in Montreal, sharing coaches Marie-France Dubreuil, Patrice Lauzon and Romain Haguenauer.

“(The two teams) are pretty much on the ice almost every day, at least one session at the same time,” Lauzon said, adding that he doesn’t plan it that way. “I rarely pay attention to whether they are training together or not. It more has to so with fitting with their own schedule, and which coach they have to see that day.”

“I think (training together) has really brought all of us up to the next level of skating,” Chock, 27, said. “We will continue to progress together for the rest of our careers, just because we respect each other so much. We look to each other in training for motivation, and it’s been really beneficial.”

Would either team be as successful, without the other couple to push them every step of the way?

“That’s a hard question to answer,” Lauzon said. “It’s a benefit when teams are able to train together and push each other. It definitely helps to keep yourself motivated and on the ice. Everyone in our centre so far has been able to cope pretty well with it, grow from the experience.”

On Friday, the teams squared off for the ninth time at a U.S. Figure Skating Championships, taking the ice in Greensboro, North Carolina for the rhythm dance event. Both skated upbeat, electric programs to musical theatre standards; this time, Chock and Bates prevailed, 87.63 points to 86.31.

“I think it’s as free and spontaneous as we’ve been in this program all season,” Bates said of the team’s routine to Cole Porter’s “It’s Too Darn Hot.”

It was not without error. Chock made a noticeable slip on a twizzle (fast turn) in a step sequence, but caught herself and quickly got back on track.

“I was trying to make sure my edge was deep enough,” she said. “I  just tipped over, and I was like, ‘at least this is an outside edge, it could be worse, keep going,’” Chock said.

The error didn’t drop the level (base value) of the element, but it probably cost a few points from the judges.

“It hurt a bit,” Lauzon said. “It hurt the GOEs (Grades of Execution), which I think were around +2. If they didn’t have it, they probably would have got some +4’s.”

NATIONALS: TV Schedule | Full Results

Hubbell and Donohue’s program to a Marilyn Monroe/Joe DiMaggio inspired medley showed off their star power and flowing edges.

“Zach and I went in with the intention of attacking the program,” Hubbell said. “We’ve been working a lot on speed and the dynamic quality of our skating. There were some technical mistakes today, but we’re glad to work those kinks out here. … Sometimes it’s good to get a wake-up call before the end of the year.”

Besides a few very minor slips on steps, the defending champions lost ground when the technical panel rated their straight-line lift Level 3, a shade lower than it usually merits.

“That was a surprise,” Lauzon said. “That lift has been in the program a while. It got the Level 4 everywhere else, so I was surprised to see that.”

The top two teams’ training partners in Montreal, Kaitlyn Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker, stole the show with their fast and fabulous rhythm dance to selections from Saturday Night Fever. The program earned 82.59 points and the only standing ovation of the event.

“We are focusing on not just the technical, but we want to have a lot of fun,” Baker said. “We want the audience to have just as much fun with us, have a three-minute break in their life and maybe enjoy the memories they have had with these songs, step away from their lives and have fun.”

“Even at seven in the morning, when it’s negative 10 degrees out in Montreal, there’s something about the music, the program, the genre,” Hawayek said. “Our mantra for the year with this program is ‘spark joy,’ and it most definitely sparks joy.”

Christina Carreira and Anthony Ponomarenko, who train in Novi, Michigan with Igor Shpilband’s group, sit fourth with 78.02 points. The first-year pairing of Caroline Green and Michael Parsons earned 77.42 points for fifth place.

Barring a large upset, after the free dance on Saturday, Hubbell and Donohue will win their third consecutive U.S. title, or Chock and Bates will reclaim the crown they won in 2015. And another chapter will be written.

“You know, it’s not that we’re skating against each other,” Hubbell said. “It’s just that we want to win, and they want to win, and there can only be one winner.”

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MORE: Gracie Gold in tears at figure skating nationals after emotional comeback

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.

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.