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Mike Krzyzewski on his Rio Olympic wish list, LeBron James in 2020

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NEW YORK — Mike Krzyzewski, who stepped down as U.S. Olympic men’s basketball coach after three titles, made a rare appearance with Winter Olympians at the Figure Skating in Harlem Gala last week. There, he answered questions about Olympic basketball and why he was at a figure skating party …

OlympicTalk: Coach K and figure skating. How does that go together?

Krzyzewski: One of our dearest group of friends is Doug and Ellie Lowey [co-chairs of the Figure Skating in Harlem Gala]. And [businesswoman and gala honoree] Elaine Wynn has been one of our dearest friends forever. But the concept [of Figure Skating in Harlem] is what turns you on. We have a similar thing in Durham with the Emily Krzyzewski Center, helping first-generation kids who might want to go to college, to help them. This is such a unique idea. So, really [I’m here] in recognition to our friends, the Loweys. Then I’m going to introduce one of the honorees, Mrs. Wynn, who’s a dear friend.

OlympicTalk: What one thing would you change about Olympic basketball?

Krzyzewski: Well, I love our [Olympic] format. I don’t like the changes they just made, where the world championships [or world cup] are in 2019 instead of this summer [worlds, held every four years like the Olympics, used to be held midway between Olympics]. I liked the old format better, but I love international basketball and how well our game is played everywhere. Twenty-five percent of the NBA is international, and that will only continue to increase.

OlympicTalk: Why did you like the old worlds timing (2006, 2010, 2014) better than the new one (2019, 2023)?

Krzyzewski: I just think it gave the worlds even more recognition, instead of a prelude to the Olympics. It was its own entity. The world championships, there are 24 countries involved [expanding next summer to 32]. In the Olympics, there are 12. So, it’s different. The other thing I liked about it is when we won the gold medal, the coaches actually got one [gold medal] at the world championships [laughs].

OlympicTalk: Any players ever offer you their Olympic gold medal? Or USA Basketball make an extra one for you?

Krzyzewski: Oh, they do make an extra one, USA Basketball. And I’m good with all that. The coach has an auxiliary role, really, as compared to the players.

OlympicTalk: So you have three Olympic gold medals? What about when you were an assistant with the Dream Team in 1992?

Krzyzewski: I don’t have them from the Dream Team in 1992, but I do from Beijing, London and Rio, the teams that I [head] coached.

OlympicTalk: Say Olympic rosters were 13 players instead of 12. Who would you add to any of the 2008, 2012 or 2016 Olympic teams?

Krzyzewski: I would have liked to have LeBron [James] and Kobe [Bryant] for the 2016 team in Rio. But for those guys to make the commitments they do, after playing over 100 games for the year, is phenomenal. To get Carmelo Anthony, who did it three times, LeBron and Chris Paul twice, Kevin Durant twice and also a world championship, it’s an incredible commitment by all those guys.

Editor’s Note: Anthony and James also played for Larry Brown at the 2004 Olympics, where the U.S. took bronze. Bryant removed himself from Rio consideration in January 2016, his farewell NBA season, to give a younger star an opportunity at a gold medal. James passed on the Rio Olympics, citing the need for rest after winning the 2016 NBA title with the Cleveland Cavaliers, a decision Krzyzewski respected. James said in January 2017 that Gregg Popovich succeeding Krzyzewski as Olympic head coach in 2020 “factors a lot” in whether he’ll want to play. James has called Popovich “the greatest coach of all time.” Krzyzewski is staying on with USA Basketball in an advisory role.

OlympicTalk: Do you think LeBron will play for Gregg Popovich at Tokyo 2020?

Krzyzewski: I don’t know. You know what, once you served, it’s a big thing to serve again. We should not put any pressure on those guys to serve again. However, if they want to, our arms are open wide to hug them. But Pop will do an amazing job.

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MORE: USA Basketball names Olympic men’s player pool

Alina Zagitova wins Rostelecom Cup; Gracie Gold withdraws

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Olympic champion Alina Zagitova dominated the Rostelecom Cup, while Gracie Gold withdrew before Saturday’s free skate at her first competition in 22 months, citing emotional stress.

Zagitova skated a flawed free, but still totaled 222.95 points and prevailed by 24.94 over countrywoman Sofia Samodurova. Zagitova qualified for December’s Grand Prix Final, the second-biggest annual international competition, which takes the top six skaters from the fall Grand Prix Series.

Gold, coming back from treatment for anxiety, depression and an eating disorder, was in last place of 10 skaters after struggling with jumps in Friday’s short program.

Gold, a Sochi Olympian and two-time U.S. champion, later tweeted that she withdrew because competing in the free skate would be damaging to her mental health and confidence.

“It was a difficult decision to make, but ultimately I need to put my mental health first and focus on the big picture,” was tweeted from Gold’s account. “Looking forward, I need to keep improving both my physical and mental condition. I thought checking into treatment last fall was the most difficult thing I’ve ever done, but skating my short program last night might have topped it. I do not want to undo the tremendous progress I’ve made in these last few months.”

The Grand Prix season continues next week with Nathan Chen headlining Internationaux de France, the last event before the Grand Prix Final.

ROSTELECOM CUP: Results | TV/Stream Schedule

Zagitova, 16, is undefeated in three events this season and owns the world’s top overall score (238.43) by a whopping 14.12 points. However, Japanese 16-year-old Rika Kihira has the highest total on the Grand Prix of 224.31.

Zagitova struggled Saturday with the difficult triple Lutz-triple loop combination and doubled a flip at the end of her free skate.

Her primary rival last season, countrywoman Yevgenia Medvedeva, has finished second or third in her four competitions in the last year and likely must reach the podium next week in France for a chance at the Grand Prix Final and her first matchup with Zagitova since PyeongChang.

It’s likely that no U.S. woman makes the Grand Prix Final for a third straight year, after never previously going back-to-back years without a qualifier. U.S. champion Bradie Tennell likely must win in France to reach the Final.

Earlier Saturday, double Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu won the men’s event, hours after twisting his right ankle in a hard practice fall. Hanyu hopped on a crutch backstage and said he is uncertain for the Grand Prix Final and Japanese Nationals later in December. More here on Hanyu’s day.

Russian favorites Yevgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov and Alexandra Stepanova and Ivan Bukin won the pairs’ and ice dance titles, respectively, qualifying for the Grand Prix Final.

Tarasova and Morozov, two-time world medalists, posted 220.25 points, moving up to No. 2 in the world behind French Vanessa James and Morgan Cipres, who were not in the Rostelecom field. None of the Olympic pairs’ medalists are competing this fall. Earlier Saturday, Tarasova received five stitches after cutting her chin in a practice crash into the boards.

In dance, Stepanova and Bukin tallied 199.43, keeping them close to U.S. champions Madison Hubbell and Zach Donohue in the world rankings. Those two couples face off for the first time this season at the Grand Prix Final.

The top returning couple this season, French Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron, competes next week at the top international level for the first time since winning a third world title in March. They are not eligible for the Grand Prix Final after withdrawing from last week’s NHK Trophy due to Cizeron’s back injury.

As a reminder, you can watch the ISU Grand Prix Series live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. GO HERE 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.

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MORE: Ashley Wagner on her competitive future, coaching

Yuzuru Hanyu wins Rostelecom Cup, hops on crutch to press conference

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Yuzuru Hanyu won Rostelecom Cup by nearly 30 points, then hopped on a crutch backstage.

The double Olympic champion twisted his right ankle in a hard practice fall Saturday morning, then several hours later had the highest-scoring free skate with three quadruple jumps.

Hanyu said he is uncertain for the Grand Prix Final in three weeks — and a showdown with Olympic silver medalist Shoma Uno and, likely, world champion Nathan Chen according to The Associated Press.

“It really hurts,” Hanyu said, according to Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA. “This injury made me change my program, and sadly I couldn’t perform the way I wanted. I could have done better.”

ROSTELECOM CUP: Results | TV/Stream Schedule

Hanyu apologized to a TV camera following his free skate, after falling and popping an Axel on his last two jumps.

Last November, Hanyu damaged right ankle ligaments in a practice fall, forcing him off the ice for more than a month. He said this injury is not as bad. Still, coach Brian Orser said “it was a big question” whether Hanyu would withdraw before the free skate, according to Olympic Channel.

Hanyu endured, taking out the quadruple loop that he fell on in practice but still adding 10 points to his lead from Friday’s short program. For the first time in nine seasons, Hanyu won his two Grand Prix Series qualifying events, cruising into December’s exclusive, six-skater Grand Prix Final.

Georgian Morisi Kvitelashvili took second, followed by Japanese Kazuki Tomono.

Two other men who came to Moscow with Grand Prix Final hopes — Russian Mikhail Kolyada and Canadian Keegan Messing — struggled in Friday’s short program and could not get onto the podium, placing fourth and fifth. They won’t be at the Final, assuming Chen finishes in the top six at next week’s event in France.

Rostelecom Cup continues later Saturday with the free programs for ice dance, pairs and women, streaming live on NBC Sports Gold.

As a reminder, you can watch the ISU Grand Prix Series live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. GO HERE 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.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: Ashley Wagner on her future, role as coach