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Starr Andrews, 17, could be a figure skating star in the making

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As Starr Andrews struck the final pose of her free skate at the U.S. Championships this January, and the whole of the SAP Center in San Jose rose to its feet in approval, Tara Lipinski couldn’t help herself on the NBC broadcast. “This is our future!” she declared. “It’s so great to see a little junior come out as a senior skater and skate a program like that.”

“She’s blown the roof off this building,” Johnny Weir added.

Some nine months later Andrews, now 17, is making her senior Grand Prix debut at Skate America this coming weekend in Everett, Wash., and while she’s still little – she stands just 4 feet, 11 inches – she’s fully a senior competitor. And with senior expectations.

“I want to be in Beijing in 2022,” she told NBCSports.com in a recent phone interview. “Even though it’s far away, it’s in the back of my mind. But I’m focusing on what’s in front of me this season.”

That first means Skate America, but then also Skate Canada, which Andrews was extended an invitation to last minute. That means she’ll skate back-to-back weekends on the Grand Prix circuit, rare for any skater – especially one in her debut season.

“We know what we want to do down the road, but we take it one event at a time,” said her coach of five years, Derrick Delmore, a former world junior champion. “We debrief, re-evaluate and re-asses what has happened and where we’re going and then take it from there.”

That means the next two weeks are big ones for Andrews, who is based in the Los Angeles area and trains with Delmore at two separate rinks, one which includes standout American Mariah Bell and one of the best Japanese skaters in the world, Marin Honda.

Delmore doesn’t hesitate when he talks about goals for 2018-19 for his star pupil, however, saying that the U.S. Championships (where she was sixth this past season) is their target for now, then the world championships to follow.

Andrews would most likely have to finish in the top two in Detroit in late January to make that trip to Japan a reality.

Before we get ahead of ourselves, however, Andrews is already one of the most-watched skaters in the world thanks to a 2010 video of her – at age 9 – skating to “Whip My Hair”, dressed in fluorescent pink and (eventually) garnering some 54 million views on YouTube.

But eight years later Andrews is a much more mature presence on the ice, though she and Delmore – and her mom, Toshawa, who acts as a manager of sorts – have worked to keep her personality unique and different on the ice.

“She has this joyful, playful demeanor. She’s goofy,” offers Delmore. “She’s a breath of fresh air in that way, and we try and let that show in her skating.”

While Andrews wanted to skate to music from the movie “Black Panther” for her free skate this season, Delmore instead found a mix of music that includes “Africa Tribal Xotica” and has what Delmore describes as a “jungle theme” to it. It’s a program that does not include any lyrics, which excites Andrews, who last year sang vocals in her free skate to Whitney Houston’s “One Moment in Time.”

“It’s something completely different,” Andrews says. “I was super excited when I got it. It still tells a story. I want to show people what I’ve been working on through that choreography.”

Andrews is hardly the first black skater to compete at the international level, but figure skating is still a sport that has very few minority athletes outside of a strong Japanese contingent. In the U.S., Debi Thomas was a two-time national champion, world champ and 1988 Olympic bronze medalist, while Delmore – as mentioned – was a successful junior.

“For me, she’s just like every other young kid who wants to experience this sport,” says her mom, Toshawa. “While she’s African American, I don’t think it bothers her or makes her feel less than. She skates for herself.”

This past summer Andrews visited the famed New York non-profit, Figure Skating in Harlem, which services young girls of color, and Toshawa said her daughter’s presence sent ripples through the camp: The youngsters had not seen a skater of color with Andrews’ pedigree. Toshawa was moved to near tears at the connection between Starr and the program’s members.

“I want to bring more people like me to the sport,” Andrews says, pausing to reflect on what sort of impact she wants to have on the sport. “There’s not a lot of skaters of color. I want to bring a different look.

Separately, she adds: “I want to bring a beauty back into skating, too. It’s not just about the jumps.”

Speaking of jumps, however, Andrews is one of the few women in the world to attempt a triple Axel, an element she and Delmore will consider using this weekend and moving forward. While she is “so, so close” in practice, Delmore says, she works off ice on conditioning with a local trainer in Southern California, Tyler Poor, often in the swimming pool or on the elliptical. She takes ballet once a week.

It’s a pivotal moment in the U.S. scene for the American ladies: Three-time American winner Ashley Wagner’s future is up in the air, while fellow former U.S. champ Gracie Gold is attempting a comeback from stepping away for personal reasons. Mirai Nagasu is not competing this season, and while Bradie Tennell is the reigning champ, there is no clear favorite moving into this season.

While Andrews has a ways to climb to be a title contender, her statement of intent for Beijing 2022 is heard loud and clear. She’ll still only be just 20 years old.

“I’m in for whatever she wants,” says Toshawa. “I am the one in the background encouraging her. I’m not pushing her to do any of this, but kids have to be guided. … I’ve taught her to never look at anything like you’re losing – you’re always just learning. You take something from every opportunity and experience and you grow from that. It’s never a loss. And you always compete only against yourself.”

This weekend Andrews will also compete against some of the best in the world, including Honda, Tennell, Satoko Miyahara and Kaori Sakamoto.

Andrews names her personal heroes as her mom and Delmore, who she says have been with her to “lift her up when [she’s] not doing well.

And when she thinks back to that viral video some eight years ago, it’s outright incredible that she’s developed into the elite skater that she has – Willow Smith included or not.

“I think my younger self would be proud of me,” she says, smiling through the phone. “It makes me think of the movies when a character closes her eyes and sees herself in the future. It feels like that. When I was little, I would watch skating and now I’m at that level, it feels so cool to be where I am now.”

And where does she go next? That’s for all of us to watch and see this weekend – and beyond.

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 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.

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Mikaela Shiffrin races for another reindeer

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Mikaela Shiffrin already has three Olympic medals. She can win her third reindeer on Saturday.

Shiffrin headlines the first slalom of the World Cup season in Levi, Finland, live on Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA and streaming via NBC Sports Gold’s Snow Pass.

The first run is at 4:15 a.m. ET. The second is at 7.

The traditional (and unconventional) winner’s prize in Finland is a reindeer. Shiffrin captured the Levi slalom in 2013 and 2016, naming her furry friends Rudolph and Sven.

The reindeer stay in Finland while Shiffrin criss-crosses Europe and North America on the World Cup tour.

Shiffrin lost in her trademark discipline in Levi last fall to a new rival, Petra Vlhova of Slovakia.

Motivated, Shiffrin won the next six slaloms before skiing out of the last slalom before the Olympics. Then in PyeongChang, Shiffrin shockingly finished fourth in defense of her Sochi Olympic title (after a giant slalom gold and before a super combined silver).

She bounced back, winning the last two World Cup slaloms of the 2017-18 season.

In the past, Shiffrin voiced a goal of winning every slalom in a season. She won all but three each of the last two years. Levi is the first of 12 World Cup slaloms this season.

Shiffrin must overcome the three women who made the PyeongChang podium ahead of her — Swede Frida Hansdotter, Swiss Wendy Holdener and Austrian Katharina Gallhuber.

She has already shown strong form, taking third in the season-opening giant slalom in Soelden, Austria, three weeks ago.

Nothing but a third reindeer will suffice in Saturday’s slalom, though.

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Gracie Gold wants to be new skater in comeback event; TV/stream schedule

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When Gracie Gold was in treatment for anxiety, depression and an eating disorder last year, she received a message from two-time Olympian Jeremy Abbott.

“If you ever want to come back to skating, I want to do an exhibition piece for you as a gift,” Abbott, who has taken up choreography in retirement, told his friend. Gold said it was a sweet offer and thanked him.

“At that point I don’t think that she had thought about coming back at all,” Abbott said last week.

Several months later, Gold had thought it over. She contacted Abbott in the spring.

“I’m going to make a go at this. Would you be willing to do my programs?” Abbott recalled Gold telling him. “I was shocked,” Abbott continued, “but also, at the same time, I was not.”

Gold, a two-time U.S. champ who finished fourth at the 2014 Olympics, competes this week for the first time since the January 2017 U.S. Championships. NBC Sports Gold streams live coverage of Rostelecom Cup from Moscow.

Day Time (ET) Event Network
Friday 6 a.m. Men’s Short NBC Sports Gold | STREAM LINK
8 a.m. Rhythm Dance NBC Sports Gold | STREAM LINK
10:30 a.m. Pairs’ Short NBC Sports Gold | STREAM LINK
12 p.m. Women’s Short NBC Sports Gold | STREAM LINK
Saturday 5:30 a.m. Men’s Free NBC Sports Gold | STREAM LINK
7:30 a.m. Free Dance NBC Sports Gold | STREAM LINK
9:30 a.m. Pairs’ Free NBC Sports Gold | STREAM LINK
11:30 a.m. Women’s Free NBC Sports Gold | STREAM LINK
Sunday 12 p.m. Highlights NBC | STREAM LINK

Gold, who detailed her last two years in a video published a month ago, is refraining from more interviews until after she skates. Abbott choreographed both her short and long programs, making a few trips to her Pennsylvania training base in the last six months. Gold is coached by former French skater Vincent Restencourt.

“She told me that she wanted to be a new skater and a new Gracie,” Abbott said. “She said that she always admired the artistry that I had and that she really wanted to bring something new to her skating.”

Abbott said her program music choices — “I Put a Spell On You” and “She Used to Be Mine,” the latter from the Broadway musical “Waitress” — reflect the new Gold. The former is “a little more mature and a little more sexy and playful than anything she’s done in the past.” The latter speaks to how she got from there to here in the last two years.

“At one point, she was on top of the world and had everything at her feet,” Abbott said. (Gold has said she spiraled psychologically after squandering a short-program lead at the 2016 Worlds and missing the podium altogether.) “Then she had some really big struggles and had to really step back from the life that she knew. Now she’s having to rebuild herself. It’s kind of looking back at who she was and who she used to be and now where she is and who she wants to become.”

Gold made it clear to Abbott whom she wanted to become.

“She was like, ‘I always was viewed as a jumper and not a skater. I always wanted to be an artist, but everyone told me stick to what you’re best at,'” Abbott said. “Working with her, she is an artist. She is sensitive. She understands the music. She gets it.”

Abbott visited Gold once this fall for choreography touch-ups and will not be in Moscow with her and Restencourt. Rather, he will be performing in 1984 Olympic champion Scott Hamilton‘s show in Nashville on Sunday.

Abbott doesn’t know how Gold is handling the comeback nerves or what to expect of her jumps.

“This isn’t like a big massive coming-out party for her,” he said. “This is really just the first step to get her feet back under her, get her going again because the plan isn’t about this competition. The plan isn’t about this season. The plan is really about building for her future and the next four years.”

The field is led by Olympic champion Alina Zagitova, fellow Russian Sofia Samodurova and Japanese Yuna Shiraiwa, all 16-year-olds with a chance to make December’s exclusive, six-skater Grand Prix Final.

This is Gold’s lone competition until the new year. Many will watch and wonder how she stacks up among Americans heading into January’s national championships. (Two U.S. women are ranked in the top 30 in the world this season, with many big names sitting out the fall.)

“From where her life was, I think it takes some major balls to even put herself back into this situation,” said Abbott, who noted that when he first visited Gold in the spring, she had her double jumps back. “For where she came from, she’s made huge strides. It’s really been impressive to watch her growth.”

In the men’s field, double Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu is a heavy favorite given the absence of his top rivals, Nathan Chen and Shoma Uno. Canadian Keegan Messing and Russian Mikhail Kolyada are also in the mix to qualify for the Grand Prix Final.

In pairs, Russians Yevgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov are the clear favorites on home ice, but Americans Ashley Cain and Timothy LeDuc carry the intrigue.

They have a great chance at the Grand Prix Final if they can finish second, after taking third at Skate America four weeks ago. Cain and LeDuc rank fourth in the Rostelecom field by best scores this season but are only 4.21 points behind the second-ranked pair.

Russians Alexandra Stepanova and Ivan Bukin headline the ice dance. They’re ranked second in the world behind Americans Madison Hubbell and Zach Donohue, who clinched their Grand Prix Final spot three weeks ago.

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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