Gabriella Papadakis, Guillaume Cizeron
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Behind the scenes at Grand Prix France: Day 2

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Jean-Christophe Berlot is on the ground in Grenoble to cover Internationaux de France, the sixth and final Grand Prix event in the series before the Grand Prix Final. This is his behind-the-scenes look at the competition on the first day of competition.

The e-coach?

E-learning has been a strong trend in teaching and business – would it be expanding to skating coaching as well?

Team USA’s Nathan Chen has to cope with a dual challenge, starting this season: keeping winning and developing his sport as he has these last seasons, and carrying a load of studies at the prestigious Yale University he enrolled earlier this fall.

“I now train full time in New Haven (where Yale is located),” Chen explained. “I have no time to go back to L.A. (where his perennial coach, Rafael Arutunian, coaches). We just call one another regularly.”

“I do my best,” Arutunian explained. “I can’t stop Nathan to do his studies. But it’s not easy. Actually, when I was a younger coach, I didn’t believe in such a way of teaching, mainly because I didn’t know. But now I realize it is quite possible.

“It requires two things: one, that you are a very high level professional, so you understand what’s going on and what you’re talking about when you analyze your skater’s problem. And second, that you are very well organized on the other end. The skater explains the problem to his coach, and the coach gives his recommendation about what to do. And on the other end the skater needs to do it.

“In this system you have only one attempt each time: this is the problem, here is the recommendation, and then you have to do it.

“Being physically present together makes it much easier, of course. It gives you more potential attempts. I can put a hand on your shoulder to show you a move, and I can feel where and how you are precisely. We can even go talk over it at the coffee machine.

“I could easily coach via Skype. But if you want to solve or learn or understand something, Skype may not even be necessary. Telephone can do it. It may even be better, actually (he laughs): coaches have to give one recommendation, not 25!”

Better back

France’s Guillaume Cizeron, the three-time and current World gold medalist with Gabriella Papadakis, kindly gave an update about the injury in his back, which prevented the team from competing in NHK some two weeks ago.

“My back is doing much better now,” Cizeron stated Thursday night. “As the time was to head to NHK, I must say that it was already going better. It was a rather recurrent pain, and I had been treating it for a while already.

“But it was still hurting, so we decided not to risk a more serious injury. Also, the trip to Japan would have taken some 24 hours, that is, a very long time. But today I feel in great shape again.”

Paradakis and Cizeron practiced their new free dance Thursday afternoon in Grenoble, and made it clear that they were both in great shape.

To all of Javi’s fans

Many thought that Spain’s Javier Fernandez had left the competitive ranks after his brilliant Olympic campaign (Fernandez won the Olympic medal he was striving for – a bronze – in PyeongChang).

Brian Orser, his coach, who coaches Team USA Jason Brown and Russia’s Yevgenia Medvedeva in Grenoble, has a different opinion. “Right now, he’s doing shows in Spain,” Orser explained, “and I’ve not talked much with him lately. But he told me that he wanted to compete at the European Championships next year. He did compete at Japan Open earlier this season, and he did quite well, even without much of a training. The plan, as it is now, is that he should come back to Toronto after he is done with his shows. Then it will time for him to get ready for the Europeans!”

Fernandez has won a historical record of six continental crowns through his career, and he may be coveting a seventh title. The current record is held by Austria’s Karl Schaeffer, who won 8 titles between 1929 and 1936. Records can be the best friends of fans!

Hurting falls

The new rules still are a hot topic in Grenoble, as the skating community is trying to tame it. “Risk is not rewarded as much as it could be anymore,” France’s Maé-Bérénice Méité stated during the French team press conference, Thursday night. “You really need to promote reliability and creativity now if you want to get bonuses. A fall hurts even more than before,” she concluded.

For sure, a fall hurts! The room erupted in laughter. She did, too, when she realized what she had just said. Hopefully, Méité and her counterparts won’t get hurt in Grenoble.

Cheering stands

Dozens of Japanese fans have made the trip to Grenoble to support their skaters. “But not only,” a trio of Japanese ladies emphasizes: “We came to encourage Nathan Chen!”

Japanese spectators are very quiet in the stands. But the stands have been so lively Thursday night and Friday morning, during the official practice sessions: the schools of Grenoble are bringing full loads of classes to fill the stands. The children gasp each time they see a jump, a spin, a spectacular move or… Just a fall. Trust children: they love skating for a reason!

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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MORE: Behind the scenes at Internationaux de France, Day 1 | TV/Stream Schedule 

Asbel Kiprop, Olympic 1500m champ, banned 4 years

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Kenyan Asbel Kiprop, the 2008 Olympic 1500m champion and a three-time world champ, was banned four years after testing positive for EPO in November 2017, according to track and field’s doping watchdog organization.

The ban is backdated to Feb. 3, 2018, when the 29-year-old was provisionally suspended after the failed test.

Kiprop repeatedly denied doping since last May, when he first acknowledged the positive test. Most recently, a 3,000-word defense from his lawyer was posted on Kiprop’s Facebook page.

Kiprop’s defenses included saying he was a victim of extortion and that he was offered “a reward” of becoming an anti-doping ambassador if he admitted guilt. The Athletics Integrity Unit (AIU), the IAAF’s independent organization to monitor doping and corruption, denied the latter last May.

A disciplinary panel dismissed six defenses from exonerating him, including the possibility his sample was spiked, in handing out the four-year ban.

Kiprop, the pre-eminent 1500m runner of the last decade, can appeal the ban.

At 19, he finished second in the Beijing Olympic 1500m but was upgraded to gold a year later after Bahrain’s Rashid Ramzi failed a drug test. He is the youngest Olympic 1500m medalist of all time, according to the OlyMADMen.

Kiprop went on to earn three straight world titles in the 1500m in 2011, 2013 and 2015, matching the feats of retired legends Noureddine Morceli and Hicham El Guerrouj.

He struggled in the 2012 and 2016 Olympics, finishing last in the London final with a hamstring injury and sixth in the Rio final won by American rival Matthew Centrowitz.

Kiprop has targeted El Guerrouj’s world record of 3:26:00, missing the mark by .69 of a second in 2015.

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Maggie Nichols is second woman in 20 years to repeat as NCAA all-around champ

Maggie Nichols
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Oklahoma junior and world champion gymnast Maggie Nichols became the first woman to repeat as NCAA all-around champion in 12 years, returning from a heel injury to compete on all four events for the first time since January on Friday.

Nichols, a Rio Olympic hopeful before being beset by a torn meniscus in 2016, joined 2004 Olympic silver medalist Courtney Kupets as the only women to win back-to-back NCAA all-arounds in the 2000s.

A junior, Nichols can next year join Jenny Hansen as the only women to three-peat in NCAA history.

Oklahoma goes for a third team title in four years on Saturday night against UCLA (featuring Olympic champions Madison Kocian and Kyla Ross), LSU and Denver.

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NCAA Women’s Gymnastics Championships Individual Results
All-Around
1. Maggie Nichols (Oklahoma) — 39.7125
2. Lexy Ramler (Minnesota) — 39.6625
2. Kyla Ross (UCLA) — 39.6625
4. Sarah Finnegan (LSU) — 39.65
5. Kennedi Edney (LSU) — 39.6

Vault
1. Kennedi Edney (LSU) — 9.95
1. Derrian Gobourne (Auburn)
1. Maggie Nichols (Oklahoma)
1. Kyla Ross (UCLA)

Uneven Bars
1. Sarah Finnegan (LSU) — 9.95

Balance Beam
1. Natalie Wojcik (Michigan) — 9.95

Floor Exercise
1. Alicia Boren (Florida) — 9.95
1. Lynnzee Brown (Denver)
1. Brenna Dowell (Oklahoma)
1. Kyla Ross (UCLA)