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 

Hirscher leads by 0.56 seconds after first run in World Champs slalom

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Marcel Hirscher swept into the finish area and wagged his finger triumphantly in front of the camera.

The message was clear: The ski king is back.

The Austrian produced an emphatic response to relinquishing his giant slalom title two days earlier at the world championships by taking a 0.56-second lead after the first run of the slalom on Sunday.

Only Alexis Pinturault of France was within a second of Hirscher, who was on course to win a record-tying seventh career gold medal at the worlds.

Marco Schwarz of Austria was in third place, 1.22 seconds off the lead.

Hirscher, the seven-time overall World Cup champion, showed no ill-effects from the cold that has been affecting him this week. After the giant slalom on Friday, he said he would be going straight back to bed to rest up for the slalom.

He looked in good working order on Sunday.

As the third skier on the course, Hirscher took 1.70 seconds off No. 2 starter Henrik Kristoffersen, who beat Hirscher to GS gold on Friday, and more than two seconds off Clement Noel, who came to the worlds in form after wins in Wengen and Kitzbuehel.

Save for Hirscher crashing, only Pinturault looks capable to denying the Austrian a third slalom gold at the worlds — something only the great Ingemar Stenmark has achieved. Pinturault was only 0.06 seconds behind Hirscher at the third checkpoint but he went wide at the first turn on the final descent and lost half a second.

“I’m still in the fight,” Pinturault said, “and still have a chance in the second leg. That’s the essential (thing).”

Daniel Yule of Switzerland was 0.28 behind Hirscher at the last split before falling at the start to the final descent.

Hirscher also won the slalom at the 2013 and 2017 worlds. A seventh career gold at the worlds would tie the men’s record held by compatriot Toni Sailer from the late 1950s.

Austria, a storied Alpine skiing nation, needs Hirscher to deliver in the final event to avoid finishing the world championships without a gold medal for the first time since Crans Montana, Switzerland, in 1987. The women’s team has already finished with no medals and that hasn’t happened since Schladming, Austria, in 1982.

Watch an encore presentation of the first run on NBCSN at 7:00 a.m. ET. The second and deciding run can be seen live starting at 8:00 a.m. ET on NBCSN and NBC Sports Gold.

Mikaela Shiffrin proving she’s in league of her own

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There are ski racers, and then there is Mikaela Shiffrin.

NBC Sports essayist Tim Layden calls Shiffrin the “rarest creature,” a prodigy who continues to get better with age.

Shiffrin’s stardom took off with her heart-stopping slalom gold medal in the 2014 Olympics. It looked like she would ascend to an even higher level four years later in PyeongChang when she claimed a gold medal in the giant slalom, but then she lost a battle with her nerves and failed to win a medal in the slalom. She did capture a silver in the combined event.

That Olympic disappointment has fueled her historic World Cup season. She became the youngest skier to pass the 50 win mark. She broke the women’s career record for slalom victories, and she became the first skier ever to win four-straight world championship titles in a single event.

A true prodigy indeed.