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 

Adam Jones, five-time MLB All-Star, becomes Olympic eligible

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Should the U.S. qualify for baseball’s Olympic return, a five-time MLB All-Star could be eligible for its roster in Tokyo. And he has interest.

Outfielder Adam Jones signed with the Orix Buffaloes of Japan’s domestic league, which, unlike MLB, will take an Olympic break next summer to allow players to take part in the first Olympic baseball tournament in 12 years.

Jones, 34, made no mention of Olympic eligibility in a social media post announcing the signing. His Instagram avatar is a photo of him in a Team USA jersey from the World Baseball Classic.

Jones’ agent later said that Jones does have interest in playing for the U.S. in Tokyo, should an American team qualify in the spring.

“To play over in Japan has always been a desire of Adam’s, and the timing worked out that the Olympics happens to be played in Tokyo the first year of his contract,” Jones’ agent wrote in an email. “It wasn’t one of the factors on his decision BUT more of a [sic] addition to the overall package to decide to go.”

Jones called being part of the U.S.’ 2017 WBC title, “probably the best experience of my life so far, especially with sports,” according to The Associated Press. He was one of five players to be on the U.S. team at each of the last two World Baseball Classics.

The U.S. still faces a difficult task to qualify for the Tokyo Games. It lost to Mexico last month in its first of up to three chances at qualifying tournaments, using a roster of mostly double-A and triple-A caliber players.

Major Leaguers are not expected to be made available for qualifying or for the Tokyo Games.

The next two qualifying tournaments will be in late March (an Americas qualifier in Arizona) and early April (a final, global qualifying event in Chinese Taipei). It remains to be seen how MLB clubs will go about releasing minor leaguers for a tournament that will take place during spring training.

Jones could become the third player with prior MLB All-Star experience to compete at the Olympics from any nation, joining Australian catcher Dave Nilsson and Canadian pitcher Jason Dickson.

Jones made five All-Star teams during an 11-year stint with the Baltimore Orioles from 2008-18 before playing for the Arizona Diamondbacks last season.

Many players competed at the Olympics before making an MLB All-Star team, including Stephen Strasburg and Jason Giambi.

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Russia boxers to boycott Olympics if sanctions not lifted

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Russian boxers will only take part in the Tokyo Olympics if doping sanctions forcing them to compete as neutral athletes are overturned, the general secretary of the Russian Boxing Federation told The Associated Press on Wednesday.

Umar Kremlev said he has spoken with the Olympic boxing team and they “unanimously” rejected the conditions laid out by the World Anti-Doping Agency as punishment for manipulating doping data.

The WADA sanctions, announced on Monday, ban the use of the Russian team name, flag or anthem at a range of major sports competitions over the next four years, including next year’s Olympics.

“They said we won’t go without our flag and anthem,” Kremlev said. “We aren’t going for medals, but for that feeling that I brought the highest honor home for my country.”

Separately, the speaker of Russia’s upper house of parliament said Russia could create an alternative to the Olympics.

“This ruling show the clear crisis in international sports institutions. I believe that Russia could host its own games at home,” Valentina Matvienko said in comments reported by the Interfax news agency.

There is a precedent. After the Russian Revolution of 1917, the Soviet Union refused to compete in the Olympics and hosted its own Spartakiads — named after the ancient rebel slave Spartacus — with a strong socialist slant. However, the Soviet Union began competing at the Olympics in 1952 and Russians generally take great pride in the country’s Olympic achievements since then.

If the sanctions aren’t overturned, Kremlev said Russian boxers would prefer to turn pro rather than compete at the Olympics.

“A world champion (in professional boxing) is better known than an Olympic champion,” Kremlev said, adding the Russian anthem would be played before pro title fights.

Kremlev said boxers are being asked to shoulder the blame for offenses committed in other sports. He said they would still stay at home even if Russia’s athletes in other sports decided to take part.

“If other sports are guilty and people have breached the WADA code, why are we punished?” he said. “We are for honest sport and against doping. We want our sport to be clean … If someone breaks the rules, we push them out.”

Russia is a major power in amateur and Olympic boxing. It hosted both men’s and women’s world championships this year, finishing at the top of the medals table at the women’s event and second in the men’s championships. The International Olympic Committee has taken direct charge of boxing at the Tokyo Olympics after criticizing chronic financial problems and infighting at the International Boxing Association.

Russian Sports Minister Pavel Kolobkov talked up Russia’s chances of overturning the WADA sanctions.

“I think that there is every basis to appeal the decision, because our experts have presented their position, and they have the same database as WADA does,” Kolobkov said in comments reported by state news agency TASS. “There is an answer to every question and the whole process is ahead of us.”

The official decision on whether to dispute the sanctions will be made on Dec. 19 by the Russian anti-doping agency’s supervisory board, but senior figures, including Russian President Vladimir Putin, have signaled their preference for taking the matter to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

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