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 

Takeaways from the abbreviated 2019-20 season in ski and snowboard sports

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Most ski sports don’t hold world championships in even-numbered years, but the coronavirus pandemic brought World Cup campaigns to an early conclusion two years ahead of the Beijing Olympics.

With the seasons over, the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Team is collecting goggles to provide to health-care workers.

Here’s what we learned in various sports:

ALPINE: Mikaela Shiffrin has company 

The U.S. ski star was on pace to win her fourth straight World Cup season trophy before her father’s sudden passing in early February. She planned to return in March with an outside chance at keeping her title, but the remaining races of the season were canceled. Italy’s Federica Brignone took the trophy, with Shiffrin second.

While Shiffrin held a substantial lead in the World Cup before her hiatus, she wasn’t as unbeatable as she was in the 2018-19 season, when she won a staggering 17 times. That’s an impossible bar to clear, but Shiffrin’s rivals made up enough ground to make future World Cup season titles and the career win record seem less certain than they seemed a year ago.

In Shiffrin’s final slalom race, a discipline in which she has rarely lost in recent years, she placed third behind Slovakia’s Petra Vlhova and Sweden’s Anna Swenn Larsson. Ten days before that, she was second to Vlhova, whose progress impressed Shiffrin. That marked that first time since 2014 that she lost two straight slaloms in the same season. (She was second in the 2016-17 season finale and second again in the 2017-18 season opener, then won 12 of the next 13 slaloms.)

Shiffrin’s ability to get on the podium in any race, no matter the discipline, will make her the World Cup favorite for years to come. But the big prize won’t be as easy as she has made it seem in recent years, and at 66 career victories, she’ll need time to catch Lindsey Vonn‘s women’s record of 82 wins and Ingemar Stenmark‘s overall record of 86.

CROSS-COUNTRY: Diggins, Bjornsen stay in world’s elite 

Jessie Diggins will forever be remembered for winning the 2018 Olympic team sprint with Kikkan Randall as NBC’s Chad Salmela screamed “HERE COMES DIGGINS,” but she also has a strong World Cup resume that she continues to build.

Diggins finished sixth in the season standings for the second straight year, a drop from her second-place finish in 2018 but still comfortably in the top 10. She was joined there by Sadie Maubet Bjornsen, who eighth-place season put her in the top 10 for the second time.

Bjornsen led the three-stage season opener in Ruka, Finland, after taking third in the sprint and finished fourth overall, one place ahead of Diggins, who took third in the pursuit. Diggins added four more podium finishes before the end of the season.

NORDIC COMBINED: Norway takes control 

Jarl Magnus Riiber won his second straight World Cup title at age 22, with fellow Norwegian Joergen Graabak taking a career-high second. Two more Norwegians were in the top six Jens Luraas Oftebro (fourth) and Espen Bjoernstad (sixth). 

In women’s Nordic combined, which is on track to become an Olympic event, U.S. athlete Tara Geraghty-Moats was a close second to Russia’s Stefaniya Nadymova.

READ: Geraghty-Moats has eyes on 2026

SKI JUMPING: U.S. women shut out 

A decade after leading the charge to get women’s ski jumping in the Olympics and eight years after teenager Sarah Hendrickson won the World Cup, the U.S. women went a whole season without an athlete picking up World Cup points. Hendrickson postponed her retirement but competed only on the Continental Cup this season.

U.S. women also won two of the first three ski jumping world championships Lindsey Van in 2009 and Hendrickson in 2013.

In men’s jumping, Austria’s Stefan Kraft edged out Germany’s Karl Geiger to reclaim the World Cup title he last held in 2017. Geiger’s previous career best was 10th in 2019. Japan’s Ryoyu Kobayashi, last year’s champion, took third.

FREESTYLE SKIING: Blunck keeps flying

U.S. halfpipe skier Aaron Blunck followed up his second straight world championship in 2019 with his first World Cup season title. Blunck won both events in the U.S. — December’s competition at Copper Mountain and February’s event at Mammoth Mountain. 

Colby Stevenson (slopestyle) and Alexander Hall (big air) were second in their events. Hall won twice, landing a switch left double 1800 to win in the Atlanta Braves’ SunTrust Park. Stevenson also won at the X Games in Aspen.

In women’s competition, 18-year-old Marin Hamill was second in slopestyle, and Jaelin Kauf finished in the top three for the third straight year.

French skier Perrine Laffont had a dominant season in women’s moguls, winning all six regular moguls events and two of four dual moguls, to take her second straight World Cup title.

SNOWBOARDING: Corning wins in Atlanta and in World Cup

Atlanta’s SunTrust Park hosted a World Cup big air competition, with Chris Corning and Japan’s Reira Iwabuchi winning. Corning also won in Cardrona, New Zealand, and took his second big air season title to go along with slopestyle titles in 2016, 2018 and 2019.

Dusty Henricksen was third in World Cup slopestyle on the strength of a win at Mammoth Mountain, followed by fellow U.S. teen Justus Henkes.

U.S. women’s snowboarders Jamie Anderson and Julia Marino won the only World Cup slopestyle events each one entered. Anderson also won the X Games slopestyle.

Olympic and world halfpipe champion Chloe Kim sat out the season after breaking an ankle in March 2019 and enrolling at Princeton.

BIATHLON: Never count out Dunklee 

Susan Dunklee hasn’t had great success on the World Cup circuit since taking a world championship silver medal in 2017, when she finished a career-best 10th in the World Cup, but she once again took world championship silver in the sprint at Antholz.

Norway’s Johannes Thingnes Boe won the men’s World Cup title despite missing two weeks after the birth of his first child, edging Frenchman Martin Fourcade by two points to spoil the seven-time World Cup champion’s final season.

Boe won his second straight World Cup title, as did Italy’s Dorothea Weirer in the women’s competition.

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Simon Ammann ramps up for one more run at Olympic ski jumping

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Simon Ammann, the Swiss ski jumper who gained fame for his resemblance to Harry Potter in 2002 and went to win all four Olympic ski jumps on North American soil this century, has walked back talk of retirement and now says he wants to continue through the 2022 Olympics.

Ammann won the normal hill and large hill in Salt Lake City in 2002. European ski jumpers don’t necessarily get attention from U.S. talk shows, but the 20-year-old Ammann had two things that set him apart. First, his wins were tremendous upsets. Second, he looked like Harry Potter.

He wound up appearing on “The Late Show with David Letterman,” which makes him a wild-card connection in the Kevin Bacon game the peripatetic actor was the other guest on the show that night, and Ammann happily posed with Bacon and Kyra Sedgwick after the show.

Eight years later, Ammann duplicated the feat in Vancouver. This time, he left behind the Harry Potter glasses behind, though he made an enthusiastic walk through the mixed zone wearing comically oversized sunglasses that made him look like the Buggles’ Trevor Horn in the “Video Killed the Radio Star” video, the first music video on MTV.

In 2010, his victories weren’t quite as unexpected. He won the World Cup season title that year, sandwiched between two second-place finishes.

In 2002, on the other hand, he took off from the Olympic hill at Park City having never won a World Cup event. His two wins in the Olympics were his first two in any international competition in the FIS database.

Ammann has also had success in major competition in Asia. He took gold and silver in the 2007 world championships in Sapporo, Japan, the first two of his four career world championship medals. He also won a World Cup event in Sapporo in 2010.

In recent years, though, Ammann hasn’t been competitive on the World Cup circuit. He has been on the podium only once since 2015. Since taking his last major-event medal in 2011, his best result in the world championships was seventh place in 2013.

But he’s already shown he can, like Harry Potter, conjure a surprising performance.

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