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Behind the scenes at Grand Prix France: Day 3

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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 second day of competition.

 

Hairy rotations

Discovering Jason Brown’s new look makes one wonder: was he asked to cut it off to increase his rotational speed and enhance his quad abilities, as any mechanical engineer would suggest? “Not at all!” Brian Orser, his coach, answered in a big laugh.

The reason is purely aesthetics. When you make as big a change as he made, you need to make a statement: in your program, in your image, in your look. Then… Snap! But it was tough for him, because it was really his thing.” So far the change was worthwhile!

Jason’s France

Brown’s outings in France have always been big successes for him. The first time he came, back in 2013, he became an overnight sensation in Paris after an exhilarating free skate to “Riverdance,” which was to conquer the United States at the subsequent Nationals. This time he won the short program, some 5.55 points ahead of Alexander Samarin, and 9.47 points ahead of third place Nathan Chen.

“I want to compete and I’m so determined on quads. But it’s nice to be rewarded for what you’re doing,” Brown commented afterwards. “I admire these guys for pushing the sport the way they do, but I won’t give up the artistic side, and I’ll keep pushing them on that side as well.” Brown’s French revolution is on its way!

What is love?

Team USA’s Jason Brown, who brilliantly won the short program Friday afternoon in Grenoble, kindly explained why he elected to skate to “Love is a Bitch” this season.

“The story of this program started when I was taking time off after my season was over, last year. My sister sent it to me, like: ‘I just listened to this!’ It was like a joke, in fact, because there was ‘love’ in the title, and the two pieces of music I had used last season had ‘love’ in their title as well [‘The Scent of Love’ and ‘Inner Love’]. It ignited a kind of a fire within me. I thought it was a different variation of love, and a different way of connecting to a different side of me. It was … I wouldn’t say a revenge, as I am not chasing anyone for revenge, but it was like I’m hungry for more. I’m not over yet! And this program pushes me a little different.”

Japanese corner

Japanese fans are known for their generosity toward the skaters. It seems you could even measure the density of Japanese people in a crowd by the number of flowers and plush toys they send to one of their skaters (or someone they love, like Nathan Chen or Deniss Vasiljevs, their two heavy favorites in Grenoble).

Quite visibly, the short side of the rink, where the kiss and cry has been set, is a Japanese corner. When Marin Honda, Rika Kihira and Mai Mihara skated, the short side of the rink with was like a blooming tulip field in the Netherlands in spring time! With several colored plush toys among them. Well done, ladies, only Yevgenia Medvedeva managed to avoid a Japanese sweep of the intermediate podium!

Is this censorship?

Everybody knows how strong Guillaume Cizeron is on the ice. Friday’s post-event press conference proved he was also strong behind a microphone. While he was holding it, making again a strong comment about their performance, the articulated the arm of the microphone collapsed on the table. Ask Mai Mihara, Alexandra Boikova and Dmitrii Kozlovskii, who also won their event and used the same microphone: they had to hold it to talk. Who wants the winners to fight with their microphone?

Skating pairs and pairs on skates

Russia’s Aleksandra Boikova and Dmitrii Kozlozkii had a different perspective over their first-place finish after the pairs’ short program Friday night.

“I feel myself not in my place, sitting with such great skaters at this table,” Kozlovskii offered at the post-event press conference, as his team was sitting between North Korea’s Tae Ok Ryom and Ju Sik Kim, to their right, and France’s Vanessa James and Morgan Ciprès, to their left.

It’s completely our place, I think!” Boikova added right after her partner’s comment… And the duo kept arguing together for a few seconds before they recomposed. A pair has to be a pair – and your partner will always be a mystery anyway…

For your (blue) eyes only

Boikova and Kozlovskii gave an interesting rendering of their short program, set to “Dark Eyes.”

“This program was set by Natalia Bestemianova and Igor Bobrin,” Boikova explained [Bestemianova won the Olympic gold medal with Andrei Bukin in 1988 and Igor Bobrin is the 1981 European gold medalist].

“Tamara (Moskvina, who coaches the team in St. Petersburg) asked them to come working with us. They made our last two short programs,” Kozlovskii added. “And guess what? Both Dmitrii and I have blue eyes, not dark ones!” Boikova said in a smile.

Make him quiet!

Russia’s Victoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov won the second place in their rhythm dance Friday night, after the brilliant silver medal they won at Skate Canada. Katsalapov, who won an Olympic bronze medal with Elena Ilinykh back in 2014, had to significantly change his style of skating after he joined forces with Sinitsina, some four years ago. This season the duo seems to have found its balance.

“Everything, every business takes time,” Katsalapov explained. “Time is the main thing. All coaches I’ve had have wanted me to be calmer, just like I skated tonight. But the truth is … I can be like a street dog. The one who calms me is Vika [Sinitsina’s nickname]. She is passionate, yet peaceful. That saves me lots of energy, which I give to her. I trust her, and I’m relaxed when I feel her with the music.”

Find your partner’s inner energy, align yours with it, and you’ll reach the top of the world!

Last official practice

Is there anything more thrilling than arriving in the early morning and hearing some skating music coming out of the rink? The men started early Saturday morning, followed by ice dancers and ladies. The last group of the ladies event was particularly impressive, with Russia’s Yevgenia Medvedeva, Japan’s Mai Mihira and Rika Kihira, and Team USA’s Bradie Tennell on the same ice sheet.

“Today I was not able to visualize the triple Axel well,” a disappointed Kihira had stated Friday night, after she missed her trademark jump in the short program. “So tomorrow at practice I’ll focus more and double-check on my triple Axel,” she promised. The audience in attendance was not disappointed, as she nailed her triple Axel – alone and in combination with a triple toe, even in her run-through!

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: Nathan Chen rallies, wins GP France, sets possible Yuzuru Hanyu matchup

Tokyo Olympics have 3 months to decide virus impact, senior IOC member says

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TOKYO (AP) — Dick Pound, the longest-serving member of the IOC, estimates there’s a three-month window to decide the fate of the Tokyo Olympics, which are being threatened by the fast-spreading virus from China.

Pound, in an exclusive interview with The Associated Press, did not sound alarmist. But he did speak frankly about the risks facing the Olympics, which open July 24.

Pound has been an International Olympic Committee member since 1978, 13 years longer than current President Thomas Bach.

“You could certainly go to two months out if you had to,” Pound said, which would mean putting off a decision until late May and hoping the virus is under control. “A lot of things have to start happening. You’ve got to start ramping up your security, your food, the Olympic Village, the hotels, The media folks will be in there building their studios.”

And if it got to the point of not going ahead, Pound speculated “you’re probably looking at a cancellation.”

“This is the new war and you have to face it. In and around that time, I’d say folks are going to have to ask: ‘Is this under sufficient control that we can be confident about going to Tokyo, or not?’”

China on Tuesday reported 508 new cases and another 71 deaths, 68 of them in the central city of Wuhan, where the epidemic was first detected in December.

The updates bring mainland China’s totals to 77,658 cases and 2,663 deaths. South Korea now has the second-most cases in the world with 977, including 10 deaths.

Clusters of the illness are now appearing in the Middle East and Europe. This could signal a new stage in the spread of the virus with four deaths reported in Japan.

Pound encouraged athletes to keep training. About 11,000 are expected for the Olympics, and another 4,400 for the Paralympics, which open on Aug. 25.

“As far as we all know you’re going to be in Tokyo,” Pound said. “All indications are at this stage that it will be business as usual. So keep focused on your sport and be sure that the IOC is not going to send you into a pandemic situation.”

The modern Olympics dating from 1896 have only been cancelled during wartime, and faced boycotts in 1976 in Montreal, in 1980 in Moscow and 1984 in Los Angeles — all in Pound’s memory.

The Olympics in 1940 were to be in Tokyo, but were called off because of Japan’s war with China and World War II.

Pound called uncertainty a major problem and repeated the IOC’s stance — that it’s depending on consultations with the World Health Organization, a United Nations body, to make any move. So far, the games are on.

“It’s a big, big, big decision and you just can’t take it until you have reliable facts on which to base it,” Pound said.

He said whatever advice the IOC is now getting, “it doesn’t call for cancellation or postponement of the Olympics. You just don’t postpone something on the size and scale of the Olympics. There’s so many moving parts, so many countries and different seasons, and competitive seasons, and television seasons. You can’t just say, we’ll do it in October.”

If changes have to be made, Pound said every option faced obstacles.

Pound said moving to another city seemed unlikely.

“To move the place is difficult because there are few places in the world that could think of gearing up facilities in that short time to put something on,” Pound said.

London mayoral candidate Shaun Bailey has suggested the British capital as an alternative. Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike suggested that was an inappropriate offer, using the virus as political campaign fodder.

Pound said he would not favor a dispersal of events over various venues because that wouldn’t “constitute an Olympic Games. You’d end up with a series of world championships.”

He said it would be very difficult to spread around all these sports in a 17-day period with only a few months’ notice.

How about delaying for a year, but staying in Tokyo? Japan is officially spending $12.6 billion to organize the Olympics, although a national audit board says the country is spending twice that much.

“Then you have to ask if you can hold the bubble together for an extra year,” Pound said. “Then of course you have to fit all of this into the entire international sports schedule.”

Pound said the IOC has been building up an “emergency fund” for such circumstances, reported to be about $1 billion. That could fund international sports federations who depend on income from the IOC to operate — and the IOC itself.

“This would be what you normally call a force majeure,” said Pound, a Canadian lawyer by training, using the legal phrase for “unforeseeable circumstances.”

“It’s not an insurable risk and it’s not one that can be attributed to one or the other of the parties. So everybody takes their lumps. There would be a lack of revenue on the Olympic Movement side.”

Pound said the future of the Tokyo Games was largely out of the IOC’s hands, depending on the virus and if it abets.

“If it gets to be something like the Spanish Flu,” Pound said, referring to a deadly pandemic early in the 20th century that killed millions. “At that level of lethality, then everybody’s got to take their medicine.”

Six months to Tokyo Paralympics: Ten athletes to watch

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Ten Paralympic hopefuls to watch, six months out from the Tokyo Games Opening Ceremony on Aug. 25 …

Chuck Aoki (Rugby)
The U.S.’ top scorer, but still looking for a Paralympic title after bronze and silver medals in 2012 and 2016. Aoki’s father’s family is from Japan, immigrating to the U.S. in the early 1900s. His great-grandparents and grandparents were placed in World War II internment camps. Aoki switched from wheelchair basketball to rugby after seeing the 2005 Oscar-nominated documentary “Murderball.” He has been on the national team since 2009.

Shingo Kunieda (Tennis)
Japan is known for its tennis players (Naomi OsakaKei Nishikori), but Kunieda is by far the most accomplished. He owns a wheelchair record 23 Grand Slam singles titles, 21 Grand Slam doubles titles and three Paralympic gold medals. Japan earned 24 medals at the Rio Paralympics, but they were all silver or bronze.

Oksana Masters (Cycling)
Already a Paralympic rowing and Nordic skiing medalist, Masters bids for a second Games to add a road cycling medal to her haul. In Rio, she placed fourth in the road race and fifth in the time trial. At her last Paralympics in PyeongChang, Masters came back from a fractured right elbow to earn five medals, including two golds.

Evan Medell (Taekwondo)
The U.S. has a medal contender in taekwondo, which debuted as an Olympic medal sport in 2000 and is on the Paralympic program for the first time in Tokyo. Medell, a 22-year-old licensed diesel mechanic, is ranked No. 1 in the world in the K44 +75kg division after 2019 titles at the European and Parapan American Championships.

Morteza Mehrzad (Volleyball)
Iran dominates men’s sitting volleyball. None of its players were more noticeable in Rio than the 8-foot, 1-inch Mehrzad, who led the team in scoring in the gold-medal match. Mehrzad was also part of Iran’s 2018 World title team, a signal that he could return for another Paralympics in Tokyo.

Becca Meyers (Swimming)
Earned three golds and one silver in individual events at the Rio Games, plus broke three world records. Meyers followed that with medals across three different strokes (plus the individual medley) between the 2017 and 2019 World Championships. She has trained at both the North Baltimore Aquatic Club and the Nation’s Capital Swim Club, which produced Michael Phelps and Katie Ledecky, respectively.

Becca Murray (Basketball)
The leading scorer on the U.S.’ Rio Paralympic champion team returned to the program in 2019 after two years away. Murray, who debuted at the Paralympics in 2008 at age 18 (and earned gold), looks to help the U.S. women bounce back from a 2018 World Championship sixth-place finish without her.

Daniel Romanchuk (Track and Field)
Eliminated in the heats of all his Rio Paralympic events as an 18-year-old. Now Romanchuk is a marathon superstar, winning the wheelchair division in Boston, Chicago, London and New York City in 2019. The University of Illinois product is expected to enter a range of distances in Tokyo, given he lowered 800m and 5000m world records on the track in his classification.

Allysa Seely (Triathlon)
Led a U.S. medals sweep in her classification in triathlon’s Paralympic debut in Rio. Followed with world championships medals in 2017 (silver), 2018 (gold in an undefeated season) and 2019 (silver).

Ben Thompson (Archery)
Upset the world No. 1 compound archer to win the world title in 2019. Ended the season with a No. 1 world ranking and Male Paralympic Athlete of the Year from the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee. Thompson competed in recent years with sister-in-law Megan‘s name on his arrow wraps. Megan fought breast cancer for years before her death in November as he was en route to the Team USA Awards.

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