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Behind the scenes at Grand Prix France: Day 4

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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 day after the competition.

Chen has much more in store

Don’t try to follow the planned program content of Nathan Chen’s skates. He often changes them at the last minute.

“I know the rules and how to coordinate the jumps, in regards to combos and not repeating quads,” Chen explained after his victorious free skate in Grenoble. “I have a basic layout ready for the program, but also Plan B variations. Before a program I have a layout ready, but that also may change!”

In Grenoble, Chen had planned a quad Salchow followed by a quad Lutz, and he delivered a quad flip and a quad toe to open his program.

“We made the decision yesterday, before practice. I’m not yet at the level I should be. Skating a clean program is very important nowadays. Also, I need to be realistic with myself. I skated the maximum I could pull as now,” Chen added. And yet, watching Chen skate, one could feel that his program still had a lot of potential.

“Yes, the goal is to keep on improving and adding things. It’s a big confidence boost to know I can!” Chen concluded.

Watch the board!

It happened right during Team USA’s Audrey Lu and Misha Mitrofanov’s free program Saturday night: the plastic tile of a sponsor fell off from the board onto the ice. In a split second, while Lu and Mitrofanov were skating to the other side of the rink, a staff member jumped over the board onto the ice and threw the tile over. He jumped back again before they were back, thus avoiding a potentially dangerous fall by the skaters, especially since the tile was ice-white and would have been difficult to see. However impressive the guy’s jumps were, the points he amassed there couldn’t be found in the team’s results!

Heading to Nationals

A journalist asked the three best pairs in Grenoble to comment about how they planned to prepare the big national championships awaiting them. Tarah Kayne and Danny O’Shea talked about the work they were planning to in their Colorado training base and subsequently gave the microphone to Vanessa James and Morgan Ciprès.

“No,” Ciprès replied jokingly: “I won’t say anything, because the question is about ‘big championships.’ We don’t have a big championship here!” The room erupted in laughter. No other internationally competitive pair exists at the moment in France.

Fortunately, Russia’s Aleksandra Boikova and Dmitrii Kozlovskii had a lot more to say about the level of Russian Nationals!

Applause-o-meter

If the placement of a skater were correlated to the loudness of the applause he or she received, then Yevgenia Medvedeva would have come first in all categories in Grenoble. The audience cheered at her as soon as she stepped on the ice, be it for practice or competition. She didn’t make it to the podium this time, but watching the protocols makes you wonder: maybe the volume of support she got could be correlated to her components? She received the best of the field for her free program Saturday. At any rate, and however strongly the social media in Russia may be bashing her, she can count on a solid – and unique – crop of fans around the world!

Rika and her big bag

When she arrived at the post-event press conference after her impressive victory, Rika Kihira was carrying a huge bag full of the gifts she had received on the ice, plush toys, cards and flowers all mixed up at once. The bag was so big, that it was almost hiding her, and she could certainly have been put in it as well. Watching her, all smiles out, you could really tell how petite and young she is. Yet a big champion already!

Food is over!

“No food?” was Medvedeva’s first reaction when she discovered that the Skating Lounge, where skaters and coaches could nurture themselves after a practice or a competition segment, had been destroyed and chairs had already been piled up. Medvedeva was one of the first ones to reach the site Sunday morning, but most skaters and officials had the same reaction afterwards: “It’s a pity, the food was so good!” an official said. “We have managed to save some water,” an ISU staff member suggested with a smile – to make the ice maybe?

This column is way too harsh on the French organization, however, as the Club of Grenoble did a wonderful job for all of us here. Grenoble is regaining its status as a skating capital of the world it was, half a century ago!

Improbable encounter

Lady Jayne Torvill graced the rink with her presence. The 1984 Olympic gold medalist (with Christopher Dean) was invited to the French Team Supporting Club party. There, she was found discussing with an elderly gentleman, saying how much he remembered her team’s world famous “Bolero”, that night of February 14, 1984. This gentleman happened to be Guillaume Cizeron’s grandfather. He explained to her how he taught Guillaume to do tumbling when he was younger. You have to listen to Grandpa’s memories to come to know your heroes better!

Just like school children!

Preparing the final gala is always a feat – if not a feast. Yohann Deslot, who coaches in Grenoble, rehearsed the group numbers with the best ranked skaters of the competition Sunday morning. Needless to say, they were not the best-disciplined class one would dream of. Deslot was trying to give his instructions, but the skaters had other plans.

Kevin Aymoz, the French men’s hope, was playing on the ice like a fish in the water. Canada’s Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier were certainly the most exuberant of all, cheering and pulling their fellow skaters. Maria Sotskova, Yevgenia Medvedeva and Stanislava Konstantinova, the three Russians, were dancing as if they were in a nightclub. Morgan Ciprès lifted Vanessa James into a pair spin – just for the fun of it. Guillaume Cizeron looked like a 1970s New York gangster with his trendy cap above his beard. Nathan Chen skated with his Yale student’s classy glasses. Fortunately, the final number could drive from their talent!

Bye Grenoble!

The six legs of the Grand Prix season are now over. The next stage, for the happy few, will take place in beautiful Vancouver. Thank you, skaters and coaches and team members to have given us such a thrill in Grenoble. Thank you all for having followed us. It’s been a privilege for us to give you some of the powerful vitamins only skating can give.

Stay tuned though: there is much more awaiting you in the following week… And the week after!

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 to capture Grand Prix France title 

Nathan Chen, Simone Biles, U.S. women’s soccer team win Team USA Awards

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Simone Biles was named female athlete of the year and Nathan Chen took the corresponding award for men Tuesday at the Team USA Awards in Los Angeles.

Six-time Olympic swimming champion Amy Van Dyken-Rouen, who has taken up wheelchair CrossFit competition since an ATV accident in 2014 left her paralyzed from the waist down, took the Jesse Owens Olympic Spirit Award. She works to help other people with spinal cord injuries through the Amy Van Dyken Foundation and Amy’s Army, which has launched a Wheels for Kids program to help injured children find wheelchairs that may not be covered by insurance.

The show also included a medal ceremony in which the teammates and family of the late Steven Holcomb received silver medals that were reallocated after doping infractions changed the results of the 2014 Olympic bobsled competition.

MORE: Holcomb’s legacy lives on 

Award winners from the ceremony:

Female Olympic athlete of the year: Simone Biles, gymnastics 

Biles took a one-year break after winning four gold medals and a bronze medal in the 2016 Olympics, then came back to do even better, unleashing new skills on the balance beam and in the floor exercise. This year, she won five gold medals at the world championships, breaking the record for career medals.

Female Paralympic athlete of the year: Oksana Masters, Para Nordic skiing and Para cycling 

Already an eight-time Paralympic medalist in Nordic skiing, biathlon and rowing, Masters had a breakout year in cycling, taking silver medals in the world championships. In Nordic skiing, Masters took five world championships (three cross-country, two biathlon) and the overall World Cup championship in sitting cross-country along with a second-place overall finish in biathlon.

Male Olympic athlete of the year: Nathan Chen, figure skating 

Chen had a double back-to-back year, winning his second straight world championship and his second straight Grand Prix final. He also started his 2019-20 season by winning both of his Grand Prix events. He and Japan’s Yuzuru Hanyu are far ahead of any other skaters in posted scores this season.

Male Paralympic athlete of the year: Ben Thompson, Para archery 

Thompson took the world championship and the No. 1 ranking in the men’s compound event and led the U.S. to a world record in the team compound event.

Olympic team of the year: U.S. women’s soccer team 

The team claimed the sport’s biggest prize for the second straight time, working its way through a difficult field that included a quarterfinal matchup with host France to win the World Cup once again, adding to its previous wins in 1991, 1999 and 2015.

Paralympic team of the year: U.S. sled hockey team 

Like the women’s soccer team, the sled hockey team went unbeaten in the world championships and claimed a fourth world title.

MORE: Golden goal clinches championship

Olympic coach of the year: KiSik Lee, archery 

This year, Brady Ellison won a world title and set a world record in the Pan Am Games, and Ellison teamed with Casey Kaufhold to win the world title in the mixed team event, which will be on the Olympic program in 2020.

Paralympic coach of the year: Wesley Johnson, paratriathlon 

The founder and head coach of Balanced Art Multisport in Salt Lake City, Johnson is the personal coach of three top-10 paratriathletes, and he served as an assistant coach in the world championships, where three of the athletes he coached won silver medals.

NBC will have highlights of the show at 2 p.m. ET Dec. 22.

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Hanyu, Zagitova control their Grand Prix Final destiny at NHK Trophy; TV, live stream schedule

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In order to qualify for the Grand Prix Final — after missing the event the past two seasons for varying reasons — two-time Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu needs to finish inside the top four at NHK Trophy, the sixth and last remaining Grand Prix series event. Hanyu competes on home ice in Japan this weekend, and the event is streaming live for NBC Sports Gold subscribers.

A full breakdown of Grand Prix Final-clinching scenarios can be found here.

Hanyu won the Grand Prix Final four straight times (2013-16). The prestigious December event would be the first time this season Hanyu and two-time Grand Prix Final champion Nathan Chen would compete head-to-head, outside the world championships in March.

Hanyu trains in Toronto alongside American Jason Brown, who will also be competing in Japan. Brown clinches a spot in the Grand Prix Final if he earns a silver or better, but is also very likely in if he earns a bronze medal.

Reigning Olympic and world champion Alina Zagitova of Russia is in a similar situation this weekend at NHK Trophy, needing to finish on the podium to clinch a berth in the Final. She faces Moscow-based training partner Alena Kostornaia (who needs to finish fifth or better to make the Final) and Japan’s Rika Kihira (must earn a medal of any color), among others such as 2019 European champion Sofia Samodurova of Russia and 2017 U.S. national champion Karen Chen.

MORE: Alina Zagitova focused on artistry, while other Russians push technical boundaries

Three teams in the pairs’ field at NHK Trophy can earn spots in the Grand Prix Final. Two-time world pair champions Sui Wenjing and Han Cong of China and Russia’s Anastasia Mishina and Aleksandr Galliamov need a medal of any color to clinch, while Canada’s Kirsten Moore-Towers and Michael Marinaro need silver to clinch, but could win with a bronze and a high score. See the breakdown here for details.

In ice dance, four-time world champions Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron of France are favorites at NHK Trophy. They have appeared in three Grand Prix Finals and own a medal of each color, including a win at their most recent appearance in 2017. (The duo withdrew from a regular-series Grand Prix event last season and were unable to qualify for the Final.)

The most likely NHK Trophy scenario is that Papadakis and Cizeron win NHK Trophy, and Russia’s Alexandra Stepanova and Ivan Bukin finish second – and if that happens, Papadakis and Cizeron, Stepanova and Bukin and Americans Madison Chock and Evan Bates (currently on the cusp of an entry) all make the Final.

MORE: Gabriella Papadakis, Guillaume Cizeron on ‘Fame,’ chasing history

NHK Trophy Broadcast Schedule

Day Time (ET) Event Network
Thursday 10:30 p.m. Rhythm Dance NBC Sports Gold STREAM LINK
Friday 12 a.m. Pairs’ Short NBC Sports Gold STREAM LINK
2:30 a.m. Women’s Short NBC Sports Gold STREAM LINK
5 a.m. Men’s Short NBC Sports Gold STREAM LINK
10 p.m. Free Dance NBC Sports Gold STREAM LINK
Saturday 12:30 a.m. Pairs’ Free NBC Sports Gold STREAM LINK
2:30 a.m. Women’s Free NBC Sports Gold STREAM LINK
5 a.m. Men’s Free NBC Sports Gold STREAM LINK
Sunday 4 p.m. Highlights NBC | STREAM LINK

As a reminder, you can watch the events from the 2019-20 figure skating season 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.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!