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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 

Justin Gatlin, Noah Lyles headline U.S. roster for IAAF World Relays

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Justin Gatlin and Noah Lyles haven’t been in the same race since the 2016 Olympic Trials, but they could exchange a baton at the IAAF World Relays next month.

Gatlin, the reigning world 100m champion, and Lyles, undefeated at 200m outdoors in this Olympic cycle, headline the U.S. roster at World Relays in Yokohama, Japan, from May 11-12.

It’s the fourth edition of the meet that was held in the Bahamas in 2014, 2015 and 2017. Competition includes men’s and women’s 4x100m, 4x200m and 4x400m, a mixed-gender 4x400m (making its Olympic debut in 2020), a shuttle hurdle relay and a 2x2x400m.

The U.S. has topped the medal standings at every World Relays, most memorably beating a Usain Bolt-anchored Jamaican 4x100m in 2015.

This U.S. team also includes world 100m champion Tori Bowie, U.S. 100m champion Aleia Hobbs and Lyles’ younger brother, Josephus.

The full U.S. roster:

Devon Allen
Joanna Atkina
Olivia Baker
Jessica Beard
Chris Belcher
Jasmine Blocker
Tori Bowie
Donavan Brazier
Mikiah Brisco
Ce’Aira Brown
Dezerea Bryant
Cameron Burrell
Michael Cherry
Christina Clemons (Manning)
Shania Collins
Freddie Crittenden
Paul Dedewo
Ryan Fontenot
Justin Gatlin
Queen Harrison
Aleia Hobbs
Ashley Henderson
Je’Von Hutchinson
Kyra Jefferson
Fred Kerley
My’lik Kerley
Jordan Lavender
Josephus Lyles
Noah Lyles
Remontay McClain
Sharika Nelvis
Vernon Norwood
Courtney Okolo
Jenna Prandini
Bryce Robinson
Mike Rodgers
Jaide Stepter
Nathan Strother
Gabby Thomas
Brionna Thomas
Ameer Webb
Shakima Wimbley
Dontavius Wright
Isiah Young

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How to watch 2019 London Marathon

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The London Marathon airs live on NBCSN and streams commercial free for NBC Sports Gold “Track and Field Pass” subscribers on Sunday at 4 a.m. ET.

NBCSN coverage also streams on NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app for subscribers.

Sunday’s race start times (ET)
4:05 – Elite Wheelchair Races
4:10 – World Para Athletics Marathon Championships Ambulant Athletes
4:25 – Elite Women’s Race
5:10 – Elite Men’s Race, Mass Race

The London Marathon is known for the deepest fields of all the annual major marathons. This year is no exception.

Kenyan Eliud Kipchoge will race his first 26.2-miler since shattering the world record by 78 seconds in Berlin on Sept. 16 (2:01:39).

Kipchoge, on a modern-era record win streak of nine elite marathons, won his last three London starts, including setting the course record of 2:03:05 in 2016. Another world record on Sunday is a monumental ask, given Berlin is traditionally a faster course than London.

Kipchoge’s competition includes Britain’s four-time Olympic track champion Mo Farah and fellow Kenyans and past London winners Daniel Wanjiru and Wilson Kipsang.

Yet another Kenyan, Mary Keitany, also eyes a fourth London title. The 5-foot-2 soft speaker bagged either the London or New York City Marathons seven of the last eight years, with the outlier being 2013, when she gave birth to her second child.

Keitany’s greatest feat came in London in 2017, when she won in 2:17:01, erasing Paula Radcliffe‘s world record in a women’s only race by 41 seconds.

But last year, Keitany went out at world-record pace and was passed by yet another Kenyan mom, Vivian Cheruiyot, in the 23rd mile in London. Cheruiyot, a four-time Olympic track medalist, returns to defend her title Sunday.

The top two U.S. runners are Molly Huddle, in her London debut, and Emily Sisson, in her marathon debut. Both are jockeying for position among the deepest group of American female marathoners in history with the Olympic Trials looming in 10 months.

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MORE: 2019 Boston Marathon Results