AP

Gabriella Papadakis, Guillaume Cizeron look to new Olympic cycle

Leave a comment

GRENOBLE, France — France’s Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron withdrew from NHK Trophy three weeks ago because of Cizeron’s back injury, but the ice dancers won Internationaux de France by 16.4 points. They won’t take part in the Grand Prix Final, since they participated in only one Grand Prix, but they kindly accepted to sit with NBCSports.com/figure-skating to explain where they were standing, as the first half of the season is now coming to an end.

Will missing the Grand Prix Final this year be a big change for you?

Cizeron: Oh yes! It’s not the way we had planned the start of our season. We started to work on our programs much later than usual, but we wanted to do the whole season anyhow, including the Grand Prix. But health had to come first. We will try to make the best of it, as it will allow us to work more.

Papadakis: Coming to Grenoble, we were eager to launch our season, after all we’ve seen in the first five Grand Prix. There are lots of interesting features in this season’s new programs, and watching them made us feel that we really wanted to go out there and do our own part!

Cizeron: Our first competition this season was like a “reset,” as it were opening the first page of a new adventure.

Papadakis: Four years ago, we didn’t start with an Olympic medal hope. Then we realized it was possible. Last season was nerve-wracking and exhausting. As we wanted to start for another quadrennial, we needed renewed strength, both physically and mentally. So, we have taken more vacation than we had in many years, we really needed to rest. If you want to spend four more years with the same level of energy, then you need to refuel it.

You seem to have changed many things this year.

Papadakis: I hope we’ve changed! (She laughs). We may not notice it ourselves, at least in a conscious way. But these last years, especially these last two, have brought us a lot of maturity and surely a different way of looking at things.

Cizeron: This year we’ve worked just as much as before, but we’ve changed our approach. We want to experiment and try new things, and we try not to put too much pressure on ourselves. The last two seasons were so intense.

Do you think it’s possible to create under pressure?

Papadakis: It’s true, that’s more difficult. Pressure is coming from the others, but it’s also the one you put yourself on your shoulders. Pressure is helpful, though, as it makes you go faster.

Cizeron: Fortunately, we feel the pressure as competitions are approaching, or when we are being filmed. But the rest of the time we are more relaxed – and more patient, too!

Papadakis: Our approach now is not to deal with what we’re going to do next: it’s about what we are doing now, what we are currently creating. It’s the fact that we are creating something. Then you don’t think of anything else.

Cizeron: I would say that we are less and less stressed or, rather, that our stress is quite different now. The choices we make now are more deliberate than they were.

We try to enrich ourselves by developing new collaborations, as well as our physical and artistic capacities, at their best. We have the same energy to create, develop, learn, engage ourselves into different directions. We are meeting new people. That motivates us and helps us discovering beautiful new things. That’s how we will make our sport evolve.

Papadakis: Otherwise we would be completely expired! (She laughs) We also ask ourselves why we’re doing this. We sure want to win the medals, but the medals would not be enough. What makes us vibrate? What kind of skating do we want, what kind of performance, what kind of choreography? We also want to fully enjoy the journey.

Do you mean that you wouldn’t start all over if it were only to win an Olympic gold medal?

Papadakis: Of course not! We’ll fight for the Olympic gold medal for sure, and winning one would be super. But the hope of winning alone wouldn’t make it worthwhile to start all over.

Your rhythm dance was quite special; usually tango can be quite stiff and formal. Yours is completely fluid. How do you make passion so fluid?

Papadakis: Thank you, that’s a compliment for us. Fluid is the way we like to skate. We enjoy choreography when it allows to glide free and keep that freedom into our programs. This is the reason why we chose these pieces. They inspired us for this reason. Tango speaks for itself, it is a universal language. It calls for passion.

We have our own way to skate, for sure, and we’re not going to leave it. We like to take a lot of speed and then skate slower. That gives us the feeling that we fly. It’s much more agreeable for us to skate this way, so we’re always trying to keep that same feeling.

Cizeron: We created this program with Christopher Dean (1984 Olympic Gold and 1994 Bronze medalist with Jayne Torvill), and it was very fun and productive as always, as he always comes up with creative ideas.

Your free dance is quite different from the ones you’ve performed these last years. How do you maintain the balance between changing and staying yourselves?

Cizeron: That’s always difficult. On the one hand, there is what people are expecting from us. On the other hand, there is what we would like. This is always a matter of compromising in both directions, in order to find something which is going to both please people and inspire us at the same time. We try to show other aspects of skating, of choreography, of energy: but we can’t do things that wouldn’t look like us. I think we have met the challenge this year.

That’s why also we’ve changed our choreographic process. We’ve worked with Stéphane Lambiel last July (the 2005 and 2006 World gold medalist from Switzerland has become a respected coach and choreographer, as well as a coveted performer throughout the world), and he has provided us with lots of new material. It’s been very inspiring. Marie-France Dubreuil, who coaches us (alongside with Patrice Lauzon and Romain Haguenauer), has put all the pieces we had created with Stéphane together.

By working with different people, you get a new wealth of creation and innovation. There are many surprises in this program, elements we had never done before. We’ve also changed significantly the style of our music. The piano had become our trademark: now the base of our free dance is the guitar, and that modifies significantly the energy within our bodies. We’ve tried to deliver it as best as we could, but it’s only the premises of what it will become through the season.

And yet, that doesn’t change our personality.

Papadakis: This year’s program is more down-to-earth. It tells a story with two precise people, an encounter between two individuals who are destined to live something together, possibly two lovers. They evolve across one another, rather than looking after the same ideal together. That’s also new for us.

Cizeron: We even have lyrics in our music this time!

You sometimes give the feeling that your approach is an intellectual one. Is this something deliberate?

Cizeron: In fact, we don’t have an intellectual approach. Our approach is more physical and deeply felt. If we do intellectualize our skating, it’s because we will have analyzed what we’ve been doing in just intuitive a way. Our skating is always something deliberate, with a clear intention. But a lot comes from the feelings and the impressions we get. We just try to make programs that move people.

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.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: Yevgenia Medvedeva misses Grand Prix Final

2019 USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships TV schedule

Getty Images
Leave a comment

NBC, NBCSN and NBC Sports Gold combine to air live daily coverage of the USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships, starting Thursday in Des Moines, Iowa.

The top three per individual event are in line to qualify for the world championships in Doha in late September and early October, should they have the world standard time or mark.

Sprint trio Christian Coleman (100m and 200m), Noah Lyles (200m) and Michael Norman (400m) headline the event. Each is 23 or younger and fastest in the world this year in his primary event.

Allyson Felix and Justin Gatlin represent the veterans. Felix, a 33-year-old with 17 combined Olympic and world titles, is entered in her first meet since having daughter Camryn via emergency C-section at 32 weeks on Nov. 28.

Gatlin, 37, has a bye into worlds as the defending 100m champion. He could be Coleman’s biggest threat in the 100m after breaking 9.9 seconds for the first time since the Rio Olympics.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: Olympic champions, world-record holder to miss USATF Outdoors

Day Time (ET) Network Key Events
Thursday 3:45-11 p.m. NBC Sports Gold 100m first round, 10,000m finals
Friday 1:30-9 p.m. NBC Sports Gold 100m finals, 400m semifinals
7-9 p.m. NBCSN
Saturday 2-6 p.m. NBC Sports Gold Finals: 400m, women’s 1500m, 100m hurdles
4-6 p.m. NBC
Sunday 4-9 p.m. NBC Sports Gold Finals: 200m, men’s 1500m, 110m hurdles
7-8 p.m. NBCSN
8-9 p.m. NBC

Beachvolley Vikings, sport’s top team, inspired by Kerri Walsh Jennings

FIVB
Leave a comment

HAMBURG, Germany — Kerri Walsh Jennings smiled at the decade-old picture of her posing with a young Anders Mol.

Since Walsh Jennings met Mol, the now-22-year-old and his 23-year-old Norwegian partner Christian Sorum have become the top-ranked team in the world.

“Those boys inspire me a lot,” she said. “That’s how I want Brooke [Sweat] and I to play, really.”

Walsh Jennings met Mol in his native country at the 2009 FIVB Beach Volleyball World Championships in Stavanger. Mol attended with his father, Kare, who was coaching the Norwegian teams, as well as his brother Hendrik and cousin Mathias Berntsen.

Walsh Jennings noticed the young Norwegians, who are now nicknamed the “Beachvolley Vikings,” eagerly doing the pepper drill on the sand between matches from 6 a.m. until well after dark.   

“She walked by and told us, ‘Hey, you guys are so good that if you guys keep practicing, you’re going to be playing on this stage one day,’” Mol recalled.

Mol’s passion for the sport only increased as he hit puberty.

As a teenager, he derailed his family’s vacation plans in San Diego by making them battle traffic up to Los Angeles to hear Walsh Jennings give a speech.

Childhood photo of Mol and Walsh Jennings. Courtesy of Anders Mol.

At 13 or 14, Mol and his brother beat their parents for the first time. Impressive, considering Mol’s father was a former national indoor team player and his mother, Merita Mol (née Berntsen), competed in beach volleyball at the 1996 Olympics.

At 16, he enrolled in ToppVolley Norway, a beach and indoor volleyball school that is a two-hour boat ride north from Stavanger. For three years, the boys would attend classes, lift weights and train for a minimum of 20 hours per week. Free time often meant pick-up soccer matches, which occasionally proves useful on the sand.

“It doesn’t look like Hogwarts,” Mol said, “but it sounds like Hogwarts because everybody is like a big family in this school.”

When Mol graduated, he played a year of professional indoor volleyball in Belgium. But he quickly realized that he preferred the freedom of beach volleyball, where players book their own travel, hire their own coaches and schedule their own practices.

In 2017, Mol was named the international tour’s top rookie. By the end of the 2018 season, Mol and Sorum had firmly established themselves as the world’s top team, winning their final three international tournaments including the FIVB World Tour Finals.

They have not slowed down in 2019, winning three tournaments on three different continents over three weeks in May. They have won 36 of their last 38 matches.

“The best blocker right now is Anders, and the best defender is Christian,” said three-time U.S. Olympian Jake Gibb. “It’s not really fair.”

The only two teams who have defeated the Norwegians since April 28 — Germany’s Julius Thole/Clemens Wickler and Brazil’s Bruno Schmidt/Evandro Goncalves — did not offer any clues on how to do it.

Wickler admitted that “in no other stadium would we have won this game” after the Hamburg world championships semifinal played July 6 in front of more than 12,000 hometown fans, the largest crowd either team had ever experienced. Mol and Sorum rebounded to claim the bronze medal the next day over Americans Tri Bourne and Trevor Crabb.

Bruno rebuffed multiple teams who approached him looking for the secret to beating Norway.

“I’ve never seen a player like Anders who is so powerful and so skilled at the same time,” said Bruno, the 2016 Olympic champion with former partner Alison. “Players like that raise the level of this sport.”

Much of their success can be attributed to their defensive scheme. Most teams play a “zone defense,” with each player defending half of the court. The Norwegians play a “read defense” that gives each player the freedom to react and move to where they think the attacking player will hit the ball.

NBC Sports analyst Kevin Wong compared the Norwegians to “free safeties” in football.

“They are the most innovative defensive team we’ve seen in a long time,” he said.

The pair is relatively unknown outside Norway — neither has a Wikipedia page in English — and even in Norway they claim they are nowhere near as famous as the Alpine skiers nicknamed the “Attacking Vikings.”

But that will change.

At worlds, the pair hired a videographer to capture content for their YouTube and Instagram channels. They launched a Beachvolley Vikings clothing line that includes a “Sleeping Christian” shirt. They patiently fulfilled each and every request for pictures and autographs after matches.

“They are like rock stars,” said American Taylor Crabb, talking extra loud to be heard over a crowd of teenage girls hoping to take a selfie with the tall, blonde Norwegians. “Fans can relate to them because they see guys around their age becoming the No. 1 team the world.”

It is not just fans who are lining up to see the Norwegians.

“I love to watch them play,” said 2016 Brazilian Olympian Pedro Solberg, who made his international debut when Mol was just 8. “Every chance I get to watch them I do, because I learn a lot from them.”

Whether Mol and Sorum struggle with anything is up for debate. When asked, Kare boasted about beating them at the card game “President and the bum.”

“They are really smart in beach volleyball,” he said, “but they are really stupid in card playing.”

But both players disputed their coach’s claim.

“It’s not true at all,” Sorum said. “He loses even when he has the best cards.”

The Beachvolley Vikings are just getting started. 2008 Olympic champion Phil Dalhausser pointed out that beach volleyball players typically do not peak until their late 20s or early 30s.

“In my book, they are already among the top teams to ever play,” he said. “There are no holes in their game. I don’t see why they can’t keep this going.”

OlympicTalk editor Nick Zaccardi contributed to this report.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: Brazil Olympic beach volleyball champs form dangerous teams after split