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

10 takeaways from the U.S. Figure Skating Championships

Leave a comment

GREENSBORO, N.C. — Here, the NBC Sports figure skating contributors reflect on the standout moments of the 2020 U.S. Figure Skating Championships. Nathan Chen and Alysa Liu of course come to mind, though there were plenty of other moments to remark upon along the way. 

Women

1. Alysa Liu proved that she could do it again. She validated her insistence that there was no more pressure in successfully defending a title compared to winning her first title. 

Plus, the amusement of seeing the 4-foot-10 14-year-old needing help ascending the top step of the awards podium doesn’t get old either. Mariah Bell and Bradie Tennell helped hoist her for the second year in a row. Liu next competes at world juniors, where she will take on a formidable pair of Russian “K’s”: Kamila Valieva and Ksenia Sinitsyna, both of whom outscored her on the Junior Grand Prix circuit. To win the crown, Liu may need a fully rotated quadruple Lutz, something that eluded her in Greensboro.

2. Speaking of Bell, she comes out of the championships with her already-improving confidence another notch higher after the free skate of her life and her best nationals finish ever, a silver medal. In tears before she even hit her final pose, she deservedly got an overwhelming standing ovation.

When asked how she felt about being the No. 1 senior U.S. woman, she said, “It’s a very special feeling. I haven’t had that before in my career, so that was awesome. The coolest thing about it was how into it the crowd was.” 

Now, let the calculations begin: can Bell and Tennell gain three U.S. women’s spots for next season’s world championships? To do so, the sum of their placements at the 2020 World Figure Skating Championships cannot be greater than 13 (for example, sixth and seventh).

3. Rounding out the memorable moments of the women’s event were the returns of Olympians Karen Chen and Gracie Gold. Chen, the 2017 national champion, missed the entirety of last season with a right foot stress fracture, and now is a freshman at Cornell. She finished fourth, and gained an assignment at the Four Continents Figure Skating Championships early next month. With her competitive juices flowing again, Chen told reporters she was considering taking a gap year from college.

Two-time U.S. champion Gold, of course, triumphed simply by qualifying for her first national championships since 2017 after time away from the sport for treatment for depression, anxiety and an eating disorder. After a mediocre short program, Gold did a respectable free skate, and the crowd gave her a standing ovation, an emotional reward that left her with grateful tears. It moved Gold, who finished 12th, to vow she would continue her comeback for at least another season.

Men

4. Nathan Chen’s fourth straight U.S. title puts him in the company of five men since World War II, all of whom won Olympic gold medals, with Brian Boitano (85-88) the most recent. Chen, a Yale sophomore, was the first to do it in the IJS and quadruple jump eras (he went six-for-six in quads in the two programs), and the fourth came after a case of the flu bad enough he could practice only intermittently the first two weeks of January. “I don’t know anybody who could recover and do what he did after that sickness,” coach Rafael Arutunian said of Chen.

5. Tomoki Hiwatashi’s continued improvement: two clean programs with three clean quads for the bronze medal. His showmanship, including Russian split jumps, are to die for. Last season, Hiwatashi finished a surprise fourth at nationals but had disappointing 10th and fifth places in his debut competitions on the senior Grand Prix debut. The 2019 world junior champion has put himself into the mix for a 2022 Olympic team spot — if he can improve his consistency. 

6. Except for that pesky quad, Jason Brown put it all together at nationals for the first time since 2014. If he can execute all the elements as brilliantly as he did in Greensboro, a clean quad might put him in bronze medal contention at the 2020 World Championships, given the consistent inconsistency of all the top men after Chen and Japan’s Yuzuru Hanyu.

7. In the past month, Vincent Zhou turned his life inside out, taking a leave from Brown University to focus on skating after completing the first semester of his freshman year and switching coaches to Lee Barkell and Lori Nichol in Toronto. Despite that upheaval and little intense training, the reigning world bronze medalist and 2019 U.S. silver medalist had two solid performances to finish fourth, strategically limiting his quads to one in each program. Although Zhou had skipped the Grand Prix season, his choice as a world team member over Hiwatashi was totally justified under the selection criteria in use.

Ice dance

8. Madison Chock and Evan Bates made ice dance — and figure skating — history when they became the first U.S. skater, couple or pair team to go five years between national titles since the 1920s. They topped two duos they train with, Madison Hubbell and Zach Donohue, and Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker, to win their first title since 2015, also won in Greensboro. Their widely acclaimed slithering “Snake Charmer” free dance likely sets them up to glide to the world championship podium, but another showdown with Hubbell and Donohue awaits at Four Continents.

Pairs

9. Jessica Calalang and Brian Johnson had a breakthrough moment in the pairs’ event with one of the most memorable free skates in the last 20 years. Calalang’s joyous disbelief was palpable when she and Johnson got their score (146.01, the highest ever at nationals) for a program that had the crowd out of its seats before it even ended

“In my head, I’m like, ‘We got 119 at Skate Canada. We got 120-something at Warsaw.’ So, I was like, ‘Okay, we did both jumps… maybe 130,” she said, recalling her mental play-by-play. “Then it’s 140. Ohmigod, I’ve never dreamed of getting this score. I didn’t think it was possible.” 

Added Johnson: “No one can take that moment away from us.” 

Especially poignant words as Calalang and Johnson were passed over in favor of Ashley Cain-Gribble and Timothy LeDuc for the world championships teams. Calalang and Johnson are slated to participate at Four Continents, where they can continue to build a body of work that will impress U.S. Figure Skating’s International Selection Committee next time around.

10. Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Chris Knierim won their third U.S. pair title in Greensboro, joining such company as John Zimmerman and Kyoko Ina, Jenni Meno and Todd Sand, and Jill Watson and Peter Oppegard. The couple skated a clean and memorable short program to “At Last,” including side-by-side triple toe loops. In the free skate, though, Knierim fell on his triple toe and the skaters doubled their planned triple Salchows. Despite their superior triple twist and lifts, in order to crack the top five in the world, Scimeca Knierim and Knierim need to get consistent on their jumps, and the California-based skaters are working with Arutunian to do so.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

U.S. FIGURE SKATING CHAMPIONSHIPS: Full Results | Women’s | Ice dance | Pairs | Men’s | Worlds roster

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.

China’s first Winter X Games postponed due to coronavirus

Getty Images
Leave a comment

A Winter X Games competition due to be held in Chongli, China, next month has been postponed due to the outbreak of the coronavirus in China.

“Due to the ongoing coronavirus concerns, the X Games Chongli 2020 event will be postponed until a later date,” organizers announced via Twitter. “The safety of our athletes, staff and spectators is our top priority, and we will continue to closely monitor the situation.”

The competition would have been the first Winter X Games held in China. Shanghai has hosted many X Games in the summer, including a event last June.

As with an Alpine skiing World Cup event that was canceled Wednesday, the X Games were due to take place at a 2022 Olympic venue, Chongli’s Secret Garden ski report. The venue hosted a World Cup snowboard event in December.

READ: First Alpine World Cup in China canceled

Several of the most decorated X Games and Olympic athletes, including two-time Olympic snowboard slopestyle champion Jamie Anderson, were scheduled to compete in China.

The coronavirus outbreak has also affected qualifiers for the 2020 Olympics, with boxing and women’s soccer tournaments moved from Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak. Asia-Oceania boxing qualifiers will be held March 3-11 in Amman, Jordan, with coverage on the Olympic Channel. The women’s soccer qualifiers, including traditional power China and a strong Australian team, were originally moved to Nanjing but then moved to Sydney, Australia.

China’s team has arrived in Australia but is under quarantine, putting the start of the qualifiers in doubt.

Aspen hosted the biggest X Games competition of the winter last week. Another X Games is scheduled for March 7-8 in Norway.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!