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Three questions with Vincent Zhou before U.S. Championships

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Vincent Zhou was off-balance a little this season so far. He was hampered by a back injury over the summer that delayed his training, which led to a sense of unpreparedness for the U.S. International Classic in September, where he finished fourth.

On the Grand Prix series, he was fifth at Skate America and fourth at Grand Prix Japan. But he competed at Tallinn Trophy in December, earning a silver, and believes he’s now back on track and ready for the U.S. Championships in Detroit this weekend.

Here’s what we learned from his media teleconference (or as Zhou jokingly said to reporters on the call, “welcome to my TED Talk”):

1. After some under rotation calls throughout the fall, Zhou has pushed himself to be squeaky-clean on his landings.

“The only thing it’s really done for me is push me to make it clearer – to make my jumps cleaner. One of my number one focuses since then has been making the rotation clearer. That’s one of the things I hope people will see in Detroit because I have been training better in that aspect.”

“I can only acknowledge the fact that I’ve been improving and working very hard on it. Hopefully the results show at nationals. It hasn’t been easy, redefining my standard of what is OK in terms of rotation or not. But I’m getting much stronger in that aspect.”

2. Zhou went to his choreographers for a tune-up before Nationals.

“I was able to go to Toronto for a week to kind of rework my program with Lori Nichol for the short and Jeff Buttle for the free skate. We made some pretty significant changes to the programs. I feel like they’re much better than before now. Not only have the programs improved, but also spending the week in Toronto really – without hammering away at the quads – helped me (I don’t want to say rediscover) but it helped me find out how much I really enjoy the creative process and the freedom and the flow that comes with good skating. I value that much more and I hope that it shows when I skate.

“It’s very difficult to be in the river current of a pure, unadulterated flow of a program, the choreography. Doing quads kind of snaps you out of that. but I’m trying to integrate the two together. It’s a work in progress for sure. I believe there have been pretty significant changes and good ones, too.”

Zhou also mentioned he’d been working with Tom Dickson, who’s been helping “place my shoulders, my arms, in relation to my head and combining that with the best position to create flow more easily.”

3. Last year’s success is just that – last year. Instead, Zhou is looking ahead.

“It’s not just duplicating what happened last year, but moving beyond it. I think my skating is in a different place than it was last year… I wanted so badly to make the Olympic team… I wanted to make this season more about improving my skating, the quality of my skating, my programs. I’m really looking forward to showing that in Detroit.”

MORE: Nathan Chen prepared to capture third national title

As a reminder, you can watch the U.S. Championships 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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April Ross, Alix Klineman back atop Olympic beach volleyball qualifying

April Ross, Alix Klineman
FIVB World Tour
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Two-time Olympic medalist April Ross and new partner Alix Klineman moved back on top of the U.S. Olympic beach volleyball qualifying standings by winning an event in Itapema, Brazil this week.

Ross, who split from Kerri Walsh Jennings in 2017, and Klineman beat Canadians Sarah Pavan and Melissa Humana-Paredes 25-23, 18-21, 15-10 in Sunday’s final for their third title in 11 FIVB World Tour tournaments together.

“Every victory is important, but this counts for more,” Klineman said, according to the FIVB. “We want to send a message and we want to be consistently the best.

Ross and Klineman supplanted Walsh Jennings and her new partner, Brooke Sweat, for the lead in the early U.S. Olympic qualifying rankings with still more than a year of events ahead.

1. Ross/Klineman – 3,240 (5 events played)
2. Walsh Jennings/Sweat – 3,100 (7 events)
3. Day/Flint – 2,180 (5 events)
4. Hughes/Ross — 2,000 (4 events)
5. Larsen/Stockman — 1,840 (5 events)
6. Sponcil/Claes — 1,600 (3 events)

Each team’s 12 best results from Sept. 1, 2018, to June 14, 2020, go into the Olympic qualifying rankings. That means Ross and Klineman are comfortably in front, having played two fewer events than Walsh Jennings and Sweat, who lost in the quarterfinals in Itapema.

The top two U.S. pairs come June 15, 2020, provided they’re ranked high enough internationally, will qualify for Tokyo. Most of the qualifying events, including the ones with the most points available, are still to come this summer.

Ross, 36, picked up Klineman, 29, after Walsh Jennings didn’t join her in signing a domestic AVP contract in 2017. The 6-foot-5 Klineman primarily played indoor the previous decade, including at Stanford from 2007-10 after being the Gatorade National Player of the Year coming out of high school.

MORE: Brazil volleyball star faints during courtside interview

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Katie Ledecky extends 5-year win streak

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Katie Ledecky extended a five-year domestic win streak by taking the 200m freestyle at the Tyr Pro Swim Series at Bloomington on Saturday.

In her last full meet before July’s world championships, Ledecky clocked 1:55.80 to beat training partner Simone Manuel by 1.44 seconds for her second win in as many days. Ledecky is also entered in Sunday’s 800m free on the last day of the meet.

Ledecky, who also cruised to a 400m free victory on Friday, ranks third in the world in the 200m free this year, behind Australian Ariarne Titmus and Swede Sarah Sjöström (the Olympic silver medalist who is not expected to race the 200m free at worlds).

Ledecky, a five-time Olympic champion, hasn’t lost a 200m, 400m, 800m or 1500m free final at a domestic meet since Allison Schmitt beat her in a 200m free on Jan. 18, 2014 when Ledecky was 16 years old.

BLOOMINGTON: Full Results

But Ledecky lost the two biggest 200m frees of this Olympic cycle so far, at the 2017 World Championships and the 2018 Pan Pacific Championships. Italian veteran Federica Pellegrini handed Ledecky her first individual final defeat at a major international meet at 2017 Worlds.

Ledecky dropped to third in the 200m free at Pan Pacs in Tokyo last year, beaten by younger swimmers Taylor Ruck of Canada and Rikako Ikee of Japan.

Ruck, who like Ledecky trains at Stanford, is in Bloomington, but she chose not to swim the 200m free on Saturday. She instead swam the 200m backstroke about 45 minutes after the 200m free and was upset by 17-year-old Regan Smith. Smith won in 2:06.47, moving to No. 3 in the world this year.

In other events Saturday, Ella Eastin captured the 400m individual medley in 4:37.18, taking 1.25 seconds off her personal best and moving to fifth in the world this year. Eastin is not on the world championships team after an untimely bout with mono before qualifying meets last summer.

Blake Pieroni won the men’s 200m free in 1:47.25. No American ranks in the top 20 in the world this year. World silver medalist Townley Haas did not enter Bloomington.

MORE: Olympic breaststroke champion faces ban for missed drug tests

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