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Three questions with Madison Chock, Evan Bates before U.S. Championships

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Madison Chock and Evan Bates made their season debut at a small event in Poland, but before that, were off the ice 10 months as Chock rehabbed an ankle injury.

They’ll come to the U.S. Championships later this week in Detroit with a renewed sense of what it means to be skating again.

“I can tell you it felt like a very long 10 months, but it felt really, really great to be back competing again,” Chock told reporters on a media teleconference ahead of nationals. “Our main goal is to get people excited about our skating again, as much as we are, because we feel such a newfound inspiration and passion for skating that we haven’t felt in a long time. We’re really excited to share that with everyone this season.”

Here’s what we learned about the team from their media call:

1. Chock and Bates’ move to Montreal to train with the world’s top teams – as well as two other American teams – shook things up for them.

Evan Bates: “The move to Montreal has been really good for us on a lot of levels… We needed a change just to feel reinvigorated for the next four-year cycle. There’s something really special going on in the camp in Montreal. You see the success that they had, especially at the Olympics. We knew that if we could move there, that would really be the place that would spark our passion again and give us the kind of daily competition that we were craving. That’s what’s been beneficial for us on the ice.”

“Then off ice, it’s been great being here with people who are our age, friends that I’ve grown up with and have a really long history and personal friendship with. Those kinds of things, maybe we didn’t anticipate would be so beneficial to us, has been great. Our lives outside of the ice rink also have developed, have been enriched by the environment.”

“You add in the layer of – we’re living in a foreign country where they speak French. We feel like fish out of water. I think it’s good for us. We’ve been comfortable for a long time. I think a little bit of discomfort is good when you’re looking for growth.

2. They are taking this season as “phase one” in their long-term, three-year plan through the next Olympics.

EB: “We know that it’s a long process. It’s probably a multi-year process. Right now, we’re in phase one. Our goal for U.S. Championships and beyond through the season is just simply to show the way that we’re feeling about our own skating, which is that we’re very excited. We feel a new passion – our passion never died, but it’s been sparked again. It’s been reinvigorated. We’re very excited about the direction things are going for us. We wanna get other people excited about it. Whatever the placement is at nationals, we’ll certainly be able to live with it knowing that things are heading in the right direction for us.

3. Even though it was a small competition, there were still moments to learn from in Poland.

EB: “We were a little nervous, to be honest. In the [rhythm] dance especially. There’s no simulation for competition and we trained a lot. We feel really prepared. The programs feel like they’re in a good place. But when you get to the competition and the moment arrives, there’s nothing like it. We were a little bit nervous for the first time out. Maybe it showed a little bit, especially in the [rhythm] dance. The free dance was really a good skate for us and we felt it’s something we’ve been waiting for so long and finally we got the opportunity to compete and perform and it just felt like a relief, honestly.”

MC: “Every outing is a learning experience. Every run-through is a learning experience. Each time we perform our programs, we learn from it and can make the next one even better. Competing is just learning at a different level. Competition is so much different than practice. We have benefited from going out and competing in Poland. We’re very happy that we did that. We are more confident in our programs than we were before. Very excited to debut them for the U.S. Championships.”

MORE: Three questions with Madison Hubbell, Zachary Donohue before U.S. Championships

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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Katie Ledecky wins race by 30 seconds, takes back No. 1 ranking

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In her last race of the year, Katie Ledecky ensured she would finish 2019 as the world’s fastest 1500m freestyler.

Ledecky clocked 15:35.98 at the U.S. Open in Atlanta, winning the longest event on the Olympic pool program by 29.97 seconds. Typical for Ledecky, who owns the nine fastest times in history. This one came in at No. 8. Full meet results are here.

Ledecky scratched the 1500m free final at the summer world championships due to illness. Italian Simona Quadarella went on to win that title in 15:40.89, which was the world’s fastest time this year until Saturday night.

“I didn’t have time on my mind at all today. I just wanted to have a consistent swim,” Ledecky, undefeated in 1500m free finals for nine years, said on NBCSN. “That’s probably the best mile that I’ve had in a while.”

The women’s 1500m freestyle debuts at the Olympics in Tokyo. Ledecky is expected to add that to her Rio Olympic individual lineup of 200m, 400m and 800m frees, assuming she is top two in each event at the June Olympic trials.

In other events Saturday, Erika Brown handed Simone Manuel a rare defeat in the 100m freestyle. Brown, a University of Tennessee senior, clocked 53.42 and lowered her personal best by .71 between prelims and the final. Brown moved from sixth to fourth in the U.S. rankings this year, upping her stock as a contender to make the Olympic 4x100m free relay pool via a top-six finish at trials.

Brown previously lowered her personal best in the 50m free on Thursday. She ranks third in the U.S. this year in that event.

Emily Escobedo dealt Lilly King a rare domestic defeat in the 200m breaststroke. Escobedo lowered her personal best by .87 and clocked 2:22.00, moving to seventh fastest in the world this year and remaining fourth among Americans.

In the men’s 200m breast, Olympic champion Dmitriy Balandin of Kazakhstan was beaten by Cody Miller, the Olympic 100m breast silver medalist. Both were slower than their best times this year.

The next significant swim meet is a Tyr Pro Series stop in Knoxville, Tenn., from Jan. 16-19.

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Mikaela Shiffrin runner-up in Lake Louise downhill

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LAKE LOUISE, Alberta (AP) — Here’s a scary thought for her competition: Mikaela Shiffrin is still getting comfortable with the intensity and the speed of the downhill.

That’s why podium finishes are still a little surprising even to her.

The American three-time overall World Cup champion finished runner-up to Nicole Schmidhofer of Austria in a downhill race Saturday. Schmidhofer cruised through the course in 1 minute, 49.92 seconds to edge Shiffrin by 0.13 seconds. Francesca Marsaglia of Italy wound up third.

Schmidhofer has four career World Cup wins, with three of them arriving at Lake Louise.

Known as a tech specialist, Shiffrin is steadily getting up to speed in the speed events. This was Shiffrin’s fourth career World Cup podium finish in the downhill, which includes a Lake Louise win in 2017.

So, does Shiffrin anticipate this kind of downhill success?

“No, no, no,” the 24-year-old from Colorado said. “It’s certainly not normal (for a downhill podium). Even racing downhill doesn’t feel normal. But I feel every year like I have more experience and get more comfortable.”

Shiffrin currently sits at 62 World Cup wins, which ties her with Austrian great Annemarie Moser-Proell for second-most on the women’s side. Lindsey Vonn had 82 wins before her retirement.

“I’m certainly more comfortable with the long skis,” Shiffrin said of downhill racing. “Right now, it’s enjoying it, because speed is a little bit extra for me. My goal is to be able to succeed in speed as well. It’s making the transition and trying to have fun with it.”

Czech Republic skier and snowboarder Ester Ledecka finished fourth Saturday. She was the surprise winner of Friday’s season-opening downhill, which was delayed and shortened by heavy snowfall on the mountain. The race Saturday was restored to its full length.

Next up, a super-G on Sunday.

“It’s always been a little bit tricky for me from downhill skis to super-G skis and to change the timing a little bit,” Shiffrin said. “I’m going to have fun.”

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