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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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Ehsan Hadadi, Iran’s first Olympic track and field medalist, has coronavirus

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Ehsan Hadadi, Iran’s lone Olympic track and field medalist, tested positive for the coronavirus, according to World Athletics and an Iranian news agency.

“We’ve received word from several Asian journalists that Iranian discus thrower Ehsan Hadadi has tested positive for coronavirus,” according to World Athletics. “[Hadadi] trains part of the year in the US, but was home in Tehran when he contracted the virus.”

Hadadi, 35, became the first Iranian to earn an Olympic track and field medal when he took silver in the discus at the 2012 London Games. Hadadi led through four of six rounds before being overtaken by German Robert Harting, who edged the Iranian by three and a half inches.

He was eliminated in qualifying at the Rio Olympics and placed seventh at last fall’s world championships in Doha.

Jordan Larson preps for her last Olympics, one year later than expected

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Whether the Tokyo Olympics would have been this summer or in 2021, Jordan Larson knew this: It will mark her final tournament with the U.S. volleyball team, should she make the roster.

“I’m just not getting any younger,” said Larson, a 33-year-old outside hitter. “I’ve been playing consistently overseas for 12 years straight with no real offseason.

“I also have other endeavors in my life that I want to see. Getting married, having children, those kinds of things. The older I get, the more challenging those become.”

Larson, who debuted on the national team in 2009, has been a leader the last two Olympic cycles. She succeeded Christa Harmotto Dietzen as captain after the Rio Games. Larson started every match at the 2012 and 2016 Olympics.

As long as Larson was in the building, the U.S. never had to worry about the outside hitter position, said two-time Olympian and NBC Olympics volleyball analyst Kevin Barnett.

“She played as if she belonged from the start,” he said. “They will miss her all-around capability. They’ll miss her ability to make everyone around her better. She’s almost like having a libero who can hit.”

Karch Kiraly, the Olympic indoor and beach champion who took over as head coach after the 2012 Olympics, gushed about her court vision.

“It’s a little dated now, but somebody like Wayne Gretzky just saw things that other people didn’t see on the hockey rink,” Kiraly said in 2018. “And I remember reading about him one time, and the quote from an opposing goalie was, oh my god, here he comes, what does he see that I don’t see right now? She sees things sooner than most people.”

Larson grew up in Hooper, Neb., (population 830) and starred at the University of Nebraska. She was a three-time All-American who helped the team win a national title as a sophomore. She had the opportunity to leave Nebraska and try out for the Olympics in 2008 but chose to remain at school for her final season.

She earned the nickname “Governor” as a Cornhusker State sports icon.

Larson helped the U.S. win its first major international title at the 2014 World Championship. She was also part of the program’s two stingers — defeats in the 2012 Olympic final and 2016 Olympic semifinals, both matches where the U.S. won the first set (and convincingly in 2012).

“It just gives me chills thinking about it now,” Larson said of the Rio Olympic semifinals, where Serbia beat the U.S. 15-13 in the fifth. “That team, we put in so much. Not just on the court but off the court working on culture and working on how are we best for each other. How can we be the best team? How can we out-team people? Certain teams have a better one player that’s a standout that we maybe didn’t have or don’t have. So how can we out-team the other teams? We had just put in so much work that was just heartbreaking.”

Larson and the Americans rebounded to win the bronze-medal match two days later.

“I don’t know anybody that didn’t have their heart ripped out. It was just a soul-crusher of a match,” Kiraly said of the semifinal. “More meaningful was what a great response everybody, including Jordan, mounted to the disappointment of that loss.”

The U.S. took fifth at worlds in 2018 and is now ranked second in the world behind China.

Larson spent the past club season in Shanghai. The campaign ended in mid-January. She hadn’t heard anything about the coronavirus when she took her scheduled flight back to California, learning days later that LAX started screening for it. Now, she’s working out from her garage.

Larson is in line to become the fifth-oldest U.S. Olympic women’s volleyball player in history, according Olympedia and the OlyMADMen.

Her decade of experience could go a long way to help the next generation of outside hitters, led by three-time NCAA champion and Sullivan Award winner Kathryn Plummer.

“If you’re coming into the USA program as an outside hitter, in the next year or the quad or the quad after that,” Barnett said, “the measuring stick is going to be Jordan Larson.”

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