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Behind the scenes at European Championships: Day 2

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Jean-Christophe Berlot is on the ground in Minsk, Belarus to cover the European Championships. This is his behind-the-scenes look at the competition on the event’s second day.

Figure eights

“Eight… is a lot!” Javier Fernandez had suggested one year ago, after he won his sixth European crown, referring to Austrian Karl Schafer’s record of eight straight European titles (Schafer won from 1929 to 1936).

“But who knows? Maybe I’ll throw in a last one next year?” he had added smilingly, regarding 2019.

Since then Fernandez won the Olympic medal he was dreaming of – a bronze in PyeongChang. He decided to come back to competitive ice for one ultimate European try. No other skater other than Schafer and Fernandez has won six or more titles in a row.

Only one has won seven, although not in a row: Russia’s Yevgeny Plushenko. That will be Fernandez’ challenge: equal the Russian’s supremacy over Europe.

“I’d liked to have trained a bit more, but I think it’s possible,” Fernandez told the Olympic Channel a few days ago.

Michal’s practice

“Now that Adam [Rippon] and Ashley [Wagner] are gone, Michal [Brezina] has become the leader of the group in L.A.,” coach Vera Arutunian, who went along Brezina to Minsk, offered. “Michal is very smart. He knows how to train, and we wish all our skaters would train as smartly as he does.”

Learning how to train seems to be a key in skating. “Rafael [Arutunian, Vera’s husband] says that you need two years to adjust to what he wants. And it’s true: you need to give time to time. Skaters start to understand the idea after a while. Beyond technique, you have to understand how to behave in practice. It’s the same whatever the country and culture they are coming from, Asia, U.S. or Europe. It’s a matter of attitude. For instance, you can’t end a season and go travel for months. A sportsman has to keep going all the time. He has to be in a process. He can’t stop, even though his competitive season is over.”

MORE: Mariah Bell coming into her own after 2 years under Rafael Arutunian

When two old buddies meet again

Major championships provide good opportunities to meet. Two of the sport’s recent greats and crowd favorites are in Minsk coaching: Brian Joubert, the 2007 world champion, is coaching France’s up-and-coming Siao Him Fa.

“I don’t skate anymore,” Joubert admitted. “When I do something, I like to do it 100 percent. And coaching is such a passion for me.”

Belgium’s Kevin van der Perren, who thrilled the audiences worldwide with his quads in the 2000s, was here coaching the Dutch skater Kyarha van Tiel.

“She didn’t make it to the free [skate], however,” van der Perren regretted. “It was the worst time to miss a double Axel.”

“Besides her, I teach two 12-year-old girls who started with me from scratch. Now they can land triples, and I’d really like to see how far we can go. I still skate myself every day, and can still do my tricks. I was a guest at Dancing with the Stars in Germany last week. I love performing so much. It took too many years to learn to just let it go.”

Grand venue

The Minsk Arena, hosting Europeans this year, holds 15,000 seats. It was designed by the same architect and with the same plans as the Hartwall Arena in Helsinki, where the 2017 World Championships were held. The practice rink, just across the street, is even more impressive. Just imagine a huge 9-meter wide and 400-meter long speed skating ice track. In the middle of it, you find two regular size skating rinks: one is for hockey, and one is used as the practice rink for these championships. You even have a curling track behind. You enter and exit the practice rink via underground tunnels, under the speed skating track. Around the track are no less than 3,000 seats. The whole is reminiscent from the old open-air rinks of the Alps, in Chamonix in France, or Davos in Switzerland. Except the whole complex – about 10,000 square meters – is covered in Minsk.

But it’s warm inside

Quite impressively, the practice rink is quite warm inside, in spite of the mass of air it gathers and the outside below freezing temperature. “Look! Morgan (Ciprès) is topless!” a lady fan exulted, as the French pair champion was changing from his costume after his morning practice. We won’t disclose more in this column, however.

XXL SX in Minsk

Or: “The Spectator’s Experience is great in Minsk!”

Wednesday afternoon, for the ladies’ short program, the lower section of the gigantic Minsk Arena was full. Wednesday night, for the pairs’ short, the 15,000 stands were completely packed.

True, the event is superbly organized. Volunteers are everywhere with their elegant multi-colored jackets, they are well trained and so willing to help out, whatever the situation. People smile at you as long as you smile at them (yes, even security!), they speak English as much as they can.

Food is not allowed in the rink. Wherever rules apply, they are clearly posted. Signs are clear and visibly posted everywhere to secure the fans, spectators and journalists’ experience and make them enjoy. Even the weather is perfect, as crisp and light as skating should be.

MORE: Javier Fernandez third after men’s short program

As a reminder, you can watch the European 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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Noah Lyles a must-see in Paris; Diamond League TV, live stream schedule

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The last time Noah Lyles raced a Diamond League 200m, he became the fourth-fastest man in history. His follow-up comes against a field of similar strength in Paris on Saturday

Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA airs live coverage from 2-4 p.m. ET. NBC Sports Gold streams live coverage starting at noon.

Lyles could look to improve on the 19.50 he ran in Lausanne on July 5, when he moved to No. 4 on the all-time list behind Usain BoltYohan Blake and Michael Johnson. There’s reason to believe he can, given the Swiss race was into a slight headwind.

And because most of the major players from Lausanne are back for Paris. That includes Turkey’s Ramil Guliyev, who won the 2017 World title while Lyles was out injured.

Two more notables — Olympic bronze medalist Christophe Lemaitre of France and Nigeria’s Divine Oduduru, the third-fastest man this year — are in Saturday’s field after missing the July event.

Lyles may also be looking at Paris as a lead-up to the two biggest international meets of the year — a Diamond League final in Brussels on Sept. 6 and the world championships in Doha three weeks later.

Here are the Paris entry lists. Here’s the schedule of events (all times Eastern):

12:02 p.m. — Men’s Shot Put
12:35 — Women’s Triple Jump
1:17 — Women’s Discus
1:40 — Women’s Pole Vault
2:03 — Men’s 400m Hurdles
2:09 — Men’s High Jump
2:14 — Men’s 800m
2:24 — Women’s 100m
2:32 — Men’s Triple Jump
2:35 — Men’s 1500m
2:48 — Women’s 400m
2:57 — Men’s 200m
3:06 — Women’s 800m
3:29 — Men’s 3000m Steeplechase
3:50 — Men’s 110m Hurdles

Here are five events to watch:

Women’s Pole Vault — 1:40 p.m. ET
All six women who have cleared 4.80 meters this season are here, topped by world leader and London Olympic champion Jenn Suhr. But Suhr hasn’t won a top-level meet outside the U.S. since 2012. Watch out for Rio Olympic and world champ Katerina Stefanidi, the Greek who beat Suhr in Birmingham, Great Britain, last Sunday. And Olympic and world silver medalist Sandi Morris at her first Diamond League in two months.

Women’s 100m — 2:24 p.m. ET
Olympic champ Elaine Thompson takes her No. 1 world ranking into her first Diamond League 100m in two and a half months. Thompson rebounded from a blemished 2018 to win June’s Jamaican Championships in 10.73 seconds, cementing herself as the world championships favorite. Three other women in this field have a personal best in the 10.8s, including 2018 U.S. champion Aleia HobbsTeahna Daniels, the surprise 2019 U.S. champ, is coming off a third-place, 11.24 finish in Birmingham against a largely unaccomplished field.

Men’s Triple Jump — 2:32 p.m. ET
Americans Christian Taylor and Will Claye go head-to-head for the 48th time in this event, according to Tilastopaja.org. Taylor, who owns five combined Olympic and world titles, has a 25-22 edge and hasn’t lost to his countryman on the Diamond League level in five years. But Claye, who owns five combined Olympic and world medals (but no gold), ranks No. 1 in the world this year with his personal-best 18.14-meter mark from June 29. The winner here is likely the favorite for worlds.

Men’s 200m — 2:57 p.m. ET
Lyles has never lost to anyone in this field in senior competition. In fact, only one man has beaten him in a 200m in the last three years, countryman Michael Norman, who is focusing on the 400m this summer. Last year, Lyles made a statement by breaking 19.8 in the 200m on four separate occasions, something only Usain Bolt had previously done. Lyles is at three sub-19.8s so far this season with at least three meets left.

Men’s 110m Hurdles — 3:50 p.m. ET
Grant Holloway
, the only man to break 13 seconds this year, makes his Diamond League debut after turning professional following his junior season at Florida. He takes on the second- and third-fastest men this year, including former NCAA rival Daniel Roberts, who upset Holloway at the USATF Outdoor Championships.

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MORE: David Rudisha to miss world championships

2019 U.S. Open Women’s Draw

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Serena Williams‘ big showdown at the 2018 U.S. Open came in a controversial final with Naomi Osaka. This year, her most anticipated match may be her first-round date with Maria Sharapova.

It’s one of potentially two first-week blockbusters. Osaka, the world No. 1 and defending champion, will play 15-year-old American phenom Coco Gauff in the third round should each win her first two matches.

Williams comes to New York in her seventh bid to win a record-tying 24th Grand Slam singles title. She was runner-up at three of her last five Slams and is two years removed from life-threatening childbirth.

Sharapova, who like Williams has dealt with recent injuries, has seen her ranking fall to 87th. She has lost 18 straight matches to Williams but advanced from what would have been their last meeting when Williams withdrew injured minutes before a 2018 French Open fourth-round date.

Osaka has traded the No. 1 ranking with Australian Ash Barty this spring and summer. The Japanese megastar was bounced in the first week of the last two majors and withdrew from her last U.S. Open tune-up event with a knee injury.

Gauff, who qualified into Wimbledon and then became the youngest woman to reach the fourth round since Jennifer Capriati in 1991, is playing her first U.S. Open main draw. She won the junior title.

US OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women

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