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Brian Orser gives updates on students Javier Fernandez, Yuzuru Hanyu and Yevgenia Medvedeva

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Brian Orser, two-time Olympic silver medalist, is gathering and developing some of the world’s elite talent at his Toronto base. He is in Minsk at the European Championships coaching Javier Fernandez, the first protégé of his that is still skating. He agreed to give an update on his many prominent students to NBCSports.com/figure-skating.

You elected to come to Europeans with Javier?

Yes. Tracy [Wilson, who teaches alongside Orser in Toronto] is in Detroit for the U.S. Nationals. You know, this is Javier’s last time. I wanted to be with him and see this.

What will Javier leaving competitive skating mean for you?

There is something special about Javier. When he came back to Toronto, a few weeks ago, to get ready for this event, the level of everybody’s skating went up all of a sudden, simply because he was there. Javi is loved by everybody – parents, skaters, and the whole club. He worked hard as always, with a good attitude.

We will miss his spirit. For me and Tracy, he is our “poster child,” the very example of what we do with our style of training and coaching. He came through the way we planned it. But you know, I’m sure we’ll see him again in the future. He’ll be up in Toronto again, just to visit!

What do you think his legacy to the sport will be?

No one has asked me this question yet… This is our eighth season together. Javier has done something great for men’s skating. He has embraced the rules and all the changes in the judging system – as we have as teachers.

He is a perfect model for what male skating should be: athletic and aesthetic, bringing a very personal style. His fan base has kept increasing through the years, and he’s been very good at it. He is also the young boy from Spain who made it. This is something very important and special about him. He promotes skating in his home country, through his shows all over Spain and skating camps.

MORE: Javier Fernandez third after men’s short program at Europeans

Have you taught him how to coach?

He had already an excellent coaching base. He’s done the Alexei Mishin camps. I’ve seen him teaching. He teaches technique and style the way we do. This makes me very proud. He will be an excellent coach.

Still, my advice to him was to first do the shows. He loves them, and he is excellent at them. He’ll feel it when the time comes for switching to coaching. It will come naturally to him, and the transition should be smooth.

Can you talk about your other protégés? How do you see Jason Brown improve?

The timing is perfect at the club: Jason is in, Javier is out. They are quite similar. Both are polite, respectful, and both work hard. Jason is like a breeze of fresh air at the club. Also, he brings a fantastic style. This year the change of rules suits him quite well, too.

MORE: 3 questions with Jason Brown before U.S. Championships

There was a rumor that Yevgenia Medvedeva might come to Minsk as a spectator.

(He laughs) Oh no, she had enough travel! Yevgenia is in Toronto right now, training. I’ll be jumping in both feet with her next week. She has a smaller competition planned in Russia next month, and we’re standing by for a potential spot for Worlds.

Two months ago, you had mentioned that you needed to pay attention to the body changes that she was experiencing. Where do you stand now?

The changing of her body is done now. She is 19, so it should be over. It’s a matter of getting used to it. You have a few things to relearn. Your center of gravity is higher and you need to adapt to it. She got used to do that.

The whole is a matter of pushing through and persevering. From the beginning, as she came in Toronto, we told her that she would take a few hits in the first year, but that she had to trust the program and stick to it. Trust us, trust the program, and you’ll come out of the process better. We are taking the hits this year, and it certainly hits her confidence as well. But she’s trusting the program and I feel confident for her. We have to push through, be it for boys or girls.

The same happened to us with Javier. In his first season with us, his first Europeans were not good. His first Worlds were not good – although he had already improved. Things started to happen the next year. I’m anticipating the same with her.

What about Yuzuru Hanyu?

I can’t talk much of Yuzu. His injury is feeling better. He’s back on the ice in Toronto. I’ll tell you the same as last year: he’ll be fine. His focus is Japan and Worlds. He is not a stranger to that kind of a situation anymore. It was the same last year [when Hanyu spent significant time off the ice due to injury], and he became the Olympic champion. This year he is [back] even earlier than one year ago!

MORE: Yuzuru Hanyu wishes training partner Javier Fernandez luck at European Championships

As a reminder, you can watch the U.S. and 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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2019 USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships TV schedule

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NBC, NBCSN and NBC Sports Gold combine to air live daily coverage of the USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships, starting Thursday in Des Moines, Iowa.

The top three per individual event are in line to qualify for the world championships in Doha in late September and early October, should they have the world standard time or mark.

Sprint trio Christian Coleman (100m and 200m), Noah Lyles (200m) and Michael Norman (400m) headline the event. Each is 23 or younger and fastest in the world this year in his primary event.

Allyson Felix and Justin Gatlin represent the veterans. Felix, a 33-year-old with 17 combined Olympic and world titles, is entered in her first meet since having daughter Camryn via emergency C-section at 32 weeks on Nov. 28.

Gatlin, 37, has a bye into worlds as the defending 100m champion. He could be Coleman’s biggest threat in the 100m after breaking 9.9 seconds for the first time since the Rio Olympics.

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MORE: Olympic champions, world-record holder to miss USATF Outdoors

Day Time (ET) Network Key Events
Thursday 3:45-11 p.m. NBC Sports Gold 100m first round, 10,000m finals
Friday 1:30-9 p.m. NBC Sports Gold 100m finals, 400m semifinals
7-9 p.m. NBCSN
Saturday 2-6 p.m. NBC Sports Gold Finals: 400m, women’s 1500m, 100m hurdles
4-6 p.m. NBC
Sunday 4-9 p.m. NBC Sports Gold Finals: 200m, men’s 1500m, 110m hurdles
7-8 p.m. NBCSN
8-9 p.m. NBC

Beachvolley Vikings, sport’s top team, inspired by Kerri Walsh Jennings

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HAMBURG, Germany — Kerri Walsh Jennings smiled at the decade-old picture of her posing with a young Anders Mol.

Since Walsh Jennings met Mol, the now-22-year-old and his 23-year-old Norwegian partner Christian Sorum have become the top-ranked team in the world.

“Those boys inspire me a lot,” she said. “That’s how I want Brooke [Sweat] and I to play, really.”

Walsh Jennings met Mol in his native country at the 2009 FIVB Beach Volleyball World Championships in Stavanger. Mol attended with his father, Kare, who was coaching the Norwegian teams, as well as his brother Hendrik and cousin Mathias Berntsen.

Walsh Jennings noticed the young Norwegians, who are now nicknamed the “Beachvolley Vikings,” eagerly doing the pepper drill on the sand between matches from 6 a.m. until well after dark.   

“She walked by and told us, ‘Hey, you guys are so good that if you guys keep practicing, you’re going to be playing on this stage one day,’” Mol recalled.

Mol’s passion for the sport only increased as he hit puberty.

As a teenager, he derailed his family’s vacation plans in San Diego by making them battle traffic up to Los Angeles to hear Walsh Jennings give a speech.

Childhood photo of Mol and Walsh Jennings. Courtesy of Anders Mol.

At 13 or 14, Mol and his brother beat their parents for the first time. Impressive, considering Mol’s father was a former national indoor team player and his mother, Merita Mol (née Berntsen), competed in beach volleyball at the 1996 Olympics.

At 16, he enrolled in ToppVolley Norway, a beach and indoor volleyball school that is a two-hour boat ride north from Stavanger. For three years, the boys would attend classes, lift weights and train for a minimum of 20 hours per week. Free time often meant pick-up soccer matches, which occasionally proves useful on the sand.

“It doesn’t look like Hogwarts,” Mol said, “but it sounds like Hogwarts because everybody is like a big family in this school.”

When Mol graduated, he played a year of professional indoor volleyball in Belgium. But he quickly realized that he preferred the freedom of beach volleyball, where players book their own travel, hire their own coaches and schedule their own practices.

In 2017, Mol was named the international tour’s top rookie. By the end of the 2018 season, Mol and Sorum had firmly established themselves as the world’s top team, winning their final three international tournaments including the FIVB World Tour Finals.

They have not slowed down in 2019, winning three tournaments on three different continents over three weeks in May. They have won 36 of their last 38 matches.

“The best blocker right now is Anders, and the best defender is Christian,” said three-time U.S. Olympian Jake Gibb. “It’s not really fair.”

The only two teams who have defeated the Norwegians since April 28 — Germany’s Julius Thole/Clemens Wickler and Brazil’s Bruno Schmidt/Evandro Goncalves — did not offer any clues on how to do it.

Wickler admitted that “in no other stadium would we have won this game” after the Hamburg world championships semifinal played July 6 in front of more than 12,000 hometown fans, the largest crowd either team had ever experienced. Mol and Sorum rebounded to claim the bronze medal the next day over Americans Tri Bourne and Trevor Crabb.

Bruno rebuffed multiple teams who approached him looking for the secret to beating Norway.

“I’ve never seen a player like Anders who is so powerful and so skilled at the same time,” said Bruno, the 2016 Olympic champion with former partner Alison. “Players like that raise the level of this sport.”

Much of their success can be attributed to their defensive scheme. Most teams play a “zone defense,” with each player defending half of the court. The Norwegians play a “read defense” that gives each player the freedom to react and move to where they think the attacking player will hit the ball.

NBC Sports analyst Kevin Wong compared the Norwegians to “free safeties” in football.

“They are the most innovative defensive team we’ve seen in a long time,” he said.

The pair is relatively unknown outside Norway — neither has a Wikipedia page in English — and even in Norway they claim they are nowhere near as famous as the Alpine skiers nicknamed the “Attacking Vikings.”

But that will change.

At worlds, the pair hired a videographer to capture content for their YouTube and Instagram channels. They launched a Beachvolley Vikings clothing line that includes a “Sleeping Christian” shirt. They patiently fulfilled each and every request for pictures and autographs after matches.

“They are like rock stars,” said American Taylor Crabb, talking extra loud to be heard over a crowd of teenage girls hoping to take a selfie with the tall, blonde Norwegians. “Fans can relate to them because they see guys around their age becoming the No. 1 team the world.”

It is not just fans who are lining up to see the Norwegians.

“I love to watch them play,” said 2016 Brazilian Olympian Pedro Solberg, who made his international debut when Mol was just 8. “Every chance I get to watch them I do, because I learn a lot from them.”

Whether Mol and Sorum struggle with anything is up for debate. When asked, Kare boasted about beating them at the card game “President and the bum.”

“They are really smart in beach volleyball,” he said, “but they are really stupid in card playing.”

But both players disputed their coach’s claim.

“It’s not true at all,” Sorum said. “He loses even when he has the best cards.”

The Beachvolley Vikings are just getting started. 2008 Olympic champion Phil Dalhausser pointed out that beach volleyball players typically do not peak until their late 20s or early 30s.

“In my book, they are already among the top teams to ever play,” he said. “There are no holes in their game. I don’t see why they can’t keep this going.”

OlympicTalk editor Nick Zaccardi contributed to this report.

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MORE: Brazil Olympic beach volleyball champs form dangerous teams after split