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U.S. Championships reporters’ notebook: Day 1

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Our figure skating team is on the ground in Detroit to cover the U.S. Championships. This is our behind-the-scenes look at the competition on the first day.

Biechler trades Rhumbas for Lutzes

When Julia Biechler competed at the U.S. Championships last season, her biggest challenge was hitting the key points in the Rhumba pattern of her short dance.

In Detroit, the 20-year-old skater is grappling with triple Lutz combinations.

“I fell out of love with ice dance, personally,” Biechler, who sits 17th after Thursday’s ladies’ short program, said. “I always wanted to do freestyle, just by myself.”

It’s not uncommon for singles’ skaters to take up pairs later in their careers; occasionally, they switch to ice dance. But ice dancers who convert to singles are a rare breed.

“I was a senior-level international ice dancer with Damian Dodge for seven years, competing on the Junior Grand Prix and at B-level senior internationals,” said Biechler. “Then we didn’t see eye-to-eye on some things anymore, and I decided to give singles my full focus.”

Biechler began training singles only in February 2018. She admits she has some catch-up work to do on jumps, including triple-triple combinations, but also thinks competing ice dance all those years has its advantages.

“A lot of the girls at this level have all of the jumps, and now they work on getting flow into the jumps, and the transitions, more of the second mark,” Biechler said. “I don’t have to work on that as much as they do, because of my ice dance background. For me, it’s just jump repetition, jump repetition, jump repetition.”

Viktor Pfeifer, who coaches Biechler in Wilmington, Delaware, thinks her story is inspiring.

“It helps the kids around her to have a freestyle skater understand the artistry and the edges at a very high level,” he said. “They all look up to her for her work ethic. She is now 20 years old, and she’s improving and improving. It’s nice to see for other athletes that even if you can’t do all your triples at 13 or 14, it’s not all over.”

Spreading the message

Figure Skating in Detroit held a private event on Thursday at Little Caesars Arena that featured a series of speakers and showcased the organization in front of donors, local skaters and several prominent skaters in the realm of figure skating.

The organization, a spinoff of Figure Skating in Harlem, which gives girls of color the combination of education and access to the artistic discipline of figure skating, was founded in 2017 and is the first chapter of FSH.

Among the speakers were 2014 Olympic gold medalist Meryl Davis, Founder and CEO of FSD Sharon Cohen and FSH alumna Florence Ngala.

Figure skating icon Scott Hamilton, a 1984 Olympic gold medalist, was also in attendance.

MORE: Scott Hamilton CARES Foundation brings skating stars to Detroit ahead of U.S. Championships

“I, Tonya”

Heidi Munger is used to performing in front of highly-experienced judges and skaters.

But in 2017, Munger spent a part of that year skating for a collection of producers, directors and actors who had no extensive knowledge of figure skating.

Munger, a sophomore biology major at Boston University, was given the opportunity to be a stunt double for actress Margot Robbie in the film “I, Tonya,” which centered around disgraced figure skater Tonya Harding.

“It was very nerve-wracking,” Munger said. “I would always get butterflies while competing, but I never got really nervous or anything. And then, all of a sudden, they’re like, ‘Go do a double Axel.’ I’m like, ‘Oh, my God.’”

Munger, 22, said the pressure she experienced during the filming of the movie gave her the motivation to continue to skate and compete.

“If I could do that and handle that,” Munger said, “skating competitively would be easier and I would enjoy it more.”

Munger finished 15th in the ladies’ short program at the U.S. Championships on Thursday night in what was her second-ever appearance at nationals.

The Worcester, Mass., native will be back on the ice Friday night for the ladies’ free skate.

MORE: Remembering the attack on Nancy Kerrigan at the figure skating national championships 25 years ago

Lego replica

Detroit’s LEGOLAND created a life-size Lego replica of the championship trophy throughout December and January. It was displayed at Little Caesars Arena, the site of the U.S. Championships. Check out the video of how it was made:

Stories compiled by Lynn Rutherford, Rachel Lutz, and Colton Wood.

MORE: Mariah Bell keeps getting better, but if you ask her, it’s just the start

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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Italy’s Sofia Goggia gets World Cup downhill win

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Fresh off world championships, the women’s Alpine World Cup tour returned to the Swiss Alps for a bit of speed in the form of the downhill.

After finishing well off the world championship downhill podium in 15th, Italy’s Sofia Goggia was the fastest on the day in Crans-Montana.

Goggia who won the 2017-18 World Cup downhill title, was forced to put this season on ice after she injured her ankle in training ahead of the first event.

Today’s results are her best since her return to racing when she finished second in both the downhill and Super-G last month in Garmisch-Partenkirchen.

Despite her world championship downhill woes, Goggia didn’t leave Are empty handed, claiming silver in the Super-G.

Joining Goggia on the podium in Crans-Montana were two athletes skiing on home snow — Switzerland’s Joana Haehlen and Lara Gut-Behrami. The second place finish for Haehlen is the first World Cup podium appearance of her career, and for the two-time Olympian Gut-Behrami, her third podium finish of the 2018-19 season.

The newly-crowned world champion in women’s downhill, Slovenia’s Ilka Stuhec took a hard fall as the first skier out of the gate today. For the superstitious it should be noted that Stuhec finished 13th in both her downhill training runs in Crans-Montana and drew bib #1 for today’s race, but it was the woman wearing bib #13 who ended up on top of the podium.

 

The women return to racing tomorrow with the Alpine super combined, with the first run starting at 4:30 a.m. ET and the second at 7:30 a.m. ET. Watch live on Olympic Channel, OlympicChannel.com and NBC Sports Gold. Check out the schedule below for ways to watch this weekend’s remaining races.  

The men’s Super-G in Bansko, Bulgaria was cancelled earlier today after a storm swept in and dropped nearly a foot of new powder on the race course. Organizers will attempt to ready the mountain for Sunday’s giant slalom. Watch the first run live at 3:30 a.m. ET on OlympicChannel.com or using an NBC Sport Gold Snow Pass. The second run can be seen live on TV and streaming on Olympic Channel at 6:30 a.m. ET, as well as on NBC Sports Gold.

ALPINE SKIING WORLD CUP — Bansko, Bulgaria; Crans-Montana, Switzerland

Day Time (ET) Event TV Stream
Sunday 3:30 a.m. Men’s Giant Slalom (Run 1) OlympicChannel.com/NBC Sports Gold
4:30 a.m. Women’s Combined (Run 1) OlympicChannel.com/NBC Sports Gold
6:30 a.m. Men’s Giant Slalom (Run 2) Olympic Channel Olympic Channel/NBC Sports Gold
7:30 a.m. Women’s Combined (Run 2) Olympic Channel Olympic Channel/NBC Sports Gold
10:30 p.m. Women’s Combined (Run 2)* NBCSN

*Same-day delay

Norway’s Therese Johaug wins gold in return to world champs

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Norway’s seven-time world champion Therese Johaug won her first world title today since 2015 in the women’s Skiathlon at the 2019 Nordic World Ski Championships in Seefeld, Austria. Johaug crossed the finish line with a time of 36 minutes 54.5 seconds.

Johaug returned to racing this season after being served an 18-month drug suspension for testing positive for the steroid clostebol in 2016.

Johaug said the infraction was unintentional, and due to her use of a lip cream to treat a cold sore which, unknown to her, included the banned substance. The mistake would be costly for the three-time Olympic medalist, who had won gold in Vancouver in 2010 as well as a silver and bronze medal four years later in Sochi.  

Banned from competition, Johaug’s suspension forced her to miss the entire 2017-18 World Cup season, the 2017 World Championships as well as the 2018 PyeongChang Olympic Games.

Johaug has been making up for lost time this season on the World Cup. Each time the 30-year-old Norwegian has appeared on the podium, she’s been at the top, winning nine races so far this season. And now she can add a world title to her list of accomplishments in 2019.

“I’ve been looking forward for this championship for over two years,” an emotional Johaug said after the race in Seefeld. “The last time I was in a championship was in Falun, four years ago. I’m training so much and working so hard for this, and all the team around me have helped me every time, so I’m really happy.”

Johaug crossed the finish line nearly a full minute ahead of silver medalist, and her countrywoman, Norway’s Ingvlid Flugstad Oestberg. Russia’s Natalia Nepryaeva finished off the podium, taking bronze.

Full results are here.

The men’s Skiathlon came down to a three-way battle with just 2km to go in the 30km race. Norway’s Martin Johnsrud Sundby made a late push to jump ahead of Russia’s Alexander Bolshunov on an uphill climb. Another Norwegian, Sjur Roethe was also keeping pace with the lead group. But as the trio neared the end, Sunby lost his lead when Roethe’s skis ran faster on a downhill section leading into the final stretch.

With all three racers within a ski’s length of one another, Roethe crossed the finish line first, just a tenth of a second ahead of Bolshunov who was able to overtake a gassed Sundby in the final push to the finish.

Check out this weekend’s remaining schedule for the FIS Nordic World Ski Championships and watch live on TV on Olympic Channel and online with OlympicChannel.com and NBC Sports Gold.

WORLD NORDIC SKIING CHAMPIONSHIPS — Seefeld, Austria

Day Time (ET) Event TV Stream
Saturday 5:00 a.m. Cross-Country: Women’s 15km Skiathlon OlympicChannel.com/NBC Sports Gold
6:30 a.m. Cross-Country: Men’s 30km Skiathlon OlympicChannel.com/NBC Sports Gold
8:30 a.m. Cross-Country: Women’s 15km Skiathlon* Olympic Channel
8:30 a.m. Ski Jumping: Men’s LH Final OlympicChannel.com/NBC Sports Gold
9:30 a.m. Cross-Country: Men’s 30km Skiathlon* Olympic Channel
10:30 a.m. Ski Jumping: Men’s LH Final* Olympic Channel
Sunday 4:30 a.m. Nordic Combined: Team LH OlympicChannel.com/NBC Sports Gold
5:30 a.m. Cross-Country: M & W Team Sprint Final OlympicChannel.com/NBC Sports Gold
7:30 a.m. Nordic Combined: Team Sprint OlympicChannel.com/NBC Sports Gold
8:45 a.m. Ski jumping: Men’s LH Team Final* OlympicChannel.com/NBC Sports Gold
9:30 a.m. Nordic Combined: Team LH* Olympic Channel
10:30 a.m. Cross-Country: M&W Team Sprint Finals* Olympic Channel
2 p.m. Nordic Combined: Team Sprint* Olympic Channel
3 p.m. Ski Jumping: Men’s LH Team Final Olympic Channel
11:30 p.m. Cross-Country: Women’s Team Sprint Final* NBCSN

*Same-day delay