AP

U.S. Championships reporters’ notebook: Day 1

Leave a comment

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.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

Scott Brosius to take USA Baseball managerial job, replacing Joe Girardi

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Just one month before the Premier 12, a tournament giving the U.S. baseball team an opportunity to qualify for the 2020 Olympics, USA Baseball has announced a managerial switch.

USA Baseball executive Scott Brosius, who won three World Series with the New York Yankees from 1998 to 2000 and had a slugging percentage of .529 in four World Series appearances, will take over in place of Joe Girardi. USA Baseball said Girardi has stepped down to focus on opportunities in Major League Baseball.

Brosius was previously named to serve as the team’s bench coach. Several other coaches have been reshuffled, with Willie Randolph moving to bench coach, Ernie Young moving to third base and 2000 gold medalist Anthony Sanders joining the staff to coach at first base. Left unchanged: hitting coach Phil Plantier, pitching coach Bryan Price and bullpen coach Roly de Armas.

The U.S. team will play the Netherlands, host Mexico and the Dominican Republic, starting Nov. 2. The top two teams from the group will advance to the six-team Super Round in Japan.

The top finisher from the Americas region and the top finisher from Asia/Oceania (except Japan, which has an automatic bid as host) will qualify for the Olympic baseball tournament. The U.S. will have two more opportunities to qualify after that.

The U.S. won silver in the first Premier 12 tournament in 2015. As in 2015, the U.S. will not use players on MLB 40-man rosters.

PREMIER 12: Roster

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

Taylor Phinney picks creativity over cycling, ending race career to focus on art

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Three-time Olympian and two-time world champion Taylor Phinney announced Wednesday that he is retiring from cycling and will pursue his other passion — art. 

“I want to say thank you to everyone that has cheered me on and sent me good energy over the last twelve years!” Phinney said via Instagram. “I appreciate you all. Alas, in the battle between Art and Sport, ART WON.”

Phinney is the son of two decorated Olympians. Davis Phinney won bronze in the team time trial, which is no longer contested in the Olympics, in 1984. Connie Carpenter-Phinney was an Olympic speedskater who switched sports to win the cycling road race, also in 1984.

Like his father, who won Tour de France stages in 1986 and 1987, Phinney went back and forth between track and road cycling, winning world championship medals in each discipline and racing in both sports in the Olympics. He made his Olympic debut at age 18, taking seventh on the track in the individual pursuit.

His biggest successes on the track followed over the next two years, when he won the 2009 world championship in the individual pursuit and defended his title in 2010. He also took silver in the 1km time trial in 2009 and bronze in the omnium in 2010.

After switching to road racing, he won the prologue in the 2012 Giro d’Italia. He then came close to two Olympic medals, placing fourth in the time trial behind a who’s who of road cycling — Bradley Wiggins, Tony Martin and Chris Froome, two of whom were racing on home soil. In the road race, he placed fourth again, in the same time as bronze medalist Alexander KristoffA few weeks later, Phinney rebounded to take two silver medals in the individual and team time trials at the world championships.

His career was threatened when he suffered a compound fracture on a harrowing descent in the 2014 U.S. Championships, but he recovered to take gold in the team time trial in the 2015 world championships and silver in the same event the next year. He also debuted in the Tour de France in 2017 and offered the occasional behind-the-scenes look at life in the three-week race.

But he hasn’t been as active in the last two years. In 2018, he was eighth in the legendary one-day Paris-Roubaix race. This year, he won the team time trial in the Tour of Colombia but has no other major results.

View this post on Instagram

Yoooo hey hi hello ! So yes, I’m happy to announce that I am hanging up my professional road cycling cleats at the end of this season… I want to say thank you to everyone that has cheered me on and sent me good energy over the last twelve years! I appreciate you all. . Alas, in the battle between Art and Sport, ART WON. I’m so happy and genuinely excited—almost giddy at the prospect of being able to CREATE full time. My heart is full and I look forward to sharing what the future brings with whoever wants to follow. . As far as cycling goes…I’m more in love with bikes now than I have ever been before. My body is very relieved now that it knows that I will not be punishing it to the fullest extent of my capabilities 😅. My mind is refreshed from a summer of adventure and my heart is opening at a rate that terrifies me in the best of ways! I am so grateful to this sport for the teachings I’ve received, the connections I’ve made, and the stories I can share from the crazy days on the bike. . I want to thank all my friends in the peloton and I wish you all the best of luck. I will let you know what it is like on the other side 🙂

A post shared by Taylor Phinney (@taylorphinney) on

Phinney’s art, a mix of abstraction and words, shows little influence from his cycling career. He also has launched a site and Instagram feed for his art under the name Manifest Butter.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!