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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