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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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U.S. diving roster for world championships finalized at nationals

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Collegians David Dinsmore and Brandon Loschiavo beat out Olympian Steele Johnson for the two U.S. men’s platform spots at July’s world championships.

Dinsmore, a rising Miami senior, had the highest cumulative score at the U.S. Championships in Indianapolis, while Loschiavo, a rising Purdue senior, was second while earning the national title with the top tally in Sunday’s final.

Johnson, coming back from two foot surgeries in the last eight months, ended up third, 41.95 points behind Loschiavo.

Johnson is still going to worlds in South Korea with former Purdue teammate Ben Bramley in the synchronized platform. Johnson is an Olympic silver medalist in that event with David Boudia, who left the platform for the springboard and won the national title on that event Saturday.

Also Sunday, Brooke Schultz and Sarah Bacon earned world spots in the women’s springboard, the one event this weekend without an Olympian in the field. Schultz won the previous world championships trials in 2017 and placed 25th at those worlds. Bacon, a rising Minnesota senior, is going to her first worlds.

Divers will compete at worlds for themselves but also to earn Olympic quota spots for the U.S.

U.S. roster for World Diving Championships
Women
Synchronized Springboard — Alison Gibson/Krysta Palmer
Synchronized Platform — Murphy Bromberg/Katrina Young (Olympian)
1m Springboard (Not an Olympic event) — Sarah Bacon, Maria Coburn
3m Springboard — Brooke Schultz, Sarah Bacon
Platform — Amy Cozad Magana (Olympian), Delaney Schnell

Men
Synchronized Springboard — Andrew Capobianco/MIchael Hixon (Olympian)
Synchronized Platform — Ben Bramley/Steele Johnson (Olympian)
1m Springboard (Not an Olympic event) — Briadam Herrera, Michael Hixon (Olympian)
3m Springboard — Michael Hixon (Olympian), David Boudia (Olympian)
Platform — David Dinsmore, Brandon Loschiavo

Mixed (Not Olympic events)
Synchronized Springboard — Briadam Herrera/Lauren Reedy
Synchronized Platform — Zach Cooper/Olivia Rosendahl

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VIDEO: Relive Greg Louganis diving board accident on 30th anniversary

Venus Williams exits on French Open opening day

Venus Williams
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PARIS (AP) — Venus Williams’ 22nd appearance at the French Open did not last long.

The 2002 runner-up lost her opening match at Roland Garros for the second year in a row, beaten 6-3, 6-3 by ninth-seeded Elina Svitolina in 1 hour, 13 minutes.

The 38-year-old Williams lost in the first round for the fourth time in the last seven years at the clay-court Grand Slam tournament.

Wiliams was broken in seven of her nine service games.

She wasn’t the only major winner to make an early exit. Angelique Kerber won’t complete a career Grand Slam this year.

Still hampered by a right ankle injury, the three-time major winner lost 6-4, 6-2 to an 18-year-old Roland Garros beginner, Russian Anastasia Potapova, on Court Philippe Chatrier.

No. 5 seed Kerber’s preparations for Roland Garros, where she never advanced past the quarterfinals, were hampered by the injury she suffered at the Madrid Open last month.

“Of course this is not my excuse and everything,” Kerber said. “I tried my best. I know that there is still a little bit of work to do to be really playing matches 100 percent.”

The 81st-ranked Potapova sealed the opening set with a cross-court backhand winner and broke twice at the start of the second. Kerber saved two match points before shanking a forehand wide sealing her fate.

“The clay season is over now for me. Yeah, I’m happy about that, that I can now look forward to playing on grass,” added Kerber, who won the Australian Open and US Open in 2016 and Wimbledon in 2018.

Playing his first match at Roland Garros since 2015, Roger Federer had no problem reaching the second round.

Back on the refurbished Chatrier, the 20-time Grand Slam champion defeated French Open debutant Lorenzo Sonego 6-2, 6-4, 6-4.

Federer missed the French Open in 2016 because of a back injury and then skipped the event to focus on Wimbledon. He won the title in Paris 10 years ago to complete a career Grand Slam.

“I missed you, thanks very much for the welcome,” Federer said to the crowd after concluding his match. “I was quite tense at the start.”

Among other seeded players in action, 2016 champion and 19th-seeded Garbine Muguruza advanced to the second round with a 5-7, 6-2, 6-2 win over American Taylor Townsend at the tournament’s newest stadium, Court Simonne Mathieu. No. 11-seeded Marin Cilic of Croatia defeated Thomas Fabbiano of Italy 6-3, 7-5, 6-1.

FRENCH OPEN: TV Schedule | Scores | Men’s Draw | Women’s Draw

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