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U.S. Championships reporters’ notebook: Nathan Chen and more from day 2

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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 second day.

Nathan Chen begins second semester at Yale

Chen said his status is still “TBD” if he’ll go to Four Continents Championships in Anaheim, Calif. in less than two weeks, should he be named to the team following the results of U.S. Championships. The Yale freshman started classes this week for the spring semester, which would conflict with the competition. For example, the world championships in March are during the academic spring break.

He also told reporters on Friday that his professors have asked him for a head’s up on when he’ll have to miss class.

“They’ve been pretty understanding of my situation. Typically, I have to give them a couple weeks’ [notice] in advance. This is a little different because it’s the first week of classes. I already prepped them for potential future competitions, so they’re aware I might be gone. Some of them may give me extra work, others are like, ‘Whatever. Just make sure you read the book.’ Most professors are pretty low-key about it.”

MORE: Nathan Chen’s imminent three-peat at U.S. Championships

She’s got Medvedeva arms

In seasons past, Russian stars including two-time world champion Yevgenia Medvedeva (often) and Olympic champion Alina Zagitova (occasionally) added excitement – and difficulty – to their jumps by doing them with an arm or two overhead.

Hanna Harrell, the 15-year-old who sits fifth in Detroit after a clean short program, decided what was good enough for the Russians might be even better for her: All of the jumps in her short, including a triple Lutz-triple toe loop combination, are done with both arms overhead.

“Especially after the Olympics, even before that, I would watch the Russians and look up to them,” Harrell said at the U.S. Championships. “I always watch them do two arms above the head.”

Do Alexei Letov and Olga Ganicheva, her coaches in Plano, Texas, encourage her to do this?

“Uh… not necessarily,” Harrell said. “They were like, ‘OK, maybe try it if you can.’ But I wanted to one day be like the Russians, so I drilled all of my triples with two arms over the head, and now that’s how I do them.”

It’s a trait Ganicheva and Letov, married former Soviet Union competitors, have grown to accept.

“Hanna loves to do this,” Ganicheva said. “It’s just her thing. We cannot just take it away from her.”

Looking at the bright side, Letov added, “There’s no deduction for it. It can (bring) more positive GOEs [grades of execution]. What can you do? She will give you everything with arms.”

Harrell, fourth in the U.S. junior ranks last season, has other jumping aspirations, including triple Axels and quads.

“She does work on triple Axel and quad flip,” Ganicheva said. “She is a brave girl, very athletic and brave.”

“I’ve been working on them on the [jump] harness, and off the harness, but before nationals I wanted to focus on what I could do,” Harrell said. “Definitely my goal is to do triple Axel next season.”

Digerness’ doppelganger

Nica Digerness and Danny Neudecker, despite sitting ninth after the pairs’ short program, notched a personal-best score of 58.84 Thursday at U.S. Championships.

“We got a personal best in score, so I think we can only hope for the same thing in the long,” Neudecker said. “We just wanted to deliver in our program, just like we did at Skate America. That’s the goal.”

Digerness said she felt like all of their components and elements were performed well besides their side-by-side triple toes. She fell and her jump was called under-rotated.

Digerness, a native of Loveland, Colo., has often been compared to Yevgenia Tarasova because of their similar features and positions on the ice.

When asked if she is told that often, Digerness, 18, laughed and admitted that she has never heard of that comparison to her doppelganger.

Tarasova is a Russian pairs’ skater and two-time European champion with partner Vladimir Morozov. This weekend, they won silver in Minsk, Belarus.

MORE: James, Cipres win Europeans; Tarasova, Morozov earn silver

What happens in Vegas…

U.S. Figure Skating announced that Las Vegas will host the 2019 Skate America competition at the Orleans Arena from Oct. 18-20. It will be the first of six stops on the Grand Prix Series for the 2019-20 season.

It is the first time the event will be headed to Las Vegas. Orleans Arena hosts concerts and other performance events. Tickets will be on sale later this spring and the list of competitors is expected to be announced in June.

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

MORE: Alysa Liu makes history, but wants to make more

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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WATCH LIVE: U.S. Figure Skating Championships rhythm dance, women’s free skate

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Can Bradie Tennell hold off 14-year-old Alysa Liu? The U.S. Figure Skating Championships crowns its female medalists on Friday, live on NBC Sports.

Action starts with the rhythm dance at 4:30 p.m. ET for NBC Sports Gold subscribers, with NBCSN broadcast coverage joining in at 5. The women start at 7:25 on Gold, with NBC TV coverage starting at 8.

LIVE STREAM: Rhythm dance — Gold | NBCSN | Skate Order
LIVE STREAM: Women’s free skate — Gold | NBC | Skate Order

Tennell topped Thursday’s short program with a clean slate of jumps, plus the highest artistic score.

She bettered Liu in the short program last year, too, but fell in the free skate to take silver. Liu, meanwhile, landed two triple Axels to win by 3.92 points and become the youngest U.S. champion in history.

Another skater to watch is Gracie Gold, the two-time U.S. champion competing at nationals for the first time in three years. Gold, lauded for her return from an eating disorder, depression and anxiety, struggled with jumps in the short and is in 13th place of 18 skaters.

In the rhythm dance, past U.S. champions Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue and Madison Chock and Evan Bates are expected to begin a duel that should come down to Saturday’s free dance.

Key Skate Times
5:32 p.m. — Madison Hubbell/Zachary Donohue
5:38 — Kaitlin Hawayek/Jean-Luc Baker
5:44 — Madison Chock/Evan Bates
8:07 — Gracie Gold
10:03 — Karen Chen
10:11 — Amber Glenn
10:27 — Bradie Tennell
10:35 — Mariah Bell
10:43 — Alysa Liu

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NATIONALS: TV Schedule | Full Results

As a reminder, you can watch the events from the 2019-20 figure skating season 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.

Iran’s only female Olympic medalist, who defected, eyes Tokyo Games as German or refugee

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LÜNEN, Germany (AP) — Iran’s only female Olympic medalist said Friday she wants to compete for Germany after defecting from her native country.

Kimia Alizadeh is trying to rebuild her life and career after she announced this month she had left Iran, citing sexism on the part of officials there.

“Even if I do not make it to the Olympics, it does not matter because I have made up my mind,” Alizadeh said at a meeting with journalists at a taekwondo club.

“I am sure that I will be judged by many, but I am just 21 years old and can attend world tournaments and future Olympics. However, I will spare no effort to get the best result at this time as well.”

She added she doesn’t expect ever to compete in Iran again.

Alizadeh was just 18 when she won bronze in taekwondo at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, catapulting her to instant fame at home. Despite Iran’s long history of victories in men’s wrestling and weightlifting, no Iranian woman had ever won a medal before.

However, Alizadeh was frustrated with life in Iran despite her Olympic success. In an Instagram post this month announcing she had left Iran, she accused Iranian officials of sexism and criticized wearing the mandatory hijab headscarf.

Alizadeh hasn’t given up hope of being able to compete at this year’s Olympics in Tokyo. However, getting there would require highly unusual exemptions from the usual rules on nationality switches and qualification, regardless of whether she tries to represent Germany or the International Olympic Committee’s refugee team.

Alizadeh spent time in the Netherlands before heading to Germany this week to meet with taekwondo officials there. The German Taekwondo Union has spoken up in favor of Alizadeh staying in the country in what it calls a first step toward her gaining nationality and becoming eligible to compete for Germany.

“If the German government assists me and I can go through this process as fast as possible, I might be able to make it to the Olympics, too,” she said.

In recent years, many Iranian athletes have left their country, citing government pressure. In September, the former world judo champion Saeed Mollaei moved to Germany after walking off the Iranian team at the world championships in Japan. He said Iranian officials had tried to force him to withdraw so as not to compete against an Israeli opponent.

Alireza Faghani, an Iranian international soccer referee, also left Iran for Australia last year.

Alizadeh said she just wants “a peaceful life,” and she’s not looking back.

“I have a great feeling to have made a decision for my life that would definitely change my future,” she said. “I think it is not even clear enough now and. in the years to come, I will understand what a good decision I made.”

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MORE: Full list of U.S. athletes qualified for Tokyo Olympics