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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.

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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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USOPC proposes more athletes on board as part of overhaul

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DENVER (AP) — The U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee is proposing an increase in athlete representation on its board and a recasting of its mission statement to include the job of promoting athletes’ well-being.

These changes are part of a proposal, released Monday, to rewrite the USOPC bylaws.

The rewrite comes 20 days after federal lawmakers — looking for a shake-up in the wake of the sex-abuse scandal that has tainted the U.S. Olympic movement — proposed their own drastic overhaul of the law governing the USOPC.

The USOPC portrayed its proposals as merely a first step, and, indeed, the measures lack many of Congress’ more aggressive proposals.

But they would heed athletes’ calls for more representation, by increasing their makeup on the board from 20% to 33%.

They would also change the mission statement to read: “empower Team USA athletes to achieve sustained competitive excellence and well-being,” where previously the well-being part was not mentioned.

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MORE: Overhaul would give Congress power to fire USOPC board

Why a 62-year-old played at the world badminton championships

Mathew Fogarty
Courtesy Mathew Fogarty
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Mathew Fogarty said badminton’s European elite made fun of him for playing professionally at age 59. That was three years ago. Fogarty still competes at the sport’s highest level, taking part in the world championships that began Monday in Basel, Switzerland.

Fogarty, who turns 63 on Oct. 30, is older than any U.S. Olympian in any sport since the St. Louis 1904 Games, according to the OlyMADMen.

“I play because I can, and I’m a doctor, and I think sports is a really important part of people’s health and fitness,” said Fogarty, who has played competitively since age 7, whose full-time job is a psychoanalyst and who is based in the Los Angeles area. “I’ll stop badminton when I can no longer qualify. There’s still opportunity, and I love the sport. I’m going to continue to do the best I can.”

He lost in the first round of mixed doubles at worlds on Monday. Fogarty and partner Isabel Zhong, a 27-year-old with an IMBD profile, saw their world championships end in 23 minutes, a 21-9, 21-10 loss to a Ukrainian pair.

That was more competitive than Fogarty’s last two worlds appearances — a 21-6, 21-4 loss with Zhong in 2018 and a 21-2, 21-4 loss with another partner in 2017. Fogarty’s only international match wins in the last two years came via walkover or the one time his singles opponent retired after three points, according to his World Badminton Federation profile. He won an international tournament as recently as 2011 and said his career-high mixed doubles world ranking was 32.

He and Zhong paired because they were part of the same Manhattan Beach Badminton Club, and she wanted to qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Games, Fogarty said. Zhong did not respond to an interview request.

“I told her I didn’t know if we could do it, but we could try,” Fogarty said. “It’s extremely remote [chances] … slim to nil.”

The top mixed doubles team from the North and South American region is in line to qualify for the Olympics. The leaders in qualifying so far are Canadians ranked 19th in the world. Fogarty and Zhong, though they are the only U.S. mixed doubles team at worlds, are 67th in the world in Olympic qualifying and third among Americans.

The U.S. has never earned an Olympic medal in badminton, which debuted at the 1992 Barcelona Games. Mixed doubles was added starting at Atlanta 1996, but the U.S. has put just one mixed team into an Olympics, getting swept out of pool play in Rio.

Fogarty, who has never played at the Olympics, is able to play at worlds for a few reasons: he can fund his way to international events to accumulate ranking points; the U.S. is historically weak and has a lack of players with professional ambitions; mixed doubles is the least common of the Olympic disciplines.

“Matt takes it seriously,” said Dean Schoppe, a fellow 62-year-old who has known and played with Fogarty for nearly a half-century. Schoppe recently retired from pro badminton himself. “Matt still approaches the matches with the actual idea of winning,”

Schoppe called Fogarty the best American junior player of his generation in the late 1970s.

“Most badminton players retire at about 26 or 27 with their first catastrophic injury, which is usually a torn Achilles,” he said. “There are people who are born [to play], you see it in every sport. Magic Johnson, they have the peripheral vision. They have the balance. They have all the intangibles that other people have to try to learn and can’t.

“He has the gift. He can look at you peripherally and see that you’re leaning. … Fogarty can hold the serve and turn his shoulders and do crap that makes you fall over, and that infuriates.”

Mathew Fogarty
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Fogarty took breaks from the sport for medical school in the 1980s and ’90s. He returned in the late 1990s and kept playing deep into his 40s, 50s and now 60s in part, he said, to challenge corruption within the sport.

Fogarty had legal battles with USA Badminton. He said that past officials broke up his Olympic hopeful partnership with a teenager in men’s doubles to push others toward the 2000 Sydney Games.

“The last thing they wanted was a 42-year-old with an 18-year-old trying to make the Olympics,” Schoppe said.

USA Badminton recently had mass resignations among its board and top officials amid reports of the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee threatening decertification.

USA Badminton’s new interim CEO, 1992 and 1996 Olympian Linda French, declined comment on Fogarty’s past issues with the organization because she was not formally involved at the time.

“We’re hopeful to move forward in a positive manner and wish all our athletes continued success,” French said.

Fogarty does not know how much longer he will travel the world, or even the U.S., to play competitively. A 43-year-old told him at a recent event that Fogarty was his inspiration to keep playing.

“The nature of sports is you can’t predict what it’s going to be,” Fogarty said.

Schoppe dismissed a question of whether it’s easier to play badminton at such a ripe age than other physically demanding sports.

“Imagine pulling out James Worthy and say, OK, James you are now starting for Golden State and you’re playing the Lakers tomorrow,” Schoppe said. “You cannot be old in badminton and do well in badminton. It’s nothing like baseball.

“We were the anomaly of anomalies to have success in our 40s. Nobody does.”

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