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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Chicago Marathon features Emily Sisson’s return, Conner Mantz’s debut, live on Peacock

Emily Sisson
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At Sunday’s Chicago Marathon, Emily Sisson makes her return, nearly three years after Olympic Trials disappointment. Conner Mantz makes one of the most anticipated U.S. men’s debuts in 26.2-mile racing.

It is not the norm, but an American will be one of the spotlight runners in both the men’s and women’s elite races at a major marathon. Peacock airs live coverage at 8 a.m. ET.

Sisson, 30, starts her first mass marathon since dropping out of the Olympic Trials on Feb. 29, 2020, her legs “destroyed” on the hilly Atlanta course where she started as arguably the favorite. She ran the virtual New York City Marathon later in 2020, but that was solo (and not in New York City). Her 2:38:00 isn’t recorded in her official results on her World Athletics bio.

Since, Sisson won the Olympic Trials 10,000m on the track and was the top American in Tokyo in 10th place. She moved back to the roads, winning national titles at 15km and the half marathon and breaking the American record in the latter.

Sisson vaulted into the elite group of U.S. female marathoners in 2019, when she clocked the second-fastest debut marathon in American history, a 2:23:08 on a windy day in London, where the early pace was slow.

At the time, it was the 12th-best U.S. performance all-time. In the last two years, Keira D’Amato, 37, and Sara Hall, 39, combined to run seven faster marathons. At Chicago, a flat course that produced a world record three years ago, Sisson can answer them and perhaps get close to D’Amato’s American record 2:19:12.

“I’m hoping sub-2:20,” coach Ray Treacy said, according to LetsRun.com. “With the [super] shoes and the training behind her, I would think that’s [worth] at least three minutes.”

It is less likely that Sisson can challenge for the win on Sunday given the presence of Kenyan Ruth Chepngetich, the 2019 World champion and defending champion in the Windy City. The 28-year-old mom is the fifth-fastest woman in history with a personal best of 2:17:08. And Ethiopian Ruti Aga, a podium finisher in Berlin, New York City and Tokyo with a best time of 2:18:34, though she has one marathon finish since the pandemic (a seventh place).

Like Sisson, Mantz has shown strong recent road racing form. The American men’s debut marathon record of 2:07:56 (Leonard Korir) is in play. If he can break that, Mantz will be among the five fastest U.S. marathoners in history.

Rarely has a U.S. male distance runner as accomplished as Mantz moved up to the marathon at such a young age (25). At BYU, he won NCAA cross-country titles in 2020 and 2021 and placed fifth in the Olympic Trials 10,000m, then turned pro and won the U.S. Half Marathon Championships last December.

“If everything goes as planned, I think sub-2:08 is realistic,” Mantz said in a Citius Mag video interview last month. “If everything goes perfect on the day, I think a sub-2:07, that’s a big stretch goal.”

The men’s field doesn’t have the singular star power of Chepngetich, but a large group of East Africans with personal bests around 2:05. The most notable: defending champion Seifu Tura of Ethiopia and 2021 Boston Marathon winner Benson Kipruto of Kenya.

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Alpine skiing to test new format for combined race

Alpine Skiing Combined
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Alpine skiing officials will test a new format for the combined event, a race that is under review to remain on the Olympic program.

French newspaper L’Equipe reported that the International Ski Federation (FIS) will test a new team format for the combined, which has been an individual event on the Olympic program since 1988. L’Equipe reported that a nation can use a different skier for the downhill and slalom in the new setup, quoting FIS secretary general Michel Vion.

For example, the U.S. could use Breezy Johnson in the downhill run and sub her out for Mikaela Shiffrin in the slalom run, should the format be adopted into senior competition.

The format will be tested at the world junior championships in January in St. Anton, Austria, according to the report.

In response to the report, a FIS spokesperson said, “Regarding the new format of the combined is correct, and our directors are working on the rules so for the moment the only thing we can confirm is that there will be this new format for the Alpine combined that has been proposed by the athletes’ commission.”

Some version of the combined event has been provisionally included on the 2026 Olympic program, with a final IOC decision on its place coming by April.

This will be the third consecutive World Cup season with no combined events. Instead, FIS has included more parallel races in recent years. The individual combined remains on the biennial world championships program.

L’Equipe also reported that the mixed team parallel event, which is being dropped from the Olympics, will also be dropped from the biennial world championships after this season.

“There is nothing definitive about that yet, but it is a project in the making,” a FIS spokesperson said in commenting on the report.

Vion said the mixed team event, which debuted at the Olympics in 2018, was not a hit at the Beijing Games and did not draw a strong audience, according to L’Equipe.

The World Cup season starts in two weeks with the traditional opening giant slaloms in Soelden, Austria.

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