Papadakis, Cizeron win fifth consecutive European ice dance title

Leave a comment

Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron had left little hope for a turnaround to happen in European ice dance in Minsk. They confirmed it by easily winning their fifth consecutive continental title.

The French pair won Junior Worlds in the same rink in Minsk in 2012.

The couple amassed 133.19 points for their free dance, a new season’s best and world record (under the +/-5 new system), and 217.98 points overall.

Russia’s Alexandra Stepanova and Ivan Bukin kept the second place they had won in the rhythm dance to win their first silver medal at a European Championship. Italy’s Charlene Guignard and Marco Fabbri managed to stay on the podium – their first ever at the European level.

Results: European ice dance final

Papadakis and Cizeron, skating to Yamagata’s soft yet powerful music, received level 4s for each one of their elements. Their GOEs were all above 3 points, and all their PCS included at least one 10. They amassed 21 tens across the board!

Each time they dance, Papadakis and Cizeron manage to bring you into their own inner circle, where you can find yourself in a reflection. Their interpretation of the relationship they portrayed moved the whole audience. The flexibility of their bodies and the range of movements it allowed, the clarity of their positions over the ice, their heavenly glide seemed to lead the way to their universality, where yours could meet them. You recognize some of yourself in such a dance – as in any artistic creation.

“We are really happy, that skate was almost technically perfect,” Cizeron conceded as he left the ice. “The crowd was really uplifting and we couldn’t be more grateful to them and to be surrounded by our amazing team. Winning a fifth European title is probably a little bit less of a surprise than the first time, but we are still so proud of what we have achieved and proud in fact of the whole French team.”

Stepanova and Bukin also gained superlative marks, both in GOEs and components. Their one-foot step sequences were their only elements not to earn a Level 4. They tallied 125.04 points for their free dance and 206.44 points overall.

“It’s really nice to get the silver medal after we had two bronze medals at Europeans,” Bukin said. “It is a big step forward for us. It was a bit nerve-wracking, we stood in second place and we had to retain our emotions.”

Stepanova and Bukin have learnt how to express sensuality on the ice. The music they skated to, Beth Hart’s “Am I The One,” was romantic and passionate at the same time, emphasizing the agility of their footwork. Each partner was flying from one edge to the next, at the same pace and in unison, but each one in one’s direction, thus provoking multiple encounters and occasions to display their newly-found sensuality.

“We’ve worked for many years to feel each other and also that not only we understand what we’re skating, but also the spectators,” Bukin added.

“We are not tall, so we need to show our energy and speed to have an impact,” Fabbri had offered the day before after their strong Tango. Energetic, he and Guignard were again in their free dance. They danced to music from “La La Land,” as if they were to dance all their life long, from one waltz to the next. When their results were posted, they jumped into one another’s arms: they finally had won their first European medal – and earned a new season’s best, 120.79 points, and 199.84 points overall.

“The work we did all these years was finally rewarded,” Fabbri said. “We’re extremely proud. We started from less than zero. It’s really rewarding. We’re really excited. Charlene’s emotions tell everything right now. More than words.”

Russia’s Victoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov more than redeemed themselves after the fall Katsalapov had endured the day before in the rhythm dance, displaying their usual energy and deep edges. They delivered a powerful rendering of Johann Sebastian Bach’s Suite in D and garnered 123.71 points for their free dance, the third best of the evening. They finished the event in fourth place overall with 193.95 points.

Watching them skate to this music, some 27 years after Marina Klimova and Sergei Ponomarenko’s winning program at the 1992 Olympics, showed all the way ice dance has evolved in those years, adding incredible speed, acrobatic lifts and innovative spins.

As a reminder, you can watch the European 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.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

USOPC proposes more athletes on board as part of overhaul

Getty Images
Leave a comment

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.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

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
Leave a comment

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
Badmintonphoto/BWF

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.”

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: Tokyo 2020 Olympic master competition schedule