Papadakis, Cizeron win fifth consecutive European ice dance title

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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.

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U.S. Olympic women’s tennis qualifying already looks intense

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Serena Williams is in strong early position to make the 2020 U.S. Olympic team. For everyone else, including older sister Venus Williams, every set of ranking points could be crucial over the next 10 months, including at the upcoming U.S. Open.

The U.S. has seven women in the world top 36 — not including 52nd-ranked Venus — but only four singles players can go to an Olympics from any one country come the rankings cutoff next June.

Serena Williams leads the way for Americans in second place overall in Olympic qualifying — which counts WTA rankings points starting after the 2019 French Open and running through the 2020 French Open. She has 1,885 points despite playing just two events the last two months, taking runner-up at Wimbledon and the Canadian Open.

Only Wimbledon champion Simona Halep, who has already been named Romania’s Opening Ceremony flag bearer, has more Olympic qualifying points (2,395).

After Serena, three more U.S. women are in the top 10 in Olympic qualifying — Sonya Kenin (No. 5), Madison Keys (No. 8) and Alison Riske (No. 10).

Keys, a quarterfinalist or better at all four Grand Slams in her career, jumped from outside the top 20 among Americans to the No. 3 American by notching her biggest title in Ohio last week.

Notables who must improve their ranking start with Venus Williams, who moved from 18th on the U.S. list to eighth by reaching the Cincinnati quarterfinals. She turns 40 before the Tokyo Games and could become the oldest Olympic singles player since the sport returned to the Olympic program following a 64-year break in 1988. She already owns the modern-era record of five Olympic tennis medals from her five previous Games and could still get to the Olympics in doubles if she doesn’t qualify in singles.

Sloane Stephens, the 2017 U.S. Open champion, is 12th in U.S. Olympic qualifying, winning a total of three matches among four tournaments in the window.

The veterans Williams sisters, Keys and Stephens, who made up the 2016 U.S. Olympic singles team, must fend off an emerging class.

Kenin, 20, backed up her French Open upset of Serena Williams by winning a lower-level event in June and then beating the world Nos. 1 and 2 the last two weeks.

Riske is playing some of the best tennis of her career at age 29. She beat world then-No. 1 Ash Barty to make her first Slam quarterfinal at Wimbledon, a week before her wedding.

Then there are two of the phenoms of the year. Coco Gauff, 15, is ninth in U.S. Olympic qualifying after a run to the Wimbledon fourth round. Gauff was granted a wild card into the U.S. Open, after which she can’t play in more than five senior tournaments (and possibly no more than three) until her 16th birthday in March due to WTA age restrictions to keep young teens from burnout.

Amanda Anisimova, 17, is 13th in U.S. Olympic qualifying. Her best results this year — French Open semifinal, Australian Open fourth round — came before the Olympic qualifying window.

It’s looking like the toughest U.S. Olympic women’s singles team to make outright since 2004. Back then, the U.S. had Nos. 4 (Lindsay Davenport), 7 (Jennifer Capriati), 8 (Venus Williams), 11 (Serena Williams) and 18 (Chanda Rubin). Davenport, Capriati and Serena didn’t play at the Athens Games, opening the door for Lisa Raymond to play singles and doubles in Athens.

In 2000, Serena Williams didn’t make the Olympic singles field despite being ranked eighth in the world. A max of three players per nation were taken to Sydney, and the U.S. had Nos. 2, 3 and 6 in Davenport, Venus Williams and Monica Seles.

An Olympic rule mandating a minimum of Fed Cup appearances could affect Tokyo 2020 eligibility. However, the fine print allows for that to be bypassed in discretionary exceptional circumstances.

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U.S. Olympic Women’s Singles Qualifying Standings (Max. 4 can qualify)
1. Serena Williams — 1,885 points
2. Sonya Kenin — 1,081
3. Madison Keys — 972
4. Alison Riske — 802
5. Jennifer Brady — 356
6. Jessica Pegula — 348
7. Madison Brengle — 344
8. Venus Williams — 302
9. Coco Cauff — 298
10. Bernarda Pera — 280
11. Lauren Davis — 245
12. Sloane Stephens — 238
13. Amanda Anisimova — 230

U.S. athletes qualified for 2020 Tokyo Olympics

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The U.S. Olympic team roster for the 2020 Tokyo Games will eventually reach more than 500 athletes. It is currently at seven.

Qualifying competitions and Olympic Trials events dot the schedule from now into early summer 2020.

Athletes qualified so far:

Modern Pentathlon
Samantha Achterberg
Amro Elgeziry

Sport Climbing
Brooke Raboutou

Swimming
Haley Anderson
Ashley Twichell
Jordan Wilimovsky

Triathlon
Summer Rappaport

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