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Four Continents Reporter’s Notebook Day 2: Vincent Zhou’s under-rotation thoughts; catching up with Alysa Liu

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Under-rotation calls – the dreaded “<” from technical panels – give skaters and their coaches fits. They’ve certainly been on Vincent Zhou’s mind this season.

“Every session, every day, every minute,” a smiling Zhou said at the Four Continents Figure Skating Championships on Thursday, when asked if he’s been working to avoid them.

Quick primer: quadruple jumps have four rotations; triple Axels, three and a half. If the final rotation is a quarter-turn or more short, it is reduced to 70 percent of its base value and saddled with a < on the judging sheet. Almost every skater in the world has lost points by way under rotations this season.

Zhou’s fixation paid off: his clean program, with jumps including a quadruple lutz-triple toe loop combination, quad Salchow and triple Axel, leads the Anaheim, Calif. event with 100.18 points heading into Saturday’s free skate.

“I was happy with how I skated, not really much more to say,” Zhou said, before flipping back to self-critical mode.

“I just felt satisfied with my performance, my jumps, almost everything except for the flying camel and triple Axel,” he added. “Those could have been better.”

Under rotations cost the U.S. silver medalist some points at Skate America and NHK Trophy. They followed him to the Tallinn Trophy in Estonia in late November and he had a few at the 2019 U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Detroit, Mich. last month.

But as Zhou said before the U.S. Championships, “Honestly, I know that people now have an eagle eye on my jump landings, but that doesn’t really bother me too much.”

Philosophical and determined – and avoiding social media chatter on the topic – the 18-year-old just wants to fix things.

“There’s not really one thing I can specifically state helps,” Zhou said. “It’s just been focusing on improving it. I believe regardless of what it is, if you work on it over time, it will get better. There’s no magical correction, it’s thinking about ways to improve it.”

Zhou’s longtime coach, Tammy Gambill, gets a bit more specific.

“A lot of tightness, technique tweaks, pattern tweaks,” said Gambill, who trains Zhou in Colorado Springs alongside Tom Zakrajsek and Christy Krall. “Just trying to keep things tighter in the air. It’s a process, going back to singles, doubles, triples. We’re working on the basics of the landings, making them better than they have been.”

Zhou isn’t out of the woods (or <’s) yet. He’s less than three points ahead of South Korea’s Junhwan Cha. China’s Jin Boyang and Japan’s Shoma Uno, who sit third and fourth respectively, made mistakes in their short programs but have the ability to make up a lot of ground.

But those back-to-basics training sessions in Colorado Springs aren’t just producing higher jumps; they’re producing confidence.

“I’ve been I thinking, it’s just been the more I train like this, the more good muscle memory you have and the more confident you become,” Zhou said. “I started realizing I’m actually able to put out good performances. I knew I was able to do this.”

Waiting is not so hard for Liu

If Alysa Liu feels overwhelmed by all of the attention she’s receiving since winning the U.S. title in Detroit last month, she sure isn’t showing it.

“I never thought I would be on TODAY, or Jimmy Fallon’s show,” she said at Anaheim’s Honda Center on Thursday. “It’s really fun. They’re all really nice.”

The triple Axel-wielding 13-year-old’s biggest preoccupations at the moment include her new dog, a terrier mix; learning Mandarin Chinese; and visiting Disneyland next weekend, where she plans to ride the Guardians of Galaxy rollercoaster.

“I also spend time with my friends. I do still get to do what normal teens do,” Liu, a home-schooled ninth grader, said.

“I don’t get to go to normal school. I don’t get to eat junk a lot, maybe once in a while,” she added. “I also don’t get to have sleepovers every single day like some people do, but not too bad. Mainly it’s because I have to train and travel so much.”

Liu won’t be traveling to Japan for the upcoming world championships in March. Skaters must have turned 15 by July 1 of the preceding year to be eligible for senior ISU competitions. Born Aug. 8, 2005, Liu won’t be eligible to enter them until the 2021-22 season; she is too young, even, for the 2019 World Junior Figure Skating Championships. She will be eligible for Junior Worlds next season.

“Time goes by fast,” she shrugged.

The waiting doesn’t seem hard for Liu, who traveled from her home in the Bay area to Anaheim to learn and observe. She performed her competitive short program, set to “Don’t Rain on My Parade,” in the event’s opening ceremony and watched U.S. teammates Bradie Tennell and Mariah Bell place first and third, respectively, in the short program.

“It’s really fun to watch,” she said, adding, “(Tennell and Bell) skated so well. I’m so happy for them.”

With no big competitions in the offing until she debuts on the Junior Grand Prix next season, Liu has time practice new things on the ice. The primary goal, said both the skater and her coach, Laura Lipetsky, is to improve her skating skills. Learning quads, particularly Lutz and Salchow, is also on the menu.

“I wish to get some quads before I compete next season, but mainly I want to improve everything,” she said. “I haven’t worked on (quads) in a while because I was focusing on triple Axel.”

“I tried a quad (Lutz) at regionals, and I fell,” she added. “Not so great. It was under (rotated). I’m going to start working on it soon again.”

Another young teenager, Russia’s Alexandra Trusova, has landed quad Lutz and toe loop in competition. Trusova, along with teammates Alena Kanysheva and Alena Kostornaia, took all three medals at the Junior Grand Prix Final this season.

“(The Russians) are more my inspiration right now, I can’t compete against them so I’m really looking up to them,” Liu said. “Hopefully I get to compete against them at junior worlds (next season).”

There are no guarantees. Other recent prodigies, including Russia’s Julia Lipnitskaia, have made big splashes on the international scene only to retire from competition while still teenagers. It’s hard to predict whether young skaters will continue to maintain and grow skills as they move into adulthood.

For now, though, neither Liu nor Lipetsky is worried.

“We’re taking it one day at a time, trying to work hard and improve the technique,” Lipetsky said. “(She is) trying to become a better skater.”

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Italy’s Sofia Goggia gets World Cup downhill win

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Fresh off world championships, the women’s Alpine World Cup tour returned to the Swiss Alps for a bit of speed in the form of the downhill.

After finishing well off the world championship downhill podium in 15th, Italy’s Sofia Goggia was the fastest on the day in Crans-Montana.

Goggia who won the 2017-18 World Cup downhill title, was forced to put this season on ice after she injured her ankle in training ahead of the first event.

Today’s results are her best since her return to racing when she finished second in both the downhill and Super-G last month in Garmisch-Partenkirchen.

Despite her world championship downhill woes, Goggia didn’t leave Are empty handed, claiming silver in the Super-G.

Joining Goggia on the podium in Crans-Montana were two athletes skiing on home snow — Switzerland’s Joana Haehlen and Lara Gut-Behrami. The second place finish for Haehlen is the first World Cup podium appearance of her career, and for the two-time Olympian Gut-Behrami, her third podium finish of the 2018-19 season.

The newly-crowned world champion in women’s downhill, Slovenia’s Ilka Stuhec took a hard fall as the first skier out of the gate today. For the superstitious it should be noted that Stuhec finished 13th in both her downhill training runs in Crans-Montana and drew bib #1 for today’s race, but it was the woman wearing bib #13 who ended up on top of the podium.

 

The women return to racing tomorrow with the Alpine super combined, with the first run starting at 4:30 a.m. ET and the second at 7:30 a.m. ET. Watch live on Olympic Channel, OlympicChannel.com and NBC Sports Gold. Check out the schedule below for ways to watch this weekend’s remaining races.  

The men’s Super-G in Bansko, Bulgaria was cancelled earlier today after a storm swept in and dropped nearly a foot of new powder on the race course. Organizers will attempt to ready the mountain for Sunday’s giant slalom. Watch the first run live at 3:30 a.m. ET on OlympicChannel.com or using an NBC Sport Gold Snow Pass. The second run can be seen live on TV and streaming on Olympic Channel at 6:30 a.m. ET, as well as on NBC Sports Gold.

ALPINE SKIING WORLD CUP — Bansko, Bulgaria; Crans-Montana, Switzerland

Day Time (ET) Event TV Stream
Sunday 3:30 a.m. Men’s Giant Slalom (Run 1) OlympicChannel.com/NBC Sports Gold
4:30 a.m. Women’s Combined (Run 1) OlympicChannel.com/NBC Sports Gold
6:30 a.m. Men’s Giant Slalom (Run 2) Olympic Channel Olympic Channel/NBC Sports Gold
7:30 a.m. Women’s Combined (Run 2) Olympic Channel Olympic Channel/NBC Sports Gold
10:30 p.m. Women’s Combined (Run 2)* NBCSN

*Same-day delay

Norway’s Therese Johaug wins gold in return to world champs

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Norway’s seven-time world champion Therese Johaug won her first world title today since 2015 in the women’s Skiathlon at the 2019 Nordic World Ski Championships in Seefeld, Austria. Johaug crossed the finish line with a time of 36 minutes 54.5 seconds.

Johaug returned to racing this season after being served an 18-month drug suspension for testing positive for the steroid clostebol in 2016.

Johaug said the infraction was unintentional, and due to her use of a lip cream to treat a cold sore which, unknown to her, included the banned substance. The mistake would be costly for the three-time Olympic medalist, who had won gold in Vancouver in 2010 as well as a silver and bronze medal four years later in Sochi.  

Banned from competition, Johaug’s suspension forced her to miss the entire 2017-18 World Cup season, the 2017 World Championships as well as the 2018 PyeongChang Olympic Games.

Johaug has been making up for lost time this season on the World Cup. Each time the 30-year-old Norwegian has appeared on the podium, she’s been at the top, winning nine races so far this season. And now she can add a world title to her list of accomplishments in 2019.

“I’ve been looking forward for this championship for over two years,” an emotional Johaug said after the race in Seefeld. “The last time I was in a championship was in Falun, four years ago. I’m training so much and working so hard for this, and all the team around me have helped me every time, so I’m really happy.”

Johaug crossed the finish line nearly a full minute ahead of silver medalist, and her countrywoman, Norway’s Ingvlid Flugstad Oestberg. Russia’s Natalia Nepryaeva finished off the podium, taking bronze.

Full results are here.

The men’s Skiathlon came down to a three-way battle with just 2km to go in the 30km race. Norway’s Martin Johnsrud Sundby made a late push to jump ahead of Russia’s Alexander Bolshunov on an uphill climb. Another Norwegian, Sjur Roethe was also keeping pace with the lead group. But as the trio neared the end, Sunby lost his lead when Roethe’s skis ran faster on a downhill section leading into the final stretch.

With all three racers within a ski’s length of one another, Roethe crossed the finish line first, just a tenth of a second ahead of Bolshunov who was able to overtake a gassed Sundby in the final push to the finish.

Check out this weekend’s remaining schedule for the FIS Nordic World Ski Championships and watch live on TV on Olympic Channel and online with OlympicChannel.com and NBC Sports Gold.

WORLD NORDIC SKIING CHAMPIONSHIPS — Seefeld, Austria

Day Time (ET) Event TV Stream
Saturday 5:00 a.m. Cross-Country: Women’s 15km Skiathlon OlympicChannel.com/NBC Sports Gold
6:30 a.m. Cross-Country: Men’s 30km Skiathlon OlympicChannel.com/NBC Sports Gold
8:30 a.m. Cross-Country: Women’s 15km Skiathlon* Olympic Channel
8:30 a.m. Ski Jumping: Men’s LH Final OlympicChannel.com/NBC Sports Gold
9:30 a.m. Cross-Country: Men’s 30km Skiathlon* Olympic Channel
10:30 a.m. Ski Jumping: Men’s LH Final* Olympic Channel
Sunday 4:30 a.m. Nordic Combined: Team LH OlympicChannel.com/NBC Sports Gold
5:30 a.m. Cross-Country: M & W Team Sprint Final OlympicChannel.com/NBC Sports Gold
7:30 a.m. Nordic Combined: Team Sprint OlympicChannel.com/NBC Sports Gold
8:45 a.m. Ski jumping: Men’s LH Team Final* OlympicChannel.com/NBC Sports Gold
9:30 a.m. Nordic Combined: Team LH* Olympic Channel
10:30 a.m. Cross-Country: M&W Team Sprint Finals* Olympic Channel
2 p.m. Nordic Combined: Team Sprint* Olympic Channel
3 p.m. Ski Jumping: Men’s LH Team Final Olympic Channel
11:30 p.m. Cross-Country: Women’s Team Sprint Final* NBCSN

*Same-day delay