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Stanislava Konstantinova aiming for better, more consistent skating at Winter World University Games

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Stanislava Konstantinova was the least well-known of the Russian ladies competing at the European Championships. She seemed more mature as well, compared to teammates Alina Zagitova and champion Sofia Samodurova. She didn’t make it to the podium in Minsk, finishing fourth, but the 18-year-old delivered the second-highest scoring free skate of the event.

She took time to sit with NBCSports.com/figure-skating at the conclusion of the European Championships to explain how her late-blooming on the ice nonetheless enhances her maturity, and even could contribute to a longer-lasting career.

You were wonderful in your “Anna Karenina” free skate, but 11th in the short program. You also had to make up ground at Grand Prix France. Does that happen often?

No, not at all! I’m really upset with my short program in Minsk. I want to apologize both for my skating and my behavior, as I couldn’t find the words for the media. I’ll have to improve on this also [Editor’s note: Konstantinova declined to make any comments as she left the ice after the short program].

Legendary coach Tatiana Tarasova, who was commenting for Russian television, said that in her opinion you didn’t do to your short program only to skate, but to win. Did you feel the same?

Yes, I agree with this. I understand that I can be on the top, but I need to be more confident in the process. For me, failing in the short program was a real pity. I was not prepared for this. I came to Minsk to win. I’ve shown good results in the past, and I hope I can repeat them soon.

You once said that you were a late bloomer. What impact does it have on your skating career, in a country where wunderkinds seem to be the norm?

I’m not competing to hit the top for a short period of time. I’m competing to express myself and to show myself embracing a whole career, not to show myself as a baby skater or a wunderkind. I’m interested in a career like that of Alexei Yagudin’s. This is one of the advantages I have, being more mature. I understand more how I can express myself, not only showing elements but also displaying my choreography and what I have inside of myself during a performance.

I started to skate late, it’s true. In fact, I didn’t even start skating to become a good athlete. I was in a group of children who skated to be healthy. When [coach Valentina] Chebotareva saw that I had some potential, when I was 9 years old, she started working with me. I was then included into her team.

Sometimes I worry about the fact that I didn’t start skating at a younger age. But that’s also good, in a way, because it allowed me to mature.

I now have the strong intention to keep developing and bettering myself. I don’t think I’m old! But there’s no way my career could be like all the other girls who started to skate so early.

You are skating alongside Mikhail Kolyada in Chebotareva’s team. Both of you missed one of your two programs – you, the short, and he, the free. What does your coach say?

That’s quite a coincidence! I definitely need to change this situation (she laughs). Our coach is soft. She doesn’t say bad things. I’m grateful that she considers us as adults. We respect each other in the team – myself, the other skaters, our coaches. We have a great working atmosphere. Our coaches find the right words for me.

Your free skate was also very mature, and maybe that added to the support you received from the audience?

I’m glad people support me. I want to make them happy through my performance. This is my way to thank them.

Do you think you will be selected for Worlds? [Editor’s note: The Russian Federation has not yet announced their picks for the world championships in March, but will likely do so soon.]

The Russian Federation didn’t ask me for a place to achieve in Minsk. But it was important for me to take a good placement. For sure Russia has excellent skaters, and they can decide to replace me in the team. This doesn’t disturb me. It’s like competition – it’s good for me.

Securing a podium spot might have eased the Russian selection for Worlds, but before anything else it would have been good for me to be on that European podium. Now it belongs to the Russian Federation to take the results and make a decision.

What will be your next outings?

Now I’ll be preparing for the Universiades [Winter World University Games] in early March. My goal will definitely be to skate two clean programs.

Will you take your revenge there?

I don’t think it will be a revenge, as I’m always glad to compete and represent Russia. To go to the Universiades is a big honor for me. It will be a question of honor for me to show a good performance there. If it is a revenge, then it will be a revenge for myself to show good skating.

This European Championship was a failure for me. But it gave me the experience of competing at a higher level than I used to. It’s a way for me to grow.

Do you plan to learn other jumps, like quads?

I already tried quads and triple Axels, but I’m not working on them at the moment. It’s very dangerous, and actually not professional, to learn a quad during the skating season. It’s too risky. You have to think of learning harder elements later after the competitive season is over. I think I will work on triple Axel.

Are you on social media networks? What do you think of it?

It depends on my mood! My sports psychologist advised me not to go on social networks during the competition. I did close myself off during the European Championships, until the free program was over. After that I started answering the questions I had received again.

Do you have other endeavors, besides skating?

Yes, I love drawing. I make paintings of my own costumes. I like to view how I will be dressed. I participate in the making. I hope I can develop in this aspect.

Konstantinova does speak English, but she elected to give her answers in Russian. Her words were translated in English by Irena Zakurdaeva, a media coordinator in Moscow.

Four Continents reporter’s notebook: Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3 | Day 4

As a reminder, you can watch the world 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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Bryan brothers to retire at 2020 U.S. Open, don’t plan on Olympics

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Bob and Mike Bryan said they will retire after the 2020 U.S. Open, ending a tennis career that’s included a men’s record 16 Grand Slam doubles titles together.

They also don’t plan to play at the Tokyo Olympics, their manager later said in an email.

The twins are 41 years old, having spent more than half their lives as professionals.

“A part of us, feels like, is dying,” Bob Bryan said on Tennis Channel. “But we’re really clear about this decision. It’s going to be great to have a finish line.”

Mike said that in 2020 they will play all the events they “really love,” including all four Grand Slams and American tournaments. The Olympics weren’t mentioned.

Rather, they will see how they’re feeling midway through the year, they said on the Tennis.com podcast.

The Bryans earned doubles gold at the 2012 London Games but withdrew from the Rio Olympics six days before the Opening Ceremony. They cited making their family’s health a “top priority” and later said Zika virus concerns were “a very small part of” the decision.

The Bryans own 118 titles overall but nearly ended their partnership after Bob underwent hip surgery a year ago. He rejoined Mike this season, reaching the Australian Open quarterfinals and winning two ATP doubles titles.

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A century later, Naomi Osaka, Kei Nishikori can bring Japan Olympic tennis to forefront

Naomi Osaka, Kei Nishikori
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When Naomi Osaka and Kei Nishikori take the courts at the Tokyo Olympics, perhaps together, they will be doing so 100 years after tennis players won Japan’s first Olympic medals in any sport.

Tennis is not usually one of the handful of marquee competitions at the Games, in part because it is one of the sports whose biggest event is not the Games themselves.

“We have been playing for these Grand Slams, and I think that’s why we train for,” Nishikori said at the U.S. Open in August, when asked to compare the meaning of winning one of tennis’ four annual majors to earning a medal at a home Olympics. “That’s going to be the biggest goal to winning Grand Slams.”

Yet the term “Grand Slam” had not been conceived — for golf or tennis — at the time of the 1920 Antwerp Games. There, Ichiya Kumagae earned silvers in singles and doubles with Seiichiro Kashio to become the first Japanese Olympic medalists.

Kumagae was Japan’s first notable international tennis player, reaching the 1918 U.S. Open semifinals (then called the U.S. National Championships) and beating Bill Tilden in the final of the 1919 Great Lakes Championships.

Kumagae, born in 1890, had not seen a tennis racket or ball until his 20s, according to Roger W. Ohnsorg‘s “The First Forty Years of American Tennis.”

“He came here to America in 1916, the possessor of a wonderful forehand drive and nothing else,” Tilden wrote in “The Art of Lawn Tennis.” Kumagae was listed by Ohnsorg as 5 feet, 3 inches, 134 pounds and requiring glasses at all times. Later in 1922, Kumagae’s engagement to the daughter of a wealthy politician was published as a news brief in The New York Times.

Nearly a century later, Nishikori and Osaka brought more Japanese tennis breakthroughs. Nishikori became the first Asian man to reach a Grand Slam singles final at the 2014 U.S. Open. Last year, Osaka became the first Japanese singles player to win a Grand Slam, also at the U.S. Open.

This past June, Japan’s annual Central Research sports survey (1,227 people, age 20+) put Nishikori and Osaka as its respondents’ fourth- and sixth-favorite athletes, past or present. Baseball players Ichiro (retired), Shohei Ohtani and Shigeo Nagashima (long retired) and figure skater Yuzuru Hanyu rounded out the top five.

Osaka’s U.S. Open title was voted the top sports moment of Emperor Akihito’s reign from 1989 to April 30, beating Ichiro’s retirement and Hanyu’s repeat Olympic crown in PyeongChang. Perhaps there was some recency bias.

Akatsuki Uchida, a tennis journalist from Japan, said that Nishikori’s U.S. Open final was a bigger moment for Japanese tennis than Osaka’s win over Serena Williams, though.

“Tennis at that time [in 2014] was not broadcast in Japan,” she said at the U.S. Open. “Media coverage of tennis was decreasing before Kei made that final. For most of Japanese, not tennis fans, but ordinary people, it came from out of nowhere. … He became like an overnight sensation. Since then, the situation of tennis in Japan changed dramatically.

“If [Osaka] wins the title before Kei won the title here, it could have been way bigger, but since Kei made the final before Naomi, it made Naomi’s achievement, still a big deal, less surprising.”

Another key difference: Nishikori spent the majority of his childhood in Japan, while Osaka’s family, with a Haitian father and Japanese mother, moved to the U.S. when she was 3 years old.

Osaka has dual citizenship, but Japanese law requires one to be chosen over the other by the 22nd birthday. Osaka turned 22 last month, before which she confirmed what most had assumed, that she picked Japan.

Uchida was unsure whether Osaka and Nishikori could propel tennis at the Tokyo Games into a greater spotlight among 33 total sports.

“But if Kei and Naomi played mixed doubles, that would be a big thing,” she said.

Nishikori has already reportedly said he plans to enter singles and doubles in Tokyo, the latter with Ben McLachlan, Japan’s top doubles player. McLachlan was born in New Zealand and in 2017 switched representation to Japan, his mother’s birth nation.

But Nishikori did not rule out adding mixed doubles.

“Very hot, very humid, playing singles and two doubles, I don’t know if I can,” he said before the U.S. Open. “I haven’t think too much yet, honestly. I don’t know. I will talk to Naomi later.”

Nishikori smiled as he brought up Osaka’s name at the end of his answer to a question that didn’t mention her. Later in the tournament, Osaka was told Nishikori’s thoughts.

“I would definitely play with him,” said Osaka, who in 2016 was the highest-ranked eligible player not to make the Rio Olympic field. “I just — I would actually need to practice doubles for the first time in my life. Because you cannot play mixed doubles with Kei Nishikori and lose in the first round of the Olympics in Tokyo. That would be the biggest — like, I would cry. I would actually cry for losing a doubles match. Yeah, definitely I think that that would be so, like, historic in a way. And I would love to do it, but I need to practice my doubles.”

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