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Armed with new attitude, Michal Brezina is having his best season yet

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Michal Brezina of the Czech Republic said that the PyeongChang Olympic season would most likely be his last, though he opted to continue competing. This season, two silver medals on the Grand Prix circuit brought him to the Grand Prix Final, where he finished fourth.

At his next major event, the European Championships, he finished seventh and sat with NBCSports.com/figure-skating to discuss his California training base, what it’s like day to day at the rink, and his aspirations for the rest of the season.

This year is like a resurrection for your career?

I guess you can say so… It’s been definitely better than all these last seasons [laughing]. All this comes from the work I did with Raf [his coach of three years, Rafael Arutunian].

This really made a difference? You already were quite an excellent competitor before…

All the stuff I did with him definitely helped me be back to where I once was. Not to say that I had lost everything I knew when I went to him. But he had me practice the right way. I can see the difference of the way I practice within myself now. And it starts showing in competitions.

How would you describe it?

When I practice, I actually enjoy being on the ice now. It’s not “Oh my God, I have to do this again!” That attitude makes it much easier for me. It makes a whole difference.

How does it impact your performance?

When you enjoy what you’re doing, things are definitely getting into your body quicker, and it becomes automatic again. If you do things because you have to do them, they won’t be integrated the same way.

And yet you still practice, jump, skate the way you’ve always done?

This is true, I still do the same things, but the way I approach them is completely different. The way Raf puts it is completely different from what I was used to. He made me work on lots of little details.

For instance, one of the first things he told me was: “You need to have a base you can always fall back to.” Of course, if your base is too low [he gestures with his hand], then you can’t expect to achieve anything in competition.

You need to practice as high as possible, so that your base is high enough for competition. You have to understand that you can’t compete at the level you achieve at practice. Things don’t work like this. In a competition you’ll do about 90 percent of the program you’ve practiced for. That made a major difference!

Rafael Arutunian seems to be able to turn around the careers of many skaters: Adam Rippon, Ashley Wagner. They both made strong comebacks after training with him. Is it the same with you?

Yes! His system works really well. It all comes from skating.

If you use your edges, it becomes much easier, as you don’t have to rely on your power. That’s particularly important for older skaters. Look what Nathan [Chen] is doing: he relies on his power so much. Which is quite normal – when I was 19, I didn’t have to think much, because I had power. I just did the things I had to do! Older skaters need to use their blades more, because we don’t nearly have the same power.

What did Nathan bring to you, when he was training in L.A.?

Nathan was with us for three weeks during his winter break from Yale University. It was so nice! We could push one another much more while he was there. When he is not, the only one I had [to skate with] was [French champion] Romain [Ponsart], but now he is injured, so I’m alone.

You don’t like to be alone?

Let’s say it’s much harder for me to motivate myself. It’s not as much fun. Last summer things were so much easier, when the whole group was on the ice at the same time. There was Nathan, Romain, but also Marin Honda, from Japan, and Lim Eun-Soo from South Korea, and lots of younger skaters. You push yourself a lot more and that makes things much easier. The group we have is so helpful. You really get to push each other.

Did training with Nathan help you?

I learnt a lot from Nathan. One thing was to fight for every jump. Even when he starts with a wrong take-off, he just wants to land it, no matter of what. Which is right! Once you take off, you do have to land it! You have no choice, right?

Raf pointed that to me one day: “Look how Nathan is doing,” he told me. Technique may not be there, but he will go for it anyhow. Then his body will learn how to land whatever the take-off is.

That’s a huge asset: in competition he can rely on the fact that he knows how to land a jump. Even though a jump is a little bit off, you can still fight for it.

This gave me lots of inspiration. For the four seasons before I went to Raf, I didn’t fight for my jumps when the take-off was not good, in full honesty. I would let them go. This all changed when I came to Raf.

Although you were already a great skater, you agreed to all these changes.

Of course! You can’t keep going like this without having a clear vision of what you want to do. If my heart and mind were not fully in it, I wouldn’t be skating like this. It’s your decision to keep doing it. It’s for you to decide if there is something you still want to bring, or if you enjoy it. If you don’t put your heart and mind in it, it’s hard.

That’s what happened to me after the Sochi Olympics: did I want to go, or not? My heart was in skating, but my mind was outside, so it was hard to find the balance. Now I know what it is that I want to do, what I want to show, and I enjoy it very much.

Do you have specific ambitions for the rest of this season?

Just go and do it! Do what I do in practice: I may do more, but I can’t do less.

MORE: Alexandra Stepanova, Ivan Bukin on the rise with unique parental perspective

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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April Ross, Alix Klineman back atop Olympic beach volleyball qualifying

April Ross, Alix Klineman
FIVB World Tour
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Two-time Olympic medalist April Ross and new partner Alix Klineman moved back on top of the U.S. Olympic beach volleyball qualifying standings by winning an event in Itapema, Brazil this week.

Ross, who split from Kerri Walsh Jennings in 2017, and Klineman beat Canadians Sarah Pavan and Melissa Humana-Paredes 25-23, 18-21, 15-10 in Sunday’s final for their third title in 11 FIVB World Tour tournaments together.

“Every victory is important, but this counts for more,” Klineman said, according to the FIVB. “We want to send a message and we want to be consistently the best.

Ross and Klineman supplanted Walsh Jennings and her new partner, Brooke Sweat, for the lead in the early U.S. Olympic qualifying rankings with still more than a year of events ahead.

1. Ross/Klineman – 3,240 (5 events played)
2. Walsh Jennings/Sweat – 3,100 (7 events)
3. Day/Flint – 2,180 (5 events)
4. Hughes/Ross — 2,000 (4 events)
5. Larsen/Stockman — 1,840 (5 events)
6. Sponcil/Claes — 1,600 (3 events)

Each team’s 12 best results from Sept. 1, 2018, to June 14, 2020, go into the Olympic qualifying rankings. That means Ross and Klineman are comfortably in front, having played two fewer events than Walsh Jennings and Sweat, who lost in the quarterfinals in Itapema.

The top two U.S. pairs come June 15, 2020, provided they’re ranked high enough internationally, will qualify for Tokyo. Most of the qualifying events, including the ones with the most points available, are still to come this summer.

Ross, 36, picked up Klineman, 29, after Walsh Jennings didn’t join her in signing a domestic AVP contract in 2017. The 6-foot-5 Klineman primarily played indoor the previous decade, including at Stanford from 2007-10 after being the Gatorade National Player of the Year coming out of high school.

MORE: Brazil volleyball star faints during courtside interview

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Katie Ledecky extends 5-year win streak

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Katie Ledecky extended a five-year domestic win streak by taking the 200m freestyle at the Tyr Pro Swim Series at Bloomington on Saturday.

In her last full meet before July’s world championships, Ledecky clocked 1:55.80 to beat training partner Simone Manuel by 1.44 seconds for her second win in as many days. Ledecky is also entered in Sunday’s 800m free on the last day of the meet.

Ledecky, who also cruised to a 400m free victory on Friday, ranks third in the world in the 200m free this year, behind Australian Ariarne Titmus and Swede Sarah Sjöström (the Olympic silver medalist who is not expected to race the 200m free at worlds).

Ledecky, a five-time Olympic champion, hasn’t lost a 200m, 400m, 800m or 1500m free final at a domestic meet since Allison Schmitt beat her in a 200m free on Jan. 18, 2014 when Ledecky was 16 years old.

BLOOMINGTON: Full Results

But Ledecky lost the two biggest 200m frees of this Olympic cycle so far, at the 2017 World Championships and the 2018 Pan Pacific Championships. Italian veteran Federica Pellegrini handed Ledecky her first individual final defeat at a major international meet at 2017 Worlds.

Ledecky dropped to third in the 200m free at Pan Pacs in Tokyo last year, beaten by younger swimmers Taylor Ruck of Canada and Rikako Ikee of Japan.

Ruck, who like Ledecky trains at Stanford, is in Bloomington, but she chose not to swim the 200m free on Saturday. She instead swam the 200m backstroke about 45 minutes after the 200m free and was upset by 17-year-old Regan Smith. Smith won in 2:06.47, moving to No. 3 in the world this year.

In other events Saturday, Ella Eastin captured the 400m individual medley in 4:37.18, taking 1.25 seconds off her personal best and moving to fifth in the world this year. Eastin is not on the world championships team after an untimely bout with mono before qualifying meets last summer.

Blake Pieroni won the men’s 200m free in 1:47.25. No American ranks in the top 20 in the world this year. World silver medalist Townley Haas did not enter Bloomington.

MORE: Olympic breaststroke champion faces ban for missed drug tests

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