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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.

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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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Rafael Nadal wins Australian Open first round; Maria Sharapova exits

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Rafael Nadal says he’s thinking about his next opponent … and his next practice session … and trying to recreate the superb tennis he played in his straight-set victory in the Australian Open’s first round.

What he insists is not on his mind is the number 20 — as in Roger Federer’s record 20 Grand Slam singles titles, which Nadal would equal by claiming the trophy at Melbourne Park.

“I don’t care about 20 or 15 or 16. I just care about (trying) to keep going, keep enjoying my tennis career. It’s not like 20 is the number that I need to reach. If I reach 20, fantastic,” Nadal said Tuesday, raising his hands in the air. “If I reach 21, better. If I (stay at) 19? Super happy about all the things that I did in my tennis career, no?”

AUSTRALIAN OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women

He must have been pleased with the way his 6-2, 6-3, 6-0 win over Hugo Dellien went.

That was built with a 38-15 edge in winners and breaks in eight of Dellien’s 11 service games.

Nadal, at age 33 the oldest No. 1 in ATP history, owns 19 major championships, but only one came in Australia, 11 years ago.

Twelve, of course, were collected at the French Open, four at the U.S. Open and two at Wimbledon.

“I won the U.S. Open a few months ago, and I was super happy in that moment. But today I’m happier than if I didn’t win the U.S. Open? Probably not,” Nadal said with a hearty laugh. “The only thing I can do is put all my efforts on (trying) to keep going the best way possible. The rest of the things, the future will see.”

Wednesday’s second-round slate includes Serena WilliamsCoco GauffAsh BartyRoger Federer and Novak Djokovic in action.

In other Tuesday matches, former No. 1-ranked Maria Sharapova’s run of first-round exits at the majors continued with a 6-3, 6-4 loss to 19th-seeded Donna Vekic.

Sharapova, a five-time Grand Slam title winner, was given a wild card for the main draw at Melbourne Park after her year-end ranking slipped to 136 in 2019 after a season interrupted by injuries. Her ranking falls outside the top 300 now.

The 2008 Australian Open winner reached the fourth round here last year, missed the French Open and then lost in the first rounds at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open.

A few young Americans were also eliminated Tuesday.

Russian Daniil Medvedev, seeded fourth after his U.S. Open runner-up, took out 2019 Australian Open quarterfinalist Frances Tiafoe 6-3, 4-6, 6-4, 6-2.

Fast-rising teenager Amanda Anisimova played her first Grand Slam match since her father, who also coached her, died last year. His sudden passing came just before the U.S. Open, so she withdrew from that tournament.

Anisimova reached the semifinals of the French Open in 2019 at age 17, becoming the first player born in the 2000s to get that far at a major. She was ranked 51st at the time and unseeded.

Now 18, she was seeded 21st at Melbourne Park, but was beaten 6-3, 4-6, 6-3 by Zarina Diyas of Kazakhstan.

Credit Fabio Fognini with a career Grand Slam of comebacks: His 3-6, 6-7 (3), 6-4, 6-3, 7-6 (5) rain-interrupted victory across two days against Reilly Opelka of the U.S. gave the 12th-seeded Italian a total of eight wins in matches after dropping the opening two sets.

And now that he’s done it at the Australian Open, Fognini has a full collection, with at least one such reversal at each of the four major tournaments. According to the International Tennis Federation, only 11 other men have done it at each Slam, a group that includes Federer, Rod Laver and Boris Becker, but not Nadal or Novak Djokovic.

The most famous example of an 0-2 comeback by Fognini came against Nadal at the 2015 U.S. Open. Fognini said he doesn’t recall all of his turnaround victories, but he sure does remember that one.

So does Opelka, who rued the fact that play was halted against Fognini because of showers Monday after the initial game of the third set.

Opelka said that Nadal match wasn’t really on his mind, but “if anything, it was just more to have me prep to expect (Fognini) to want to win and believe in himself that he can win. Clearly, he did.”

Felix Auger-Aliassime is considered a future star of men’s tennis, a 19-year-old from Canada who was seeded 20th at the Australian Open — and is already out after a first-round loss against Ernests Gulbis, who once was a young up-and-comer himself.

Back when he was in his 20s, Gulbis reached the French Open semifinals and earned a spot in the top 10 of the ATP rankings. A series of injuries waylaid his career, including a back problem in 2019; he entered Tuesday ranked only 256th and needed to go through qualifying just to get into the main draw.

Made the most of it, though, beating Auger-Aliassime 7-5, 4-6, 7-6 (4), 6-4.

“We saw the good Gulbis today,” Auger-Aliassime said.

The 31-year-old Gulbis, who is from Latvia, described himself as “emotional when I was walking back to the locker room, because it’s not easy. Its not easy to come back. It’s not easy to play Challengers. But these moments are really worth it.”

MORE: Top U.S. male tennis player to skip Tokyo Olympics

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40 years ago today: Jimmy Carter lays plan for Olympic boycott

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On Jan. 20, 1980, U.S. President Jimmy Carter said he would not support sending a U.S. team to the Moscow Olympics later that summer if the Soviet Union did not withdraw troops from Afghanistan.

Carter detailed his stance on NBC’s “Meet the Press” airing that Sunday. A transcript:

Bill Monroe: Assuming the Soviets do not pull out of Afghanistan any time soon, do you favor the U.S. participating in the Moscow Olympics, and if not, what are the alternatives?

Carter: No. Neither I nor the American people would support the sending of an American team to Moscow with Soviet invasion troops in Afghanistan. I’ve sent a message today to the United States Olympic Committee spelling out my own position that unless the Soviets withdraw their troops within a month from Afghanistan that the Olympic Games be moved from Moscow to alternate site or multiple sites or postponed or canceled. If the Soviets do not withdraw their troops immediately from Afghanistan — within a month — I would not support the sending of an American team to the Olympics. It’s very important for the world to realize how serious a threat the Soviets’ invasion of Afghanistan is. I do not want to inject politics into the Olympics, and I would personally favor the establishment of a permanent Olympic site for both the Summer and the Winter Games. In my opinion, the most appropriate permanent site for the Summer Games would be Greece. This will be my own position, and I have asked the U.S. Olympic Committee to take this position to the International Olympic Committee, and I would hope that as many nations as possible would support this basic position. One hundred and four nations voted against the Soviet invasion and called for their immediate withdrawal from Afghanistan in the United Nations, and I would hope as many of those as possible would support the position I’ve just outlined to you.

Monroe: Mr. President, if a substantial number of nations does not support the U.S. position, would not that just put the U.S. in an isolated position without doing much damage to the Soviet Union?

Carter: Regardless of what other nations might do, I would not favor the sending of an American Olympic team to Moscow while the Soviet invasion troops are in Afghanistan.

Three days later, Carter said in his State of the Union address, “I have notified the Olympic Committee that with Soviet invading forces in Afghanistan, neither the American people nor I will support sending an Olympic team to Moscow.”

The Soviets did not withdraw troops.

Though Carter did not have the authority to order a boycott, the U.S. Olympic Committee did decide on April 12 not to send a team.

The U.S. was among more than 60 nations that were invited to the Moscow Games and did not participate (for various reasons). Other notable absences included Canada, West Germany, Japan and China.

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