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Vanessa James, Morgan Ciprès mark sport with innovative and rewarding lifts

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Vanessa James and Morgan Ciprès were the first French pair to win the European Championships since 1932, and the first non-Russian team to claim gold there since 2011.

The pair also won the prestigious Grand Prix Final title in December in their first appearance at the event.

Now, they could be well on their way to what would be their first-ever world title in March. They’ve stood on the podium at Worlds before; last year, they earned a bronze. But could a world title for James and Ciprès spur their retirement?

They sat with NBCSports.com/figure-skating following their European Championship victory to contemplate such a question.

One year ago, you mentioned that you wanted to retire after the Games, especially if you won one Olympic medal. Where do you stand now?

Ciprès: We would definitely have retired if we had won an Olympic medal [laughing]. We are very happy of the decision we made to be on the ice again this year. We had an amazing start of the season. We won the Grand Prix Final, which was amazing. It was our first Final and we were really happy to be there and win with a big fight in the long program. Our European title was also an accomplishment for us. We may have felt old, but now we’re young winners! As sportsmen we want more. We’ll keep going… Until there’s no more!

James: It’s always difficult for any athlete, physically, mentally and emotionally, to give everything you have and not to get the results you were aiming at. Winning like this can continue for four more years without any problems [laughing]! I’ve not done all this stretching for stopping now. But we’ll take it one year at a time.

What is the creative process for your lifts? What drives you to be creative and make them special?

James: First, I work a lot on flexibility with a rhythmic gymnastics coach. It’s not easy, when you are 31 years old. She also helps me strengthening my back.

Ciprès: I go with her sometimes [smiling]… To encourage her!

James: We also work on extensions and on our body lines, so that they don’t look like broken lines during the lifts. We aim at presenting extended legs during the lifts and landings, even when I hold my foot above my head: the other leg shall be extended. So that’s a different perspective from what we were used to.

Ciprès: I must emphasize Vanessa’s imagination and research capacities. She’ll go look on the Internet from gym, circus, roller skating or any other field. We discuss what she found, and try when time permits. I did bring our final lift, the one when I hold her in lunge position. But she brought the lift on an outside spread eagle. That one is really difficult for me. It requires a lot of energy and control. She also created the choreographic sequence, when I hold her on an inside edge.

James: I thought that it would be neat if we could do that, but I didn’t want it to be counted as a lift. I tried with Morgan, then with John [Zimmerman, their coach], and it was so cool! So, we included it in the choreographic sequence.

Ciprès: At first that one would take me as much energy as a real lift! Now it’s almost a moment of rest in the program – well, almost.

It seems that pair skating is taking a lot from ice dance – positions, transitions, steps… Is it a trend you are pursuing yourself?

Ciprès: We get a lot of inspiration from ice dance, it’s true. But ice dance gets a lot of inspiration from us as well, most notably in lifts! They are doing more and more acrobatics, and a lot comes from us pairs. May I tell you? At French Nationals, two dance teams came to me and asked me to teach them one of our lifts! They’ll have to deserve it, though! [smiling]

Some years ago, you said that you wanted to push the sport through more difficult jumps, like quad Salchow or triple-triple side-by-side combinations. Now you’re pushing the sport with lifts?

Ciprès: Indeed, we wanted to mark the history of our sport with our attempts of the riskiest elements. The other day Vanessa saw another competitor landing a throw jump with her arms over her head. That’s something we started, and we have to take it as a compliment. Actually, keeping the quads off means also less risk of injury. Landing quads day after day in practice was physically exhausting and very risky.

What do you think will determine victory at Worlds?

Ciprès [straight-faced]: What will be done on that day. We’ll have to do it.

James: One key factor will also be in the evolution we make in our programs until then. They need to evolve constantly. When we skated our programs at Autumn Classic, early in the season, we had good feedback. But these programs have been intensified so much since then. At each competition we’ve come up with better elements and increased transitions. We need to continue on that trend. I’m sure all our competitors will be in great shape in Japan, whatever can be heard now. We’ll have to be better anyhow.

Ciprès: The main difference now is that we concentrate on ourselves much more than on our competitors. The game before was to see how we could get one point over them. That’s over: we come up with what we need to be the best.

MORE: Jason Brown didn’t think he’d make PyeongChang without a quad, sees season as stepping stone

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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Watch Danell Leyva splash out of American Ninja Warrior

Danell Leyva
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Triple Olympic medalist Danell Leyva became the latest gymnast to appear on NBC’s “American Ninja Warrior,” splashing out of the “Leaps of Faith” in the latter portion of the course in the Los Angeles City Finals that aired Monday.

Leyva’s full run can be seen at the 44-minute mark here.

Leyva, a 27-year-old who took all-around bronze at the 2012 London Games and then retired with parallel bars and high bar silver in Rio, was cheered on by 2012 Olympic teammates Jonathan Horton and John Orozco. He previously completed the course at the Los Angeles City qualifier.

Horton has tackled ANW five times, according to the broadcast. Other gymnasts to appear on the show included Olympic all-around champions Nastia Liukin and Paul Hamm and, perhaps the show’s most famous competitor, former Towson University athlete Kacy Catanzaro.

Leyva could still make the Las Vegas finals, according to the broadcast.

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MORE: Japan’s gymnastics team for worlds lacks its superstars

Chinese 13-year-olds go 1-2 at diving worlds; U.S. medal drought ends

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Reminiscent of one of its legendary divers, Chinese 13-year-olds took gold and silver in the women’s platform at the world diving championships on Wednesday. Delaney Schnell rallied for bronze, ending a 14-year U.S. medal drought.

Chen Yuxi and Lu Wei, both born in 2005, tallied 439 and 377.8 points, respectively, in Gwangju, South Korea. China is nine for nine in gold medals with four finals left this week. Schnell, who was in fifth place and 1.2 points back of third going into the last dive, ended up with 364.2.

No U.S. woman had earned an individual world platform medal since Laura Wilkinson‘s gold in 2005. Schnell, 20, was sixth at the 2016 Olympic trials and second at the 2017 World trials before placing 27th at her world debut two years ago.

Back in 1991, Chinese 12-year-old Fu Mingxia captured the world title on the platform. A year later, Fu took platform gold in Barcelona and remains the youngest Summer Olympic champion since 1960. Fu went on to win a Chinese record four individual Olympic diving titles.

Lu and Chen represent the next generation of Chinese female divers following the post-Rio retirements of their role model, Chen Ruolin, and Wu Minxia.

China is such a diving factory that it took gold and silver without the Rio Olympic platform champion, Ren Qian, who is not on this year’s world team. Ren, then 15 in Rio, became the youngest Olympic diving gold medalist since Fu.

China, two years after its least successful diving worlds since 2005, is moving closer to sweeping every gold medal at these worlds. They last accomplished the feat in 2011.

Earlier Wednesday, Chinese Xie Siyi (reigning world champion) and Cao Yuan (reigning Olympic champion) qualified first and second into Thursday’s men’s springboard final.

David Boudia, the 2012 U.S. Olympic platform champion, was a strong fourth in his first major international meet since Rio and switching to the springboard. Rio Olympian Michael Hixon also advanced in the 12th and last spot.

NBC Olympic Researcher Alex Azzi contributed to this report from Gwangju.

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MORE: Diving Worlds TV Schedule