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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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The Wrap from Day 1 of the World Championships

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NUR-SULTAN, Kazakhstan — Matt Lindland sees progress taking place within the United States Greco-Roman program.

He sees accountability and ownership. He sees a desire to compete with the global Greco powers and a willingness to pay the price to get there.

“There’s definitely been progress,” Lindland said. “We’ve got great guys. It’s about them. They want to be here. They want to do what it’s going to take to get to that next level, and you can see it. They’re frustrated when things don’t go their way, and they’re going to figure out how to fix those things. Yeah, we’re making the right progress. We’ve got the right guys, we’ve got the right attitude.”

But Lindland also sees hesitation at times, too. He sees too much analyzing and not enough reactionary aggression.

“I think our guys are second-guessing themselves, they’re questioning and they’re thinking,” he said. “They’re thinking about what’s going to happen instead of being in the moment and just being present and letting things fly. Really great athletes out there on America’s team and they’re super capable. When they start thinking and questioning what’s going to happen and wondering what the referee is going to call, they’ve just got to go out there and do what they’re all capable of doing.”

Both dynamics — the signs progress and the work-in-progress symbols — were on display Saturday on the opening day of the World Championships.

Max Nowry, Ryan Mango and Raymond Bunker notched opening-round wins Saturday. For perspective, only three Americans posted Greco victories at the World Championships in 2018.

On the flip side, though, each of the three ran into roadblocks when they couldn’t hold leads in their second bout, and Mango and Bunker got eliminated later in the day.

Nowry and John Stefanowicz, however, got pulled into the repechage and have a chance to wrestle Sunday for medals. Nowry got an extra opportunity when Kazakhstan’s Khorlan Zhakansha stunned 2018 World champ and No. 1 seed Eldaniz Azizli of Azerbaijan, 11-5, in the 55-kilogram semifinals.

Stefanowicz dropped a 7-0 decision in the Round of 16 at 82 kilograms against Georgia’s Lasha Gobadze. But the Georgian posted two more victories to set Stefanowicz up with another chance at a medal.

Read the rest of the article at Track Wrestling

Sky Brown, 11 years old, is third at world skateboarding championships ahead of Olympic debut

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Sky Brown, an 11-year-old who appears en route to becoming the youngest female Summer Olympian in 50 years, took third at the world skateboarding championships in Sao Paulo on Saturday. The sport debuts at the Olympics in Tokyo.

Brown posted her highest score of her four finals runs in the last round, 58.13 points, of the park event. It was not enough to overtake Japanese Misugu Okamoto and Sakura Yosozumi. The new world champion Okamoto is 13 years old. Yosozumi is 17.

Brown has been raised in Japan by a Japanese mother and a British father. The 2018 Dancing with the Stars: Juniors winner appeared in a Nike “Dream Crazier” ad with Simone BilesSerena Williams and Chloe Kim in February.

She has not clinched an Olympic spot yet but is well on her way as the qualifying season continues.

She turns 12 years old just before the Tokyo Olympics begin and would be the youngest Olympian since Romanian rowing coxswain Carlos Front at the 1992 Barcelona Games.

She would be the youngest female Olympian since Chinese ice dancer Liu Luyang in 1988 and the youngest female Summer Olympian since Puerto Rican swimmer Liana Vicens in 1968, according to the OlyMADMen.

The Tokyo Games feature four skateboarding events — men’s and women’s street and park.

NBC Olympic Research contributed to this report.

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