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Madison Chock, Evan Bates look to peak at Worlds and return to podium

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Madison Chock and Evan Bates won their first Four Continents Championships title in February after a silver medal finish at the U.S. Championships in January. They competed in three competitions over five weeks—after sitting out from competition for 10 months due to Chock’s ankle surgery.

The next stop for the 2015 U.S. Champions is the world championships in Saitama, Japan from March 18-24. They won Worlds silver and bronze in 2015 and 2016 and now look to step back onto the podium.

NBCSports.com/figure-skating spoke to the team, a couple on and off the ice, after competition wrapped up in Detroit. They discussed their refreshed attitude toward their abbreviated season, what they like about Montreal, their new training base, and the awesome gift mother nature gave Chock and their dogs.

Chock called it “eye-opening” to see how their coaches, Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon, navigate married life after they retired from competitive skating.

“Understanding [their] dynamic has been good for us,” Bates added. “We really look to them as role models. We’ve never had a problem being a couple off the ice and on the ice. But I think being around them the last six months, seeing what life can be after skating, has been a revelation for us: how they live their lives and how they also still obviously are involved in the sport heavily. You see the love they have for each other, the way they take care of each other, and their daughter.”

I was wondering about the pace of this season. It seems so different than anything you are used to. You said you trained six months for three competitions in five weeks. How has that been?

Chock: It’s been a very different season for us. I think the time off recovering was a blessing in disguise. We just feel like it reignited our passion for skating – not that we ever really lost it. But we feel reinvigorated. We’re ready to push on to the next three years because that’s our goal, to go to the next Olympics. We feel like we’re in a very good place and we’re on the right path. We’re going to keep doing what we’re doing and trusting the process and our coaches.

Bates: We feel fresh. For most people, [Nationals is the] fourth, fifth competition of the year. For us, just the second. I think that can be a good thing for us because there are seven weeks to train for Worlds. I think we’ll be peaking at the right time. I’m sure our coaches will take care of that for us. We feel fresh, reinvigorated a little bit. I think after the last quad and the Olympics, it was necessary for us to take a break. The surgery was obviously not the best of situations.

Chock: It’s not ideal to ever have surgery to begin with.

Bates: Right, you don’t want to have surgery if you don’t need surgery. But the break in and of itself was very good for us.

Chock: It came at a good time.

Bates: If you just dive right back in again [to the Olympic cycle] it can feel daunting, especially for us, going for our third Games together. Four years is long.

Your free dance seems like a really good vehicle to show off your rediscovered passion.

Bates: We’ve never had more fun or had more joy on competitive ice than we had [during our free dance]. Part of it was being home in Detroit. Part of it was being back after 10 months. And part of it is the program. The program is just very fun. I think it caters to a sold-out crowd like we had. Audience was amazing. Within the first minute, I felt them. I could hear them screaming. It helped us so much to just let it loose in the last minute, when the rock and roll piece came on. We were just like, ‘This is what we’ve missed and what we’ve been working for.’ Those moments that you just want to bottle up and just remember forever. It was very special.

Plus, we noticed you lip syncing during it.

Chock: I was just having so much fun. Like you feel a song, you like it. You just start singing it. I really don’t like lip syncing. Don’t do it. But I was feeling it.

Bates: If it’s natural and organic, it’s just part of the performance.

Chock: Maybe I was actually singing, I don’t know. [laughs]

Evan, one thing I’ve heard you say in the past is that you don’t love competing in tuxedos. Yet, in both programs this season…

Chock: I think a full tux and tail is undesirable.

Bates: I think the guys in the change room are often complaining about jackets and layers. It’s hot usually out there. We like to moan about it in the locker room.

Chock: You look great.

Bates: For the short it’s fine. For the free, I didn’t want to wear a tuxedo or anything. So, we compromised. I’ve got a bowtie.

How did you decide on relocating to Montreal to train this season?

Chock: We were looking to make a change. We felt like we had more to give to the sport and we wanted to really push ourselves and grow. We felt like Montreal would be the best place for us to do that. Really the only place that we wanted to go.

Bates: We were just craving the atmosphere. You look at what they built and the results in PyeongChang. That’s the school to be at when you get gold, silver and almost bronze. They undeniably have the best camp.

I think also for us, we’ve had success. We’ve been on the world podium. We need to be with people – we want to be with people who are better than us, pushing us, beating us. So, we have that kind of motivation on a daily basis to… it’s right in front of you, you know what I mean? It can only make you better if you have the right mindset about it. Everyone at the rink has the best mindset about it. That’s the great thing. They foster this camaraderie and this attitude that we’re all there to make each other better. It’s working. It’s working really well.

That sounds like an environment that can only work if you have the right teams there, those that can play well with others, that kind of thing.

Chock: Absolutely.

Bates: Sure. I think that’s also part of it.

Chock: The school they’ve created with the coaches and with the teams that they have, everyone really gets on well. We’re very good friends. I think that’s a huge aspect of it. Bringing each other up is so important. You have to be around the right people in order to do that.

Bates: I think everybody there has experienced the highs and lows themselves. Everybody has their own journey. But at the same time, nobody can relate to say, what we’ve been through, more so than the team right next door who’s also been through their own trials and tribulations. There’s a real understanding of what it takes to be in the sport for this long, to get to a certain level. I feel like a respect for each other.

Chock: Respect for the other teams, too.

Bates: That’s what I mean. I have a lot of respect for the teams at the rink. I think it’s mutual. And that’s part of why it works.

Plus, your coaches aren’t that far removed from competition, about 10 or 12 years. I wonder if this is the kind of training environment they would’ve wanted for themselves.

Chock: Exactly. That’s why Marie and Patch created the school that they have. When they were training, it wasn’t an option for them to stay in Canada. There wasn’t a training school like that for them. They had to leave their country and train in France. I think that was really hard for them, to have to move. That was what Patch said, he wanted to make a school in North America, for North American teams so there would be that foundation for skaters. We’re really grateful that he did because they’ve created something really special.

Bates: I love that they just went through it themselves. It’s so relatable. Who better to mentor us and guide us than people who literally, I was watching at the Olympics. I was watching them win world medals. I was like, ‘Man that’s my coach! That’s so weird.’ I would’ve never expected it. I think when you see what’s happened with their coaching career from Sochi to PyeongChang, it just has exploded. I think they have the right principles and values and they’re great role models. They’ve built a school that’s going to last.

Finally, changing gears. Can you explain what happened on your porch when it froze over? Was that intentional?

Chock: Oh yea! Mother nature did that.

Bates: We’re in Canada. They make ice rinks like at any given possibility. People in our apartment cleared the snow. There was ice, and then there was snow on top of it. Then people brushed the snow aside. But it was a natural rink.

Chock: It was like my dream come true. We got out there, we were walking the dogs, like ‘Oh my god. This is all ice. I’m gonna go get my skates!’

The dogs were like, ‘She’s moving so fast! Oh wait, she’s coming back towards us, run this way! Wait, she’s going that way, let’s run this way.’ They wanted to follow me but then they would get close to my skates and then freak out, run the other way.

MORE: Chock and Bates win ice dance gold at Four Continents

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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Katie Ledecky wins race by 30 seconds, takes back No. 1 ranking

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In her last race of the year, Katie Ledecky ensured she would finish 2019 as the world’s fastest 1500m freestyler.

Ledecky clocked 15:35.98 at the U.S. Open in Atlanta, winning the longest event on the Olympic pool program by 29.97 seconds. Typical for Ledecky, who owns the nine fastest times in history. This one came in at No. 8. Full meet results are here.

Ledecky scratched the 1500m free final at the summer world championships due to illness. Italian Simona Quadarella went on to win that title in 15:40.89, which was the world’s fastest time this year until Saturday night.

“I didn’t have time on my mind at all today. I just wanted to have a consistent swim,” Ledecky, undefeated in 1500m free finals for nine years, said on NBCSN. “That’s probably the best mile that I’ve had in a while.”

The women’s 1500m freestyle debuts at the Olympics in Tokyo. Ledecky is expected to add that to her Rio Olympic individual lineup of 200m, 400m and 800m frees, assuming she is top two in each event at the June Olympic trials.

In other events Saturday, Erika Brown handed Simone Manuel a rare defeat in the 100m freestyle. Brown, a University of Tennessee senior, clocked 53.42 and lowered her personal best by .71 between prelims and the final. Brown moved from sixth to fourth in the U.S. rankings this year, upping her stock as a contender to make the Olympic 4x100m free relay pool via a top-six finish at trials.

Brown previously lowered her personal best in the 50m free on Thursday. She ranks third in the U.S. this year in that event.

Emily Escobedo dealt Lilly King a rare domestic defeat in the 200m breaststroke. Escobedo lowered her personal best by .87 and clocked 2:22.00, moving to seventh fastest in the world this year and remaining fourth among Americans.

In the men’s 200m breast, Olympic champion Dmitriy Balandin of Kazakhstan was beaten by Cody Miller, the Olympic 100m breast silver medalist. Both were slower than their best times this year.

The next significant swim meet is a Tyr Pro Series stop in Knoxville, Tenn., from Jan. 16-19.

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Mikaela Shiffrin runner-up in Lake Louise downhill

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LAKE LOUISE, Alberta (AP) — Here’s a scary thought for her competition: Mikaela Shiffrin is still getting comfortable with the intensity and the speed of the downhill.

That’s why podium finishes are still a little surprising even to her.

The American three-time overall World Cup champion finished runner-up to Nicole Schmidhofer of Austria in a downhill race Saturday. Schmidhofer cruised through the course in 1 minute, 49.92 seconds to edge Shiffrin by 0.13 seconds. Francesca Marsaglia of Italy wound up third.

Schmidhofer has four career World Cup wins, with three of them arriving at Lake Louise.

Known as a tech specialist, Shiffrin is steadily getting up to speed in the speed events. This was Shiffrin’s fourth career World Cup podium finish in the downhill, which includes a Lake Louise win in 2017.

So, does Shiffrin anticipate this kind of downhill success?

“No, no, no,” the 24-year-old from Colorado said. “It’s certainly not normal (for a downhill podium). Even racing downhill doesn’t feel normal. But I feel every year like I have more experience and get more comfortable.”

Shiffrin currently sits at 62 World Cup wins, which ties her with Austrian great Annemarie Moser-Proell for second-most on the women’s side. Lindsey Vonn had 82 wins before her retirement.

“I’m certainly more comfortable with the long skis,” Shiffrin said of downhill racing. “Right now, it’s enjoying it, because speed is a little bit extra for me. My goal is to be able to succeed in speed as well. It’s making the transition and trying to have fun with it.”

Czech Republic skier and snowboarder Ester Ledecka finished fourth Saturday. She was the surprise winner of Friday’s season-opening downhill, which was delayed and shortened by heavy snowfall on the mountain. The race Saturday was restored to its full length.

Next up, a super-G on Sunday.

“It’s always been a little bit tricky for me from downhill skis to super-G skis and to change the timing a little bit,” Shiffrin said. “I’m going to have fun.”

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