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Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron on training with three American ice dance teams

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Three-time world champions Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron started a trend when they moved to their Montreal training camp. Now, they train with three American teams – which includes their top competitors.

After winning their fifth consecutive European Championship title (no other team had ever won five in a row), they sat with NBCSports.com/figure-skating to discuss how they see ice dance changing since they’ve come to dominate the field, what it takes in order to do so for so long, and how to keep things fresh.

The world championships are in Saitama, Japan from March 18-24. Papadakis and Cizeron are chasing their fourth World title.

You’re now training with three American teams – Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue, Madison Chock and Evan Bates, and Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker. How is it going?

Cizeron: The atmosphere in the Gadbois rink has not changed. It’s still quite a sportive one!

Papadakis: They were already good friends before coming to Montreal. You can feel that Madi and Zach, and Madison and Evan had a good relationship together. It’s not like they would compete against one another and were acquainted through competition. They had a sheer appreciation of one another. Each one is quite friendly and has a lot of respect for the others. Each one works his or her best. Each one is fun to share the ice with.

Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue were the first ones to join you: how did you see them improve?

Cizeron: Madi and Zach are relying on speed more than on glide. Their approach has been unique.

Papadakis: They were coming from quite different backgrounds than ours. They have more of an American approach, they went to hip-hop and opened several other fields. They really exploded at the highest level with their short dance to Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” They had such an incredible connection to this program. They may have discovered at that point the huge capacity they had to be connected, which in fact very few teams have. They’ve developed from then on.

MORE: One-on-one with Hubbell and Donohue before Worlds

How do you train together? Do you feel like everyone is following your lead as the pioneers in Montreal? 

Papadakis: We have the ice from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Each one of us has one’s share of it for three to four hours. That allows us to practice together – or not.

Cizeron: We don’t really feel that we would be leaders there. Each one has one’s own style, and that’s what matters most. You keep your eyes concentrated onto your own work, really. Daily routine is always the same: you have some runs, you have some exercises to practice, you have some private lessons. There’s no surprise. You just support each other. It’s just like what we do at competition: you are concentrated on your own work. If you think of what the others are doing, then you’re doing your job!

On the bigger scale, do you see the landscape of ice dance change under your leadership?

Papadakis: We don’t try to make the sport change. But we certainly don’t want to follow paths that have been already opened by others.

Cizeron: It’s the same question as who, from the chicken or the egg, which came first? Do we win because we’re doing what we do, or do the others follow the doors we’ve opened because we win? It may be something we’ll realize later, when we have more perspective. The real challenge for us is to renew ourselves, and never be contempt with what we do, especially as we’re opening a second chapter in our career with this new quadrennial.

The good thing with ice dance is that you learn your technique forever. Once you get your steps, you keep them for life.

Papadakis: It’s not like with ladies, for instance: you don’t lose your choctaws at puberty!

MORE: Hawayek, Baker on what Montreal means to them

What does it take then to stay at the top in this sport?

Cizeron: Of course, you need to preserve oneself, both physically and mentally. Have a superlative team. Then keep your curiosity and will to learn. Just as in any field when you want to perform.

Papadakis: As success comes, you need to give up things. Then you may fear to let go things that were key to your success. Will it work the same way, if you leave them away? The new things you take on board have not proven themselves. But don’t be frightened. We could certainly make up a list of everything that works and get points, and derive a formula for success. Maybe some do that. We can’t. We’re not into marketing.

Cizeron: In fact, durability is also a fight with people’s opinions. We’ve always changed costumes many times during the course of a season. People told us: “No, don’t it’s so good!” And then once we had changed, they would say: “Oh yes, it’s better!” You need to believe that you can always do better. You need to believe in your instincts for that. That’s a major point: listen to your instinct and never doubt it. You’re growing and encompassing different phases, just like in your life. Some things become more important. Our coaches listen a lot, and then they have a filter and a funnel to decide what to discuss with us.

Papadakis: We’re lucky to have several faces in front of us. You’re better off with five people making a decision than with just one.

Cizeron: Then we need to devise programs that will please us and will please the audience. We like to bring a density, a depth to every program. We love movement, we love dancing extremely, both of us. We don’t do things because they are trendy. When we skated to Mozart concerto, in 2015, it was not that trendy. But people loved it. We created a kind of a fashion, without even knowing it.

Papadakis: Still we need to pay attention: we may create a fashion, but we shouldn’t stay in it. You can’t create a fashion and be stuck with it.

Fashion designers do take the trends they perceive in society, and they create a fashion to push them forward. Aren’t you saying that you are aiming at becoming like the fashion designers of ice dance?

Cizeron: Ice dance may not be an art, but it’s an artistic field. Fashion needs to be renewed all the time, just like for clothes. In order to succeed, you need to be fully yourself, but not stick to the same forever. If you’re too much of yourself, people will say “they don’t change.” We aim at creating timeless pieces. We would like to create fashions, not trends. A dress designed by Christian Lacroix may become out of fashion, but still be remarkable on anyone. Those who follow fashions are easily forgotten. Those who create them are remembered forever. We don’t really invent anything. We listen and observe, we go to theater and ballet and to the movies. The whole process is not a conscious one, but that’s how it works.

MORE: Chock, Bates planning on peaking at world championships

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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Maya Moore withdraws from Olympic consideration

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Maya Moore, the U.S. second-leading scorer at the Rio Olympics, withdrew her name from Tokyo Olympic consideration and will skip a second straight WNBA season.

Moore is on hiatus from competitive basketball to focus on criminal justice reform. Specifically, the case of a man who was sentenced to 50 years in prison but Moore believes is innocent, according to The New York Times.

USA Basketball confirmed Wednesday’s Times report that Moore took her name out of consideration for the 12-player Tokyo Olympic team, which is expected to be named in late spring or early summer.

“We are going to miss Maya tremendously, but we also respect her decision,” U.S. women’s national team director Carol Callan said, according to the report. “A player of Maya’s ability does not walk away from the gym lightly. Everyone feels it. The thing that makes her so special is her approach, her dedication, which has always been contagious for our team.”

Moore last played for the U.S. in major competition at the Rio Olympics. She was one of the leaders on a team that earned a sixth straight gold medal. Moore started all eight games and averaged 12 points per game, second on the team behind fellow former University of Connecticut star Diana Taurasi.

Breanna Stewart, another former UConn standout, entered the starting lineup at the 2018 FIBA World Cup in Moore’s absence and earned tournament MVP. Stewart is returning after missing the entire 2019 WNBA season with an Achilles tear.

Moore also started five games at the 2012 London Olympics as the team’s youngest player.

Moore, 30, said “this is not the time” to retire, according to the Times, but it’s unknown when she might return to the national team or to the WNBA, where she won four titles and an MVP with the Minnesota Lynx from 2011-18.

“I got to experience the best of my craft, and I did that multiple times,” Moore said, according to the report. “There is nothing more I wish I could experience.”

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MORE: U.S. 3×3 basketball teams get one chance to qualify for Olympics

Major League Baseball sponsors U.S. Olympic softball team

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NEW YORK (AP) — Major League Baseball is using its financial muscle to support the U.S. women’s softball team, which already is assured a spot in the Tokyo Olympics while the American men’s baseball team struggles to qualify.

MLB announced an agreement Thursday to become presenting sponsor of the women’s “Stand Beside Her” tour, a slate of exhibition games leading up to the Olympic tournament from July 22-28.

“We’re both bat and ball sports. Even though we’re not the same sport, there are so many similarities that you just can’t ignore,” said Kim Ng, MLB’s senior vice president for baseball operations. “It was important for us to make sure that they have this acknowledgment and recognition of their ability and their talent.”

Softball began as an Olympic sport for the 1996 Atlanta Games. The U.S. won gold medals in 1996, 2000 and 2004 with players that included Dot Richardson, Jennie Finch and Jessica Mendoza, then lost to Japan in the 2008 gold-medal game.

Baseball and softball were dropped for the next two Olympics, then restored for this year, when the U.S. and Japan will be joined by Australia, Canada, Italy and Mexico for games in Fukushima and Yokohama but not Tokyo. The sports are likely to be dropped for 2024 in Paris but could return four years later in Los Angeles.

The U.S. men’s baseball team stumbled in its first attempt to qualify, wasting a ninth-inning lead against Mexico in the final game of the Premier12 tournament in November and losing in the 10th. The U.S. has two more chances to join Israel, Japan, Mexico and South Korea in the Olympic field: an Americas tournament in Arizona from March 22-26 and a final tournament in Taiwan from April 1-5.

MLB is not allowing players on 40-man big league rosters to compete in qualifying, and few top pitching prospects were at the November tournament.

Softball has no such issues. The Olympics are the sport’s highest-profile event.

“The platform for us is 10 times bigger,” American outfielder Haylie McCleney said. “For us, it’s a great opportunity for people that have never watched softball before, people that have only followed it at the collegiate level, to really see how fun our game is to watch, how pure it is. If people are baseball fans, I guarantee they’re going to love softball because it’s pretty much just a faster game – it’s shorter, it’s quicker, it’s more entertaining to watch, in my opinion.”

The 2008 gold-medal softball game took 1 hours, 45 minutes — less than half the 3:45 average for this year’s World Series.

As part of the deal with MLB, the softball team’s official training facility will be at the Jackie Robinson Training Complex in Vero Beach, Florida, the old Dodgertown spring training camp.

MLB Network will include programming from the tour, which currently starts Feb. 4 in Tampa and has about three dozen stops.

The U.S. women’s soccer team has attracted huge television audiences. MLB sees softball as an opportunity for the sport’s growth.

“These are world-class athletes,” Ng said. “Because we have not been in the Olympics for the last 12 years, they just haven’t had that stage. So it’s really important at this point that we show as much support as we can for them.”

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MORE: U.S. athletes qualified for Tokyo Olympics