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Olympic figure skater Johnny Weir takes break for fundraiser

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WILMINGTON, Del. — How dedicated is Olympic figure skater Johnny Weir to his hometown training rink, The Skating Club of Wilmington?

When the Delaware resident was recently cast in a new Netflix ice skating drama called “Spinning Out,” he was to be in Canada filming the show’s first season next weekend when the skating club hosts its annual fundraiser.

But he “pushed hard” to be able to escape for the benefit and will perform on the second night of the two-day “America Skates: Spring Ice Show” on April 5 and 6.

“I’m jumping right off a plane to help raise money for this historic rink,” Weir, 34, who recently purchased a new home in Greenville, told The News Journal.

Weir has been an honorary member of the skating club for more than a decade and has been training there in recent years “whenever I’m not running around the world,” says Weir, a lead NBC Sports figure skating analyst.

“They have been so accommodating with my schedule and make it possible even for me to train in the middle of the night,” says Weir, a two-time Olympian and three-time U.S. national champion, who won the bronze medal at World Figure Skating Championships in 2008.

The skating club, which first opened in 1964, will host about 170 performers across the two-night event, including special celebrity guest skaters, such as Weir.

Pairs team Audrey Lu and Misha Mitrofanov and skater Ting Cui are also scheduled to perform.

Both shows are at 7 p.m. and each cost $25-$70 (adults), $15 (teens 13-19) and $10 (children 12 and younger). Tickets can be purchased at skatewilm.com.

The show’s artistic director, former Olympic ice dancer Irina Romanova, says the annual benefit is integral to the club’s ability to survive as a unique member-owned and operated entity.

“It’s the No. 1 fundraiser for the club,” she says. “I’m kind of dying every year doing this, but I know I cannot give it up because without it we wouldn’t be able to have our next show.”

Weir has twice before performed at the skating club’s spring fundraiser and says he’s dedicated to its livelihood: “It’s important for me that skaters across the country, even in small states like Delaware, know that they can achieve their dreams just like I did. Coming from the greater Philadelphia area, it is especially important to me to support local rinks and to keep skating alive in our community.”

While Weir has been busily preparing two new numbers for an upcoming tour in Japan at the club in recent months, fans won’t be seeing those on April 6.

Instead, Weir says, “I’ll be pulling out an old fan favorite that I hope makes the audience smile.”

Over the years, Weir has parlayed his figure skating career into the entertainment and fashion careers, becoming a bona fide celebrity thanks to his lovable, outgoing personality and head-turning style.

His longevity shouldn’t come as a surprise. After all, it was a dozen years ago when the Will Ferrell ice skating comedy “Blades of Glory” featured a character partially inspired by Weir.

He also starred in his own reality series, “Be Good Johnny Weir,” which aired on Sundance TV back in 2010.

Weir will join co-stars Kaya Scodelario and January Jones on “Spinning Out,” which was first announced in October with Weir being added to the cast two months later.

He says he’s had an incredible experience so far: “I never had the acting bug before, but now that I’m actually doing it and living that life, I really enjoy it.”

It won’t be Weir’s first time acting. In fact, Weir landed on an episode of the Fox animated comedy “Family Guy” just four months ago.

In the Olympics-themed episode, both he and fellow NBC figure skating analyst Tara Lipinski appear, playing themselves.

On the episode, the openly gay skater pokes fun at both at his sexuality and fashion choices.

In one scene, he is seen picking trash off the ground, sticking it to his outfit and proclaiming, “Now it’s clothes!”

In another scene, he wears a comically over-sized hat and reveals that he’s not actually gay to Stewie, the show’s talking baby. In fact, Weir tells him had been pretending to get closer to Lipinski.

Weir’s voice suddenly changes to a deep, gruff tone and he explains, “This is my voice. Do you think I actually talk like that? That’s just something I do to get the skater chicks.”

Born in Coatesville, Pennsylvania, Weir trained for his first Olympics in Delaware and has had a connection with the state ever since.

With Weir training in Wilmington and a new home in Greenville, the fashionable star can regularly be spotted in Northern Delaware, eating at his favorite restaurants or shopping around town.

“Delaware has been a major part of my life,” Weir says. “I am a true citizen of the world, but it is wonderful to have someplace quiet to come home to where I don’t have to shave or wear a sparkly blazer.

“My quiet country lifestyle is just the balance I need to keep up with my hectic work life.”

MORE: Takeaways and top moments from the World Figure Skating Championships

As a reminder, you can watch the events from the 2018-19 figure skating season 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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2019 USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships TV schedule

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NBC, NBCSN and NBC Sports Gold combine to air live daily coverage of the USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships, starting Thursday in Des Moines, Iowa.

The top three per individual event are in line to qualify for the world championships in Doha in late September and early October, should they have the world standard time or mark.

Sprint trio Christian Coleman (100m and 200m), Noah Lyles (200m) and Michael Norman (400m) headline the event. Each is 23 or younger and fastest in the world this year in his primary event.

Allyson Felix and Justin Gatlin represent the veterans. Felix, a 33-year-old with 17 combined Olympic and world titles, is entered in her first meet since having daughter Camryn via emergency C-section at 32 weeks on Nov. 28.

Gatlin, 37, has a bye into worlds as the defending 100m champion. He could be Coleman’s biggest threat in the 100m after breaking 9.9 seconds for the first time since the Rio Olympics.

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MORE: Olympic champions, world-record holder to miss USATF Outdoors

Day Time (ET) Network Key Events
Thursday 3:45-11 p.m. NBC Sports Gold 100m first round, 10,000m finals
Friday 1:30-9 p.m. NBC Sports Gold 100m finals, 400m semifinals
7-9 p.m. NBCSN
Saturday 2-6 p.m. NBC Sports Gold Finals: 400m, women’s 1500m, 100m hurdles
4-6 p.m. NBC
Sunday 4-9 p.m. NBC Sports Gold Finals: 200m, men’s 1500m, 110m hurdles
7-8 p.m. NBCSN
8-9 p.m. NBC

Beachvolley Vikings, sport’s top team, inspired by Kerri Walsh Jennings

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HAMBURG, Germany — Kerri Walsh Jennings smiled at the decade-old picture of her posing with a young Anders Mol.

Since Walsh Jennings met Mol, the now-22-year-old and his 23-year-old Norwegian partner Christian Sorum have become the top-ranked team in the world.

“Those boys inspire me a lot,” she said. “That’s how I want Brooke [Sweat] and I to play, really.”

Walsh Jennings met Mol in his native country at the 2009 FIVB Beach Volleyball World Championships in Stavanger. Mol attended with his father, Kare, who was coaching the Norwegian teams, as well as his brother Hendrik and cousin Mathias Berntsen.

Walsh Jennings noticed the young Norwegians, who are now nicknamed the “Beachvolley Vikings,” eagerly doing the pepper drill on the sand between matches from 6 a.m. until well after dark.   

“She walked by and told us, ‘Hey, you guys are so good that if you guys keep practicing, you’re going to be playing on this stage one day,’” Mol recalled.

Mol’s passion for the sport only increased as he hit puberty.

As a teenager, he derailed his family’s vacation plans in San Diego by making them battle traffic up to Los Angeles to hear Walsh Jennings give a speech.

Childhood photo of Mol and Walsh Jennings. Courtesy of Anders Mol.

At 13 or 14, Mol and his brother beat their parents for the first time. Impressive, considering Mol’s father was a former national indoor team player and his mother, Merita Mol (née Berntsen), competed in beach volleyball at the 1996 Olympics.

At 16, he enrolled in ToppVolley Norway, a beach and indoor volleyball school that is a two-hour boat ride north from Stavanger. For three years, the boys would attend classes, lift weights and train for a minimum of 20 hours per week. Free time often meant pick-up soccer matches, which occasionally proves useful on the sand.

“It doesn’t look like Hogwarts,” Mol said, “but it sounds like Hogwarts because everybody is like a big family in this school.”

When Mol graduated, he played a year of professional indoor volleyball in Belgium. But he quickly realized that he preferred the freedom of beach volleyball, where players book their own travel, hire their own coaches and schedule their own practices.

In 2017, Mol was named the international tour’s top rookie. By the end of the 2018 season, Mol and Sorum had firmly established themselves as the world’s top team, winning their final three international tournaments including the FIVB World Tour Finals.

They have not slowed down in 2019, winning three tournaments on three different continents over three weeks in May. They have won 36 of their last 38 matches.

“The best blocker right now is Anders, and the best defender is Christian,” said three-time U.S. Olympian Jake Gibb. “It’s not really fair.”

The only two teams who have defeated the Norwegians since April 28 — Germany’s Julius Thole/Clemens Wickler and Brazil’s Bruno Schmidt/Evandro Goncalves — did not offer any clues on how to do it.

Wickler admitted that “in no other stadium would we have won this game” after the Hamburg world championships semifinal played July 6 in front of more than 12,000 hometown fans, the largest crowd either team had ever experienced. Mol and Sorum rebounded to claim the bronze medal the next day over Americans Tri Bourne and Trevor Crabb.

Bruno rebuffed multiple teams who approached him looking for the secret to beating Norway.

“I’ve never seen a player like Anders who is so powerful and so skilled at the same time,” said Bruno, the 2016 Olympic champion with former partner Alison. “Players like that raise the level of this sport.”

Much of their success can be attributed to their defensive scheme. Most teams play a “zone defense,” with each player defending half of the court. The Norwegians play a “read defense” that gives each player the freedom to react and move to where they think the attacking player will hit the ball.

NBC Sports analyst Kevin Wong compared the Norwegians to “free safeties” in football.

“They are the most innovative defensive team we’ve seen in a long time,” he said.

The pair is relatively unknown outside Norway — neither has a Wikipedia page in English — and even in Norway they claim they are nowhere near as famous as the Alpine skiers nicknamed the “Attacking Vikings.”

But that will change.

At worlds, the pair hired a videographer to capture content for their YouTube and Instagram channels. They launched a Beachvolley Vikings clothing line that includes a “Sleeping Christian” shirt. They patiently fulfilled each and every request for pictures and autographs after matches.

“They are like rock stars,” said American Taylor Crabb, talking extra loud to be heard over a crowd of teenage girls hoping to take a selfie with the tall, blonde Norwegians. “Fans can relate to them because they see guys around their age becoming the No. 1 team the world.”

It is not just fans who are lining up to see the Norwegians.

“I love to watch them play,” said 2016 Brazilian Olympian Pedro Solberg, who made his international debut when Mol was just 8. “Every chance I get to watch them I do, because I learn a lot from them.”

Whether Mol and Sorum struggle with anything is up for debate. When asked, Kare boasted about beating them at the card game “President and the bum.”

“They are really smart in beach volleyball,” he said, “but they are really stupid in card playing.”

But both players disputed their coach’s claim.

“It’s not true at all,” Sorum said. “He loses even when he has the best cards.”

The Beachvolley Vikings are just getting started. 2008 Olympic champion Phil Dalhausser pointed out that beach volleyball players typically do not peak until their late 20s or early 30s.

“In my book, they are already among the top teams to ever play,” he said. “There are no holes in their game. I don’t see why they can’t keep this going.”

OlympicTalk editor Nick Zaccardi contributed to this report.

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MORE: Brazil Olympic beach volleyball champs form dangerous teams after split