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Nathan Chen learning from the ‘chaos’ of his first year balancing Yale University and elite skating

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Nathan Chen spoke to NBCSports.com/figure-skating before skating in the Stars on Ice show in Providence on Saturday. The two-time world champion and three-time U.S. Champion is participating in some of the shows on tour this year while studying for final exams.

He noted that this year, he learned a lot both inside and outside of the classroom, and on and off the ice. He’ll use all of that to have an even better season next year, where he plans to compete on the Grand Prix circuit and juggle his sophomore year at Yale University.

But first, he’ll spend the summer traveling, touring, and working on programs for next season.

This conversation has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Your classes must be winding down.

Yeah. I just finished classes yesterday and then right now I’m just studying for finals.

This show is taking place in Providence, pretty close to Yale. Do you expect to have any friends to come?

Actually, today’s Spring Fling at Yale which is basically just like a big party where there’s a lot of live music, everyone’s hanging out. It’s a time to decompress from studying slash get ready for more studying in the next few days. I don’t think many people will come down here. But at the same time, it’s great to be able to be so close to New Haven and that definitely helps with traveling and not having to feel as though I’m so far away from everyone.

At the show in Hartford last year, there were a lot of Yale banners in the audience.

That was super nice. I thought that was really sweet.

Have you been able to do some of the stereotypical New England things, like apple picking?

I have not actually! I hit up the whole restaurant scene around New Haven. I’ve been to Pepe’s, I’ve been to Sally’s, been to Talayna’s, a lot of these little pizza places. I really like that actually. Yale’s campus is so beautiful and there’s so many things to do on campus. You’re never gonna really get bored. But at the same time, you have like other places around New England that you can check out. I’ve been to Boston. Probably gonna go to New York next week with some friends. It’s nice to have access to these major cities as well.

Where will you spend your summer?

I will be mostly in California; however, I am gonna spend some time traveling into Japan, into some other places for shows, for choreography, for other things.

Who are you going to for your choreography?

I think the same as this year. I already talked to them. So, I’m most likely working with them again as long as they’re OK scheduling-wise. But I think Shae [Lynn Bourne] and Marie [-France Dubreuil] have definitely helped my skating develop a lot. I really enjoy working with them so I’m definitely going to try to do that.

What hints can you give us about music choices?

I honestly don’t even know. I haven’t even talked to them about that yet. I’m not sure.

Is it your plan to compete on the Grand Prix series again in the fall?

Absolutely. Yeah. As of right now, I’m still trying to figure out schooling. But I am planning on continuing school and skating, basically the same as this year.

Have you spoken with other skaters, like Olympic teammates Karen Chen or Vincent Zhou, about trying to balance college and elite skating? [Editor’s note: Karen Chen and Vincent Zhou have heavily hinted they’ll be attending college in the near future.]

I talked to Karen a little bit. But it’s hard for me to give them a lot of advice because every school is different. They have to talk to their specific advisers and people on their campus to know that they have access to certain things like the rink, and make sure that the area has other training sites that you could potentially go to. Every school’s curriculum is a little different. So, fortunately, with Yale, they’ve adopted a system where I’m able to skate and do school at the same time. It’s hard for me to really say.

What are you performing on the Stars on Ice tour?

I’m still gonna continue my short program that I’ve been doing all season. I might change that depending on if I have enough time to choreograph something new. The other one is “Next To Me.” It’s a short program that I choreographed myself a few days before I headed out to Worlds. I had fun with it. I think it’s an interesting piece of music and I really like listening to it outside of skating. I thought it’d be fun to skate to.

We were able to get your immediate reaction right after winning the world title, but has being two-time world champion sunk in? How do you evaluate your season now that you’re a little bit removed from it?

I’m happy with my season. I mean, there’s definitely a lot of things I think I could have done better. But in terms of results, there’s nothing more that I could’ve wanted from the season. I’m really, really happy with it.

But thinking into the future, I know there’s a lot of things that I wanna clean up in terms of scheduling. Of course, I had to do that because I didn’t know how to manage the two. The first semester was just kinda chaos. The second semester has been a lot more structured. As long as I can continue developing on the structure that I’ve learned from second semester, I think I’ll be pretty good.

MORE: Michelle Kwan jokes about Nathan Chen’s skateboarding across Yale University campus

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