Getty

How Gracie Gold landed in Philadelphia, thoughts competitive return

Leave a comment

The way Gracie Gold explains it, she was set up on a blind date while attending the 2018 U.S. Figure Skating Championships.

“I was up in the stands just watching, just a mess,” said Gold, who took that Olympic season off to treat depression, anxiety and an eating disorder.

She was invited to watch the junior women’s free skate from backstage, where athletes meet their coaches after performing.

“They’re probably trying to make me feel important because I had a case of the sads,” said Gold, who was making her first public appearance at a skating event in a year. “It occurred to me later that this was a set up.”

A backstage group convinced her to swap phone numbers with Frenchman Vincent Restencourt, a former world junior medalist turned coach. Gold had begun to dabble in coaching herself. Restencourt offered her a weeklong gig at his rink.

“I’ll just fly somewhere for a week, make some money, just get out in the world,” Gold said. “Remember, I fell off the face of the earth for quite a while.”

But when she got to IceWorks in Aston, Pa., another group convinced her to relocate there from Arizona. Not to coach, but to skate again.

“If you looked at me, it was a joke,” Gold said. “No one was going to look at me and be like, ‘Oh my god, you still have so much potential.’ I had a brown bob cut. I had my nose pierced.

“I was like, it’s probably not possible. And they were like, ‘But don’t you want to say that you tried?’”

Gracie Gold
Gold watching from the stands at the 2018 U.S. Figure Skating Championships.

Gold was convinced that, at the very least, she should get into skating shape to participate in shows and make some money.

“It was super easy for me to say yes to another opportunity,” Gold said. She flew back to Arizona, packed and was in Pennsylvania two weeks later.

Her new students ranged from 3 years old to adults. She also started training under Restencourt.

“Sometimes they treat me like I’m a little bit fragile or like I might melt down at any point,” she said. “But better to be safe than sorry after what happened.”

Gold’s only competition of the 2018-19 season was the Rostelecom Cup stop in Russia for the Grand Prix Series. She finished 10th out of 10 skaters in the short program due to a fall on a triple flip and a popped Axel and ultimately withdrew before the free skate.

“The goal was just to show up and try to be brave,” she told media at the time.

She also skipped the 2019 national championships; instead, she gave a detailed and personal interview that week to the New York Times. Gold said she hasn’t ruled out competing this summer or fall.

“We check in every little bit like, ‘how are we thinking this is going?’ And then we’re both like, ‘Eh, we need more work.’”

That conversation happened in February, though a similar one took place days before our interview with Gold.

“We were just like, ‘we’ll compete again when we’re ready,’” she said, adding, “a lot of it’s my own issues. I’m sure I could compete a program with a couple triples in it.”

At first, gearing up for Gold’s ultimately abbreviated 2018-19 season, the team wanted to fix everything at once: jumps, spins, basic technique. That frazzled her. Now the focus is on physical fitness and athletic ability.

“That’s where we’re starting – not even figure skating shape,” Gold said. “When you’re in athletic shape, then you feel like you can be less embarrassed to go ice skating, then we can ice skate more. Then we can jump more, and spin more and train more. And then we can compete.”

MORE: Hubbell, Donohue already have 2020 Worlds in mind

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

2019 USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships TV schedule

Getty Images
Leave a comment

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.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

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

FIVB
Leave a comment

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.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

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