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Kara Goucher, Olympic marathoner, turns to trail running

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Two-time Olympian Kara Goucher always figured taking up trail running would provide a wild adventure.

Just not this wild: Encountering a mountain lion at close range on a recent run. Like close-enough-to-touch range.

Spooked, the big cat turned toward Goucher before bounding away.

Also spooked, Goucher turned and high-tailed it out of there, too.

“Hopefully,” Goucher said, “that’s the last time I see one.”

Goucher is kicking up a little dust in her newest quest — trail running. Known for her racing prowess in distances from the 1500m to the marathon, she’s taking part in her first trail marathon this weekend in Leadville, Colorado, on a route that ascends as high as 13,185 feet (4,019 meters).

“The No. 1 goal is to finish and enjoy the experience,” Goucher said in a phone interview from her home in Boulder. “But I’m competitive by nature.”

Name a distance, any long distance, and Goucher has no doubt trained for it. She had top-10 finishes in both the 5000m and 10,000m at the 2008 Beijing Games. Four years later in London, she wound up 11th in the marathon. She also captured a bronze medal in the 10,000m at the 2007 World Championships, only to have it upgraded to silver a decade later after a Turkish runner was disqualified for doping.

“I just kept moving up and up” in distance, said the 40-year-old Goucher, who was a seven-time All-American in track and cross country at the University of Colorado. “I feel lucky that my career has gone on this long. I’ve been able to stay healthy enough to experience all these different things.”

In January, she ran the Houston Marathon but dropped out after the 19-mile mark because of a hamstring injury. Soon after, she decided to embark on an off-the-beaten path — trail running.

“Challenging myself in a few ways and kind of facing fears,” said Goucher, who’s been logging about 80 miles a week to prepare for Leadville. “I mean, trails are scary for me.”

That’s because of the climbing, descents, rocky terrain and, of course, coming face to face with a mountain lion.

This is how the situation earlier this spring unfolded: Goucher was running in a neighborhood leading to the trailhead when she came upon what she thought was a “weird-looking dog.”

“Then I was like, ‘That’s a mountain lion!’” she said. “It happened so fast.”

She knew what to do in such a situation — stand tall, raise her arms, make eye contact — and promptly forgot.

“It all went out the window,” she said. “The worst thing you can do is turn your back.”

She sprinted to a nearby construction site while the mountain lion sprang in the other direction (“its footsteps were so powerful,” she recalled). Once her heart rate slowed, she called her husband, Adam Goucher, who picked her up and drove her to another trail.

In February, a Colorado runner near Fort Collins survived a mountain lion attack by wrestling the young animal to the ground and jamming his foot onto its neck to suffocate it to death.

“I was pretty shaken up for a couple of days but then I just got back on the horse,” Goucher said. “I haven’t really run on the trails by myself since then, but I’ve been back out plenty.”

These days, running is far from the only thing that fuels her. She and other athletes such as Alysia Montano and Allyson Felix are speaking out about the need for sponsors to support female competitors before, during and after pregnancy — that contracts shouldn’t penalize someone for starting a family.

“I just can’t thank Alysia and Allyson enough for lending their voices because you get a lot of criticism,” said Goucher, who ran the 2011 Boston Marathon 6 ½ months after her son, Colt, was born. “We’re on the right side of history on it.”

Goucher is also an advocate for clean sports (attending an anti-doping conference in London), organizes a high school girls camp and volunteers at her son’s school.

“It’s just living a little bit of a more full life,” Goucher said.

Make no mistake: She’s not closing the door on trying to make a future Olympic or world championship team.

“I don’t know if that voice will ever go away,” Goucher said. “My son was asking me the other day, ‘When are you going to retire from racing?’ I’m like, ‘Have you met me? Never!’”

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Nathan Chen hopes to hip hop his way to Skate America crown

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LAS VEGAS — In Las Vegas on Friday, an elegant Nathan Chen performed a romantic short program to Charles Aznavour’s “La Boheme,” earning 102.71 points and a 6.14-point lead at Skate America.

When the two-time world champion takes the ice for his free skate on Saturday, he’ll pop and lock to music from the Elton John biopic Rocketman — for the last 30 seconds or so of the program, he’ll be a hip hop dancer on skates.

After choreographer Marie-France Dubreuil presented Chen with the idea, it took him a while, or at least a couple of minutes, to get used to it.

“Originally, she just said Rocketman and I said, ‘Oh yeah, that’s fine,’” Chen said. “Then she threw in the hip hop. I said, ‘Wait a minute.’ She didn’t tell me until I got there and she played the music.”

“I figured it would be fine,” he added. “My issue was telling [coach] Raf [Arutunian]. I didn’t tell him until I got back to California, but when I did tell him he was actually totally on board with it.”

Whatever concerns the coach may have had vanished when Chen showed him the steps, created with Dubreuil’s collaborator Samuel Chouinard.

“First of all, it looks like it’s professionally done and he executes it professionally,” Arutunian said. “I was watching ice dance last year and many of couples (were) doing hip hop dancing, and I think he would be one of the best at it. If you do something, you should do well, and he is doing it so professionally, you cannot feel he has blades on. He manipulates his feet like he is in shoes.”

This isn’t exactly Chen’s first try at hip hop. He touched on it last season in his “Land of All” free skate, also created with Dubreuil and Chouinard.

“I was actually pretty cool with it because I worked with Sam last year. We did a tiny bit of hip hop to incorporate (into the program), it wasn’t truly hip hop,” Chen said. “I knew that’s (Sam’s) specialty, that’s what he’s great at, and I figured it would be fine.”

Chouinard, a Montreal-based choreographer and dancer, has created hip hop programs for other skaters, including Canada’s two-time Olympic ice dance champions Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir. Many ice dancers incorporated hip hop into their short dances for the 2016-2017 season. But as Chen notes, trying it in men’s singles competition is a different story.

“I did consider that,” he admitted. “I haven’t seen much of this. I know (U.S. skater) Philip Warren has done something like it this year and other kids have, and of course dancers did it. It wasn’t something that is never done, but rarely do you see it with the top six guys (in the world).”

MORE: Nathan Chen calls 3 quads at Skate America ‘a given’

Chen has to be encouraged by the reaction of spectators at his practices here, who screamed and clapped when the skater busted his moves.

“It’s a judged sport and the way the audience reacts to the program has some influence on how the judges interpret your performance,” he said. “I think we don’t want to stick to one demographic in terms of the fan base, the audience. It’s nice to incorporate everything. It’s cool to see all the guys competing have completely different styles, so each program new, unique and fresh.”

Now a sophomore at Yale University, Chen’s balancing act between studies as a Statistics and Data Science major and elite figure skater competitor, is getting a bit trickier.

“Homework is time consuming, each homework assignment takes six to 12 hours to finish and I have a couple per week, so that’s a lot,” he said. “It’s mostly exam times that are really challenging, right now is a little bit easier time for me at school. Obviously it’s going to pick up. It’s tough, but as much as I’m in the situation, I just have to manage as best I can.”

Fortunately, Skate America takes place during an academic break. Japan Open earlier this month was another story; the trip caused him to miss a midterm exam, which he later made up.

“Competition after competition keeps me motivated, knowing I have to achieve a certain goal at each competition,” Chen said. “That’s what drives me through practices.”

MORE: How to watch Skate America

As a reminder, you can watch the events from the 2019-20 figure skating season live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. Check out a free trial of the Figure Skating Pass during Skate America from Oct. 18-20. 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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Nathan Chen holds commanding lead over Skate America men’s field

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Nathan Chen is on his way to winning his third Skate America title this weekend in Las Vegas to open the 2019-20 Grand Prix season. The two-time world champion hasn’t lost a Grand Prix event since his silver medal at the Grand Prix Final in 2016, and is about to make that list longer.

(In case you were wondering, Todd Eldredge has the most Skate America wins from the ’90s, with five.)

Chen, a sophomore at Yale University, scored 102.71 points in Friday’s short program and was the only man to break the 100-point barrier. Chen opened his short program, set to “La Boheme,” with a quadruple Lutz, followed by a triple Axel and a quad toe-triple toe combination.

Skate America results are here.

“I’m not entirely happy with how the program went, however, since this is the first outing, I’m pretty okay with how things went,” Chen said through U.S. Figure Skating. “I’m looking forward to competing tomorrow and hopefully cleaning up some of the mistakes I made today and keep moving forward.”

Russia’s Dmitry Aliev is in second place heading into Saturday’s free skate, trailing Chen at 96.57 points. His short program also included a quad Lutz and a quad toe. Canada’s Keegan Messing notched a personal best short program score with 96.34 points and is in third place.

2014 Olympian Jason Brown finds himself in fourth place with 83.45 points. Brown popped his triple Axel attempt into a single, which received zero points.

“It was a lapse of focus in the moment,” Brown said of his Axel attempt. “I should not have missed it; I have not missed one all week. I’m very irritated with myself. In the moment, you have to try not to relive it. Whether I was trying to stay relaxed about it or whether I was trying to attack it, I can’t remember. But I remember a moment of something right before [it happened]. I just said, ‘Don’t show emotion, just keep going.’ I think my experience definitely serves me well when it comes to making mistakes and having to pick back up like nothing happened. But that irritation doesn’t go away.”

The third American man in the field, Alex Krasnozhon, is in 10th place with 72.30 points.

MORE: How to watch Skate America

China’s Peng Cheng and Jin Yang, fourth at worlds last year, took a slim lead in the pairs’ short program earlier Friday. They told a 1.48 point lead over Russia’s Daria Pavliuchenko and Denis Khodykin, who sit in second place.

U.S. reigning national champions Ashley Cain-Gribble and Timothy LeDuc are third with 68.20 points. The other two American teams in the field, Haven Denney and Brandon Frasier and Jessica Calalang and Brian Johnson, are fourth and fifth, respectively.

“We’re building toward the world championships, and we’ve been very outspoken about our goal to be in the top five at worlds,” LeDuc said through U.S. Figure Skating. “Salt Lake was the first step, this is another. We’re building, and I think we’re really right on track for what we want. To have a big mistake in the program and still have a 68 is really awesome. We’re in a good place and excited to go into the free skate as well.”

Skate America continues Friday with the rhythm dance and ladies’ short programs, followed by the free skates in all disciplines on Saturday from Las Vegas. All of it can be seen live with the NBC Sports Gold “Figure Skating Pass,” which is offering a free trial for Skate America.

MORE: Nathan Chen calls 3 quads at Skate America ‘a given’

As a reminder, you can watch the events from the 2019-20 figure skating season live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. Check out a free trial of the Figure Skating Pass during Skate America from Oct. 18-20. 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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