At Skate America, what happened in Vegas won’t stay in Vegas

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LAS VEGAS — As always in Sin City, there were highs, along with a few lows. Final thoughts from Skate America …

Reign of the A’s: The start of the Grand Prix series marked the debut of the trio some fans call the “3As” — Alexandra Trusova, Anna Shcherbakova and Alena Kostornaia, the Russian teens who among them won seven Junior Grand Prix events last season. Trusova also captured the world junior crown. (There are other young Russian “As,” but we’ll stick with these three for now.)

What’s chilling for their competitors, and any coach not named Eteri Tutberidze, is that the three skaters have a chance of duplicating the feat this season in the senior ranks: win every Grand Prix plus the world crown, with a raft of Challenger Series events thrown in for good measure.

At Skate America, Shcherbakova, 15, brushed off a fourth-place short program by landing two quadruple Lutzes in her free skate, one in combination.

The 33.45 points earned for the jumps contributed mightily to her 92.2-point technical score, more than compensating for two under-rotation deductions later in the program. Despite holding a 7.5-point lead after the short, and earning higher program component scores for a nearly-clean free skate, silver medalist Bradie Tennell couldn’t begin to fend off the young Russian.

Tennell’s challenge continues: The 2018 U.S. champion faces Trusova at Skate Canada this weekend. Trusova broke the free-skate record (163.78 points) at a Challenger event in Slovakia last month, hitting three quads. Needless to say, she won.

In Vegas, Shcherbakova acknowledged internal competition at Tutberidze’s Moscow training rink.

“Of course, we practice together and see what (the) other girls are jumping,” she said. “Every day we want to improve more and more, because we see the other girls do more quads.”

Tennell took positives from Vegas, including a personal-best short program (75.10). But at the final press conference, she couldn’t hide a bit of frustration to this reporter’s admittedly leading question about how difficult it was to mute the quad talk.

“When you hear something over and over, it’s kind of like reprimanding a child. They just start tune it out,” Tennell said. “Everybody is so quad-crazy. … For me, it’s just better to tune out all of the buzz and focus on what I can do well.”

MORE: Tennell’s personality breaks through at Skate America

Skaters, check your protocols: Not only did the 21-year-old Tennell have quads to contend with, but a scoring error by the technical panel shaved several points off of her free skate. The error had no impact on the Skate America standings, but points earned during Grand Prix events are used to break ties to decide who competes at the Grand Prix Final.

Tennell opened her free skate with her most difficult element, a triple Lutz-triple toe loop combination. She executed the same combination in the second half of her program, but the panel identified it as a triple-double.

Per ISU rules, an appeal is not permitted except in the case of an incorrect mathematical calculation; wrong identification of an element does not qualify. The rules do allow for a correction to be made, however, when an element misidentification is brought to the referee’s attention prior to the award ceremony. A spokesman for U.S. Figure Skating said that the organization did go to the ISU prior to the award ceremony, and was only told that an appeal was not permitted. No correction was made and Tennell’s score stood.

An ISU technical specialist, who consented to be interviewed about procedures, explained.

“Technical specialists call (identify) elements, which data entry operators enter into the judging system,” the technical specialist said. “At the end of the program, the data entry operator reads the list of elements, and the technical controller and assistant technical controller review the list for accuracy. Somehow, the error escaped notice.”

“Things like this should not happen,” Denise Myers, Tennell’s coach, relayed via text. “This is only the second time in my career (an error like this) happened.”

“I will say, every time something unusual happens, the ISU reviews the procedure and asks, ‘How can we prevent it from happening again?’” the technical specialist said. “This time, it was caught too late. If it had been caught before the ceremony started, it could have been changed … but human beings are not machines.”

No rest for U.S. ice dancers: Madison Hubbell and Zach Donohue defended their Skate America title, the 11th straight time a U.S. couple won the event. With Donohue suffering a severe bout of bronchitis, the couple showed a well-earned sight of relief.

Still, the world bronze medalists narrowly lost the free dance to Aleksandra Stepanova and Ivan Bukin of Russia, fourth in the world last season.

“There were good things and not-so-good things,” Hubbell said after the free dance to country-rock music from “A Star Is Born,” later adding, “It felt like there was a lot of energy missing. … It wasn’t the kind of performance we know we can give in that program.”

Antibiotics are on the menu for Donohue; he and Hubbell compete at Skate Canada in Kelowna, B.C., this week.

There, they will not face a world top-five dance couple. But the free dance result at their home Grand Prix shows the tough competition among the handful ranked below Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron of France. The two-time U.S. champions will want to make a statement in Kelowna.

“I hope to have two healthy lungs for Skate Canada,” Donohue said.

MORE: Hubbell, Donohue give U.S. ice dance 11 straight Skate America titles

A high for Denney and Frazier: Still just 23 and 26, respectively, Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier have had a roller-coaster career, marked by coaching changes and Denney’s severe knee injury that forced them to sit out the entire 2015-16 season.

Judging by their free skate, the roller coaster is on the ascent. Spectacular lifts and clean triple Salchows gave the U.S. silver medalists the second-highest technical score of the day, and a career-high 125.36 points. Their bronze is their third Skate America medal.

“Man, I told Haven a week ago that sometimes there’s been more stress than there needs to be to compete,” an emotional Frazier said. “I just want to enjoy it again. … I haven’t felt like this in a long time. We know there is a lot of pressure on these jumps, we want to hit them more than anything, and this was the first baby step in rebuilding our foundation.”

“I like to think outside of the box, I come up with some crazy things sometimes,” the skaters’ coach, John Zimmerman, said of the lifts, including a thrilling variation of “fly high, say bye” at the end of the routine. “They both have a lot of courage.”

Chen hip-hops on: In his teleconference prior to Skate America, Nathan Chen told reporters “three quads are a given” in his free skate. He was as good as his word, hitting Salchow, flip and toe to “Rocket Man.”

He also performed a hip-hop sequence so entertaining that coach Rafael Arutunian said, “you cannot feel he has blades on. He manipulates his feet like he is in shoes.” He won by 44 points over Jason Brown, who debuted a stirring free to “Schindler’s List.”

Not much else to say, except that Chen’s top competition in Vegas – Jin Boyang of China – looked way out of sorts, falling twice in his free on usually reliable quads.

After a strong short, bronze medalist Dmitri Aliev of Russia was sloppy in his free, making jump mistakes and not performing his choreography up to his capabilities. Their inconsistency shows why Brown – always armed with well-trained choreography, ready to wring out every possible point in steps and spins – is able to use his skating skills and showmanship to stay near the top, despite not performing quads.

Correction: An earlier version of this article mischaracterized the scoring issue related to Tennell’s free skate. It wasn’t that U.S. Figure Skating did not file an appeal, it’s that one was not permitted under the circumstances. 

MORE: Jason Brown on concussions, delayed start to season

MORE: Karen Chen balances Skate America with Cornell

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. 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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Usain Bolt, sleep-deprived dad and budding cyclist, would unretire if the man in charge called

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Usain Bolt isn’t doing much running these days, but he would unretire if one person asked: longtime coach Glen Mills.

“If my coach came back and told me, let’s do this, I will, because I believe so much in my coach,” Bolt said this week in a video interview with Variety. “So I know if he says we’re going to do this, I know it’s possible. Give Glen Mills a call, and I’ll be back.”

Mills coached Bolt to eight Olympic titles and world records in the 100m (9.58 seconds) and 200m (19.19) before the Jamaican legend retired in 2017. Bolt has occasionally visited the track since, which may have been a mistake.

“My coach gets too excited when I come to the track,” Bolt said, “so I stay away.”

Bolt’s days are now spent as a father to daughter Olympia Lightning Bolt, born in May and introduced to the world via social media on Tuesday. Bolt said parenting is harder than breaking a world record.

“I got sick the first week because I was scared to fall asleep,” said Bolt, adding that he has been spit up on a few times. “So I stayed up at night just watching her because I’m a heavy sleeper. But I’ve learned that I’m going to wake. I’m going to get up no matter what. I’m getting better, and I’m learning.”

Bolt said he was unaware that Serena Williams‘ 2-year-old daughter is named Olympia (as a middle name, but she goes by Olympia) until this week’s reveal. His girlfriend, Kasi Bennett, came up with the name.

“My girlfriend, I told her, I think you’re putting a little bit of pressure on her to name her Olympia,” said Bolt, who previously said he would not encourage his child to take up sprinting. “But, we’ll see, I’m not going to force her to do anything.”

In retirement, Bolt has been seen doing a step class, riding a Peloton and playing professional soccer. Lately, he’s been road cycling with friends, upping the mileage every week.

“I have a newfound respect for cyclists because you see the Tour de France, they make it look easy. It’s not,” Bolt said.

Bolt expressed disappointment with the Olympic postponement to 2021, even though he’s not competing anymore. He does hope to be in Tokyo in some capacity. He found a silver lining.

“The only good thing about is that I actually get to take my daughter next year if the world gets back,” he said. “One of my moments is to have my first born just to walk on the track with me. That’s something that I always thought about.”

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British gymnastics stars speak up about abuse amid investigation

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Decorated British gymnasts Becky and Ellie Downie spoke out about specific abuses they’ve experienced in the sport, becoming the latest athletes to come forward this week.

The Downie sisters, in social media posts on Thursday, said they’ve seen and experienced an “unsafe attitude to young girls’ weight, and the resulting mental health issues” and “dangerous consequences of over-training, which frequently was the norm, for fear of punishment or deselection.”

The comments came two days after British Gymnastics announced it launched an independent review into allegations of abuse in the sport. Before that, former British gymnasts said they were assaulted, bullied or abused by coaches.

“The behaviors we have heard about in recent days are completely contrary to our standards of safe coaching and have no place in our sport,” British Gymnastics chief executive Jane Allen said Tuesday. “It is clear that gymnasts did not feel they could raise their concerns to British Gymnastics, and it is vital that an independent review helps us better understand why so we can remove any barriers as quickly as possible.”

The Downie sisters are Olympians and world championships medalists.

“Over the past few days we’ve been watching our former teammates and friends bravely sharing their stories, and we can’t sit by and not offer support for them by sharing our own experiences,” they posted with the caption, “Our Story.” “Speaking out is something we’ve both felt we really needed to do for a long time now, but in truth, we’ve been afraid to do so.”

Becky Downie, the 2019 World silver medalist on uneven bars, said she was overtrained “to the point of physical breakdown” many times.

She said she was called “mentally weak” for speaking up at a national team camp and later suffered an ankle injury as a result of the unsafe training approaches. Downie required a fourth surgery on the ankle.

Ellie Downie, the 2019 World bronze medalist on vault, said she’s been made to feel ashamed of her weight for almost her entire career. That included a nutritionist telling her to submit daily photos of her in her underwear and everything she ate to ensure she wasn’t lying about her diet.

She said she was told at a national camp to lose six kilograms (13 pounds). If she hadn’t “made a dent” within two weeks, “there’d be consequences.”

The sisters said gymnasts were weighed regularly.

“We all know off by heart the weight of a bottle of water, and consequently eating and drinking the night before weigh day wasn’t worth the risk,” Ellie wrote. “To this day we still hide food for the fear of it being found.”

The Downies said there has been change since Becky Downie spoke up in 2018 about unsafe training, including the discontinuation of routine weigh-ins.

“We’re aware our contribution raises more troubling issues the sport must confront, but we truly hope it will contribute to positive change,” they wrote. “What’s clear from speaking to many different gymnasts from all over the world, this is a gymnastics culture problem, as opposed to just a national one.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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