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Madison Chock, Evan Bates back on Grand Prix circuit with ‘new power’

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GRENOBLE, France – Madison Chock and Evan Bates have always been known for their mastery of edges, their footwork, and sheer generosity they display on the ice. Since they arrived in their new training base in Montréal some 18 months ago, they have developed a new charisma and interpretation skills, which give each of their performances an enhanced intensity, impact, and visibility.

How did they achieve such a transformation?

“I don’t know! The charming of the snake maybe?” Chock suggested with a laugh after their “Egyptian snake” themed free dance in at Grand Prix France, where the couple earned silver a silver medal.

The “charming” is efficient: one could even argue there has been a complete change of style for the team, who is now much more consistent and powerful than it used to be. That change was obvious from their rhythm dance and confirmed by their free dance during their first Grand Prix outing of the season.

“That may be due to our evolution as performers, more than [as] athletes,” Bates added. “Performing has become our new motto: at the point we are in our careers, it’s more about the performance than about the technicalities. Our free program is a good example of this. Now we are more focused on our story, on the energy of the program, on the connection between the two of us. It’s a good a mindset to have, and it has changed our skating.”

Managing such a transformation is not easy, at a point in their career when most skaters just capitalize on their names and past performance. After all, Chock and Bates have been Olympians together twice already (in 2014 and 2018), they have won medals at two world championships (silver, 2015; bronze, 2016) and at two Grand Prix Finals (silver in 2014 and 2015). And they claimed gold at Four Continents in 2019.

“They allowed us to put them in discomfort, so that we could help them crack the mold they were in,” explained Marie-France Dubreuil, who coaches them with Patrice Lauzon and Romain Haguenauer in Montréal.

“We’ve always been willing to keep learning and improving – in our sport, but that applies also to all the aspects of our lives,” Chock confirmed.

“There is a new dynamic between the two of them,” Haguenauer added.

“And even a new power,” Dubreuil continued. “At one point, when [Chock] was injured, I saw [Bates] skate by himself and I was struck to see how powerful he was when he was by himself. As if he was re-training himself when his partner was with him. Evan is tall, powerful. We tried to help him be more aligned with his blade-to-ice contacts, more controlled. Both are hyper-elegant. So, we tried to free the machine and let it go.”

“Since we’ve arrived in Montréal, we have become more dancers, and less skaters,” Bates added. “This is also what you see from [training partners] Gabriella [Papadakis] and Guillaume [Cizeron]. They can be on skates and they could be off skates, and they would still be just as beautiful. They transcend the ice.”

Part of the impact of Chock and Bates’ performances is due to a renewed set of interpretation skills, something the school in Montréal has also been known for.

“Madison has always been a great performer,” Bates acknowledged. “I am working not to be only the guy next to her, or who is presenting her. It’s more our couple now, a man and a woman on the ice. It’s so natural for her to drive everybody’s eyes. But at the same time, it’s also a big responsibility for me to skate with someone who is so talented.”

“Of course, the choreographic work is paying off,” Dubreuil explained. “For us every movement has to bear a meaning. A movement is not there to fill the music, but to bring to it.”

That’s also a part of Chock and Bates’ transformation: embodying each of their movements.

“A lot of it is a feeling,” Bates explained. “When we are choreographing, some things work and some don’t. Those things that come to us naturally, that’s where the movement becomes authentic.”

“Also, every program evolves with time,” Chock added. “It changes with the speed and more complex elements you add on through the season. Gestures have to come from a very genuine place within us. When a movement comes organically, it becomes clear that it needs to be in the program.”

The transformation of the team should also be highly visible in Chongqing, China, where they are due to compete this weekend for Cup of China, just one week after Grand Prix France.

“Doing two Challenger Series earlier in the season [they won both the U.S. Classic and Finlandia Trophy] was a good thing for us,” Bates offered. “Our two programs are now in place.”

Their new style is, too. For the better.

MORE: Will Nathan Chen return to six quad jumps in his free skate?

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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Alex Zanardi, auto racer turned Paralympic champion, has 5-hour surgery to rebuild face after crash

Alex Zanardi
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SIENA, Italy (AP) — Italian auto racing champion-turned-Paralympic gold medalist Alex Zanardi underwent a five-hour surgery Monday to reconstruct his face following a crash on his handbike last month.

It was the third major operation that Zanardi has had since he crashed into an oncoming truck near the Tuscan town of Pienza on June 19 during a relay event.

Dr. Paolo Gennaro of Santa Maria alle Scotte Hospital in Siena said the operation required three-dimensional digital and computerized technology that was “made to measure” for Zanardi.

“The complexity of the case was fairly unique, although this is a type of fracture that we deal with routinely,” Gennaro said in a hospital statement.

After the surgery, Zanardi was returned to the intensive care unit in a medically induced coma.

“His condition remains stable in terms of his cardio-respiratory status and grave in terms of his neurological status,” the hospital medical bulletin read.

The 53-year-old Zanardi, who lost both of his legs in an auto racing crash nearly 20 years ago, has been on a ventilator since the crash.

Zanardi suffered serious facial and cranial trauma, and doctors have warned of possible brain damage.

Zanardi won four gold medals and two silvers at the 2012 and 2016 Paralympics. He also competed in the New York City Marathon and set an Ironman record in his class.

Last month, Pope Francis penned a handwritten letter of encouragement assuring Zanardi and his family of his prayers. The pope praised Zanardi as an example of strength amid adversity.

Shawn Johnson East shares struggles with body image, prescription drugs

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Shawn Johnson East, a 2008 Olympic gymnastics champion, detailed past struggles with body image and prescription drugs and reflected on her eating disorder as an elite athlete, to show there is hope to others in difficult situations.

“It all started with pregnancy and having my daughter,” East, who had daughter Drew in October, said on TODAY on Monday. “I had so many people asking me questions about how did pregnancy affect you mentally and how did you get your body back after having your daughter. I couldn’t answer that without giving a greater and a larger story.”

East first went public about her undiagnosed teenage eating disorders in 2015, three years after retiring from the sport. She said she limited herself to 700 calories per day and didn’t tell her parents.

In a June YouTube video, Johnson said she also binged and purged, including while dating future husband Andrew in the mid-2010s. And that she had depression and anxiety in 2011, when she returned to competition for the first time since the Beijing Games.

“I thought it would fix all of my problems,” East said of returning to gymnastics for a 2012 Olympic bid.

When East won “Dancing with the Stars” in 2009, she “hit a very low spot” going through puberty on national TV. She said she gained 15 pounds after the 2008 Olympics and started taking medications and drugs “to look like I did at the Olympics.” It included fad diets, diuretics and a three-week stretch of eating nothing but raw vegetables.

“Most pain of my entire life because I couldn’t digest anything,” she said.

At some point in 2011, East began feeling burned out. She was back to eating too few calories and overtraining. An unnamed USA Gymnastics doctor prescribed her Adderall “to lose more weight, have more energy and be more successful in gymnastics.” She took “heavy doses.”

“It helped my performances, but there were massive consequences to it,” she said. “I continued to compete into 2012, where I just started to get depressed.

“I was overdosing on Adderall. I was overdosing on any medication that wouldn’t be caught by USADA.”

Adderall was a banned substance in competition without a therapeutic use exemption, but was legal outside of competition.

“I was so controlled by other people’s opinions that I wouldn’t live up to that Olympic standard that I did anything to get it back and I could never have it back,” East said. “I didn’t learn that until later on.”

East’s mental hurdles re-emerged when she had a miscarriage in 2017. She blamed herself, believing her unhealthy lifestyle in the past was a contributor.

“Our natural inclination is to say, what did I do? And what did I do wrong?” she said. “It haunted me. I felt like I had sacrificed everything for an Olympic medal to not actually get the dream I had wanted my entire life [to have a child].”

With the help of a nutritionist and therapist and her husband, she conquered the demons through her 2019 pregnancy and childbirth.

“Having gone through a whole pregnancy and knowing that I felt confident through the whole thing, I feel like I’ve climbed Everest,” she said.

MORE: Why Nastia Liukin, Shawn Johnson went 8 years without talking

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