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Gabriella Papadakis, Guillaume Cizeron on ‘Fame,’ chasing history

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World ice dance champions Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron sat for an interview with NBCSports.com/figure-skating after winning their first Grand Prix event of the season at home in France.

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and condensed.

Your free dance this season, an extended poem set to music, is different from anything ice dance fans are used to. How did you come up with this idea?

Papadakis: Several of us had the same idea at the same time. We thought we could use words to skate to. [Coach] Marie [-France Dubreuil] and I, in particular. That’s often what happens. We all intuitively find ourselves to be on the same page. This year we felt like skating to words.

Cizeron: We also found some videos of ballet dancers dancing to Forest Black’s songs, and we could imagine what it might be. So, we worked with those words.

Could you describe the creative process you followed?

Papadakis: We didn’t want only to show something beautiful. We really worked on each word and its meaning. We tried to find a specific movement to express each word of the lyrics.

Cizeron: Our idea was to stick to the interpretation of each word through specific body movements. The sonority and the rhythm of these words inspired a certain way to move. This gave us an additional opportunity to create some contemporary movements – instead of dancing something that would just be meant to be beautiful.

Papadakis: The poem doesn’t bear an obvious and clear meaning. It’s rather abstract. But when I heard it for the first time, I felt a rhythm, a specific way to pronounce the words, how the artist played with the noise behind him, and how he projected us out of reality. Afterwards, I read the text as a whole, and of course I found it was magnificent.

In this poem you feel something like an atmosphere, an idea, an emotion, even though you don’t know exactly what the author may be talking about. It creates a somewhat abstract ambiance, which we like.

Cizeron: Also, we’ve always had the wish to integrate poetry into our free programs.

So, you feel that while it’s different from past ideas, you’re also taking one step further down the path you’ve already been following?

Papadakis: That’s right. Abstract and poetry are two tracks we’ve always been following. They are combined in this year’s free dance.

Cizeron: In a way, it’s completely different from what we’ve done, but at the same time it’s completely ourselves. The process we are taking is to deepen who we are each time a bit more.

What are you chasing, now that you’ve won four world and five European titles, plus an Olympic silver medal? Medals, or history?

Papadakis: Both, if it’s possible. Winning titles wouldn’t be enough to make us wake up early every morning. We would love to mark the history of our sport and the audience.

Cizeron: They go together, actually, and one serves the other. Pushing ourselves in our artistic journey generates medals. And because there are medals at stake, [it] motivates us to create.

You said that your “Fame”/disco-themed rhythm dance was fun. How fun was it to create?

Cizeron: When [coach] Romain [Haguenauer] proposed “Fame” to us, we went to see some videos. I brought the movie.

Papadakis: We found the 1980s were a very funny period of time. People were wearing those big stockings and small shorts and fluorescent outfits and headbands. That was too much, but so funny at the same time.

Cizeron: The more it went, and the more interested we got. We all dreamt in front of movies like “Flashdance,” “Un Dos Tres,” … We’ve seen all dancers’ movies, and they’ve made us dream.

Papadakis: When you watch these movies, you kind of think, wow, they were so lucky. They had a school and they were together. Then we realized that it was pretty much our own life. We also are living in a school, and learning, and practicing together, all vying to succeed.

Cizeron: We were rather worried to do something that would look ridiculous – or to give those years a ridiculous outlook. We wanted to push the cool and fun side of this period, with the vintage outfits, not too serious, and update with our own look of people who were born in 1994.

And yet, again you manage to deliver a story during the program.

Cizeron: Many fans who were born in the 1980s keep thanking us for selecting that theme. That’s so cool. We remind them of their younger years, and that creates an additional link with the audience.

Of course, we can’t be nostalgic for years we’ve not lived ourselves, but our dance generates that nostalgia in those who’ve lived them. I went to ask my parents if they really dressed that way. My mom did – because as a dance teacher she did dance ballet and jazz. But my dad obviously answered “No, not at all.”

MORE: Gracie Gold qualifies for U.S. nationals

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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Jordan Thompson, U.S. volleyball’s new weapon, took unique route to NCAA history

Jordan Thompson
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It was about this time last year that Jordan Thompson first appeared on the radar of U.S. women’s volleyball coach Karch Kiraly. Since, Thompson emerged as the youngest starter, and arguably a star, for the national team.

She goes into what could be her final weekend of college volleyball as one of the most dominant athletes in any sport. And one of the most unique stories in NCAA history.

Thompson plays not for a Big Ten or Pac-12 powerhouse, but for Cincinnati, a school that, before she arrived, never made it past the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

The unranked Bearcats upset second-ranked Pittsburgh in the second round last Saturday. They play Penn State, winner of six of the last 12 NCAA titles, in the Sweet 16 on Friday.

In 33 games this season, Thompson has registered a Division I-leading 768 kills, which is 143 more than the next most prolific attacker. That margin of 143 is the same number that separates No. 2 from No. 31.

Last season, she had 827 kills, which was 240 more than anybody else and a single-season record (by 112 kills) since NCAA match formats shifted from 30-point to 25-point sets in 2008.

She is a contender, if not a favorite, to be AVCA National Player of the Year. All of the previous winners dating to 1985 came from schools that reached at least one Final Four.

On Oct. 4, a UCF player’s face caught the wrong end of a Thompson attack. Cincinnati teammates watching from the bench dropped to the floor in astonishment.

Thompson tallied 50 kills in one match alone on Nov. 3, becoming the first D-I player to do so in 20 years.

That happened on Senior Day. Before that match, Thompson received a plaqued No. 23 jersey and flowers.

She posed for a photo standing with her husband, former Cincinnati offensive lineman Blake Yager, her mother, Mary, whose bribes helped Thompson develop into an attacker, and her father, 1990s Harlem Globetrotter Tyrone Doleman (and brother of Pro Football Hall of Famer Chris Doleman).

Mary has been most instrumental, raising Thompson as a single mom in Minnesota. Thompson, who is 6 feet, 4 inches now, was always tall for her age.

She played youth basketball against older girls and grew frustrated by the physical contact. Kneepads weren’t comfort enough. She decided to give volleyball a try in middle school.

“She was very timid,” Mary said of her daughter, who has since gotten 10 tattoos, including one of a hummingbird. “She would tell me she didn’t want to hurt anyone on the other side of the net. I told her I would give her a dollar for every time she would whack it. And I would give her $10 if she would actually hit someone on the other end of the court.”

It took a while, but Thompson was motivated by her love of horses. The payouts from her mom went toward a saddle and a bridal. A box with horse equipment remains in the family garage back home.

“She was trying to build up her supplies to be able to one day say to me, look, I’ve got a saddle, I’ve got all of my tack, I’ve got stuff to clean the hooves, can we get a horse now?” Mary said. 

After just two years of club volleyball, Thompson received her first Division-I scholarship offer. It came from Syracuse. Thompson was a high school sophomore.

“In the back of my head, I’m thinking, I’m never going to get another offer, so I better take this one,” she said.

Thompson was intent on Syracuse for a year before a coaching change led her to decommit. She wasn’t sure if many schools knew she had reopened her recruiting. A Minnesota club teammate had committed to Cincinnati and suggested Thompson take a visit.

The Bearcats went 3-29 the season before she committed.

“I said, Jordan, you can play D-I at Texas. You can go to Nebraska,” Mary said. “She was like, no, no, I want to play all four years. I actually want to get playing time, mom. She really struggled believing how good she could be.”

The biggest obstacle came junior year. In a preseason training session, Thompson collided with that Minnesota club teammate, Jade Tingelhoff, and tore the UCL in her dominant, right arm. She was in an armpit-to-wrist brace for two months post-Tommy John surgery, including three weeks with her arm locked in place.

She couldn’t brush her hair, had a hard time brushing her teeth and found it difficult showering and getting dressed.

She still went to every Bearcats game and traveled with the team. Cincinnati went from 22-10 her sophomore season to 13-19 that year without her on the court.

“It ended up being OK,” Tingelhoff said. “She came back that next season — I’m not kidding — 10 times as better than she was even the previous year.”

As a redshirt junior, Thompson and her 827 kills helped Cincinnati to a 26-8 record and its first NCAA Tournament win in seven years. She also caught the eye of Kiraly by the end of that 2018 season.

“She was one of the elite players in all of college volleyball,” he said. “Probably the only one who came from a conference other than the ones known for producing the most NCAA champions, like the Big Ten and the Pac-12.”

By last spring break, Thompson had become a favorite of U.S coaches at a camp to help select teams for summer international tournaments.

She had a one-on-one conversation with Kiraly, the only person to own Olympic indoor and beach gold medals. The legend told her she had potential to play at the Pan American Games. Later, he upped the praise to say she was ready for the top-level Nations League, a precursor to Olympic qualifying.

Thompson made her national team debut in May. By August, she came off the bench to help spur a comeback in a crucial Olympic qualifying match. The next day, she was in the starting lineup for the U.S.’ final Olympic qualifier, where the Americans clinched a Tokyo 2020 berth.

“I think a lot people don’t know she is still in college,” two-time U.S. Olympic outside hitter Jordan Larson said then. “She still has one more year left.”

Agents reached out, but Thompson had no intention of giving up her final year of NCAA eligibility. She wanted to make history at Cincinnati. That was secured with the Sweet 16 berth.

With the new year, she will trade the Cincinnati red and black for Team USA colors. She will keep in mind what the U.S. coaching staff told the team during Olympic qualifying and what she called a dream summer.

“My big goal in life was I just wanted to be in the USA gym,” said Thompson, who is working on her master’s in criminal justice. “To hear that we’re all working towards this goal of trying to make this roster, and we are being looked as potential players to make that roster, my jaw dropped. To know that it’s even a remote possibility is mind-blowing.”

VIDEO: Brazil volleyball star faints during courtside interview

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Tahiti chosen for Olympic surfing competition at 2024 Paris Games

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Paris 2024 Olympic organizers want the surfing competition to be held in Tahiti, an island in French Polynesia that is about 9,800 miles from Paris.

It would break the record for the farthest Olympic medal competition to be held outside the host. In 1956, equestrian events were moved out of Melbourne due to quarantine laws and held five months earlier in Stockholm, some 9,700 miles away.

The Paris 2024 executive board approved the site Thursday — specifically, the village of Teahupo’o — and will propose it to the IOC. It beat out other applicants Biarritz, Lacanau, Les Landes and La Torche, all part of mainland France.

“If, ever, we have two alternatives, and where one alternative gives the athletes of a particular sport more closeness to the heart of the Games and allows them to enjoy the magic and the spirit of the Games better, then in the interest of the athletes, we prefer this solution,” IOC President Thomas Bach said in June when asked about Tahiti’s interest in hosting surfing.

Surfing will debut at the 2020 Tokyo Games but is not on the permanent Olympic program. Surfing was among sports added to the Paris 2024 program in June and could be added for the 2028 Los Angeles Games.

MORE: U.S. athletes qualified for Tokyo Olympics

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