River swimming, Zwift, indoor tennis; Paralympians find unique training amid coronavirus pandemic

Sophia Herzog
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NBCSN presents two nights of Paralympic programming in primetime on Wednesday and Thursday, looking back on champion performances from the Rio Games. Meanwhile, U.S. hopefuls for Tokyo found unique ways to train amid the coronavirus pandemic.

A look at how athletes adapted in four different Paralympic sports … 

Swimming: Suiting up in the Arkansas River
Paralympic silver medalist Sophia Herzog went from swimming nine times a week at the Salida Rec Center in Colorado to once a week in the Arkansas River. “The whole point in swimming there is actually just to keep the feel of the water,” she said. “You lose that about a day and a half of being out of the water.”

Herzog’s primary exercise after her pool closed became cycling. But, around a dozen times this spring, she zipped on a wetsuit and plunged into 50-degree water for 30-minute sessions. She fought a current, while keeping her head above water as much as possible. She had to watch her surroundings to avoid the rafters, kayakers, big sticks and dogs coming downstream. Her boyfriend became her lifeguard.

Track and Field: Partners Separated
David Brown won a Rio Paralympic 100m title with guide runner Jerome Avery at his side. They’ve been together since February 2014, highlighted by Brown becoming the first totally blind athlete to break 11 seconds in the 100m. But they were separated in March when the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, Calif., closed to resident athletes. As weeks turned to months, Brown and Avery realized they had not been apart for this long in more than six years.

“Since David abandoned me,” Avery joked, “I went and got a pet.” A 4-month-old Cane Corso named Apollo.

Brown moved from the OTC to rent a room with a family, 30 minutes away from Avery’s residence. He began running grass-field sprints and jumping rope at a park, with his girlfriend, an archer, assisting. When he trained with Avery six days a week, Brown could sprint 150 meters on a track. Without him, at the park, his girlfriend claps, and Brown can run 80 meters in the grass. Brown and Avery are confident that the break will not hinder them on the road to Tokyo. “Once we get paired together again, it’s like riding a bike,” Avery said. “We’re going to be perfect.”

Tennis: A Homemade Court
When Dana Mathewson moved from London to Central Florida in late February, she knew life would change. She could not have imagined the only tennis she would play for months would be inside her new home. Mathewson, the highest-ranked U.S. male or female wheelchair tennis player at No. 11 in the world, said earlier in June that she was essentially on lockdown for three months before the USTA National Campus in Orlando reopened last week.

She relocated to the area to take advantage of the facilities after two years in England, working toward a clinical doctorate degree in audiology at University College in London. Mathewson, while living with two other tennis players in Florida, decided to “make lockdown fun” and set up the makeshift court in an open room. “It was birthed out of boredom, to be honest,” she said. They used smaller rackets and softer balls from USTA’s Net Generation program for kids. “So we knew we wouldn’t ruin the walls or the windows,” she said.

They played regularly until Mathewson moved out in early April due to allergies and the fact her housemates had cats. Mathewson, who learned to crochet and fostered Riley, a three-month-old Cockapoo, during stay-at-home, may move on from the sport after the Tokyo Games. She’s putting all her effort into rising into the top eight in the world to earn entry into Grand Slams and make it financially viable to continue beyond 2021.

Cycling: Virtual Time Trials
Starting April 30, U.S. Paralympics Cycling began holding weekly Zwift competitions open to para-cyclists from around the world. In a time trial format, each cyclist received a staggered start time and competed on bike trainers at home to power their virtual avatars over a 10-mile circuit. It was open to handcycles, tricycles, tandems and standard bicycles. U.S. Paralympics already had national team rides twice a week on Zwift. With group riding outside eliminated due to the pandemic, U.S. Paralympics Cycling CEO Ian Lawless came up with the virtual time trial idea.

“The biggest thing, at least for the athletes that I work with, it’s more maintaining that motivation,” said Sarah Hammer, a four-time Olympic track cycling medalist who is now the U.S. Para-cycling head coach. “It’s just creating that motivation when, suddenly, your Paralympic Games have been pushed back by a year.”

MORE: Paralympic programming set for primetime next 3 weeks

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Alexa Knierim, Brandon Frazier win U.S. figure skating pairs’ title in possible final nationals

Alexa Knierim, Brandon Frazier
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Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier haven’t decided if they’ll compete beyond this season, so Saturday may have been their farewell to the U.S. Figure Skating Championships.

If so, they went out as dominant winners, the first pair in their 30s to win nationals in more than 50 years.

Knierim, 31, and Frazier, 30, took their second U.S. title together, totaling 227.97 points to prevail by 31.11 over Emily Chan and Spencer Howe. They led by a gaping 15.1 points after Thursday’s short.

Knierim and Frazier were solid after errors on their opening jumping combination in Saturday’s free skate. They broke their own pairs’ margin of victory record from the 2021 U.S. Championships under a scoring system implemented in 2006. Knierim appeared to wipe away tears backstage.

“As I get older, the longer I’m in this sport, the more gratitude I have for it,” Knierim, the oldest woman to win a U.S. figure skating title since 1995 (Renée Roca), said on USA Network. “After that music ended, I’m just thankful that Brandon’s by my side and I’m able to do what I love.”

Ellie Kam and Danny O’Shea bagged bronze to likely round out the three-pair team for March’s world championships.

FIGURE SKATING NATIONALS: Full Scores | Broadcast Schedule

Knierim and Frazier considered retiring after last season, after they missed nationals due to Frazier’s COVID-19, petitioned onto the Olympic team and posted the best Olympic finish for a U.S. pair (sixth) in 20 years.

They then became the first U.S. pair to win a world title since 1979, beating a field that didn’t include any of the top five from the Olympics.

They returned in part to compete as world champions and rank second in the world this season (during which the top Olympic pairs also haven’t competed). They will likely go into March’s worlds in Japan as underdogs to Japan’s Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara, who won their lone head-to-head this past fall at the Grand Prix Final.

Back in October, Knierim said this will probably be their last season competing together, though the pair also thought they were done last spring. They don’t expect to make a final decision until after a Stars on Ice tour this spring.

“This U.S. Championships for us was extra special because you’re just reflecting on the journey, and you know that there’s a good chance that this will be your last one,” Frazier said.

Knierim won her fifth U.S. title, tying the record for a pairs’ skater since World War II, joining Kyoka InaTai BabiloniaRandy GardnerKarol Kennedy and Peter Kennedy. Knierim’s first three titles, and her first Olympics in 2018, were with husband Chris, who retired in 2020.

Silver medalists Chan and Howe continued their recent surge. After placing fourth at last season’s nationals, they rank sixth in the world this season. That’s despite summer injuries that left them unable to practice lifts (his shoulder) and throws (her foot) for a while.

Kam, 18, and O’Shea, 31, made the podium four months after becoming a pair and less than two months after a car Kim was riding in was hit by a drunk driver while crossing an intersection. The car was totaled, but Kim and O’Shea still competed days later in Croatia.

O’Shea won the 2016 U.S. title with Tarah Kayne, retired after they split in late 2020, then came back in 2021 with Chelsea Liu. They ranked sixth in the U.S. going into 2022 Nationals, but withdrew beforehand due to concussions both suffered in a November competition fall, according to Figure Skaters Online.

NBC Sports’ Sarah Hughes (not the figure skater) contributed to this report.

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2023 U.S. Figure Skating Championships scores, results

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Full scores and results from the 2023 U.S. Figure Skating Championships in San Jose …

Women
Gold: Isabeau Levito — 223.33
Silver: Bradie Tennell — 213.12
Bronze: Amber Glenn — 207.44
4. Starr Andrews — 188.24
5. Josephine Lee — 187.68
6. Lindsay Thorngren — 187.19
7. Clare Seo — 175.60
8. Gracie Gold — 173.98
9. Ava Ziegler — 167.70
10. Sonja Hilmer — 166.49
11. Gabriella Izzo — 166.40
12. Ting Cui — 161.27
13. Audrey Shin — 161.12
14. Lindsay Wang — 154.91
15. Michelle Lee — 145.28
16. Elsa Cheng — 138.13
17. Alexa Gasparotto — 129.41
WD. Hanna Harrell

Men’s Short Program
1. Ilia Malinin — 110.36
2. Jason Brown — 100.25
3. Tomoki Hiwatashi — 85.43
4. Liam Kapeikis — 82.27
5. Andrew Torgashev — 78.78
6. Maxim Naumov — 77.71
7. Jimmy Ma — 73.88
8. Goku Endo — 73.45
9. Samuel Mindra — 71.36
10. Yaroslav Paniot — 70.87
11. Camden Pulkinen — 69.47
12. Matthew Nielsen — 67.98
13. Joonsoo Kim — 67.45
14. Daniel Martynov — 64.04
15. Will Annis — 63.46
16. Dinh Tran — 60.63
17. Mitchell Friess — 59.14
18. Joseph Klein — 58.38

Pairs
Gold: Alexa Knierim/Brandon Frazier — 227.97
Silver: Emily Chan/Spencer Howe — 196.86

Bronze: Ellie Kam/Danny O’Shea — 184.01
4. Sonia Baram/Danil Tioumentsev —- 179.08
5. Valentina Plazas/Maximiliano Fernandez — 176.34
6. Katie McBeath/Nathan Bartholomay —- 172.74
7. Maria Mokhova/Ivan Mokhov —- 148.84
8. Nica Digerness/Mark Sadusky — 137.98
9. Grace Hanns / Danny Neudecker — 135.30
10. Nina Ouellette/Rique Newby-Estrella — 132.07
11. Linzy Fitzpatrick/Keyton Bearinger — 129.80

Ice Dance
Gold: Madison Chock/Evan Bates — 229.75
Silver: Caroline Green/Michael Parsons — 207.46
Bronze: Christina Carreira/Anthony Ponomarenko — 198.45
4. Emilea Zingas/Vadym Kolesnik — 198.13
5. Emily Bratti/Ian Somerville — 189.84
6. Lorraine McNamara/Anton Spiridonov — 189.15
7. Katarina Wolfkostin/Jeffrey Chen — 183.05
8. Eva Pate/Logan Bye — 182.61
9. Oona Brown/Gage Brown — 181.89
10. Isabella Flores/Ivan Desyatov — 177.31
11. Angela Ling/Caleb Wein — 167.87
12. Leah Krauskopf/YuanShi Jin — 133.93
13. Cara Murphy/Joshua Levitt — 129.85
14. Caroline Depietri/TJ Carey — 123.40
WD. Raffaella Koncius/Alexey Shchepetov

FIGURE SKATING NATIONALS: Broadcast Schedule | New Era for U.S.

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