Brian Orser reacts to Yevgenia Medvedeva’s coaching switch back to Eteri Tutberidze

Tutberidze with Medvedeva
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During the Russian Figure Skating test event last weekend, when Brian Orser and Yevgenia Medvedeva were bridging the 5,000-mile span between him in Toronto and her in Moscow via video chat, they laughed about how different the atmosphere seemed than it had been at the same event two years earlier.

Orser would tell me Wednesday morning he had no idea during those weekend conversations that the bridge linking them was on the verge of collapse under the weight of separation caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

A few hours before Orser called me, what Medvedeva had told him Tuesday became public: she was making the stunning move of returning to her previous and longtime coach, Moscow-based Eteri Tutberidze, whom she had left in an acrimonious split three months after the 2018 Olympics.

“She (Medvedeva) and I agree if there was no pandemic, we would not be having this discussion right now,” Orser said.

So, there was a bittersweet irony in Orser’s recollection of his earlier conversations with Medvedeva, 2016 and 2017 world champion and 2018 Olympic silver medalist.

“We talked about how two years ago at the test skates, it was all about me and Eteri,” Orser said. “I could see from the telecast that this time, it was about Eteri and [Yevgeny] Plushenko. It was nice not to be involved in that media circus, and Yevgenia and I joked about that.

“Fast forward two days, and I’m back in it.”

The 2020 test skates came a few months after two of Tutberidze’s stars, Alexandra Trusova and Alena Kostornaia, had decamped to join a group headed by Plushenko, the 2006 Olympic champion. Plushenko and Tutberidze already had been sniping at each other on social media before the skaters officially switched sides.

The 2018 test skates had come just a few months after Medvedeva made the even more startling decision to leave Tutberidze to train with Orser. Never before had one of the sport’s Russian stars left Mother Russia to train with a non-Russian coach.

But this latest switch is almost as startling because she has gone back to the coach who had bad-mouthed Medvedeva publicly when their 2018 split was imminent.

“Yevgenia told me she had four options,” Orser said, declining to specify them. “The going to Eteri one was totally out of the blue. I don’t think anyone saw that coming.

“I’m definitely not angry, and there is absolutely no bitterness. I don’t believe this was a case of a political move or a strategy. It just happened.”

In a statement issued by the Russian Figure Skating Federation, Medvedeva said, “I am very grateful to Brian for his understanding and the work done.”

Medvedeva, who turns 21 in November, and Orser stopped working together in person soon after the pandemic led to cancellation of the 2020 World Championships and the shutdown of Canadian rinks in March.

Medvedeva first went to Los Angeles to work with choreographer Shae-Lynn Bourne on new free program and then to Japan for a show that was cancelled. After quarantining in Japan, she and her mother returned to Moscow.

Trying to get back into Canada was complicated for Medvedeva, Orser said, because she would be coming by air with no guarantees she would be given an exception from Canada’s immigration restrictions in response to the pandemic. There was also the issue of whether her mother would be allowed to enter Canada.

As the weeks passed, it became obvious to both Orser and Medvedeva that she needed more coaching than he could give a few times a week via Face Time.

“I told her she needed to get some real coaching, daily coaching,” Orser said.

Until they spoke Monday, after Medvedeva’s poor performances at the test skates Saturday and Sunday, Orser had no inkling that would lead to her ending their relationship.

“These wheels were not in motion prior to the test skates,” Orser said. “Yevgenia and I don’t mince words, so she got right to the point (Monday) and said, ‘I’m thinking of going back to Eteri.’ Of course, I was kind of shocked.

“I told her, I can’t do anything for you if we can’t be together. The pandemic is bigger than both of us. Our hands are tied.”

Medvedeva made up her mind Tuesday.

“I don’t know how it all came down,” Orser said. “The (Russian) federation was involved, Eteri was involved and ultimately Yevgenia was involved. And that’s fine. They want to help her.”

Tutberidze suddenly found herself with openings for senior skaters when Trusova and Kostornaia left, and Alina Zagitova, the 2018 Olympic champion, all but retired in announcing she was skipping the test skates to be host of a reality TV show. At the test skates, cameras caught Tutberidze clapping encouragement for Medvedeva after her badly flawed free skate.

In an interview at the Toronto Cricket Club in early fall 2018, Medvedeva had pointedly avoided criticizing Tutberidze. She spoke of feeling “more adult” and also of how at the Cricket Club “…everyone looks so happy that you don’t feel you came to do heavy work, hard work, only work, work, work and nothing else. You feel you just came here to improve yourself, to improve your personality, not only your athlete side.”

“Maybe Yevgenia will be able to go back into her old environment with a different outlook,” Orser said. “I don’t know if there are any conditions. I don’t know if she [Tutberidze] will approach coaching her any differently than she did before. Whatever the conditions are, I think she [Medvedeva] will have some kind of control.”

Medvedeva had drawn virulent criticism on social media for her decision to leave Tutberidze. But spectators have been overwhelmingly supportive when she competed in Russia, turning her into something of a beloved grande dame trying to fend off skaters three and four years younger who brought quadruple jumps to the party.

Her two years with Orser had ups-and-downs that were not unexpected for someone who not only had changed coaches but had turned her life inside out and was dealing with what has become chronic back pain.

The first season ended with an unexpected bronze medal at the 2019 world championships. The second ended unexpectedly when boot problems forced her to withdraw from the 2020 Russian Championships.

Earlier last season, she finished second to Trusova at the 2019 Rostelecom Cup. Medvedeva won the short program and finishing second in the free skate with a near flawless performance without the quadruple jumps that accounted for Trusova’s winning margin.

“I think we made some great progress.” Orser said. “I think I got her back on track emotionally to the point where she really loves skating and training.

“I guess I kind of got her to see it from another angle. I think she came to the conclusion she is not being defined as a person by her championship medals. She’s a strong woman. It was a great experience to coach her.”

Orser said he had no idea if Medvedeva might come back to him when the pandemic is brought under control.

“She is jumping in with both feet right now, so I’m out,” he said. “There is not going to be a collaboration between me and Eteri. And that’s fine. All I want is for Yevgenia to be happy and skating well.”

She began training again with Tutberidze Wednesday. Medvedeva posted a picture to her Instagram account of her and the old/new coaching team with the caption, “Good, when all is good. We will work hard, and that is great.”

Philip Hersh, who has covered figure skating at the last 11 Winter Olympics, is a special contributor to NBCSports.com/figure-skating

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U.S. women win record 27th consecutive FIBA World Cup game

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SYDNEY — There’s been a long legacy of success for the U.S. women’s basketball team at the World Cup.

The names change over time, but the results don’t seem to.

Kelsey Plum scored 20 points, Chelsea Gray added 16 and the United States routed Bosnia and Herzegovina 121-59 on Tuesday to break the team record for consecutive wins at the World Cup.

The victory was the 27th in a row in World Cup play for the Americans, who haven’t lost since the 2006 semifinals against Russia. The U.S. won 26 in a row from 1994-2006 leading up to that game. The Soviet Union holds the World Cup record with 56 straight wins from 1959-86.

“It’s kind of amazing,” said Breanna Stewart, who has been part of the last three World Cup teams. “Obviously, been here for some of it, but you understand the legends before that who really kind of started the streak. It goes to show that no matter who is playing on USA Basketball, we’re always trying to chase excellence.

“This streak doesn’t mean much right now because we’re going into the quarterfinals and focusing on winning a gold medal, but it’s something to kind of hang your hat on later.”

What started with Sue Bird, Diana Taurasi and Sylvia Fowles has now been passed on to Stewart and A’ja Wilson. A legacy of excellence that doesn’t appear it will end anytime soon.

“The players change and, you know, there was a lot of concern about who’s next,” U.S. coach Cheryl Reeve said. “It was a concern when Dawn Staley and Lisa Leslie were playing and who was going to be next. Then it was Sue and (Taurasi) and then other great players, too. Now with this group they are saying, hey, we’re pretty good, too.”

MORE: FIBA World Cup Schedule, Results

The U.S. last lost a group play game in 1975, according to Bill Mallon of Olympedia.org.

“We know the responsibility when you put on this jersey. There’s a lot more than yourself,” Plum said. “Everyone puts pride to the side. We have a common goal. We have some amazing players on this team.”

The Americans (5-0) won their pool games by an average of 46.2 points and never trailed in any of them. Now they play Serbia in the quarterfinals.

The U.S. was coming off a record rout of South Korea in which the team broke the World Cup record for points with 145. While the Americans didn’t match that number, they put the game out of reach in the first 10 minutes, going up 33-15.

The lead ballooned to 63-31 at halftime. Bosnia and Herzegovina put together a small run to start the third quarter, but the U.S. scored the final 19 points of the period.

Once again they used a dominant inside performance, outscoring Bosnia and Herzegovina 84-28 in the paint led by Wilson, Stewart and Brionna Jones.

“It’s a huge part of our identity,” Reeve said. “Ninety-whatever we had yesterday and 84 today, we just know what we’re good at and we have players that are really understanding their opportunities for that.”

The U.S. was missing Jewell Loyd, whom the team said was resting. Kahleah Copper started in her place and finished with 11 points.

Nikolina Elez scored 19 points to lead the Bosniaks (0-5), who were playing in their first World Cup.

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2022 FIBA Women’s World Cup schedule, results

FIBA Women's World Cup
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The U.S. goes for its fourth consecutive title at the FIBA World Cup in Sydney — and eighth global gold in a row overall when including the Olympics.

A’ja Wilson, a two-time WNBA MVP, and Breanna Stewart, the Tokyo Olympic MVP, headline a U.S. roster that, for the first time since 2000, includes neither Sue Bird (retired) nor Diana Taurasi (injured).

The new-look team includes nobody over the age of 30 for the first time since 1994, before the U.S. began its dynasty at the 1996 Atlanta Games. The Americans have won 52 consecutive games between worlds and the Olympics dating to the 2006 Worlds bronze-medal game.

The field also includes host Australia, the U.S.’ former primary rival, and Olympic silver medalist Japan.

Nigeria, which played the U.S. the closest of any foe in Tokyo (losing by nine points), isn’t present after its federation withdrew the team over governance issues. Spain, ranked second in the world, failed to qualify.

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2022 FIBA Women’s World Cup Schedule

Date Time (ET) Game Round
Wed., Sept. 21 8:30 p.m. Puerto Rico 82, Bosnia and Herzegovina 58 Group A
9:30 p.m. USA 87, Belgium 72 Group A
11 p.m. Canada 67, Serbia 60 Group B
Thurs., Sept. 22 12 a.m. Japan 89, Mali 56 Group B
3:30 a.m. China 107, South Korea 44 Group A
6:30 a.m. France 70, Australia 57 Group B
8:30 p.m. USA 106, Puerto Rico 42 Group A
10 p.m. Serbia 69, Japan 64 Group B
11 p.m. Belgium 84, South Korea 61 Group A
Fri., Sept. 23 12:30 a.m. China 98, Bosnia and Herzegovina 51 Group A
4 a.m. Canada 59, France 45 Group B
6:30 a.m. Australia 118, Mali 58 Group B
Sat., Sept. 24 12:30 a.m. USA 77, China 63 Group A
4 a.m. South Korea 99, Bosnia and Herzegovina 66 Group A
6:30 a.m. Belgium 68, Puerto Rico 65 Group A
Sun., Sept. 25 12:30 a.m. France 74, Mali 59 Group B
4 a.m. Australia 69, Serbia 54 Group B
6:30 a.m. Canada 70, Japan 56 Group B
9:30 p.m. Belgium 85, Bosnia and Herzegovina 55 Group A
11:30 p.m. Serbia 81, Mali 68 Group B
Mon., Sept. 26 12 a.m. USA 145, South Korea 69 Group A
2 a.m. France 67, Japan 53 Group B
3:30 a.m. China 95, Puerto Rico 60 Group A
6:30 a.m. Australia 75, Canada 72 Group B
9:30 p.m. Puerto Rico 92, South Korea 73 Group A
11:30 p.m. China 81, Belgium 55 Group A
Tues., Sept. 27 12 a.m. USA 121, Bosnia and Herzegovina 59 Group A
2 a.m. Canada 88, Mali 65 Group B
3:30 a.m. Serbia 68, France 62 Group B
6:30 a.m. Australia 71, Japan 54 Group B
Wed., Sept. 28 10 p.m. USA vs. Serbia
Thurs., Sept. 29 12:30 a.m. Canada vs. Puerto Rico
4 a.m. China vs. France
6:30 a.m. Australia vs. Belgium
Fri., Sept. 30 3 a.m. Semifinal
5:30 a.m. Semifinal
11 p.m. Third-Place Game
Sat., Oct. 1 2 a.m. Final