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Five-time world champion figure skater to develop U.S. pairs training center

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Robin Szolkowy, a two-time Olympic bronze medalist and five-time world champion figure skater, plans to come to the United States in the spring to develop a pairs training center. He will join coaches Jenni Meno and Todd Sand in Los Angeles.

Meno and Sand were three-time national champions and currently coach 2018 Olympic team bronze medalists Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Chris Knierim.

In September, the Knierims moved to Oberstdorf, Germany to under with Szolkowy’s former partner, Aliona Savchenko. She won an Olympic gold medal with Bruno Massot in 2018, her fifth Olympic appearance.

The Knierims split with Savchenko later in the fall and moved to California.

“There’s certain things that we learned [in Germany] that we’re going to continue to incorporate on a daily basis,” Scimeca Knierim said of the split in a recent media teleconference ahead of the national championships later this month.

“It’s quite simple. It just didn’t work out. Chris and I knew when we decided to part ways that there would be no regrets leaving there because we took everything we could. We just felt like if we had stayed, there would’ve been more of a downward slope in some terms of things than others. We kind of felt like we needed to save ourselves in the moment which is why we made the switch [to Jenni and Todd] so quickly.”

Scimeca Knierim seemed surprised by the news that her coaching team was growing:

According to a German report, Szolkowy chose Los Angeles after visiting several pairs hot spots in the U.S. and discussions with U.S. Figure Skating. The new school has plans to include both U.S. and international teams. The report also suggested this could be a long-term arrangement, through the Winter Olympics in 2022 and beyond.

This won’t be Szolkowy’s first venture as a coach. He joined the coaching team behind Russian pair Yevgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov, who won silver at the 2018 World Championships and two European titles.

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I am thrilled to announce that I will be coaching soon at the newly built, state of the art Great Park Ice Rinks in Irvine, California, USA. After evaluating several opportunities within the U.S., in cooperation with USFSA, I will be moving to Irvine to partner with Jenni Meno Sand, Todd Sand and Christine Binder who are currently focused on the training and final preparations of their pair teams for the U.S. Championships at this fantastic 4-rink facility including two-time US National Champions Alexa and Chris Knierim. As we all will work together we are forming a team to establish an international pairs program. Needless to say that Romy and I are excited about the new opportunities which this project brings to justmove. More information to come … 😉⛸💪🏽🍀 #newchallenges #movingwest #teamwork #irvine #greatparkice #california #usa #family #lovewhatyoudo #justmovegmbh @justmove.withe.szolkowys

A post shared by Robin Szolkowy (@robin_szolkowy) on

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As a reminder, you can watch the U.S. Championships 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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How did two-time world champions Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford become ‘underdogs’?

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Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford have been a pairs team for Canada since 2010. From the beginning of their partnership, they knew they had something special. In their first tryout, Radford recalled he nearly cried because he was struck with the realization they were going to be really good. Duhamel described their partnership as one between soulmates: “It’s Meagan and Eric’s chemistry, which may not be a romantic chemistry. It may not be a brother and sister type of chemistry. But it’s special, and it belongs only to us,” she said.

NBCOlympics.com: Who are Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford?

They found much success in their partnership: seven Canadian national pairs titles, the Grand Prix Final gold in 2014, Four Continents gold in 2013 and 2015, plus back-to-back world championship gold medals in 2015 and 2016.

At the 2014 Sochi Olympics, Duhamel and Radford helped Team Canada win a silver medal in the team event. In the pairs event, they placed seventh. That finish is partly fueling their drive toward PyeongChang.

Duhamel and Radford ran into trouble in the 2016-17 season, despite still capturing medals. They earned a bronze at the Grand Prix Final, silver at Four Continents, and finished seventh at the world championships.

“Everything that we’ve been able to win, every accolade has a special meaning and a special memory attached to it, no matter how big the competition or how small it is,” Duhamel told NBCOlympics.com when asked to compare the significance of each medal in their trophy cases. “There are some bronze medals and silver medals that we were disappointed with in the moment, but they have so much value because of the lessons that they taught us for the rest of the seasons and the years that were to follow.”

NBCOlympics.com: Canada announces Olympic figure skating team

Following those world championships, Radford revealed some of his off-ice struggles. During the break between Four Continents and Worlds, he didn’t feel refreshed or motivated. Working with a sports psychologist helped ease those thoughts. Radford also experienced numbness and loss of control in his hip due to a herniated disk in his lower back. The pair changed the layout of their programs at Worlds in order to accommodate his injury.

Alarm bells were ringing by June. (But so were wedding bells, when Radford proposed to boyfriend Luis Fenero in Spain)

It was time to choose their Olympic season music; being an important year, they wanted their music to have the most impact as possible. They went with a cover of U2’s “With or Without You” for the short program and a Muse medley for the free skate.

They also changed up their coaching staff that summer. Bruno Marcotte stayed on as head coach with the team in Montreal (he’s also Duhamel’s husband) and Julie Marcotte, Bruno’s sister, remained as choreographer. Duhamel and Radford added Florida-based John Zimmerman as a coach and added John Kerr as a choreographer, too.

Duhamel and Radford came into the Olympic season under the radar, on the advice of 2002 Olympic pairs champion David Pelletier from Canada.

Last winter, Pelletier was on the phone with Radford and told him the best thing the team could do would be to finish sixth or seventh at Worlds, to ease some of the pressure off them.

As Radford recalled: “He said ‘You know what would be the best thing for you? If you were to go to Worlds and come sixth or seventh. And then you fly under the radar and you come back and you win the Olympics.’ And when we came seventh at the worlds, I thought ‘Oh my god, he actually said seventh place.’”

It’s working, according to Duhamel.

“I think that we’re kind of the underdogs this season,” Duhamel said, though added that they’re trying to live in each moment and not get ahead of themselves.

They began the season at the Autumn Classic, a Challenger Series event. They picked up a silver medal there, before going to win Skate Canada, their first Grand Prix of the season. They earned a bronze in November’s Skate America.

When they were looking towards the Grand Prix Final, Duhamel said of their rivals, “We’ll let the Chinese and the Germans and the Russians feel the pressure. We’re gonna keep working hard, keep our head down, and hopefully we’ll be able to deliver in the moment when it matters the most.”

At the Grand Prix Final, they earned another bronze. The pair from Germany won, like Duhamel predicted, while the Russians surprisingly finished fourth and fifth in the six-team field. The two Chinese teams were second and sixth. They already held the most national titles in history for a Canadian pair team at six, but they pushed the boundary further in January to win their seventh and officially qualify for their second Olympic team.

NBCOlympics.com: Meet Team USA: Figure skating

“At this point, we’ve already achieved more than we’ve ever dreamed in this sport. The opportunity is ahead of us to achieve even more and we don’t take that for granted. We’re definitely very proud of ourselves with everything we’ve been able to accomplish in the sport.” Radford said in November.

The team sees the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics as their “grand finale.” They want to leave Olympic ice knowing they created a special moment.

“You never know that it’s going to happen until you hit that ending position and everything worked and you’re like, ‘Oh my god, we did it! How did that just happen?’” Radford said. “Of course, it’s what we imagine, what we hope for, every competition. Not only was it an incredible moment for us but we also got to, I think, create a special moment for thousands of other people as well.”

Duhamel echoed those sentiments.

“You can feel that energy from the audience and the energy between us,” she said. “It’s a pretty obvious thing, but invisible thing. We can usually feel it and that’s what we’re striving for this season with the two programs that we have.”

Additional reporting by Seth Rubinroit.

Russian pair delights home crowd with ‘amazing moment’

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SOCHI, Russia – If you walked by the Iceberg Skating Palace Wednesday night, you would be forgiven for thinking there was a World Cup-caliber soccer match going on. A very intense soccer match, at that.

But it was figure skating on this night, pairs figure skating in particular, when the host nation’s best chance for individual winners were taking to the ice and the country stood still for three hours, waiting to see if Russia could re-capture a gold medal that it lost at the Vancouver Games four years ago.

If the nation was immovable, the arena itself was shaking with anticipation as Tatyana Volosozhar and Maksim Trankov took to the ice, the leaders after the short program. A roar burst through the packed facility that is not heard often in figure skating, a sport that prides itself on grace and power, not fist-pumping and screams.

VIDEO: Russian pair are “superstars”

A host-nation pair had not won a gold medal at the Olympics in 78 years, since Maxi Herber and Ernst Baier climbed to the top of the podium in 1936 at the Games in Germany; World War II was just gaining steam.

The home-ice advantage – the shaking walls and unfurled red, white and blue flags numbering in the hundreds – all waited for the moment to crown new Olympic champions. But first they had to skate.

“It was hard to skate in front of our people,” Trankov told NBCOlympics.com after their win. “We’ve never had an audience like this in our lives. It was amazing moment when we finished our program.”

“The pressure helped us,” Volosozhar added. “It pushed us to skate better.”

VIDEO: “Strength and power” led Russia to silver as well

While the crowd roared for Volosozhar/Trankov, the applause was muted for their German rivals Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy, who came into the free skate in second place and needed to land their difficult throw triple Axel (as well as skate a clean program) in order to capture the gold.

“We are in Russia and Russian skaters are on the ice,” shrugged Szolkowy after his team fell – literally – to bronze. “It would be the same if we were in Germany and it was German skaters … at least I hope.”

Szolkowy fell early on a jump, not completing a side-by-side with Savchenko. The crowd at that moment let out a sudden yet sure cheer, obviously elated that its gold-medal hopes were assured with a German blip.

“After I came back up to my feet, of course I noticed the crowd was cheering,” said Szolkowy. “And that helped us through the next element.”

VIDEO: Fall derails Szolkowy and Savchenko

It couldn’t carry them through the throw triple Axel, however, an element that – should they have executed it – would have helped them be in contention for silver. Instead, that medal went to another Russian pair, Ksenia Stolbova and Fyodor Klimov.

“At least they clapped after our performance,” Szolkowy added. “You felt the arena was packed and you felt that everyone was here to support at least some of the guys. For me, it was great.”

After winning gold in 12 straight Olympic Games in the pairs events – dating back to Innsbruck 1964 – Russia not only lost that stronghold on first place in Vancouver, it didn’t land one team on the podium. The Sochi Games was seen as a redemption moment for Volosozhar/Trankov, but also the Russian pairs institution as a whole.

“Of course we remember Vancouver, but that was another life,” Trankov said. “Here, it was a situation that was completely changed. We weren’t fighting for just a medal, but for gold.”

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It was fitting that Volosozhar and Trankov were wearing gold on this night: he a buzzed-about pair of golden pants he had donned all season for their “Jesus Christ Superstar” free skate, and she a newly-revealed gold dress.

As she walked by a group of young Russian girls in the hallway backstage, they squealed in delight, Tatyana stopping to wave. On this night, gold-medal winners treated like rock stars in an arena – and a country – that roared with approval.