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Three questions with Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker before the U.S. Championships

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Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker made the move to Montreal this season; so far, it’s paid dividends. Despite a delay in their training time this summer due to Baker’s concussion, the ice dance team won NHK Trophy in Japan and placed fourth at Grand Prix France. It was enough for them to qualify for their first Grand Prix Final, capping off their most successful season so far.

They spoke to reporters during a media teleconference ahead of the U.S. Championships in Detroit this weekend, where they hope to continue to take steps forward on their four-year plan.

Here’s what we learned:

1. Baker says he’s essentially symptom-free from his concussion.

He said that after the Grand Prix Final, he flew to see his doctor that had originally examined him in August.

Jean-Luc Baker: “We’ve been on a recovery plan. I’ve been communicating with her since August, two or three times a week… We have another plan set for the rest of the season. When you have a concussion or multiple concussions, sometimes symptoms can linger around a lot longer than people of anticipate. I’d say the majority of the time, I’m good. There are some days where I struggle a little bit more. But the best part about being here in Montreal is that I’m not alone. I have Kaitlin; I have my support team around me. They all understand and they’re so, so intelligent in a way that maybe some days are better to push through and some days are not. I thought I knew my body. They almost understand my body more than I do.”

2. Training with two other American teams in Montreal has given them another reason to continue to work hard.

Kaitlin Hawayek: “We’re training differently than we used to because we’re in a new training environment… There are so many top athletes there. We always are on the ice with people that are working just as hard as we are, who are incredibly talented, incredibly driven. When we’re not on the ice, in between our sessions, when we’re warming up off the ice, a different group of people will be on the ice and we get to see them train and push themselves too. It’s a very motivating environment to be in.”

3. They can see changes in themselves since they moved to Montreal.

JB: “I don’t think necessarily think that we’ve changed so much as we’ve had a deeper level of understanding on who we are and why we skate. A lot of things like that. Our coaching team is very, very strict in terms of – they want us to know why we are doing what we’re doing. Having a championship mentality and being accountable for everything that we do. It’s on us at the end of the day. It really has been such an experience moving here because I think Kaitlin and I have both grown so much as people as well as skaters because we’re learning so much more about ourselves, about each other, and it’s been a big process and a great one.”

KH: “The mentality of ‘in it to win it’ is something that’s been a major influence on the way that we look at training… In the past we’ve been afraid to think of the idea of training to win in a sense because obviously it’s hard to get to the top. But if you never allow yourself to think that you can get there, you won’t be able to get there. Both of us have really changed our mentality to train win and train to be the best. That’s what we’re doing heading in nationals. The rest is out of our hands.”

MORE: Three questions with Madison Chock and Evan Bates

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 to watch U.S. Figure Skating Championships

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Nathan Chen sets out for his third national title, while Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue are aiming to defend their title for the first time at the U.S. Figure Skating National Championships in Detroit Jan. 22-27.

It’s the first time Detroit has held the championships in 25 years, when Nancy Kerrigan was attacked by associates of Tonya Harding.

NBC Sports Gold’s “Figure Skating Pass” will live stream every program from Detroit from junior and senior competition. Juniors starts Tuesday with the ladies’ short program, and seniors will begin Thursday with the pairs’ short program.

NBCSN and NBC will also have live coverage of senior competition throughout the weekend.

The national championships will dictate which skaters are assigned late-season competitions, including Four Continents Championships in February and the world championships in March.

Chen, the 2018 world champion, is expected to reign supreme over the men’s field. He will likely be joined on the podium by 2014 Olympian Jason Brown and 2018 Olympian Vincent Zhou.

MORE: Nathan Chen prepared to capture third national title

On the ladies’ side, last year’s champion Bradie Tennell has said this season she wants to improve her artistic side of her skating. She faces challenges in that department from Mariah Bell and 13-year-old prodigy Alysa Liu will also make a run at the podium. With Karen Chen’s and Gracie Gold’s withdrawals, the podium at nationals looks much more unclear.

MORE: Three questions with Bradie Tennell

Two-time pairs national championships Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Chris Knierim changed coaches after a tumultuous season thus far, and will have to fend off 2016 champions Tarah Kayne and Danny O’Shea. Also in the field are Ashley Cain and Timothy LeDuc. Cain recently recovered from a concussion after a scary fall in competition.

MORE: Three questions with the Knierims

The U.S.’ top three dance teams train together in Montreal: Hubbell and Donohue, 2015 U.S. champions Madison Chock and Evan Bates, and Grand Prix Japan winners Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker.

Hubbell and Donohue most recently won the Grand Prix Final and should have no problem topping the podium in Detroit. It will be the season debut for Chock and Bates, who missed the entire autumn season with Chock’s injury. Hawayek and Baker have never been higher than fourth on the U.S. podium, but this is expected to be their breakthrough year – if it isn’t already.

MORE: Three questions with Chock, Bates 

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U.S. Championships broadcast schedule (all times Eastern)

Tuesday

Junior ladies’ short program: 5:30 p.m. (GOLD) | STREAM LINK

Junior men’s short program: 7:30 p.m. (GOLD) | STREAM LINK

 

Wednesday

Junior pairs’ short program: 10:30 a.m. (GOLD) | STREAM LINK

Junior rhythm dance: 2:45 p.m. (GOLD) | STREAM LINK

Junior ladies’ free skate: 5:30 p.m. (GOLD) | STREAM LINK

Junior men’s free skate: 7:30 p.m. (GOLD) | STREAM LINK

 

Thursday

Junior pairs’ free skate: 11:45 a.m. (GOLD) | STREAM LINK

Pairs’ short program: 4:30 p.m. (GOLD), begins at 5 p.m. on NBCSN | STREAM LINK

Ladies’ short program: 8 p.m. (GOLD), begins at 9 p.m. on NBCSN | STREAM LINK

 

Friday

Junior free dance: 12 p.m. (GOLD) | STREAM LINK

Rhythm dance: 3:45 p.m. (GOLD), begins at 4 p.m. on NBCSN | STREAM LINK

Ladies’ free skate: 7:35 p.m. (GOLD), begins at 8 p.m. on NBC | STREAM LINK

 

Saturday

Pairs’ free skate (groups 1-3): 9:30 a.m. (GOLD) | STREAM LINK

Men’s short program (groups 1-2): 11:10 a.m. (GOLD) | STREAM LINK

Men’s short program (groups 3-4): 1:30 p.m. (GOLD) | STREAM LINK

Pairs’ free skate (groups 4-5): 3 p.m. (GOLD) | STREAM LINK

NBC will have coverage of the pairs’ free skate and men’s short program beginning at 1:30 p.m.

Free dance: 6:15 p.m. (GOLD), begins at 7 p.m. on NBCSN | STREAM LINK

 

Sunday

Men’s free skate: 2:10 p.m. (GOLD), begins at 3:30 p.m. on NBC | STREAM LINK

 

Saturday, Feb. 16

Skating Spectacular (gala exhibition): 2:30 p.m. on NBC

Three questions with Madison Chock, Evan Bates before U.S. Championships

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Madison Chock and Evan Bates made their season debut at a small event in Poland, but before that, were off the ice 10 months as Chock rehabbed an ankle injury.

They’ll come to the U.S. Championships later this week in Detroit with a renewed sense of what it means to be skating again.

“I can tell you it felt like a very long 10 months, but it felt really, really great to be back competing again,” Chock told reporters on a media teleconference ahead of nationals. “Our main goal is to get people excited about our skating again, as much as we are, because we feel such a newfound inspiration and passion for skating that we haven’t felt in a long time. We’re really excited to share that with everyone this season.”

Here’s what we learned about the team from their media call:

1. Chock and Bates’ move to Montreal to train with the world’s top teams – as well as two other American teams – shook things up for them.

Evan Bates: “The move to Montreal has been really good for us on a lot of levels… We needed a change just to feel reinvigorated for the next four-year cycle. There’s something really special going on in the camp in Montreal. You see the success that they had, especially at the Olympics. We knew that if we could move there, that would really be the place that would spark our passion again and give us the kind of daily competition that we were craving. That’s what’s been beneficial for us on the ice.”

“Then off ice, it’s been great being here with people who are our age, friends that I’ve grown up with and have a really long history and personal friendship with. Those kinds of things, maybe we didn’t anticipate would be so beneficial to us, has been great. Our lives outside of the ice rink also have developed, have been enriched by the environment.”

“You add in the layer of – we’re living in a foreign country where they speak French. We feel like fish out of water. I think it’s good for us. We’ve been comfortable for a long time. I think a little bit of discomfort is good when you’re looking for growth.

2. They are taking this season as “phase one” in their long-term, three-year plan through the next Olympics.

EB: “We know that it’s a long process. It’s probably a multi-year process. Right now, we’re in phase one. Our goal for U.S. Championships and beyond through the season is just simply to show the way that we’re feeling about our own skating, which is that we’re very excited. We feel a new passion – our passion never died, but it’s been sparked again. It’s been reinvigorated. We’re very excited about the direction things are going for us. We wanna get other people excited about it. Whatever the placement is at nationals, we’ll certainly be able to live with it knowing that things are heading in the right direction for us.

3. Even though it was a small competition, there were still moments to learn from in Poland.

EB: “We were a little nervous, to be honest. In the [rhythm] dance especially. There’s no simulation for competition and we trained a lot. We feel really prepared. The programs feel like they’re in a good place. But when you get to the competition and the moment arrives, there’s nothing like it. We were a little bit nervous for the first time out. Maybe it showed a little bit, especially in the [rhythm] dance. The free dance was really a good skate for us and we felt it’s something we’ve been waiting for so long and finally we got the opportunity to compete and perform and it just felt like a relief, honestly.”

MC: “Every outing is a learning experience. Every run-through is a learning experience. Each time we perform our programs, we learn from it and can make the next one even better. Competing is just learning at a different level. Competition is so much different than practice. We have benefited from going out and competing in Poland. We’re very happy that we did that. We are more confident in our programs than we were before. Very excited to debut them for the U.S. Championships.”

MORE: Three questions with Madison Hubbell, Zachary Donohue before U.S. Championships

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.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!