Oscar Pistorius

Oscar Pistorius emotional, apologizes as he takes stand at murder trial (video)

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Oscar Pistorius took the stand for the first time on the 17th day of his murder trial, immediately apologizing to the family of Reeva Steenkamp, the girlfriend he fatally shot on Valentine’s Day 2013.

Pistorius directed his opening comments on Monday toward the Steenkamp family that was in attendance in the Pretoria courtroom, including Reeva’s mother, June.

“I would like to take this opportunity to apologize to Mr. and Mrs. Steenkamp, to Reeva’s family, to those of you who knew her who are here today,” Pistorius said, standing, his voice breaking, before being interrupted by the judge to speak louder. “I’d like to apologize and say that there hasn’t been a moment since this tragedy happened that I haven’t thought about your family. I wake up every morning, and you’re the first people I think of, the first people I pray for. I can’t imagine the pain and the sorrow and the emptiness that I’ve caused you and your family. I was simply trying to protect Reeva. I can promise that when she went to bed that night, she felt loved. I’ve tried to put my words on paper many, many times, to write to you, but no words will ever suffice.”

Pistorius, the first double amputee to run in the Olympics in 2012, said he thought Steenkamp was an intruder locked in his bathroom when he shot four times through a locked door, hitting and killing her inside. The prosecution claims Pistorius killed Steenkamp after an argument.

He faces 25 years to life in prison if convicted of premeditated murder. If not found guilty of premeditated murder, he could be convicted of culpable homicide, South Africa’s version of manslaughter for negligent killing.

Pistorius testified Monday that he never wants to handle a firearm again, or be near one. He said a security guard stands outside his door nightly, that he has lost weight and has nightmares. One night, he sought refuge inside a cupboard and called his sister, Aimee, to sit with him.

“I’m scared to sleep, for several reasons,” Pistorius said. “I have terrible memories about things that happened that night. I wake up and smell the blood. I wake up to being terrified. When I hear a noise, I wake up in a complete state of terror to a point that I’d rather not fall asleep.”

Pistorius was on the stand for about 90 minutes with a lunch break in between. Most of it was spent detailing his upbringing after being born without fibulas and having both legs amputated, his rise in track and field and his history of witnessing crime in South Africa.

“I think everybody in South Africa’s been exposed to crime at some point,” he said, noting house break-ins, carjackings and being shot at while driving on a highway.

Pistorius said he’s never taken performance-enhancing drugs but that he would drink alcohol, sometimes excessively, in the offseason.

Pistorius elected not to be shown on live streams broadcast globally, but his emotion was clear when he spoke of his mother, who died suddenly when he was 15, and of Steenkamp.

He said he did not sleep the previous night, as he was anticipated to take the stand Monday.

“I’m just tired,” Pistorius said in his final comments before his lead attorney asked for and was granted an early adjournment for the day. “It’s a lot of things, obviously, going through my mind. The weight of this is extremely overbearing, so I think it’s just a lot to think about.”

Pistorius wept after the judge left for the day and was comforted by family members, according to reports from court.

The trial is expected to resume, with Pistorius on the stand, at 3:30 a.m. ET on Tuesday.

Here’s NBC News’ coverage of the Pistorius trial.

Here’s Pistorius taking the stand and emotionally apologizing to the Steenkamp family:

Here’s Pistorius talking about his state of mind after not sleeping Sunday night:

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U.S. figure skating could have its best world team since 2006

Nathan Chen performs during the men's free skate competition at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships, Sunday, Jan. 22, 2017, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
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KANSAS CITY — U.S. figure skating has a shot at medals in three of four disciplines at the world championships in Helsinki in two months, which hasn’t happened in 11 years.

Before this year, the U.S. men and U.S. women hadn’t boasted simultaneous medal contenders in a decade. Johnny Weir and Evan Lysacek spent the 2010 Olympic cycle in the world elite, while the U.S. women faded. After they stopped competing, Ashley Wagner and Gracie Gold moved into the women’s medal field while the U.S. searched for a new leading man.

He’s arrived. Nathan Chen confirmed he is one of the world’s best male skaters by landing a record seven quadruple jumps between two programs at Sprint Center this past week.

The 17-year-old already made the podium in an event that featured the world’s best, earning silver at the Grand Prix Final in December. Chen struggled with his short-program jumps at the Grand Prix Final and attempted one fewer quad overall yet still outscored everybody but Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu.

Of all of the U.S. medal hopes at worlds, Chen may face the stiffest trio of challengers. Not only is there Hanyu, but also two-time reigning world champion Javier Fernandez of Spain, plus Japan’s Shoma Uno, all of whom rank higher than Chen in best total scores in international competition this season.

MORE: Chen believes Olympic gold is possible after U.S. title

Wagner, who shares a coach with Chen, did not have her best nationals. She finished second to surprise winner Karen Chen (no relation to Nathan), who has yet to factor internationally.

But Wagner said before and after the U.S. Championships that her focus was to peak for the world championships. The goal for nationals was to make the world team, which required not winning but finishing in the top three. Mission accomplished.

The concern with Wagner is that she hasn’t produced a world medal-caliber result yet this season. Her best score from the fall ranks her sixth among women going to worlds. But Wagner has shown in the last few seasons that she can pull it together for major events. There’s her 2016 World Championships silver medal, plus her three straight Grand Prix Final medals from 2012-14.

At worlds, Wagner will have to deal with a Russian trio capable of sweeping the podium, three strong Japanese skaters, plus the revelation of this season, Canadian Kaetlyn Osmond.

VIDEO: Wagner passed Puffs in emotional press conference moment

The U.S.’ strongest discipline continues to be ice dance. Maia and Alex Shibutani and Madison Chock and Evan Bates finished second and third at the 2016 World Championships. They went one-two at the U.S. Championships this past week.

But two ice dance medals don’t appear to be in the cards in Helsinki. That’s because Canadians Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, who earned gold and silver at the last two Olympics, came back this season after a two-year break.

Virtue and Moir broke international scoring records in the fall, sweeping their four starts. The two-time reigning world champions, Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron of France, also beat the U.S. couples at the Grand Prix Final.

The Shibutani siblings and Chock and Bates have never finished ahead of Virtue and Moir in competition. Neither has bettered the French since the December 2014 Grand Prix Final, either.

But all it takes is one dance medal, plus Chen and Wagner at their best in Helsinki, and the U.S. could go into the Olympic year in its best place since 2006.

MORE: Gracie Gold comments on split from coach Frank Carroll

Laurie Hernandez discusses life after Rio, new book on TODAY (video)

Laurie Hernandez
TODAY
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Laurie Hernandez‘s book, “I Got This: To Gold and Beyond,” is out Tuesday, and the Olympic champion gymnast stopped by TODAY on Monday to discuss its contents and life post-Rio.

An excerpt on Hernandez’s experience in Rio and the story of her floor-exercise wink to judges, is here.

On TODAY, Hernandez discussed another interesting anecdote from the book about tissues.

“Before Olympic Trials, we went out to eat, and I had a little breakdown because practice was really rough, and my routines weren’t coming the way I wanted them to,” she said. “This poor waitress kept bringing me over piles of tissues. … We were leaving, and my sister [Jelysa] told my dad, I’m going to save these tissues. I’m going to give them to her when she makes the team. I’m thinking to myself, you guys are crazy, this is not going to happen.”

Hernandez went on to finish second to Simone Biles at the Olympic Trials and make the five-woman Olympic team as the first U.S. female Olympian born in the 2000s.

The family celebrated the achievement, where Jelysa handed the tissues to Hernandez in a bag.

“Even when you fell, you couldn’t believe in yourself, we were there for you,” Jelysa told her.

“So it was a really defining moment,” Hernandez said.

Hernandez is away from gymnastics while promoting her book and touring with “Dancing with the Stars,” but she is expected to return to the sport at some point.

MORE: Hernandez explains 2017 goals: First date, driver’s license, Law & Order