Javier Fernandez, Yuzuru Hanyu

Tara Lipinski, Johnny Weir preview World Championships men’s, pairs events

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The last time Yuzuru Hanyu skated in Shanghai, he fell five times during his performance, with a bandage wrapped around his head and a blood-stained chin on Nov. 8.

The Olympic champion is back in the Chinese city this week, looking to become the first Japanese skater to repeat as World champion.

“He’s had quite a challenging season with a number of obstacles,” said his coach, two-time Canadian Olympic silver medalist Brian Orser, according to The Associated Press. “But each time he seems to bounce back.”

RELATED: World Championships schedule

In November, Hanyu and China’s Yan Han collided violently in a warm-up at a Grand Prix series event in Shanghai.

Hanyu, 20, was checked by medical staff and performed his free skate less than an hour later, finishing second overall despite fall, after fall, after fall, after fall, after fall.

He returned to Japan the next day, being wheeled through an airport in front of many fans. Three weeks later, Hanyu fell on jumps in both of his programs at his next competition and finished fourth.

Still, he snuck into December’s Grand Prix Final, the biggest competition this season outside the World Championships.

At the Grand Prix Final, Hanyu again fell in both of his programs. Yet he still won by a whopping 34.26 points.

Then came his next problem, bladder surgery that kept him off the ice in January.

Despite all that, both NBC Olympics analysts Tara Lipinski and Johnny Weir tapped Hanyu as the favorite at Worlds this week.

“Hanyu was so strong at the Grand Prix Final, and despite making the one mistake [the fall], he was in such good form, so classy and so dignified, and skating a way that an Olympic champion should skate,” Weir said. “It will be hard for anyone to overtake him because he is so respected by the judges and the International Skating Union.”

If anyone can deny Hanyu, Lipinski and Weir agreed it’s Kazakhstan’s Denis Ten, the Olympic bronze medalist who won the Four Continents Championship in Seoul in February.

Ten’s total score at Four Continents — 289.46 — would have beaten Hanyu at the Grand Prix Final, but Ten didn’t qualify for the Grand Prix Final due to early season struggles.

“When [Ten] is on, it’s magical,” Lipinski said. “He sets himself apart from the group because he is the all-around skater. He has every part of the package. He has the speed, the quads [jumps], the beautiful quality of his skating.”

Another rival is Spain’s Javier Fernandez, who took second to Hanyu at the Grand Prix Final and is the two-time reigning World bronze medalist. But Fernandez’s best skating this season hasn’t rivaled Hanyu or Ten at their best.

Then there are the three Americans, who are unlikely to grab the first U.S. men’s medal since Evan Lysacek‘s gold in 2009 but hopeful of retaining three berths for the 2016 World Championships in Boston.

Lipinski and Weir agree that’s a very reachable goal. The top two U.S. men, out of Jason Brown, Adam Rippon and Joshua Farris, must have combined placements equal to or better than 13 to attain it. For example, Brown to finish sixth and Rippon seventh.

The best American may be Farris, even though he was third at the U.S. Championships in January and is making his senior Worlds debut. The 2013 World junior champion could have won the U.S. title had he not mistakenly put three double toe loops in his free skate at Nationals.

Farris, 20, took a planned quad jump out of his short program due to boot issues, but he is coming off a breathtaking second-place performance at Four Continents.

“Josh is proving that he has staying power,” Lipinski said. “He is a breath of fresh air. The style he skates in, the way that he feels the music. He’s in tune with his performances and brings a very different style than someone like Jason.”

RELATED: Farris expects Worlds perfection, four months after embarrassment

Brown, also 20, in January became the youngest U.S. champion since 2004 and in Sochi became the youngest U.S. Olympic men’s singles skater since 1976.

He will not put a quad jump in either program in Shanghai, after two-footing a landing on his first in-competition quad attempt at Four Continents. That might be a decision that hangs with Brown beyond Worlds and into next season.

“Once you do [a quad] once, at your very first event, and it doesn’t go too well, then taking it out and not trying it, all summer it becomes this elephant in the room, and you can blow it out in your mind,” Lipinski said. “It becomes tough to overcome.”

RELATED: Brown explains quad decision for Worlds

Then there’s Rippon, a two-time World junior champion making his third Worlds appearance and first since 2012. Rippon has a quad Lutz in his arsenal, but landing it and keeping the rest of his program intact is far from a sure thing.

“He doesn’t have the consistency,” Lipinski said. “It’s all about the mental game.”

A U.S. pair could finish higher at Worlds than the best U.S. man for the first time since 2011. U.S. champions Alexa Scimeca and Chris Knierim boast a quad twist and were fifth at Four Continents, against a field of the top U.S., Canadian and Chinese pairs.

Throw in the Russians this week, but Scimeca and Knierim are aiming for the top six. That would match or better the best U.S. finish in pairs since 2006.

“It’s realistic, but for me they’re a team that if they do make a mistake and start to get sloppy, it upsets the whole performance,” Lipinski said.

Lipinski, Weir preview Worlds women’s, ice dance events

Collin Morikawa jumps into projected Olympic golf field

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Collin Morikawa would not have qualified outright for the Tokyo Olympics had they been held this summer. Now, after winning the PGA Championship, he is third overall in global qualifying for the Tokyo Games in 2021.

Morikawa, a 23-year-old who took the same number of PGA Tour starts to win his maiden major as Tiger Woods (29), went from an alternate for the expected four-man U.S. Olympic team to No. 2 among Americans in the early qualifying standings, according to golf rankings guru @VC606 on Twitter.

Justin Thomas, Bryson DeChambeau and Patrick Reed are the other Americans in qualifying position, according to @VC606.

Morikawa, whose father is of Japanese descent, turned professional in June 2019 and made his first 22 cuts, a feat bettered only by Woods.

The 23-year-old could become the youngest U.S. Olympic male golfer since 1904 (important note: golf was not part of the Olympic program from 1908 through 2012). Come next summer, he will still be younger than all but seven men from the Rio Olympic golf field of 60, according to Olympedia.org.

Olympic golf qualifying standings will fluctuate significantly. There are five major championships left in the qualifying window, starting with the U.S. Open in September and finishing with next summer’s U.S. Open, both airing on NBC Sports.

How tough will it be to make the U.S. Olympic team? Consider that the three Americans to win majors in 2019 — Woods, Brooks Koepka and Gary Woodland — are currently not in Olympic qualifying position.

The U.S. has seven of the top nine in the Official World Golf Ranking, which is calculated differently than Olympic qualifying.

MORE: Nosferatu is golf’s Olympic rankings guru. Who is he?

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He controversially beat Roy Jones Jr. for Olympic gold. He wishes he had silver.

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The last South Korean boxer to win an Olympic gold medal has spent the past 32 years wishing it was a silver.

Entering the men’s light-middleweight final against an American teenager named Roy Jones Jr. on the last day of the 1988 Games in Seoul, Park Si-Hun fantasized about etching his name in the pantheon of South Korean sports legends in front of a delirious home crowd.

He did get his gold three rounds later, but not the way he envisioned.

Park’s win by a 3-2 decision remains as one of the most controversial moments in boxing history, as Jones had seemed to dominate the fight from start to finish.

The outcome drew instant criticism and disdain, even from South Koreans, who heckled Park at the podium and bombarded local TV stations with phone calls protesting that the country’s home advantage had gone too far.

Jones went on to have a phenomenal professional career, retiring in 2018 with a 66-9 record that cemented him as one of the sport’s all-time greats. He is now a boxing commentator and is planning to fight Mike Tyson in an exhibition of retired greats later this year.

Deeply shaken and scarred, Park quietly retired at the end of the Seoul Games and spent the next 13 years as a middle- and high-school teacher in a rural seaside town before making a return to competitive boxing as a coach.

In a recent interview with The Associated Press, Park said his dream was to see one of his boxers pull off a convincing gold-winning performance in a future Olympics, which he said would possibly give him some sense of redemption and closure.

After three decades, it still stings that his gold is seen as a smudge on the image of the Games his country still glorifies as its coming-out party to the world.

“There’s hardened resentment built up in me that I will probably carry for the rest of my life,” said Park, 54, who now coaches the small municipal boxing team of Seogwipo City in the island province of Jeju.

“I didn’t want my hand to be raised (after the fight with Jones), but it did go up, and my life became gloomy because of that.”

Park still grimaces when talking about his match with Jones.

Desperate for Olympic glory, Park had gutted out the tournament with a broken right hand he suffered during training. He said it didn’t really matter until he met Jones, the one opponent in Seoul who was quicker than him.

With the injury taking away his right-hand, Park simply had no chance at slowing Jones, who was coming at him with “excellent speed, power and technique.”

“I was pretty quick for a middleweight, but Jones was at a different level,” Park recalled. “A boxer just knows whether he had won or lost a match. I thought I lost because I didn’t put up a fight deserving of a win.”

Park said he felt “confused” when the referee raised his hand. Wearing a stunned look on his face, Park awkwardly embraced and held up an expressionless Jones into the air.

He said he couldn’t wait to get off the podium, where he smiled weakly and slowly waved a bouquet of flowers toward the stands as fans let out hesitant cheers and scattered boos.

An even more humiliating moment came when a South Korean national broadcaster invited all of the country’s 12 gold medalists to a live TV celebration shortly after the Games. The host treated Park like he wasn’t there while interviewing each of the other 11.

There was an outpouring of media criticism and what Park described as “unspeakable” insults, which included derisive public calls for him to forfeit his medal.

The emotional distress “was like being hit with a hammer on the back of your head, again and again.”

“I keep thinking how my life would have been happier had I finished second,” Park said. “A gold medal is important, but isn’t any Olympic medal satisfying and glorious?”

Park said the sense of defeat and depression sometimes led to suicidal urges. He credits his wife for helping him navigate out of his darkest moods. The couple contemplated moving to a different country before deciding to stay after they had children.

Their youngest child, Rei, now a 20-year-old college student in Louisiana, has his own athletic ambitions, training as a javelin thrower with dreams of competing in the 2024 Olympics.

Park said he keeps his Olympic gold framed on a wall at his home in mainland South Korea, along with other awards he won in amateur competition. He doesn’t recall ever bringing it out of the house.

While Park doesn’t have many regrets about never going pro, saying he probably wouldn’t have gone far with an evasive style built for efficiency and avoiding hits but not for initiating pain, he still watched Jones’ post-Olympic triumphs with envy.

He wondered whether the public would ever forget the fiasco surrounding his gold medal, which the South Korean media brought up after almost every Jones fight or whenever there was controversy in any Olympic sport. He would try to laugh it off whenever students asked about his gold at school.

After overlooking him for years, South Korea’s boxing association reached back to Park in 2001, asking him to coach the national team following years of disappointing performances in international events, which reflected a dearth of talent in the sport.

During his on-and-off coaching stints with the national team since then, Park trained several boxers who performed decently in various events, but they never came close to an Olympic gold.

Park had the highest hopes for Lee Ok-Song, who won the men’s 51kg division in the 2005 World Championships. But Lee failed to reach the quarterfinals of the 2008 Olympics in Beijing and retired after the Games.

Park said he had occasionally kept in touch with Jones, including a brief telephone conversation with him in 2004 while visiting Atlanta for an international event.

The International Olympic Committee in 1997 concluded it had found no evidence to support bribery allegations against the judges who voted in favor of Park in the Seoul Games.

The U.S. Olympic Committee had called for an investigation in 1996 after documents belonging to East Germany’s Stasi secret police revealed reports of judges being paid to vote for South Korean boxers.

While Park left South Korea’s national team after the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro, he hasn’t given up on his goal of winning an Olympic gold as a coach.

Among the four boxers he trains in Seogwipo, Park is most impressed with Kang Hyeon-Bin, who competes in the men’s 64kg division, and Cho Hye-Bin, a woman in the 51kg category.

“I am constantly looking for a raw stone I could polish into a jewel,” he said. “I want to sculpt a true Olympic gold medalist with my own hands and see that fighter take the highest spot on the podium. That would restore my honor and allow me to leave the boxing ring for good.”

MORE: Top U.S. Olympic boxing hopeful cleared of doping violations caused by sex

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