David Boudia
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David Boudia: ‘Silver is like a thorn in the side’

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David Boudia stood on the pool deck at the Indiana University Natatorium content with his performance at USA Diving’s Winter Nationals.

He didn’t need three perfect 10s to prove he’s still the best American in the sport or another national championship to illustrate he’s on top of his game starting another crucial year.

Instead, the 26-year-old defending Olympic champion has learned there are more important things in life than simply impressing judges and having shiny, new medals draped around his neck. So as Boudia embarks on his third, and perhaps final Olympics quest, he’s focused on bigger issues such as professional satisfaction and family security.

“I accomplished a huge goal [in 2012] and that’s still the goal in 2016,” Boudia said after winning his 20th national title in December. “But I’ve put that up on a shelf. This is my job now.”

In the pool, not much has changed.

Boudia is likely to be the most experienced diver on this year’s U.S. men’s team, and he’s still the Americans’ best chance to again break up the Chinese dynasty. At the 2012 London Games, the Chinese took gold in both synchro events and silver in both individual events. This year, they’ll try to reclaim gold in the springboard after a streak of four straight Olympic golds ended in 2012, and reigning World champ Qiu Bo will try to dethrone Boudia in Rio.

Since London, Boudia’s life is completely different.

Two months after becoming the first American male diver to win Olympic gold in two decades, he married his girlfriend, Sonnie Brand. In September 2014, they welcomed their first child, Dakoda.

Along the way, Boudia picked up endorsement deals, served as a judge on Greg Louganis‘ reality television show “Splash” and teamed with a new partner, Purdue’s Steele Johnson, in platform synchro.

Yet even as some tried to turn Boudia into a budding celebrity, his small-town charm and down-to-earth personality never allowed him to be anything more than grounded and motivated.

“He really has a different perspective going into ’16,” Johnson said. “He’s not trying to please himself. He can see when I start to dive for myself and when he sees that, he pushes me the other way.”

Boudia certainly has not lost his passion or penchant for excellence.

He still wants to become the first American male since Louganis in 1988 and the fourth American in history to defend his gold medal in the platform. He’d also like to become to be the first U.S. man to earn a second medal in platform synchro after taking bronze with Nick McCrory in 2012.

The results since then have been frustrating.

He earned bronze at the diving world series event in Dubai in 2014 and individual silvers on platform at the 2013 and 2015 World Championships. For Boudia, that wasn’t good enough.

“A silver is like a thorn in the side,” Boudia said.

Even for a man who has one of the most impressive resumes in diving history.

In addition to winning two Olympic medals, the Purdue alum owns six NCAA titles, was named the nation’s best college diver in 2009 and 2010 and the Big Ten’s best overall athlete in 2011. He once medaled in 10 consecutive international competitions in platform synchro and was recently named USA Diving’s Athlete of the Year for the sixth straight year and seventh time overall, both American records.

He’s even considered expanding his normal repertoire to include the springboard.

But those closest to Boudia do see a difference in his Olympic prep work this time.

“He’s at his best when he doesn’t focus on outcomes or medals or placements,” his wife said. “His priorities are different now. He’s supporting us with his abilities, and I think he’s going to let it (his career) ride as long as it goes.”

There have been other changes, too.

Sonnie, who once traveled regularly around the world with him, has scaled back her trips. Neither she nor Dakoda is expected to attend this month’s World Cup (beginning Friday on NBC Sports Live Extra), where Boudia and Johnson will try to lock up an Olympic qualifying spot for the Americans. It’s being held in the same Rio venue as the Olympics starting Friday.

After acknowledging there was a time Boudia felt his sole motivation to achieve goals was for himself, experience has taught him the most precious moments are not defined by others.

“It’s easy to get ahead of ourselves for Olympic games, and with that in mind, I think we’re right where we need to be,” Boudia said. “But now I have to be working hard for my family. Four years ago, I was working for myself.”

Dominik Paris, world champion skier, suffers season-ending injury

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Italian Dominik Paris, the reigning world champion in the super-G, suffered a season-ending ACL tear in a training crash Tuesday ahead of this weekend’s speed races in Kitzbuehel, Austria.

Paris crashed in super-G training not far from the hallowed World Cup venue, slipping into a curve and damaging his right knee. He also suffered a fibula microfracture, according to the Italian federation.

“My season ends here,” he said, according to the International Ski Federation (FIS). “Unfortunately while I was sliding, the inside ski caught too much and the ligament broke. There is not much to add. In the next few days we will evaluate, together with the medical staff, how to proceed.”

Paris won his third Hahnenkamm downhill title last year and was one of the favorites for Saturday’s downhill, the most prestigious annual race in the sport. NBC Sports Gold streams live coverage for “Snow Pass” subscribers at 5:30 a.m. ET.

Paris, 30, won a pair of downhills in Bormio in December among five total podiums this season.

In his absence, Swiss Beat Feuz and German Thomas Dressen lead the podium contenders.

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It’s Nathan Chen’s time at nationals for a feat 32 years in the making

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Nathan Chen can join Brian Boitano in U.S. figure skating history this week, a decade after holding Boitano in the palm of his hands with a program set to music from “Kung Fu Panda.”

Chen seeks a fourth straight national title in Greensboro, N.C. He would be the seventh man to do so since World War II. Five of the previous six won Olympic titles — Dick Button, Hayes Jenkins, David Jenkins, Scott Hamilton and, most recently, Brian Boitano from 1985-88.

Boitano remembered the first time he met Chen. He and Kristi Yamaguchi were compelled to leave their seats to find the teeny, tiny wunderkind who performed that program to the 2008 DreamWorks film.

“He was taking off his skates, and he probably came up to our waist,” Boitano said. “We knew when we saw him back then that he was going to be something special. He was really quiet. He’s still very quiet.”

In an interview last week, Chen focused on the present — coming back from a two-week cold or flu bug — rather than the perspective.

“I don’t like to typically think about that,” Chen said when asked about his streak. “It’s just different [from year to year]. It’s not really necessarily easier or harder.”

It is also different from previous eras. The last five men to win four in a row did it all in one Olympic cycle, then stepped away from competition after the Winter Games. That was back when turning professional meant the end of an Olympic career.

“It was kind of the norm back then,” Hamilton said. “After that it was kind of back and forth a lot [until Chen]. The business of skating changed so skaters could stay in a lot more, a lot longer. With all the money they brought in, they were able to prevent skaters from turning professional. So that brought in a different approach to nationals.”

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Both Hamilton and six-time (non-consecutive) U.S. champion Todd Eldredge could think of just one name to compare Chen’s dominance in the history of U.S. men’s skating: Button, who won the first seven national titles after World War II, plus two Olympic golds.

Button earned national and world titles as a Harvard student. Chen is on a two-season win streak while majoring in statistics and data science at Yale. Button was the first skater to land a double Axel and a triple jump of any kind. Chen was the first to land six quads in one free skate.

Eldredge coaches skaters at the same rink where Chen trains when Chen visits his Southern California-based coach Rafael Arutunian. He is awed by watching Chen working out. Though Eldredge owns more national titles, he never felt the massive favorite status that accompanies Chen.

Eldredge competed in the post-Hamilton/Boitano era, when national champions began competing over multiple Olympic cycles. Eldredge ebbed and flowed from his first national title in 1990, when compulsory figures were still around, to 2002, when he defeated Timothy Goebel, then known as the Quad King.

“Physically, the demands of the sport take their toll on your body,” Eldredge said. “It’s hard to maintain that same level for that length of period of time.

“[In] 12 years [since Chen’s first national title], when he’s 29 years old, is he going to be able to continue to sustain that?”

All of the recent top U.S. men competed in multiple Olympic cycles. The last multiple national champion was Jeremy Abbott, who earned two titles each in two different Olympic cycles. Abbott finished his career in a third Olympic cycle, placing fifth at the 2015 U.S. Championships. Abbott didn’t remember that Chen made his senior nationals debut that year, finishing eighth at age 15.

“For me, winning the third and the fourth [titles] were harder because I started thinking about winning,” Abbott said. “After the second one, I was heading into a new quad and I was two-time U.S. champion. Then my focus was, oh, I’m expected to win. So that was a harder mental game rather than just focusing on making an Olympic team. The expectation now that I’ve done this twice in a row, I’m expected to win again and again and again.”

Abbott and Chen came up in the era of the points-based judging system instituted in 2004.

“Now with the way the scoring system is very different [from the old 6.0], cumulative points, if you have a bad day as a national champion, that’s it. You can’t get the points,” Eldredge said. “[In previous eras], if a certain skater was, I’ll say politically supposed to be the champion, you got a higher score, and rightfully so in most cases.”

Chen has the benefit of going into competitions knowing the kind of advantage he has in base value points from his jumping arsenal. He won last year’s national title by 58 points. This international season, he is 80 points clear of the next-highest-ranked U.S. man, Jason Brown.

“I don’t think that the try-to-push technique is necessarily my goal here,” at nationals, Chen said. “Hopefully just to maintain my body, maintain my health and try to prepare myself for the second half of the season.”

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As a reminder, you can watch the events from the 2019-20 figure skating season 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.