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Jordan Spieth to skip Rio Olympics due to health concerns

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TROON, Scotland (AP) — Jordan Spieth withdrew from the Olympics on Monday, leaving golf without its top four players when the sport returns to the games for the first time since 1904.

Spieth was the last of the top players to say he wasn’t going to Rio, telling the IGF it was out of health concerns. It was the latest blow to a sport that had lobbied hard to get back into the Olympics and had the support of the top players until fears arose over the Zika virus, security and other issues facing the Rio Games.

“There is no doubt that the number of withdrawals hasn’t shed golf in the best light, and we have to accept that,” said Peter Dawson, president of the International Golf Federation. “But we do understand why these individual decisions have been taken.

“Personally, I think there’s been something of an overreaction to the Zika situation, but that’s for individuals to determine, and there’s certainly a great deal of concern about this issue inside the game of golf, no doubt about that.”

Jason Day, Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy previously withdrew, all citing the Zika virus. Day and Johnson have said they plan on having more children, while McIlroy is engaged and said he would soon be starting a family.

Spieth was playing a practice round at Royal Troon ahead of the British Open and was not expected to speak until Tuesday. When he finished, he went back toward the gallery to sign autographs, then left on the other side of the green toward the parking lot.

Men’s golf still has eight of the top 15 players in the world competing in Rio, though losing the top four could be a big setback in its bid to stay in the Olympic program. It is assured of being part of the Tokyo Games in 2020, but the International Olympic Committee votes next year to decide whether golf and other events stay beyond that.

The Americans still have four players in Rio, the most of any country. Spieth was replaced by Matt Kuchar, who narrowly reached No. 15 in the world two weeks ago with a tie for third in the Bridgestone Invitational. The other Americans are Bubba Watson, Rickie Fowler and Patrick Reed.

Spieth was enthusiastic about the Olympics until about a month ago, when he started to mention security, Zika and other concerns. Johnson pulled out Friday, and Spieth was said to be struggling with his decision until Monday.

Spieth wasn’t the only golfer to withdraw at the last minute.

The IGF also announced Monday that France’s Victor Dubuisson and South Korea’s K.T. Kim had also pulled out. No reason was given for their decision.

Kim is ranked No. 41 in the world. His place will be taken by countryman Jeunghun Wang.

Dubuisson is the world’s 78th-ranked player. With his withdrawal, No. 123 Julien Quesnell of France gets a spot in Rio.

MORE: Golf faces uncertain Olympic future due to numerous dropouts

WATCH LIVE: Nathan Chen in U.S. Figure Skating Championships free skate

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Nathan Chen tries to become the first man to win four straight U.S. figure skating titles since 1988, live on NBC Sports on Sunday.

NBC Sports Gold streams live coverage of the men’s free skate for subscribers starting at 2:30 p.m. ET in Greensboro, N.C. NBC joins with TV coverage at 3.

LIVE STREAM: Men’s Free Skate — Gold | NBC | Skate Order

Chen, a 20-year-old Yale sophomore, is undefeated since placing fifth at the PyeongChang Olympics. He can become the seventh man since World War II to win four straight national titles.

Five of the previous six went on to earn Olympic gold, including Dick ButtonScott Hamilton and, most recently, Brian Boitano in 1988.

Chen carries a substantial 13.14-point lead from Saturday’s short program, where he landed two quadruple jumps on one week of full training following a flu bout.

The anticipated drama Sunday comes in the battle for silver and bronze medals and the last two world championships team spots.

Jason BrownAndrew TorgashevVincent Zhou and Tomoki Hiwatashi are separated by 8.78 points. Brown, the 2015 U.S. champion, and Zhou, the 2019 World bronze medalist, are the only men in the field other than Chen with world team experience.

Key Skate Times
5:01 p.m. (ET) — Vincent Zhou
5:18 — Tomoki Hiwatashi
5:26 — Andrew Torgashev
5:35 — Nathan Chen
5:43 — Jason Brown

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NATIONALS: TV Schedule | Full Results

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.

Mikaela Shiffrin, with 66th World Cup win, moves one shy of career dream

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Mikaela Shiffrin has said one of her career dreams is to win in every discipline in one season. She is now one victory shy of realizing it.

Shiffrin earned her 66th World Cup victory — and her second in three days — at a super-G in Bansko, Bulgaria, on Sunday.

She prevailed by .29 of a second over Italian Marta Bassino and .70 over Swiss Lara Gut-Behrami. Gut-Behrami, the last skier other than Shiffrin to win a World Cup overall title back in 2016, earned her first podium in exactly one year.

Full results are here.

“Perfect weekend for me,” said Shiffrin, who moved one shy of recently retired Austrian Marcel Hirscher for third place on the World Cup career wins list. “The whole team is excited about the whole weekend, but especially today.”

She is en route to a fourth straight World Cup overall title. And she is a combined victory away from wins in all five disciplines in one season. Only Marc GirardelliPetra KronbergerJanica Kostelic and Tina Maze have done it.

“The thing that I’m most proud of right now is that I know how to win in slalom, [giant slalom], super-G and downhill, which I never expected that would really happen,” she said.

Shiffrin struggled with confidence during a winless stretch in early January, trying not to compare herself to last season, when she won a record 17 times. She still leads the men’s and women’s tours with six victories this season, a little more than halfway through.

“Every race is such a big fight, and I haven’t been the one on top of this fight every time,” she said. “Certainly I’ve been like sometimes the expectations that I have or that other people might have, I’m not quite living up to that. Sometimes it’s hard not to feel like I’m failing sometimes, even though this is still just an incredible season.”

There are two combined races left this season for Shiffrin to achieve the dream — Feb. 23 in Switzerland and March 1 in Italy. While combined — mixing a speed run and a technical run — might seem perfect for Shiffrin, she has one victory in four starts in the discipline between the World Cup and Olympics.

And Shiffrin is careful about her race schedule. She is undecided on entering a downhill and super-G next weekend at the 2014 Olympic venue in Russia.

“After this weekend my brain is a little bit dead,” she joked.

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