Jordan Spieth: Olympic decision ‘probably hardest in my life,’ eyes Tokyo 2020

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TROON, Scotland (AP) — Jordan Spieth said pulling out of the Olympics was the hardest decision he’s ever made, and that it likely will haunt him as he’s watching golfers compete for a gold medal in Rio de Janeiro for the first time in 112 years.

Spieth cited “health concerns” as his reason for withdrawing, though he said the Zika virus was only part of it. Asked what kept him out of the Olympics, the 22-year-old Texan would only say that it was personal and anyone in his shoes would have made the same choice.

“Why was it so hard? Because I’m a huge believer in Olympic golf,” Spieth said Tuesday during a news conference that touched only briefly on his bid for the third leg of the career Grand Slam at the British Open.

“This year I just had to try and weigh a risk that doesn’t present itself every year,” he said. “And just at the time that I had to make the decision, I just felt this was the right move for me. Not everybody’s going to understand. Nobody’s going to understand what it’s like in my shoes. … Mine came down to just a very personal decision that, again, I don’t expect anybody to understand, but trust that I believe I’m making the right decision for myself, for my future and for those around me.”

Spieth’s stock has risen sharply in the last year after he won the Masters and U.S. Open and made a spirited run at the Grand Slam. With 18 other players having withdrawn, he was looked upon as someone whose commitment might ease the backlash against golf for its perceived indifference about the sport returning to the Olympics.

That didn’t stop him from following his instincts.

Spieth said he didn’t make up his mind until Monday morning, and the decision was his alone.

“Everybody’s entitled to their own opinion,” Spieth said. “I’m not worrying about anybody else except myself, and again, I don’t expect people to fully understand it. They don’t know what I know about myself and my future and my goals. Therefore, there’s nothing I can do about it except go on and try to again focus on this week.”

Spieth’s decision means none of the top four in the world ranking — they have won six of the last eight majors — will be in Rio when golf is part of the Olympic program for the first time since St. Louis in 1904.

Jason Day, Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy previously pulled out, all citing Zika and their plans to start a family or have more children. The mosquito-borne Zika virus has been linked to severe birth defects and possible neurological disorders in adults. International Golf Federation President Peter Dawson said Monday he thought there was an overreaction to Zika and that none of the workers on the new golf course have been affected.

Spieth is staying with Rickie Fowler this week in Troon, and he said he was standing next to him when Fowler tweeted Sunday night that he would be playing. Spieth had planned to room with Fowler in Rio, and he said he texted Fowler after informing the IGF that he wasn’t going to play.

“He said, ‘No worries. I know you had to make it just for you. You’re just going to be jealous when I get that gold,'” Spieth said. “That’s what he said. So that’s how it went.”

Either way, Spieth said he would be watching.

He is the defending champion at the John Deere Classic, which was moved to the week of the Olympics when the PGA Tour adjusted its schedule for the Rio Games. Even though he’s out of the Olympics, Spieth said he won’t go to the John Deere.

“I don’t think it would be an appropriate move to play that week, so I will not be playing that week,” he said. “I don’t think it would be appropriate given our decision on the Olympics. … We’ve won two out of the last three years. So I will be going back there, I just don’t think it’s appropriate this year.”

Spieth joked after an introduction to his close call at St. Andrews last year that it would be the easiest question he received. And when it was over, as he pushed back from the table, he said quietly with a smile, “Do we have a tournament this week?”

He was ready to move on from Olympics to a claret jug. But even Spieth knows that won’t happen. He said he would carry the decision with him through the Olympics and for a while.

“It will loom over me throughout the Olympic games, for sure,” he said. “I will be, I’m sure, at times pretty upset that I’m not down there. I thought about all this ahead of time. When I watch the opening ceremonies, that’s going to be a big bummer. Then when I watch these guys competing on the golf course. I’ll be texting with Rickie, obviously, throughout as a good friend of mine. I thought about all of this ahead of time and still made the decision I did because it was the right move for me.”

MORE: Tennis stars, unlike golfers, not deterred by Zika

World champion skier Kyle Smaine dies in avalanche at age 31

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Kyle Smaine, a retired world champion halfpipe skier, died in an avalanche in Japan on Sunday, according to NBC News, citing Smaine’s father. He was 31.

Smaine, a 2015 World champion in ski halfpipe, had been doing ski filming in Japan, sharing videos on his Instagram account over the past week.

The native of South Lake Tahoe, California, finished ninth in ski halfpipe at the 2016 Winter X Games in Aspen, Colorado.

In 2018, Smaine won the fifth and final U.S. Olympic qualifying series event in ski halfpipe but did not make the four-man team for PyeongChang. His last sanctioned international competition was in February 2018.

Late Sunday, two-time Olympic champion David Wise won the X Games men’s ski halfpipe and dedicated it to Smaine.

“We all did this for Kyle tonight,” Wise said on the broadcast. “It’s a little bit of an emotional day for us. We lost a friend.”

Ilia Malinin wins U.S. Figure Skating Championships despite quadruple Axel miss

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One year ago, Ilia Malinin came to the U.S. Championships as, largely, a 17-year-old unknown. He finished second to Nathan Chen in 2022 and was left off the three-man Olympic team due to his inexperience, a committee decision that lit a fire in him.

After the biggest year of change in U.S. figure skating in three decades, Malinin came to this week’s nationals in San Jose, California, as the headliner across all disciplines.

Though he fell on his quadruple Axel and doubled two other planned quads in Sunday’s free skate (the most ambitious program in history), he succeeded the absent Chen as national champion.

Malinin, the world’s second-ranked male singles skater, still landed two clean quads in Friday’s short program and three more Sunday. He totaled 287.74 points and prevailed by 10.43 over two-time Olympian Jason Brown, a bridge between the Chen and Malinin eras.

“This wasn’t the skate that I wanted,” said Malinin, who was bidding to become the second man to land six quads in one program after Chen. The Virginia chalked up the flaws at least partially to putting more recent practice time into his short program, which he skated clean on Friday after errors in previous competitions.

FIGURE SKATING NATIONALS: Full Results

Brown, a 28-year-old competing for the first time since placing sixth at the Olympics, became the oldest male singles skater to finish in the top three at nationals since Jeremy Abbott won the last of his four titles in 2014. As usual, he didn’t attempt a quad but had the highest artistic score by 9.41 points.

Brown’s seven total top-three finishes at nationals tie him with Chen, Michael WeissBrian Boitano, David Jenkins and Dick Button for the second-most in men’s singles since World War II, trailing only Todd Eldredge‘s and Hayes Jenkins‘ eight.

“I’m not saying it’s super old, but I can’t train the way I used to,” Brown said after Friday’s short program. “What Ilia is doing and the way he is pushing the sport is outstanding and incredible to watch. I cannot keep up.”

Andrew Torgashev took bronze, winning the free skate with one quad and all clean jumps. Torgashev, who competed at nationals for the first time since placing fifth in 2020 at age 18, will likely round out the three-man world team.

Japan’s Shoma Uno will likely be the favorite at worlds. He won last year’s world title, when Malinin admittedly cracked under pressure in the free skate after a fourth-place short program and ended up ninth.

That was before Malinin became the first person to land a quad Axel in competition. That was before Malinin became the story of the figure skating world this fall. That was before Malinin took over the American throne from Chen, who is studying at Yale and not expected to return to competition.

Malinin’s next step is to grab another label that Chen long held: best in the world. To do that, he must be better than he was on Sunday.

“You always learn from your experiences, and there’s always still the rest of the season to come,” he said. “I just have to be prepared and prepare a little bit extra so that doesn’t happen again.”

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