Torin Yater-Wallace
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Torin Yater-Wallace healthy going into X Games after years of health scares

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U.S. Olympic halfpipe skier Torin Yater-Wallace‘s last three Winter X Games in Aspen:

2014: Pulled out before the final while still recovering from a collapsed lung and two broken ribs suffered in separate fall 2013 incidents.
2015: Pulled out after suffering a concussion in a practice-week crash.
2016: Finished fifth, two weeks after being cleared to ski following an infection that affected his gall bladder, liver and lungs and put him on life support (which has been well documented).

“I’ve had a few years with this certain event that, for some reason, somebody doesn’t want me to compete there healthy,” Yater-Wallace said last week. “I’m not exactly one to set goals very often. I just want to compete and ski as best as I can and be happy with my performance. If I can do that, I would hope I get a good result.”

Yater-Wallace has endured more health scares than just about any other 21-year-old Olympian.

Before the setbacks, he was a teen sensation, making the X Games podium in 2011, 2012 and 2013, winning the Sochi Olympic test event and taking silver at the 2013 World Championships.

Though Yater-Wallace missed most of the 2013-14 season with the broken ribs and collapsed lung, he was still named to the Olympic team due to his international record. Less than 100 percent, Yater-Wallace fell on both of his qualifying runs in a rain-drenched Sochi halfpipe and finished 26th out of 28 skiers.

Neither of his next two seasons were smooth. But this year, he’s stayed in good health.

“When something like that happens, you really get a new appreciation for everyday life and the life that I’ve been fortunate enough to be living as a professional skier,” Yater-Wallace said, emphasizing the most recent and life-threatening scare, the infection a little over a year ago. “That first day, week and month of skiing, following me becoming healthy after that, I just had such a great smile on my face every day I was in the mountains, as cliché as it might sound as a skier, being happy, smiling in the mountains. It really was the only way I can describe it. It was amazing to be outside and breathing fresh air, not confined to the white walls of a hospital.”

After a month and a half back on skis, Yater-Wallace capped his comeback by winning X Games Oslo last February.

“I never appreciated a podium or a win at an event like I did that day,” said Yater-Wallace, who sees special breathing doctors monthly and uses an inhaler daily. “It felt like such a gift.”

He beat all of the world’s best halfpipe skiers in Oslo — Aspen X Games champion Kevin Rolland of France, Olympic champion David Wise and Gus Kenworthy, who competes in halfpipe and slopestyle and might just be the world’s best freestyle skier.

He’ll face them again Friday night in Aspen.

“We almost lost a friend last year,” Wise said last fall. “When you’re put through something like that, you get a new lease on life, and it makes you just that much more grateful to be around. That’s what I saw in Torin last year, and I think it’s going to contribute to his success as a skier. He’s not focused on the petty things anymore. He almost died last year.”

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At U.S. Open swim meet, teens make a splash with Olympic trials on horizon

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While Olympic and world champions Katie LedeckySimone Manuel and Chase Kalisz notched expected victories at the U.S. Open on Thursday, a trio of teenagers lowered personal bests to further establish their Tokyo Olympic hopes.

At the top domestic meet of the winter, Alex WalshCarson Foster and Kieran Smith each earned runner-up finishes, but their performances stood out in the big picture: looking at June’s Olympic trials, where the top two per individual event make the team.

Walsh, a rising Nashville high school senior, took 2.23 seconds off her 200m individual medley best. She clocked 2:09.01, overtaken by .17 by Melanie Margalis, the Rio Olympic and 2019 World Championships fourth-place finisher.

Full meet results are here.

Walsh moved from fifth-fastest in the U.S. this year to No. 2 behind Margalis, passing Olympic and world championships veterans Ella EastinKathleen Baker and Madisyn Cox. Of those swimmers, only Eastin was also in Thursday’s final.

Walsh joined her younger sister, Gretchen, in Olympic qualifying position based on 2019 times. Gretchen, 16, ranks fourth in the U.S. in the 100m free this year. The top six in that event at trials are in line to make the Olympic 4x100m free relay pool.

The Walshes could become the third set of sisters to make the same U.S. Olympic swim team, and the second to do it in pool swimming after Dana and Tara Kirk in 2004.

Foster, 18, continued his ascent Thursday in taking second to Kalisz in the men’s 200m IM. The world junior champion lowered his personal best in the prelims and the final, getting down to 1:57.59. Foster passed Ryan Lochte, who is nearly twice his age, in Thursday’s final and in the 2019 U.S. rankings. Only Kalisz and Michael Andrew have been faster among Americans this year.

Foster is trying to become the youngest U.S. Olympic male swimmer since 2000, when a 15-year-old Michael Phelps made his Olympic debut. Foster, who has been breaking Phelps national age-group records since he was 10, committed to the University of Texas in March 2018, two years before he graduates high school in Ohio.

Then there’s Kieran Smith, now a prime candidate to fill a huge void in the 400m freestyle. Zane Grothe is the only American ranked in the top 20 in the world this year.

Smith, a 19-year-old from the University of Florida, took 2.29 seconds off his lifetime best on Thursday to jump from outside the top 10 to No. 2 in the U.S. on the year. Smith was already ranked No. 2 in the country in the 200m free.

Two more runners-up in the 50m freestyles — Erika Brown to Manuel and Zach Apple to Brazilian Bruno Fratus — lowered personal bests to move to No. 3 in each U.S. ranking list this year.

The U.S. Open continues Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m. ET with live coverage on NBCSN and streaming on NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app.

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Nathan Chen distances Yuzuru Hanyu in Grand Prix Final short program

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A brilliant Nathan Chen outscored a flawed Yuzuru Hanyu for a fourth straight head-to-head program, taking a 12.95-point lead at the Grand Prix Final in Turin, Italy, on Thursday.

Chen, the two-time reigning world champion, tallied 110.38 points going into Saturday’s free skate. He landed a quadruple Lutz, triple Axel and quad toe loop-triple toe loop combination.

It’s the highest short program score in the world this season, leading the American to say “wow” in the kiss-and-cry area. His coach, the often-gruff Rafael Arutyunyan, banged his knee against his pupil’s.

Hanyu, the two-time reigning Olympic champion, hit a quadruple Salchow and triple Axel but then stepped out of a quad toe landing. He therefore failed to include a required jumping combination and ended up in second place.

“I wanted to do a great performance and do a good competition against [Chen], but that didn’t happen this time,” Hanyu, who was without longtime coach Brian Orser, or any other coach, said through a translator. Hanyu said Orser was busy last week, so he chose to use his lone accreditation on another coach who had travel delays.

Hanyu is not out of title contention. His world-leading free skate score this season is 16.61 points better than Chen’s best free skate from the fall Grand Prix Series.

Chen is undefeated since placing fifth at the PyeongChang Olympics, but this is just his second head-to-head with Hanyu in that span. Chen defeated Hanyu at March’s world championships, where the Japanese megastar was likely affected by an ankle injury.

After Thursday’s program, Chen repeated what he said before the competition: he still feels like he’s chasing Hanyu.

“Yuzu is like the goat, he’s the greatest of all time, really,” Chen said. “So, to have this opportunity to be able to share the ice with a guy like that, someone that I’ve looked up to for a long time, someone that I’ve watched grow up through the junior ranks when I was like a baby, it’s really cool to be able see him now. It’s really cool to even just be able to see him person.”

The Grand Prix Final, the biggest annual event outside the world championships, continues Friday with the rhythm dance, women’s short and pairs’ free skate. A full TV and live stream schedule is here.

Earlier in pairs, Chinese Sui Wenjing and Han Cong took their first step toward a first Grand Prix Final title. The Olympic silver medalists tallied 77.50, leading Russians Aleksandra Boikova and Dmitriy Kozlovskiy by .85 going into Friday’s free skate.

Sui and Han were imperfect, with Sui putting her hand down on a throw triple flip landing. They are undefeated in this Beijing Olympic cycle and own the world’s top total score this season.

The U.S. failed to qualify a pair for the six-team Final for the 11th time in the last 12 years.

Grand Prix Final
Men’s Short Program
1. Nathan Chen (USA) — 110.38
2. Yuzuru Hanyu (JPN) — 97.43
3. Kevin Aymoz (FRA) — 96.71
4. Dmitriy Aliyev (RUS) — 88.78
5. Alexander Samarin (RUS) — 81.32
6. Jin Boyang (CHN) — 80.67

Pairs’ Short Program
1. Sui Wenjing/Han Cong (CHN) — 77.50
2. Aleksandra Boikova / Dmitriy Kozlovskiy (RUS) — 76.65
3. Daria Pavliuchenko/Denis Khodykin (RUS) — 75.16
4. Anastasia Mishina/Aleksandr Galliamov (RUS) — 71.48
5. Peng Cheng/Jin Yang (CHN) — 69.67
6. Kirsten Moore-Towers/Michael Marinaro (CAN) — 67.08

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