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Danny Davis knows creativity won’t be enough in Olympic year

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Danny Davis and good friend and former halfpipe rider Kevin Pearce discussed Davis’ experience at the Sochi Olympics. They came to the same conclusion.

“We’ve always kind of felt similar on that topic, the Olympics, and how they’re sort of the end-all, be-all for a lot of people,” Davis said in a phone interview last week. “I think, for Kevin and myself, we’re snowboarders. That’s not the end-all, be-all. A good career doesn’t necessarily mean going to the Olympics. There’s a lot of other titles you can have.”

That said, Davis believes qualifying for the PyeongChang Winter Games is just as big, if not bigger than it was for Sochi three years ago. Which is saying a lot in his case.

Davis, a scraggly-haired snowboarding throwback who values style and creativity over counting flips and spins, finished a surprisingly low 10th in his Olympic halfpipe debut in 2014. He had won Winter X Games for the first time the previous month.

Davis was described then as ambivalent about the Games, an attitude shared by some top riders 20 years ago, when the sport was first added to the Olympic program and some skipped it.

But make no mistake, Davis was determined to be on an Olympic team.

He was in strong position to make the 2006 Olympic squad as a 17-year-old before struggling in the last two qualifiers. In 2010, he beat Shaun White in a qualifier, inspired by Pearce, who a week earlier suffered a traumatic brain injury in a training crash.

But before the Vancouver Olympics, Davis fractured his vertebra and was knocked unconscious when he drunkenly crashed an ATV into a fence. He missed out as White repeated gold. Then in August 2012, Davis broke a femur crashing into a pole on a slopestyle course.

In 2014, Davis completed his comeback by finishing first and second in the last two Olympic qualifiers and then winning the Winter X Games for the first time in his sixth try.

Sochi didn’t turn out how Davis hoped. He was one of many riders to criticize the halfpipe condition, and then wasn’t able to land a clean run in the final.

At 25 years old — veteran status in his sport — Davis could have waved goodbye to the Olympics for good after Sochi.

But he’s not thinking that way at all with 11 months to go until PyeongChang. Instead, he’s motivated by what happened in 2014. To do it all better in 2018.

“Last time around I worried so much about the end goal, which was just the Olympics, that I think I missed out on a lot of fun in my season,” Davis said. “I was pretty stressed when I didn’t do well.

“This year I kind of did a little less contests because I know next year is going to be so hectic. I think this time around I’m more focused on doing well in all of the events, not so much making the team and going to the Olympics. More so being a strong, consistent rider.”

Davis had a painful start to this past season, axing through two tendons in his right hand while chopping firewood in November. He needed surgery and wore a large cast at the X Games in January, where he placed fifth.

Davis snuck into the 10-rider final at the Burton U.S. Open this past weekend and finished sixth, landing one clean run out of three on Saturday. He said the hand limitations are gone, but he still must wear a wrist guard.

The difference between this year and 2014 and 2015 — when Davis won back-to-back X Games titles — is the level of competition. Though Davis was off the U.S. Open podium, he still earned a special award for throwing the best throwback trick of the event — a frontside alley oop Indy.

That contradiction sums up where Davis is right now. His style and creativity remain in a class of their own, but he doesn’t have the flipping-and-spinning firepower to beat White or Australian Scotty James at their best.

“Scotty James and Shaun, they’ve both got back [-to-back] double [1260s] in their run that are pretty standard,” Davis said. “Back double 12s was something Shaun was fishing for back in 2014. He could do it, but he didn’t have it every time. Now, he has it every time, and Scotty’s got it every time. A lot of these guys have a lot of doubles every time.

“I can be creative with my riding, but at the end of the day, you’ve got to do some doubles. You’ve got to spin, and that’s the way it is.”

The Olympic team will likely be made up of four riders again. White has been the top American this season, followed by potential Olympic rookie Chase Josey.

Davis is in a group of other riders also in contention, including 2014 Olympic teammates Greg Bretz and Taylor Gold.

Olympic qualifying, which consists of a series of contests, takes place next season.

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MORE: Watch Shaun White, at age 15, just miss 2002 Olympic team

Nathan Chen, Simone Biles, U.S. women’s soccer team win Team USA Awards

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Simone Biles was named female athlete of the year and Nathan Chen took the corresponding award for men Tuesday at the Team USA Awards in Los Angeles.

Six-time Olympic swimming champion Amy Van Dyken-Rouen, who has taken up wheelchair CrossFit competition since an ATV accident in 2014 left her paralyzed from the waist down, took the Jesse Owens Olympic Spirit Award. She works to help other people with spinal cord injuries through the Amy Van Dyken Foundation and Amy’s Army, which has launched a Wheels for Kids program to help injured children find wheelchairs that may not be covered by insurance.

The show also included a medal ceremony in which the teammates and family of the late Steven Holcomb received silver medals that were reallocated after doping infractions changed the results of the 2014 Olympic bobsled competition.

MORE: Holcomb’s legacy lives on 

Award winners from the ceremony:

Female Olympic athlete of the year: Simone Biles, gymnastics 

Biles took a one-year break after winning four gold medals and a bronze medal in the 2016 Olympics, then came back to do even better, unleashing new skills on the balance beam and in the floor exercise. This year, she won five gold medals at the world championships, breaking the record for career medals.

Female Paralympic athlete of the year: Oksana Masters, Para Nordic skiing and Para cycling 

Already an eight-time Paralympic medalist in Nordic skiing, biathlon and rowing, Masters had a breakout year in cycling, taking silver medals in the world championships. In Nordic skiing, Masters took five world championships (three cross-country, two biathlon) and the overall World Cup championship in sitting cross-country along with a second-place overall finish in biathlon.

Male Olympic athlete of the year: Nathan Chen, figure skating 

Chen had a double back-to-back year, winning his second straight world championship and his second straight Grand Prix final. He also started his 2019-20 season by winning both of his Grand Prix events. He and Japan’s Yuzuru Hanyu are far ahead of any other skaters in posted scores this season.

Male Paralympic athlete of the year: Ben Thompson, Para archery 

Thompson took the world championship and the No. 1 ranking in the men’s compound event and led the U.S. to a world record in the team compound event.

Olympic team of the year: U.S. women’s soccer team 

The team claimed the sport’s biggest prize for the second straight time, working its way through a difficult field that included a quarterfinal matchup with host France to win the World Cup once again, adding to its previous wins in 1991, 1999 and 2015.

Paralympic team of the year: U.S. sled hockey team 

Like the women’s soccer team, the sled hockey team went unbeaten in the world championships and claimed a fourth world title.

MORE: Golden goal clinches championship

Olympic coach of the year: KiSik Lee, archery 

This year, Brady Ellison won a world title and set a world record in the Pan Am Games, and Ellison teamed with Casey Kaufhold to win the world title in the mixed team event, which will be on the Olympic program in 2020.

Paralympic coach of the year: Wesley Johnson, paratriathlon 

The founder and head coach of Balanced Art Multisport in Salt Lake City, Johnson is the personal coach of three top-10 paratriathletes, and he served as an assistant coach in the world championships, where three of the athletes he coached won silver medals.

NBC will have highlights of the show at 2 p.m. ET Dec. 22.

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Hanyu, Zagitova control their Grand Prix Final destiny at NHK Trophy; TV, live stream schedule

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In order to qualify for the Grand Prix Final — after missing the event the past two seasons for varying reasons — two-time Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu needs to finish inside the top four at NHK Trophy, the sixth and last remaining Grand Prix series event. Hanyu competes on home ice in Japan this weekend, and the event is streaming live for NBC Sports Gold subscribers.

A full breakdown of Grand Prix Final-clinching scenarios can be found here.

Hanyu won the Grand Prix Final four straight times (2013-16). The prestigious December event would be the first time this season Hanyu and two-time Grand Prix Final champion Nathan Chen would compete head-to-head, outside the world championships in March.

Hanyu trains in Toronto alongside American Jason Brown, who will also be competing in Japan. Brown clinches a spot in the Grand Prix Final if he earns a silver or better, but is also very likely in if he earns a bronze medal.

Reigning Olympic and world champion Alina Zagitova of Russia is in a similar situation this weekend at NHK Trophy, needing to finish on the podium to clinch a berth in the Final. She faces Moscow-based training partner Alena Kostornaia (who needs to finish fifth or better to make the Final) and Japan’s Rika Kihira (must earn a medal of any color), among others such as 2019 European champion Sofia Samodurova of Russia and 2017 U.S. national champion Karen Chen.

MORE: Alina Zagitova focused on artistry, while other Russians push technical boundaries

Three teams in the pairs’ field at NHK Trophy can earn spots in the Grand Prix Final. Two-time world pair champions Sui Wenjing and Han Cong of China and Russia’s Anastasia Mishina and Aleksandr Galliamov need a medal of any color to clinch, while Canada’s Kirsten Moore-Towers and Michael Marinaro need silver to clinch, but could win with a bronze and a high score. See the breakdown here for details.

In ice dance, four-time world champions Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron of France are favorites at NHK Trophy. They have appeared in three Grand Prix Finals and own a medal of each color, including a win at their most recent appearance in 2017. (The duo withdrew from a regular-series Grand Prix event last season and were unable to qualify for the Final.)

The most likely NHK Trophy scenario is that Papadakis and Cizeron win NHK Trophy, and Russia’s Alexandra Stepanova and Ivan Bukin finish second – and if that happens, Papadakis and Cizeron, Stepanova and Bukin and Americans Madison Chock and Evan Bates (currently on the cusp of an entry) all make the Final.

MORE: Gabriella Papadakis, Guillaume Cizeron on ‘Fame,’ chasing history

NHK Trophy Broadcast Schedule

Day Time (ET) Event Network
Thursday 10:30 p.m. Rhythm Dance NBC Sports Gold STREAM LINK
Friday 12 a.m. Pairs’ Short NBC Sports Gold STREAM LINK
2:30 a.m. Women’s Short NBC Sports Gold STREAM LINK
5 a.m. Men’s Short NBC Sports Gold STREAM LINK
10 p.m. Free Dance NBC Sports Gold STREAM LINK
Saturday 12:30 a.m. Pairs’ Free NBC Sports Gold STREAM LINK
2:30 a.m. Women’s Free NBC Sports Gold STREAM LINK
5 a.m. Men’s Free NBC Sports Gold STREAM LINK
Sunday 4 p.m. Highlights NBC | STREAM LINK

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.

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