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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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Arnie the Terminator: Aussie rival to Katie Ledecky an unlikely swim story

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In August 2016, a 15-year-old Australian swimmer named Ariarne Titmus followed the Rio Olympics as she prepared to fly to Maui for the Junior Pan Pacific Championships.

Titmus paid special attention to her best events, the 200m, 400m and 800m freestyles. Katie Ledecky swept them, breaking two of her own world records.

“I remember watching her races thinking, like, this chick is nuts,” Titmus told NBC Sports in Australia early this year. “She’s just doing stuff that no one’s gonna get near.”

Three years later, Titmus stunned Ledecky at the world championships, chasing down the American in the last 50 meters of the 400m freestyle. She became the first woman to beat Ledecky in a distance race in seven years and a bona fide rival one year from the Tokyo Games.

Ledecky at first attributed her late fade to tight and tired legs. Then she spent seven hours the next day in a South Korean emergency room with what she believed was a stomach virus.

“She was sick,” said Dean Boxall, Titmus’ South African-born coach, “and we happened to pounce.”

Titmus’ time — 3:58.76, a personal best by .59 — was slower than Ledecky’s wins at her previous three major international meets — Rio Olympics, 2017 Worlds and 2018 Pan Pacific Championships.

“It wasn’t a good swim by Arnie,” said Boxall, a vocal coach known to shout Ledecky’s name in practices. “And I know it wasn’t a good swim by Katie. Definitely not. But there was things that Arnie did in that race I was pleased with, and there was a lot of things that she did that I was not happy with at all.”

The Olympic postponement to 2021 gives Titmus and Boxall another year to work on those inefficiencies down in Brisbane. Another year to mature, to turn 20 years old before the Games.

“I try not to dwell on that [beating Ledecky] too much,” Titmus, sometimes called “the Terminator” by Australian press, said of the world championships, where she also out-split Ledecky in the 4x200m free relay and took bronze behind the American in the 800m free. “Next year’s the big one at the Olympics.”

Nowhere is swimming closer to a national sport than in Australia, but none of its Olympic champion Dolphins hail from Tasmania, an island 150 miles south of the mainland.

Notable Tasmanian sports persons include cricketer Ricky Ponting, retired NASCAR driver Marcos Ambrose and woodchopping world champion David Foster, but no listed swimmers.

Stephanie Rice, the last Australian female swimmer to win an individual Olympic title in 2008, visited “Tassie,” the state a little bigger than West Virginia, nearly a decade ago. She met a young Titmus, who still remembers what Rice scribbled: “Be the best you can be.”

“I say it’s my favorite quote,” Titmus said. “She wrote it on my shirt, so it has to be my favorite quote.”

Titmus was born a week before the Sydney Olympics — “She loved watching Thorpie,” her mom said — and grew up on 16 acres of country land. The family — parents Steve and Robyn and younger sister Mia — had horses, a trampoline and a swimming club just down the road in Launceston.

They also had an indoor pool (areas of Tasmania approach freezing in the winter). One evening more than 15 years ago, Robyn was chopping vegetables and peered to see her elder daughter, then a toddler without formal swim lessons, doing the breaststroke.

“We didn’t know anybody at the swimming club,” said Steve, a longtime TV journalist. “And we turned up and said, hi, we’re the Titmuses. We’ve got a daughter called Ariarne, and she wants to race. Tuesday nights they had club night, and she jumped in the water, and away she went.”

Titmus wasn’t the fastest at first, but by the time she won a third Australian junior title, she became too big for the Apple Isle.

“[My coach] said, look, you can’t really do anything else down here,” Titmus remembered. “There’s no one for you to train with. There’s no one for you to race. It’s all up in Queensland. And he said, if you really want a shot at this, you should really move.”

The family relocated to Brisbane when she was 14 or 15, following Titmus’ coach.

We packed up the car, got on the boat, sailed to Melbourne,” said Robyn, a former national-level track sprinter. “We even stopped at Albury on the way for a training session because the coach she had at the time was a hard task master.”

Right around that time, she first met Boxall while with the Australian junior national team.

“I originally thought this guy is nuts,” Titmus said. “He gave us this speech about the New Zealanders or something were trying to be better than us. His veins were popping. It was crazy. I was like, I’m never ever going to have a coach like him.”

Boxall became her coach about a year later.

“I’ve got great athletes here that hurt themselves, and they enjoy going through the pain,” he said, “but you want to try and get that little bit extra from someone. You have to actually go there with them a little bit.”

In a sitdown, on-camera interview, Boxall first told how he met Titmus, his first impression of her and a bit about their relationship. He first mentioned Ledecky, umprompted, when asked the fourth question, about Titmus’ progression.

Boxall noted that Titmus swam the 400m freestyle in 4:09.81 at the August 2016 Junior Pan Pacific Championships.

“Ledecky went 3:56:46,” Boxall said, correctly noting Ledecky’s Rio Olympic world record to the hundredth, “so we’re 13 seconds off [at] that stage.”

Titmus raced Ledecky for the first time at the 2017 Worlds and finished fourth in the 400m, closing the gap to six seconds. In 2018, she took second to Ledecky at Pan Pacs, 1.16 seconds behind, becoming the first Australian to break four minutes in the event.

At 2019 Worlds, Boxall needed to be alone during the 400m free final. He left the Australian team box and snuck into a VIP area. As Titmus reeled Ledecky in, Boxall stood up and ran.

“Like a shot of adrenaline,” he said. “I couldn’t contain myself, but I was calmer as I’d ever been as well.

“That’s the first race that Arnie has raced Katie and actually was in the race. … Prior to that, it was just Katie.”

Titmus swam 10 seconds faster than when Boxall first compared her to Ledecky in August 2016.

“She’s 2.4 seconds off [Ledecky’s] world record,” Boxall said. “We know what the benchmark is, and we’re still a long way off.”

Titmus recorded the eighth-fastest 400m freestyle in history. Ledecky owns the top seven times.

“The greatest thing apart from obviously winning, I think, [is] being able to actually race someone who has been on her own for so long,” Titmus said. “I find it so crazy that now I’m in this situation where she’s my main rival.”

Scroll down the list, and you’ll see that the top 27 times in history (aside from the now-banned suit era) are shared by Ledecky (23) and Titmus (four).

“She’s certainly special,” Boxall said of his pupil. “Special enough? We’ll see.”

MORE: Simone Manuel’s experiences shape her voice for change today

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Collin Morikawa jumps into projected Olympic golf field

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Collin Morikawa would not have qualified outright for the Tokyo Olympics had they been held this summer. Now, after winning the PGA Championship, he is third overall in global qualifying for the Tokyo Games in 2021.

Morikawa, a 23-year-old who took the same number of PGA Tour starts to win his maiden major as Tiger Woods (29), went from an alternate for the expected four-man U.S. Olympic team to No. 2 among Americans in the early qualifying standings, according to golf rankings guru @VC606 on Twitter.

Justin Thomas, Bryson DeChambeau and Patrick Reed are the other Americans in qualifying position, according to @VC606.

Morikawa, whose father is of Japanese descent, turned professional in June 2019 and made his first 22 cuts, a feat bettered only by Woods.

The 23-year-old could become the youngest U.S. Olympic male golfer since 1904 (important note: golf was not part of the Olympic program from 1908 through 2012). Come next summer, he will still be younger than all but seven men from the Rio Olympic golf field of 60, according to Olympedia.org.

Olympic golf qualifying standings will fluctuate significantly. There are five major championships left in the qualifying window, starting with the U.S. Open in September and finishing with next summer’s U.S. Open, both airing on NBC Sports.

How tough will it be to make the U.S. Olympic team? Consider that the three Americans to win majors in 2019 — Woods, Brooks Koepka and Gary Woodland — are currently not in Olympic qualifying position.

The U.S. has seven of the top nine in the Official World Golf Ranking, which is calculated differently than Olympic qualifying.

MORE: Nosferatu is golf’s Olympic rankings guru. Who is he?

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