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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IOC looks for ways Russian athletes ‘who do not support war’ could compete as neutrals

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GENEVA (AP) — Russian athletes who do not endorse their country’s war in Ukraine could be accepted back into international sports, competing under a neutral flag, IOC president Thomas Bach said in an interview published Friday.

“It’s about having athletes with a Russian passport who do not support the war back in competition,” Bach told Italian daily Corriere della Sera, adding, “We have to think about the future.”

Most sports followed IOC advice in February and banned Russian teams and athletes from their events within days of the country’s military invasion of Ukraine.

With Russians starting to miss events that feed into qualifying for the 2024 Paris Olympics, an exile extending into next year could effectively become a wider ban from those Games.

In an interview in Rome, Bach hinted at IOC thinking after recent rounds of calls with Olympic stakeholders asked for views on Russia’s pathway back from pariah status.

“To be clear, it is not about necessarily having Russia back,” he said. “On the other hand — and here comes our dilemma — this war has not been started by the Russian athletes.”

Bach did not suggest how athletes could express opposition to the war when dissent and criticism of the Russian military risks jail sentences of several years.

Some Russian athletes publicly supported the war in March and are serving bans imposed by their sport’s governing body.

Olympic gold medalist swimmer Yevgeny Rylov appeared at a pro-war rally attended by Vladimir Putin in Moscow. Gymnast Ivan Kuliak displayed a pro-military “Z” symbol on his uniform at an international event.

Russian former international athletes are being called up for military service in the current mobilization, according to media reports. They include former heavyweight boxing champion Nikolai Valuev and soccer player Diniyar Bilyaletdinov.

Russians have continued to compete during the war as individuals in tennis and cycling, without national symbols such as flags and anthems, even when teams have been banned.

Bach told Corriere della Sera it was the IOC’s mission to be politically neutral and “to have the Olympic Games, and to have sport in general, as something that still unifies people and humanity.”

“For all these reasons, we are in a real dilemma at this moment with regard to the Russian invasion in Ukraine,” he suggested. “We also have to see, and to study, to monitor, how and when we can come back to accomplish our mission to have everybody back again, under which format whatsoever.”

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How did U.S. women’s basketball replace its legends? It starts with Alyssa Thomas.

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If this FIBA World Cup marks the beginning of a new era of U.S. women’s basketball, it is notable, if not remarkable, that no player has been more visible than Alyssa Thomas.

Thomas is making her global championship debut in Sydney. She is the only woman on the team in her 30s. Rarely, if ever, has a player who waited this long to put on a U.S. uniform made such an impact out of the gate. Certainly not since the last major tournament in Australia, when 30-year-old Yolanda Griffith starred at the 2000 Olympics.

Over the last week, Thomas leads the U.S. in minutes played and is one of two players to start all seven games along with Breanna Stewart, the Tokyo Olympic MVP. She ranks fourth on the team in scoring (10.6 points per game), is tied for second in rebounding (6.7), second in assists (4.6) and first in steals (2.7).

The Americans, with their new breakthrough power forward, face China in Saturday’s final, seeking a fourth consecutive world title and 60th consecutive victory between Olympic and world championship play dating to 2006.

“She takes a lot of pressure off of us,” two-time WNBA MVP A’ja Wilson said after Thomas had 13 points, 14 rebounds and seven assists in a quarterfinal win over Serbia. “I think she’s the glue of this team, the X-factor of this team, because that’s her game and that’s her style.”

Thomas earned the nickname “Baby Bron Bron” at the University of Maryland for her LeBron James-like play. USA Basketball took notice in 2013, when she was one of six collegians named to a 33-player national team training camp.

But that participation was the last of Thomas’ bullet points on her USA Basketball bio for another nine years, until she was named to the FIBA World Cup qualifying team last February.

Thomas had to wait her turn.

The U.S. was loaded in the frontcourt in the 2010s with more established players — Candace ParkerTina CharlesSylvia FowlesBrittney GrinerElena Delle Donne — and then Stewart and Wilson came along, becoming arguably the two most valuable Americans in the last Olympic cycle.

Thomas produced, to that point, the best WNBA season of her career in 2020, but tore an Achilles playing overseas in January 2021, ruling out any chance of making the Tokyo Olympic team. (Thomas was not in the 36-player national team pool at the time of her injury.)

The combination of players’ absences this year — Charles, after three Olympic golds, ceded to younger players, Fowles retired and Griner is being detained in Russia — and Cheryl Reeve becoming head coach created an opportunity.

Thomas seized it, leading the Connecticut Sun to the WNBA Finals, where she recorded triple-doubles in the last two games of a series loss to the Las Vegas Aces. Then she boarded a plane to Sydney for her first major international experience and has similarly flourished.

Jennifer Rizzotti, part of the USA Basketball selection committee, said the 6-foot-2 Thomas combines the movement of Lindsay Whalen, the passing of Parker and the physicality of Rebekkah Brunson. She plays with labrum tears in each shoulder. There’s no single player like her.

“There’s definitely some post players that have that point forward mentality, but not quite with the guard skills that Alyssa has,” Rizzotti said. “I don’t see anybody, including guards, that can do what she does in the open court. Then you talk about how disruptive she is defensively and her ability to guard one through five. A’ja can guard one through five, Stewie can guard one through five, but nobody’s as disruptive as Alyssa is. On the perimeter and off the ball.”

Thomas also fit what Reeve, who succeeded Dawn Staley as head coach, was looking for in retooling the roster following the retirement of Sue Bird and possible end of Diana Taurasi‘s national team career at age 40.

“[Reeve] made it clear that she was hoping with the guard turnover that we would be able to play faster, more athletically, more possessions in the game,” Rizzotti said. “And therefore, she wanted to have post players that could push tempo, that could facilitate and kind of fit in with a ball-handling, passing mentality from the trail spot.”

Still, Thomas did not expect to be putting on a USA jersey this year. “Shocked” is the word USA Basketball chose to describe her reaction to making this team.

“It was kind of a surprise,” she said, according to USA Basketball. “I had just really taken my name out of it.”

Rizzotti said Thomas is an example — a very successful one, it turns out — of an asset in the eyes of the selection committee: patience.

“I think a lot of players feel like if they don’t make the USA national team right away, it’s never going to happen,” she said. “You get the comments like, oh, it’s political, or they keep inviting the same guys back. And it’s not true.”

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