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U.S. women’s hockey players in tears after legend’s surprise

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About three months ago, the U.S. women’s hockey team took a bonding trip to Nike’s headquarters.

One of those nights in Oregon, after a day full of training and meetings, players had just finished dinner and gathered in the team hotel for what they thought was one last debrief before bed.

Some staff members started talking generally about legacy. Cammi Granato entered the room.

No introduction was necessary. Granato received a standing ovation.

“I was in tears, actually,” said Meghan Duggan, one of four women who have captained the U.S. at the Olympics (Granato, Krissy Wendell and Natalie Darwitz are the others).

Duggan, who has been on the national team for a decade, had never met Granato.

“It wasn’t like she stood up at a podium and delivered a speech to us,” Duggan said. “She just kind of sat and talked to us about her experience.”

The surprise appearance was the latest motivational move from the mind of Reagan Carey, director of the U.S. women’s program since 2010.

It was Carey who in 2013 put together a reported 90-page hardcover book with contributed words and photos from all 41 previous U.S. Olympic players. Carey had three of the 41 hand copies to every 2014 Olympic team member the day they left for Sochi.

Carey has brought in several guest speakers — from Julie Foudy to retired U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Travis Mills, one of five soldiers from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq to survive a quadruple amputation.

“We’re really lucky to have a woman like Reagan at the helm of the ship,” forward Hilary Knight said.

Granato has delivered video messages to the team before, but this was her first in-person address. Now 46, Granato lives with her family in Vancouver. (One of Granato’s four brothers, retired NHL All-Star Tony Granatowill coach the U.S. men in PyeongChang.)

“One of the things that stuck with me the most she said was, when you think about the Olympics and the gold-medal game, how big that is and you’re on the world stage, nerves come into play,” said Duggan, a member of the teams that lost gold-medal games to Canada in 2010 and 2014. “You think, oh my gosh, I have to play the best game of my life. Really, what she said was you have to play the team game. Play like you’ve played all year. Play the systems. Play the way that you need to play. Bring your role to the team. Not every single person on the team has to have the best game of their lives.”

Granato spent an hour with women who idolized her that night and joined them for team activities the next day.

“It was almost like she was back in the locker room,” Carey said. “Just a different team.”

Knight, arguably the world’s best player, wears No. 21 in honor of Granato. They are the only U.S. women to wear No. 21 at the Olympics.

Knight has a hockey stick autographed by Granato from when she attended a youth camp. This time, she had Granato sign her journal.

“So I have to hold it pretty closely now,” Knight said.

Forward Brianna Decker had not seen the Hall of Famer since Granato was her coach at an early teen development camp.

“I got the chills,” Decker said. “The greatest player in women’s hockey, I believe, of all time. She was there, right in front of us, sharing her experience.”

As Knight summarized, Granato told the team “this is how we did it” in 1998.

The U.S. won the first Olympic women’s hockey gold medal in Nagano, with Granato the captain and face of the program. They haven’t won any since, losing three times to Canada in the final.

“[Granato] talked about team chemistry, team bonding, generally enjoying the moments together,” Decker said. “She could tell with our group, just by talking to us, that we have that bond and that special unique bond between all of us that can’t be really broken.”

This year’s national team has lived together in residency in Wesley Chapel, Fla, for the last few months. Their next game is Sunday against Canada (NBCSN, 4 p.m. ET), one of eight matchups with their rivals before PyeongChang.

The U.S. has to be considered the Olympic favorite, having won all three world championships since a gut-wrenching overtime loss in the Sochi final.

Maybe that’s why Granato chose not to bring her gold medal to that meeting in Oregon.

“I don’t think any of us would have touched it anyways,” defenseman Monique Lamoureux-Morando said.

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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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He controversially beat Roy Jones Jr. for Olympic gold. He wishes he had silver.

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The last South Korean boxer to win an Olympic gold medal has spent the past 32 years wishing it was a silver.

Entering the men’s light-middleweight final against an American teenager named Roy Jones Jr. on the last day of the 1988 Games in Seoul, Park Si-Hun fantasized about etching his name in the pantheon of South Korean sports legends in front of a delirious home crowd.

He did get his gold three rounds later, but not the way he envisioned.

Park’s win by a 3-2 decision remains as one of the most controversial moments in boxing history, as Jones had seemed to dominate the fight from start to finish.

The outcome drew instant criticism and disdain, even from South Koreans, who heckled Park at the podium and bombarded local TV stations with phone calls protesting that the country’s home advantage had gone too far.

Jones went on to have a phenomenal professional career, retiring in 2018 with a 66-9 record that cemented him as one of the sport’s all-time greats. He is now a boxing commentator and is planning to fight Mike Tyson in an exhibition of retired greats later this year.

Deeply shaken and scarred, Park quietly retired at the end of the Seoul Games and spent the next 13 years as a middle- and high-school teacher in a rural seaside town before making a return to competitive boxing as a coach.

In a recent interview with The Associated Press, Park said his dream was to see one of his boxers pull off a convincing gold-winning performance in a future Olympics, which he said would possibly give him some sense of redemption and closure.

After three decades, it still stings that his gold is seen as a smudge on the image of the Games his country still glorifies as its coming-out party to the world.

“There’s hardened resentment built up in me that I will probably carry for the rest of my life,” said Park, 54, who now coaches the small municipal boxing team of Seogwipo City in the island province of Jeju.

“I didn’t want my hand to be raised (after the fight with Jones), but it did go up, and my life became gloomy because of that.”

Park still grimaces when talking about his match with Jones.

Desperate for Olympic glory, Park had gutted out the tournament with a broken right hand he suffered during training. He said it didn’t really matter until he met Jones, the one opponent in Seoul who was quicker than him.

With the injury taking away his right-hand, Park simply had no chance at slowing Jones, who was coming at him with “excellent speed, power and technique.”

“I was pretty quick for a middleweight, but Jones was at a different level,” Park recalled. “A boxer just knows whether he had won or lost a match. I thought I lost because I didn’t put up a fight deserving of a win.”

Park said he felt “confused” when the referee raised his hand. Wearing a stunned look on his face, Park awkwardly embraced and held up an expressionless Jones into the air.

He said he couldn’t wait to get off the podium, where he smiled weakly and slowly waved a bouquet of flowers toward the stands as fans let out hesitant cheers and scattered boos.

An even more humiliating moment came when a South Korean national broadcaster invited all of the country’s 12 gold medalists to a live TV celebration shortly after the Games. The host treated Park like he wasn’t there while interviewing each of the other 11.

There was an outpouring of media criticism and what Park described as “unspeakable” insults, which included derisive public calls for him to forfeit his medal.

The emotional distress “was like being hit with a hammer on the back of your head, again and again.”

“I keep thinking how my life would have been happier had I finished second,” Park said. “A gold medal is important, but isn’t any Olympic medal satisfying and glorious?”

Park said the sense of defeat and depression sometimes led to suicidal urges. He credits his wife for helping him navigate out of his darkest moods. The couple contemplated moving to a different country before deciding to stay after they had children.

Their youngest child, Rei, now a 20-year-old college student in Louisiana, has his own athletic ambitions, training as a javelin thrower with dreams of competing in the 2024 Olympics.

Park said he keeps his Olympic gold framed on a wall at his home in mainland South Korea, along with other awards he won in amateur competition. He doesn’t recall ever bringing it out of the house.

While Park doesn’t have many regrets about never going pro, saying he probably wouldn’t have gone far with an evasive style built for efficiency and avoiding hits but not for initiating pain, he still watched Jones’ post-Olympic triumphs with envy.

He wondered whether the public would ever forget the fiasco surrounding his gold medal, which the South Korean media brought up after almost every Jones fight or whenever there was controversy in any Olympic sport. He would try to laugh it off whenever students asked about his gold at school.

After overlooking him for years, South Korea’s boxing association reached back to Park in 2001, asking him to coach the national team following years of disappointing performances in international events, which reflected a dearth of talent in the sport.

During his on-and-off coaching stints with the national team since then, Park trained several boxers who performed decently in various events, but they never came close to an Olympic gold.

Park had the highest hopes for Lee Ok-Song, who won the men’s 51kg division in the 2005 World Championships. But Lee failed to reach the quarterfinals of the 2008 Olympics in Beijing and retired after the Games.

Park said he had occasionally kept in touch with Jones, including a brief telephone conversation with him in 2004 while visiting Atlanta for an international event.

The International Olympic Committee in 1997 concluded it had found no evidence to support bribery allegations against the judges who voted in favor of Park in the Seoul Games.

The U.S. Olympic Committee had called for an investigation in 1996 after documents belonging to East Germany’s Stasi secret police revealed reports of judges being paid to vote for South Korean boxers.

While Park left South Korea’s national team after the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro, he hasn’t given up on his goal of winning an Olympic gold as a coach.

Among the four boxers he trains in Seogwipo, Park is most impressed with Kang Hyeon-Bin, who competes in the men’s 64kg division, and Cho Hye-Bin, a woman in the 51kg category.

“I am constantly looking for a raw stone I could polish into a jewel,” he said. “I want to sculpt a true Olympic gold medalist with my own hands and see that fighter take the highest spot on the podium. That would restore my honor and allow me to leave the boxing ring for good.”

MORE: Top U.S. Olympic boxing hopeful cleared of doping violations caused by sex

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