Adam Rippon makes Olympic figure skating team, completing journey

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Adam Rippon was given a T-shirt two years ago emblazoned with what became his motto.

“I’m like a witch,” was Rippon’s famous quote after winning a breakthrough U.S. title in 2016, “and you can’t kill me.”

It’s been 10 years since Rippon won the first of back-to-back world junior titles. His time as a senior skater has been far less successful, but he took every failure and setback and kept on going.

The latest came Saturday night for the 28-year-old, the oldest man in the U.S. Championships field.

Rippon fell on a quadruple Lutz and singled the last two jumps of his free skate in San Jose, dropping from second after the short program to fourth place overall.

A committee picks the three-man Olympic team based on results from not only nationals but also the last year of competitions.

Those errors put Rippon’s spot in jeopardy, but he still had an argument as the second-best U.S. man behind Nathan Chen this fall.

The committee deliberated Saturday night.

They put Rippon on the team Sunday morning with Chen and U.S. bronze medalist Vincent Zhou. They left off Ross Miner, the man who came closest to Chen at nationals (albeit still more than 40 points behind).

Miner was a surprise podium finisher Saturday night and had no other strong results from the last two years. Zhou at least had the 2017 U.S. silver medal and world junior title to his name.

“Ross does amazing at U.S. Championships, but frankly he has struggled at some of the international competitions,” U.S. Figure Skating president Sam Auxier said. “We weren’t sure when we put him out at the Olympics that he would perform to the extent that there was a possibility for a medal.”

The first thing Rippon did upon finding out he was named to the team was text Miner. (One of Miner’s coaches, Mark Mitchell, was third at 1992 Nationals and left off that Olympic team for Todd Eldredge‘s injury waiver.)

Rippon said he was proud of the way Miner skated Saturday, and understands the ups and downs of a skating career — perhaps better than anyone.

“I knew that there was a criteria set to be selected for the Olympic team, and I feel like I have better criteria than second and third place here,” Rippon said Saturday night. “But that being said, Vincent and Ross skated well tonight, and no matter what the selection is I will be 100 percent OK and can handle that. My Grand Prixs are better than everybody’s except for Nathan’s.”

The week before nationals, Rippon was not confident. He was cocky.

“My mentality going into San Jose is that this is just going to be my coronation,” he said. “The only argument [against me] is if other competitors’ mothers are on the selection committee.”

Rippon missed the Olympic team in 2010, crashing into the boards at nationals and placing fifth. Fine, he was only 20 years old.

He missed the Olympic team in 2014, despite being the most consistent U.S. man that fall season. He was eighth at nationals.

Rippon considered quitting but returned to training that summer.

“My biggest fear was that I would get fat,” he said.

Working under gruff Armenian coach Rafael Arutyunyan in Southern California, Rippon went from pariah to performer over the next two seasons.

He defied what he felt were urges from those in skating for him to retire.

He earned U.S. silver in 2015 and gold in 2016, though still struggling to master a quadruple jump. (He hasn’t landed a clean, fully rotated quad in competition in more than one year.)

In October 2015, he came out in a U.S. Figure Skating magazine article.

“I want to be a relatable example,” Rippon, the oldest of six children, said in the article. “And I want to say something to the dad out there who might be concerned that his son is a figure skater. I mean look at me; I’m just a normal son from small-town Pennsylvania. Nothing changed.”

Saturday marked exactly one year since Rippon broke his foot in practice, an injury that forced him to miss last season’s nationals and worlds, two events that matter in U.S. Figure Skating’s selection criteria.

“I won’t take this lying down, which is, ironically, exactly what I’m doing right now,” Rippon said last January as he spent 12 weeks off the ice.

Rippon brought his hospital bracelet with him to San Jose this past week and reflected on it before Saturday’s program.

“I thought how far I had come in that whole year, and I thought, oh my God, this is my day of redemption,” he said. “Now I know every January 6, I will take a sabbatical. I will be on the Maldives on a yoga retreat.”

He came back this season to earn silver medals in both of his Grand Prix starts this fall.

Including at Skate America, where he dislocated his shoulder during his free skate, popped it back in and outscored Chen for the program (video).

“I love drama, so I said, you know what, I can make it through this,” Rippon said that night in Lake Placid, N.Y. “I wanted to show my character, that I’m really tough, and I’m up for the challenge of anything, including the Olympic Games.”

He joined Chen as the only U.S. men to qualify outright for December’s Grand Prix Final. That event takes the top six men in the world from the fall Grand Prix season. He was fifth there, but took confidence going into nationals.

“I take whatever situation I’m in, and I spin it like it’s the most positive thing that’s ever happened to me,” Rippon said Saturday night.

The committee helped with that on Sunday. Rippon is going to PyeongChang.

“I know sometimes everybody thinks I have a big mouth,” he said Sunday morning. “Sometimes I, like, put my foot in my mouth, but I wear my heart on my sleeve. I say those things because sometimes my sense of humor gets me through hard situations.

“I’m so grateful that, no matter what, I continue to skate because I’m such a stronger person, and I’m a lot braver than I thought I ever could be.”

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Too early to say whether virus threatens Olympics, WHO says

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GENEVA (AP) — Despite a virus outbreak spreading from China, a top World Health Organization official said Tuesday it’s much too soon to say whether the Tokyo Olympics are at risk of being cancelled or moved.

Tokyo organizers and the International Olympic Committee have repeatedly said they have no contingency plans for the July 24-Aug. 9 Summer Games since the WHO declared a global health emergency last month.

The U.N. agency’s emergencies program director, Michael Ryan, said Tuesday the sporting event was “way too far” away to consider giving advice that would affect Tokyo’s hosting of the Olympics.

“We are not there to make a decision for that,” Ryan told The Associated Press on the sidelines of a news conference at WHO headquarters.

Geneva-based WHO has been in regular contact with the IOC in nearby Lausanne since the virus known as COVID-19 emerged in December.

“We don’t give them judgments,” Ryan said. “We assist them with their risk assessment. We will be working closely with them in the coming weeks and months.”

The death toll in mainland China due to the virus rose to almost 1,900 on Tuesday, with more than 72,000 confirmed cases.

The outbreak has caused numerous sports events in China to be canceled, postponed, or moved, including qualifying events for the Tokyo Olympics.

Chinese athletes and teams have also been unable to travel for some competitions. China sent a team of more than 400 athletes to the Rio Olympics. It won 70 medals, including 26 gold, to place second in total medal standings.

Around 11,000 athletes and many more team coaches and officials from more than 200 national teams are expected in Japan for the Olympics.

Japan has experienced the most significant outbreak of the virus outside of China, on the cruise ship Diamond Princess docked in quarantine at Yokohama in Tokyo Bay.

During a 14-day isolation that ends Wednesday, 542 cases have been identified among more than 3,700 passengers and crew.

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For Mike Eruzione, Al Michaels, it’s no miracle that 1980 Olympics endure

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Mike Eruzione has been reminded on a daily basis about the Miracle on Ice for nearly four decades. While playing celebrity golf tournaments. At speaking engagements. Or that time he auctioned his jersey and stick from the Soviet game to a 9-year-old boy named Seven.

Eruzione, now 65, likes to open conversations with one anecdote about meeting strangers, which he repeated in a call with reporters last week.

“The stories I hear, 40 years later, it’s depending on their age — I remember where I was when Kennedy was assassinated, I remember where I was on 9/11. I remember where I was when the Challenger blew up. And I remember where I was when we won,” Eruzione said. “And I always say, ‘We? I didn’t know you were on the team.’

“But people felt a part of it. … It’s nice to know that people remember and share some great stories about what we did so long ago.”

The captain of the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team owns a last name that means “eruption” in Italian. Eruzione scored the decisive goal in the U.S.’ 4-3 win over the Soviet Union en route to a shock gold medal during the Cold War in Lake Placid, N.Y.

NBCSN airs a 30-minute special marking the 40th anniversary of the Miracle on Ice on Wednesday at 11:30 p.m. ET. It will feature a conversation between Olympic primetime host Mike Tirico and Al Michaels, the play-by-play voice of the game dubbed by Sports Illustrated the greatest sports moment of the 20th century.

Eruzione has grandchildren now. Three of them skate at the Mike Eruzione Center in his hometown of Winthrop, Mass.

“They don’t even know who Mike Eruzione is,” Eruzione said of the 5-, 6- and 7-year-olds, “but they know about the Miracle.”

All credit to the U.S. Olympic team of 20 players between ages 19 and 25, back when the NHL did not participate in the Olympics. The Soviets were essentially a team of professionals. The nation won the previous four Olympics and throttled the U.S. 10-3 in a pre-Olympic exhibition at Madison Square Garden.

Enter Michaels, calling hockey at the Lake Placid Winter Games alongside Hall of Fame goalie Ken Dryden. Michaels, then 35, said he was assigned the sport because he had the most hockey experience on the ABC Olympic talent roster — one game. He called the 1972 Olympic hockey final by himself.

Feb. 22, 1980: As the U.S. led the Soviet Union 4-3 and the final seconds ticked down, one word came to mind: miraculous.

“It got morphed into a question and quick answer, and away we went,” Michaels said.

Eruzione said he didn’t learn of Michaels’ call — “Do you believe in Miracles? Yes!” — until two weeks after the Olympics. He didn’t watch the game broadcast until years later.

“I never thought it was a miracle, but it was a catchy phrase and it sounded right,” Eruzione said, noting he preferred Michaels’ call in the final comeback win over Finland to clinch the gold: “This impossible dream comes true.”

Team members since gathered often — to light the 2002 Olympic cauldron in Salt Lake City, for fantasy camps in Lake Placid and for coach Herb Brooks‘ 2003 funeral. Eighteen of the 20 players are scheduled to reunite this weekend in Las Vegas.

Absent will be Mark Pavelich, who was jailed last year on assault charges and ruled mentally incompetent to stand trial. And Bob Suter, who died in 2014 of a heart attack at age 57.

It was Suter’s death that motivated Eruzione and others to commemorate the 35th anniversary together in Lake Placid. It was believed to be the first time all living players were together in Lake Placid since the 1980 Winter Games.

Eruzione said that the 2004 film “Miracle” introduced the team to a new generation. Now at many of his speeches, the majority of Eruzione’s audience was born after 1980.

“I’ll say, how many people watched the movie ‘Miracle,’ and almost everybody raises their hand,” he said. “So I think what the movie did for us as a team was kind of rejuvenated our team as far as people knowing who we were and what we are and what we were about.”

NFL coaches set up “Miracle” viewings for their teams before games. Michael Phelps watched it for motivation at the 2004 Athens Olympics. Phelps told relay teammates, “This is our time,” before they beat rival Australia. An ode to Brooks’ pregame speech before the Soviet game.

Michaels, whose 13-year-old grandson won an October hockey tournament in Lake Placid, said he watched “Miracle” last week for the first time in about a decade. He helped do voiceovers in production more than 15 years ago, though the original Lake Placid audio was used for his signature call.

“The great thing is, in a way, when you watch it back or you watch highlights back, you almost become like in the third person, like somebody else is doing this and announcing this game,” Michaels said. “I exult the way I think most of the country did and do when they see highlights of it. So it’s kind of an out-of-body experience in a way, but it’s a beautiful thing.”

After Eruzione shared his tale of strangers’ memories, Michaels added one of his own.

“One of my favorite stories is Mike Eruzione calling me maybe eight to 10 years ago and saying, ‘The greatest thing about this is every time I come home and maybe I’m a little down, I need a little pick-me-up, I’ll put the tape in,'” Michaels said. “‘Every time I shoot, the puck goes in. It will forever.'”

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