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Chloe Kim leads U.S. sweep at X Games

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ASPEN, Colo. (AP) — Chloe Kim got the win, of course.

The other women on the Winter X Games halfpipe put on quite a show, too, and delivered a message: They’re not going to just hand Kim the gold medal 2 1/2 weeks from now at the PyeongChang Olympics.

The 17-year-old Olympic favorite delivered on a pressure-packed final run Saturday night, coming through with her patented back-to-back 1080 jumps (video here) to edge out Arielle Gold, who just moments earlier made it through a difficult run that she had never landed in competition.

Full results are here.

“I like being in a situation like that, if that makes any sense,” Kim said. “It makes me more hungry to land a run, and especially to land back-to-back 10s.'”

Maddie Mastro stomped her first 1080 in competition to rise to third place and also make clear that if Kim isn’t at her best in PyeongChang, she might be ready to take the gold, too. Video is here.

“It felt pretty crazy, pretty surreal,” Mastro said. “It happened so quickly. I didn’t know what was happening, I was in the air and then on my feet and I was like, ‘Oh my God, I landed it.'”

Yet another American Olympian, Kelly Clark, finished fourth and was not there for the dramatic third and final round after hitting the deck hard on her second run and checking out with a left knee injury.

Kim won her third Winter X gold medal with a score of 93.33, one point better than Gold, the 21-year-old who, four years ago in Sochi, was on her final training run when she skidded out, fell hard and separated her shoulder.

Gold briefly grabbed first place with a run that included a frontside 1080, a pair of 900-degree spins and one vault that took her 11 feet, 2 inches above the lip of the halfpipe. Video is here.

It applied a rare bit of pressure on Kim, who has been running away in contests as the only woman who can land the back-to-back 1080s.

“I like doing that,” Gold said. “I don’t think she feels it enough. We’re good buds. That’s what snowboarding is about, pushing each other to be the best.”

Kim had led after two rounds despite not landing the back-to-back 1080s either time.

But she saved the best for last. Her first jump out of the pipe was the night’s highest — 14 feet, 1 inch above the 22-foot wall — and then she completed the frontside 10-Cab 10 combo that had been bedeviling her all evening.

“Thanks to Arielle for putting me in that situation where I wanted to do it more than ever,” Kim said. “But more importantly, I’m so happy for her. I almost cried tears of joy when she landed. I was so stoked for her, just watching her work so hard and it paying off.”

If it was a preview of what’s to come at the Olympics, then the final there, on Feb. 13, will be must-see viewing.

“I think everyone is just progressing so quick and so fast,” Mastro said. “Anything can happen.”

Earlier Saturday, Olympian Maggie Voisin became the first American woman to win an X Games ski slopestyle title.

She beat a field that included fellow Olympic medal contenders Tess Ledeux of France and Johanne Killi of Norway.

Full results are here.

Norway’s Marcus Kleveland won men’s snowboard slopestyle, while Austrian Anna Gasser took women’s snowboard big air.

American Jamie Anderson was third in the latter, earning her 15th X Games medal to break her tied with Clark for the female record.

X Games concludes Sunday, highlighted by the men’s snowboard halfpipe final.

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Bryan brothers to retire at 2020 U.S. Open, don’t plan on Olympics

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Bob and Mike Bryan said they will retire after the 2020 U.S. Open, ending a tennis career that’s included a men’s record 16 Grand Slam doubles titles together.

They also don’t plan to play at the Tokyo Olympics, their manager later said in an email.

The twins are 41 years old, having spent more than half their lives as professionals.

“A part of us, feels like, is dying,” Bob Bryan said on Tennis Channel. “But we’re really clear about this decision. It’s going to be great to have a finish line.”

Mike said that in 2020 they will play all the events they “really love,” including all four Grand Slams and American tournaments. The Olympics weren’t mentioned.

Rather, they will see how they’re feeling midway through the year, they said on the Tennis.com podcast.

The Bryans earned doubles gold at the 2012 London Games but withdrew from the Rio Olympics six days before the Opening Ceremony. They cited making their family’s health a “top priority” and later said Zika virus concerns were “a very small part of” the decision.

The Bryans own 118 titles overall but nearly ended their partnership after Bob underwent hip surgery a year ago. He rejoined Mike this season, reaching the Australian Open quarterfinals and winning two ATP doubles titles.

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A century later, Naomi Osaka, Kei Nishikori can bring Japan Olympic tennis to forefront

Naomi Osaka, Kei Nishikori
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When Naomi Osaka and Kei Nishikori take the courts at the Tokyo Olympics, perhaps together, they will be doing so 100 years after tennis players won Japan’s first Olympic medals in any sport.

Tennis is not usually one of the handful of marquee competitions at the Games, in part because it is one of the sports whose biggest event is not the Games themselves.

“We have been playing for these Grand Slams, and I think that’s why we train for,” Nishikori said at the U.S. Open in August, when asked to compare the meaning of winning one of tennis’ four annual majors to earning a medal at a home Olympics. “That’s going to be the biggest goal to winning Grand Slams.”

Yet the term “Grand Slam” had not been conceived — for golf or tennis — at the time of the 1920 Antwerp Games. There, Ichiya Kumagae earned silvers in singles and doubles with Seiichiro Kashio to become the first Japanese Olympic medalists.

Kumagae was Japan’s first notable international tennis player, reaching the 1918 U.S. Open semifinals (then called the U.S. National Championships) and beating Bill Tilden in the final of the 1919 Great Lakes Championships.

Kumagae, born in 1890, had not seen a tennis racket or ball until his 20s, according to Roger W. Ohnsorg‘s “The First Forty Years of American Tennis.”

“He came here to America in 1916, the possessor of a wonderful forehand drive and nothing else,” Tilden wrote in “The Art of Lawn Tennis.” Kumagae was listed by Ohnsorg as 5 feet, 3 inches, 134 pounds and requiring glasses at all times. Later in 1922, Kumagae’s engagement to the daughter of a wealthy politician was published as a news brief in The New York Times.

Nearly a century later, Nishikori and Osaka brought more Japanese tennis breakthroughs. Nishikori became the first Asian man to reach a Grand Slam singles final at the 2014 U.S. Open. Last year, Osaka became the first Japanese singles player to win a Grand Slam, also at the U.S. Open.

This past June, Japan’s annual Central Research sports survey (1,227 people, age 20+) put Nishikori and Osaka as its respondents’ fourth- and sixth-favorite athletes, past or present. Baseball players Ichiro (retired), Shohei Ohtani and Shigeo Nagashima (long retired) and figure skater Yuzuru Hanyu rounded out the top five.

Osaka’s U.S. Open title was voted the top sports moment of Emperor Akihito’s reign from 1989 to April 30, beating Ichiro’s retirement and Hanyu’s repeat Olympic crown in PyeongChang. Perhaps there was some recency bias.

Akatsuki Uchida, a tennis journalist from Japan, said that Nishikori’s U.S. Open final was a bigger moment for Japanese tennis than Osaka’s win over Serena Williams, though.

“Tennis at that time [in 2014] was not broadcast in Japan,” she said at the U.S. Open. “Media coverage of tennis was decreasing before Kei made that final. For most of Japanese, not tennis fans, but ordinary people, it came from out of nowhere. … He became like an overnight sensation. Since then, the situation of tennis in Japan changed dramatically.

“If [Osaka] wins the title before Kei won the title here, it could have been way bigger, but since Kei made the final before Naomi, it made Naomi’s achievement, still a big deal, less surprising.”

Another key difference: Nishikori spent the majority of his childhood in Japan, while Osaka’s family, with a Haitian father and Japanese mother, moved to the U.S. when she was 3 years old.

Osaka has dual citizenship, but Japanese law requires one to be chosen over the other by the 22nd birthday. Osaka turned 22 last month, before which she confirmed what most had assumed, that she picked Japan.

Uchida was unsure whether Osaka and Nishikori could propel tennis at the Tokyo Games into a greater spotlight among 33 total sports.

“But if Kei and Naomi played mixed doubles, that would be a big thing,” she said.

Nishikori has already reportedly said he plans to enter singles and doubles in Tokyo, the latter with Ben McLachlan, Japan’s top doubles player. McLachlan was born in New Zealand and in 2017 switched representation to Japan, his mother’s birth nation.

But Nishikori did not rule out adding mixed doubles.

“Very hot, very humid, playing singles and two doubles, I don’t know if I can,” he said before the U.S. Open. “I haven’t think too much yet, honestly. I don’t know. I will talk to Naomi later.”

Nishikori smiled as he brought up Osaka’s name at the end of his answer to a question that didn’t mention her. Later in the tournament, Osaka was told Nishikori’s thoughts.

“I would definitely play with him,” said Osaka, who in 2016 was the highest-ranked eligible player not to make the Rio Olympic field. “I just — I would actually need to practice doubles for the first time in my life. Because you cannot play mixed doubles with Kei Nishikori and lose in the first round of the Olympics in Tokyo. That would be the biggest — like, I would cry. I would actually cry for losing a doubles match. Yeah, definitely I think that that would be so, like, historic in a way. And I would love to do it, but I need to practice my doubles.”

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