Shaun White sees parallels between himself and Michael Phelps

Getty Images
0 Comments

PYEONGCHANG, South Korea — Shaun White equated some of his tough times, when he felt burned out as a snowboarder leading into the Sochi Games, with the most decorated Olympian of all time.

White was asked at a press conference Thursday how his fourth-place halfpipe finish in Sochi motivated him to come back for a fourth Olympic run. He goes for his third halfpipe gold medal on Tuesday night (ET).

NBCOlympics.com: How to watch every single Olympic snowboarding competition live

“I watched a Michael Phelps documentary, videos on him and him just going to the pool every single day, like that life I can imagine can get tough,” White said. “Same for me [before Sochi]. The same things that got me excited and motivated weren’t really working anymore.”

Phelps, the 28-time Olympic medalist, spoke openly in 2015 and 2016 about a lack of passion for swimming leading into London 2012, where he still won six medals, including four golds, but lost two individual races after going eight for eight in 2008.

White was there in London to watch Phelps break gymnast Larisa Latynina’s record for career Olympic medals. White, an NBC Olympics correspondent in 2012, sat in the Olympic Aquatics Stadium stands with Phelps’ family and model Bar Refaeli that night.

In 2013, Phelps returned the favor by congratulating White on his last X Games win on Twitter.

Similar to Phelps in that era, White was unbeatable in 2006 and 2010, winning both Olympic contests with an early run that allowed him to take a victory lap with his finale.

After 2010, White went for more. He joined a band. He wanted two more Olympic gold medals, qualifying in the new event of slopestyle before dropping it on the eve of the Games.

Then he finished fourth in the halfpipe final. Many thought he would retire.

“At the time I was burning out. It’s hard to admit,” White said Thursday. “At the time my heart wasn’t in it. After that Olympics, the easy fix is if you weren’t strong enough, if you didn’t have the right tricks. But getting the mindset better is really hard. I don’t know how to describe it. It’s like if you’ve ever been in a relationship and someone is like, they love you. I wish I could flip a switch and love you back … love snowboarding like I did when I was 7.”

White, now 31, found some of the passion again after largely taking off the 2014-15 and 2015-16 seasons.

He and longtime coach/friend Bud Keene parted ways. The band broke up.

NBCOlympics.com: 20 top moments since Olympic snowboarding’s debut 20 years ago

White is now traveling with 2002 Olympic bronze medalist J.J. Thomas, 17-year-old rider Toby Miller and Esther Lee, a physical therapist who used to work with Venus and Serena Williams. All new to his entourage since Sochi.

He notched statement wins at last season’s U.S. Open and an Olympic qualifier last month where he scored a perfect 100 (only the last run in a contest can score a 100).

But Japan’s Ayumu Hirano won X Games two weeks ago – an event that White skipped – with back-to-back double cork 1440s. His run scored a 99, unofficially the equivalent of a perfect score because there was still one rider left to take a run.

White has yet to pull off the back-to-back 1440s in a contest, but he hopes to do it here. He may need to.

Win or lose, White is not expected to exit the Olympic stage like Phelps did in Rio. White has spoken about trying for the 2020 Games in skateboarding and even another Winter Games in Beijing in 2022.

Then maybe he’ll kick back like the swimmer.

“I saw him in Brazil,” at the Rio Olympics, White remembered. “He was like upstairs smoking a cigar somewhere. I’m probably not supposed to say that. But I think it was after the event, obviously.”

Japanese pair edges Americans for historic Grand Prix Final figure skating title

Riku Miura, Ryuichi Kihara
Getty
0 Comments

Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara won the biggest title ever for a Japanese figure skating pair, taking the Grand Prix Final and consolidating their status as the world’s top active team.

Miura and Kihara, last season’s world silver medalists, barely outscored world champions Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier in Turin, Italy, in both Thursday’s short program and Friday’s free skate to win the six-pair event that is a preview of March’s worlds.

The Japanese totaled 214.58 points, distancing the Americans by a mere 1.3 points after Frazier erred on both of their side-by-side jumping passes in the free skate. Italians Sara Conti and Niccolo Macii took bronze.

“We had a very late start to our season than initially planned, so as we have been performing at each event, I see us getting stronger, improving things,” said Frazier, who with Knierim had their best short program and free skate scores of the autumn.

Knierim and Frazier didn’t decide to continue competing together this season until July.

“I feel a little personally disappointed tonight just for myself for my jumps,” Frazier continued. “I was a little all over the place and, normally, I can execute better, so I feel a little bad, but I’m very proud of us overall. We’ve done a great job of improving each competition and looking forward to the second half of the season where we can start tapping into our best skating.”

GRAND PRIX FINAL: Results | Broadcast Schedule

Miura and Kihara, who partnered in June 2019 and train in Ontario, both waited with trepidation for their final score to be posted, worried that each’s separate mistake on jumps might cost them the title. When they learned they won, both burst into tears.

“This was the first time in eight years that I made a mistake with a Salchow, so I thought we might not get a good score, and it would be my fault,” Kihara said.

Miura and Kihara entered the competition ranked No. 1 in the world by best scores this season ahead of Knierim and Frazier, who in March became the first U.S. pair to win a world title since 1979.

Last season, Miura and Kihara became the second Japanese pair to make a Grand Prix podium and to earn a world championships medal. Their ascension helped Japan win its first Olympic figure skating team event medal in February (a bronze that could be upgraded to gold pending the Kamila Valiyeva case).

In Grand Prix Final history, Japan had won 11 gold medals and 40 total medals, all in singles, before this breakthrough.

Knierim and Frazier, already the first U.S. pair to compete in the Grand Prix Final since 2015, became the first U.S. pair to win a Grand Prix Final medal. The Final has been held annually since 1996, though it was canceled the last two seasons due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Miura and Kihara and Knierim and Frazier ascended to the top of the sport while the top five teams from the Olympics from Russia and China have not competed internationally since the Winter Games.

All Russian skaters are ineligible for international competition due to the war in Ukraine. China’s pairs, including Olympic champions Sui Wenjing and Han Cong, didn’t enter last March’s worlds and did not compete in the fall Grand Prix Series.

Later Friday, world champion Kaori Sakamoto of Japan led the women’s short program with 75.86 points, 1.28 ahead of countrywoman Mai Mihara. American Isabeau Levito, the 15-year-old world junior champion, was fifth of six skaters in her Grand Prix Final debut.

Canadians Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier topped the rhythm dance with 85.93 points, edging Americans Madison Chock and Evan Bates by .44. Both couples are bidding for the biggest international title of their careers. None of the Olympic medalists competed internationally this fall.

The Grand Prix Final ends Saturday with the men’s and women’s free skates and free dance, all live on Peacock.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

A Winter Olympic medal still being decided, 10 months later

Fanny Smith, Daniela Maier
It's still unknown whether Fanny Smith (green) or Daniela Maier (blue) is the Olympic ski cross bronze medalist. (Getty)
0 Comments

There is a second Winter Olympic medal result still in question, 10 months after the Games.

While the figure skating team event results are still unknown due to the Kamila Valiyeva case, the bronze medal in women’s ski cross is also in dispute.

Originally, Swiss Fanny Smith crossed the finish line in third place in the four-woman final at the Winter Games in February. Upon review by the International Ski Federation (FIS) jury, she was minutes later demoted to fourth place after making contact with German Daniela Maier near the end of the course. Maier, who originally was fourth, was upgraded to bronze.

“I tried to be OK with the fourth place. I was very disappointed, I have to say, [then] the jury was like this,” Maier said then. “I am really sorry for Fanny that it’s like this right now. … The jury decided like this, so accept it and be happy with the medal.”

Smith and the Swiss ski federation appealed. FIS reinstated Smith as the bronze medalist nine days after the race and six days after the Closing Ceremony. A FIS appeals commission met four times and reviewed video and written documentation for several hours before deciding that “the close proximity of the racers at that moment resulted in action that was neither intentional or avoidable.”

But that wasn’t the end. The case ended up reportedly going to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), whose rulings are usually accepted as final. The CAS process is ongoing, European media reported this week.

CAS has not responded to a request for comment. A FIS contact said Friday, “There is currently no update to provide in regards to the bronze medal in ski cross. Should there be any update, we will inform you.”

Smith said there should be news soon regarding the case, according to Blick.

Maier still has the bronze medal at her home and enjoys looking at it, according to German media, which also reported that the German ski federation expects Maier to win the case and keep the medal. Smith and Maier spoke extensively about it in recent training sessions and cleared things up. Maier said the best outcome would be bronze medals for both of them, according to the report.

For now, FIS lists Smith as the bronze medalist. The IOC lists Maier as the bronze medalist.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!