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Shaun White sees parallels between himself and Michael Phelps

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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.”

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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