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Shaun White working on back-to-back 1440s for Olympics

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PYEONGCHANG, South Korea (AP) — Shaun White sat on the couch at home and watched history’s best halfpipe contest unfold.

He’s planning on making the next contest — the one where they hand out the Olympic gold medal — an even better show.

White said Thursday that he is working on the tricks that Japan’s Ayumu Hirano used to win the Winter X Games last month. Hirano became the first person to string together back-to-back 1440s in what was widely regarded as the best show ever seen in a halfpipe.

“I’m excited to compete with him,” White said. “He’s really pushing it, and he did an amazing combination that I’m working on myself. I don’t think we’ve seen my best run.”

White’s best run, at least this season, came at Snowmass in an Olympic qualifier in January. White used one 1440, along with his patented double McTwist 1260, to win the contest with a maximum score of 100 — one of the rare times that mark has ever been handed out.

NBCOlympics.com: Scotty James says he feels “shafted” by recent halfpipe judging

It established him as the man to beat at the Olympics. But a short two weeks later came X Games, where Hirano strung together his back-to-back 1440s — the first time that had ever been done in a competition — and Scotty James finished a close second on a run that included three 1260s, including one in which he rides and spins backward into the wall to execute the double cork.

“To this point, it was the most progressive halfpipe contest we’d ever seen,” said JJ Thomas, the 2002 bronze medalist who coaches White. “And I think now, as long as the weather holds up, this one will probably be even better.”

Practice on the Olympic halfpipe starts Friday, with the men’s final set for next Wednesday in South Korea (Tuesday night in the U.S.).

White is in his fourth Olympics. Though he has two gold medals and is, far and away, the most recognizable figure in his sport, he concedes his fourth-place finish in Sochi was a blow.

NBCOlympics.com: Shaun White sees parallels between himself and Michael Phelps

“It was a nice eye-opener for me of what life’s really like,” he said. “The bubble is shattered, and what’s next? I was able to make that decision.”

The decision was to keep moving forward, upping the ante, and the risk, in order to return to the top. For White more than anyone, that means only one thing: winning the Olympics.

And yet, for the second straight Olympics, he’ll come in not setting the bar, the way he did in 2010 with the double McTwist, but trying to duplicate tricks someone else has done.

Heading into 2014, Iouri Podladtchikov showed off his YOLO flip — which was the first 1440 landed in competition — then brought it into the Olympics, where he landed it and White did not.

Heading into 2018, it’s Hirano’s back-to-back 1440s.

“That’s king right now,” Thomas said.

White was impressed, too. But he is not one to back down.

“It was great to watch those guys runs and see their best,” White said. “Now, I get a chance to throw my best and see how it stacks up.”

Cyclist in induced coma after Tour of Poland crash

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Dutch cyclist Fabio Jakobsen was put into an induced coma Wednesday after suffering injuries in a crash on the final stretch of the Tour of Poland, organizers said.

A massive crash at the finish of the first stage resulted in Dylan Groenewegen‘s disqualification from the race.

Leading a bunch sprint, Groenewegen veered toward the right barrier, pinching countryman Jakobsen, who barreled into the barrier meters from the finish line.

Jakobsen went head over heels, his bike went airborne and the barriers exploded onto the road, causing more cyclists to crash.

Jakobsen was airlifted to a hospital in serious condition and was put into an induced coma, the Tour de Pologne press office said.

Doctor Pawel Gruenpeter of the hospital in Sosnowiec said Jakobsen suffered injuries to the head and chest but that his condition was stable at the intensive care unit. Jakobsen will need surgery to his face and skull, Gruenpeter told state broadcaster TVP Sport.

Groenewegen crossed the finish line first but was disqualified, giving Jakobsen the stage win, according to the stage race website.

Groenewegen, a 27-year-old Jumbo-Visma rider, owns four Tour de France stage wins among the last three years.

The International Cycling Union (UCI) “strongly condemned” Groenewegen’s “dangerous” and “unacceptable” behavior. It referred Groenewegen’s actions to a disciplinary commission for possible sanctions.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Figure skating Grand Prix Series will be held as ‘domestic’ competitions

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Figure skating’s Grand Prix Series will go ahead as scheduled this fall, with modifications due to the coronavirus pandemic, the International Skating Union decided Monday.

Each of the series’ six tops around the globe will be “a domestic run event,” limited to skaters of the event’s host country, who regularly train in the host country and from a respective geographical area. The number of disciplines and skaters at each event are to be worked out.

The Grand Prix Series, held annually since 1995, is a six-event fall season, qualifying the top six skaters and teams per discipline to December’s Grand Prix Final. The annual stops are in the U.S., Canada, China, France, Russia and Japan, leading up to the Final, which is held at a different site each year.

The Final is the second-biggest annual competition after the world championships, which are typically in late March. The Final is still scheduled for Beijing, though whether or when it can be held will be discussed.

The series begins in late October with Skate America, which debuted in 1979 and has been held every year since 1988 as the biggest annual international competition in the U.S. Skate America’s site is Las Vegas, just as it was in 2019.

Skaters typically compete twice on the Grand Prix Series (three times if they qualify for the Final). ISU vice president Alexander Lakernik said skaters will be limited to one start in the six-event series before the Final, according to a Russian media quote confirmed by Phil Hersh.

The ISU has not confirmed or denied Lakernik’s assertion.

Most, if not all, top-level U.S. skaters train in the U.S. or Canada. That makes the first two Grand Prix stops — Skate America and Skate Canada — likely destinations. Grand Prix assignments have not been published.

“I appreciate the ISU is open to adapting competitive formats and is working to give athletes opportunities to compete,” Evan Bates, a U.S. ice dance champion with Madison Chock who trains in Montreal, wrote in a text message to Hersh. “This announcement gives reassurance that the ISU is doing their best to ensure a season will still take place. Of course, it’s hard to predict what will happen, and we’re not sure about what country we would compete in. It would probably depend on what the quarantine rules are at that time.”

The January 2021 U.S. Championships are scheduled for San Jose, Calif. The March 2021 World Championships are set for Stockholm.

In July, the ISU canceled the Junior Grand Prix Series for skaters mostly ages 13 to 18, including two-time U.S. champion Alysa Liu, who cannot enter the senior Grand Prix until 2021.

Other early season senior international competitions scheduled for September were also canceled or postponed.

U.S. Figure Skating said in a statement that it will have more details on the Grand Prix Series in the coming weeks after collaborating with an ISU-appointed group.

“This is a great example of the figure skating community coming together to ensure that the world’s premier figure skating series will continue during these challenging times,” the statement read. “Figure skaters want to compete and figure skating fans from all around the world want to see their favorite athletes skate, and this format will ensure just that.”

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