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.”

Teri McKeever fired by Cal as women’s swimming coach after investigation

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Teri McKeever, the first woman to serve as a U.S. Olympic swimming head coach, was fired by the University of California at Berkeley after an investigation into alleged verbal and emotional abuse of swimmers that she denied.

McKeever was put on paid administrative leave from her job as head women’s swimming coach in May after an Orange County Register report that 20 current or former Cal swimmers said McKeever verbally and emotionally bullied her swimmers.

Cal athletics director Jim Knowlton wrote in a letter to the Cal team and staff that a resulting independent law firm report detailed “verbally abusive conduct that is antithetical to our most important values.”

“I strongly believe this is in the best interests of our student-athletes, our swimming program and Cal Athletics as a whole,” Knowlton said of McKeever’s firing in a press release. “The report details numerous violations of university policies that prohibit race, national origin and disability discrimination.”

The Orange County Register first published what it says is the full independent report here.

“I deny and unequivocally refute all conclusions that I abused or bullied any athlete and deny any suggestion I discriminated against any athlete on the basis of race, disability or sexual orientation,” McKeever said in a statement Tuesday confirming her firing and expressing disappointment in how the investigation was conducted. “While I am disappointed in the way my CAL Career will conclude, I wish to thank and celebrate the many student-athletes and staff that made my time in Berkeley a true blessing and gift.”

McKeever’s lawyer wrote that McKeever “will be filing suit to expose the manner in which gender has affected not only the evaluation of her coaching but harmed and continues to harm both female and male athletes.”

McKeever led Cal women’s swimming and diving for nearly 30 years, winning four NCAA team titles and coaching Olympic champions including Missy FranklinNatalie Coughlin and Dana Vollmer.

In 2004, she became the first woman to be on a U.S. Olympic swim team coaching staff, as an assistant. In 2012, she became the first woman to be head coach of a U.S. Olympic swim team. She was an assistant again for the Tokyo Games.

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Diana Taurasi returns to U.S. national basketball team

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Diana Taurasi is set to return to the U.S. national basketball team next week for the first time since the Tokyo Olympics, signaling a possible bid for a record-breaking sixth Olympic appearance in 2024 at age 42.

Taurasi is on the 15-player roster for next week’s training camp in Minnesota announced Tuesday.

Brittney Griner is not on the list but is expected to return to competitive basketball later this year with her WNBA team, the Phoenix Mercury (also Taurasi’s longtime team, though she is currently a free agent), after being detained in Russia for 10 months in 2022.

Taurasi said as far back as the 2016 Rio Games that her Olympic career was likely over, but returned to the national team after Dawn Staley succeeded Geno Auriemma as head coach in 2017.

In Tokyo, Taurasi and longtime backcourt partner Sue Bird became the first basketball players to win five Olympic gold medals. Bird has since retired.

After beating Japan in the final, Taurasi said “see you in Paris,” smiling, as she left an NBC interview. That’s now looking less like a joke and more like a prediction.

Minnesota Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve succeeded Staley as head coach last year. In early fall, she guided the U.S. to arguably the best FIBA World Cup performance ever, despite not having stalwarts Bird, Griner, Tina Charles and Sylvia Fowles.

Taurasi was not in contention for the team after suffering a WNBA season-ending quad injury in the summer. Taurasi, who is 38-0 in Olympic games and started every game at the last four Olympics, wasn’t on a U.S. team for an Olympics or worlds for the first time since 2002.

Next year, Taurasi can become the oldest Olympic basketball player in history and the first to play in six Games, according to Olympedia.org. Spain’s Rudy Fernandez could also play in a sixth Olympics in 2024.

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