YUNA KIM
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Yuna Kim lives a dream with lighting of Olympic cauldron

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PYEONGCHANG, South Korea – They chose to share stories of Yuna Kim’s difficult times.

“Maybe my favorite memory of skating with Yuna was right before she went to the [2010] Olympics,” said U.S. figure skater Adam Rippon, who shared a coach, Brian Orser, with Kim in 2009 and 2010. “We had lunch with Yuna and Brian. And Brian sat down and said, ‘You know what, we’ve done all the work, we’re ready to go.’ And I remember she just did a simulation [of her programs]. She didn’t skate very well. And she was like, ‘Yeah, I’m ready.’ I was like, oh, wow, she feels great. I think that was my favorite memory. … I just saw it in her eyes that she was ready.”

Orser, too, recently recalled one of those times training in Toronto before the Vancouver Games.

“We were having a rough day, and I think it was just the two of us on the ice, but I just took her to the middle of the ice, and she’s got her manager downstairs and her mother and her trainer, and everybody seems to be an expert in the Olympics, but I just said, ‘I’m the only person in this rink that knows how you feel,’” said the Canadian Orser, who like Kim skated with the hopes of a nation on his shoulders at the 1988 Calgary Games. “I know what you’re feeling, I know what you’re going through, and my job is to take some of that on, and I really get it with you. … Then I could hear her shoulders drop, and she could take a deep breath because then we were in it together, so it’s not just her and Korea and the Olympics.”

It was Kim, South Korea and the Olympics at 10:10 p.m. in PyeongChang Olympic Stadium on Friday. Temperatures were in the high 20s. It felt like the warmest evening of the week.

As the 35,000-capacity stadium could have predicted, the iconic figure skater lit the cauldron, the symbolic opening of the Games. In a long white dress and skates on a tiny sheet of ice, she became the first woman given the honor alone since 2006 and the youngest solo lighter since 1994.

Kim’s moment was nearly seven years in the making. In spring 2011, she began a 19-month break from competition, in part to lend a hand to the PyeongChang Olympic bid in its final stages.

Terrence Burns, an Atlanta native, was the lead bid strategist for PyeongChang.

VIDEO: Best moments from the Opening Ceremony

He had actually served in that role for the Vancouver 2010 and Sochi 2014 bids, which edged PyeongChang by three and four votes, respectively, in the previous two host city votes. The third PyeongChang bid needed some native athlete star power after trotting out Italian skier Alberto Tomba in its last defeat.

Lightning struck between its second and third bids. Kim became world champion in 2009 and Olympic champion in the Winter Games’ marquee event in 2010.

In 2009, Forbes Korea named her the No. 1 celebrity in the country based on professionalism, popularity, income and influence. She traveled with two bodyguards.

“We knew we were going to use Yuna,” Burns recalled this week. “Everybody was pressuring me to use her. I was getting a lot of pressure to use her early, that we weren’t good enough [without her].”

Burns welcomed the addition of a woman whose popularity was likened as part-Elvis, part-Jordan in South Korea.

The two losing PyeongChang bids stressed peace on the Korean peninsula, even reunification.

“She’s exactly what we were trying to express in breaking the stereotype of the previous two bids,” Burns said. “She was young, worldly. She represented the new Korea, which we were desperately trying to get across. It wasn’t old Korean men in suits on stage anymore.

“She personified that. It’s why we saved her to the end, actually.”

Burns was convinced that the third bid, going against Munich and Annecy, France, was strong enough without Kim to just about reach the finish line. The figure skater could help put it over the top.

After Kim took silver at the 2011 World Championships (donating her winnings to Japanese tsunami relief), Burns had fewer than two months to prepare her to speak at the IOC base in Lausanne in May. Seven weeks after that was the final presentation and vote.

PHOTOS: Best images from the Opening Ceremony

“You’re trying to test her English without being blatant about it,” said Burns, who added that he wrote every word of every speech at those last two presentations. “Her English was perfect. She was poised, well put together.

“She probably didn’t need a lot of practice, but she was always asking for more. I want to do it again. I want to do it again. She really got it. She understood what was at stake. She understood this was a little different than getting paid for a commercial. This was for the country. She was just endearing. She was humble, truly.”

The bid team flew to Togo in between Lausanne and the July 6 finale and vote in Durban, South Africa. Burns thought it was Kim’s first trip without her mom.

That could have given him pause to think that this 20-year-old was essentially the bid’s closer in front of some 100 IOC members.

“I remember trying to tell her to employ that charm that she has on the ice,” he said. “This is an exercise in supplication.

“This is very unlike any speech you’ve ever given. It’s not a speech to corporate leaders or why you became Olympic champion. This is a persuasive emotional argument.”

In Durban, Kim delivered a three-minute, English-only address with poise and precision.

“I’ve been training harder for today than for most of my competitions,” Kim said on stage before lifting her right hand and pinching her index finger and thumb together for this next line: “I’m still a little bit nervous. You are making history today, and I get to be a small part of it.”

Kim said she was an example of a living legacy of advancing winter sports in her country. She said awarding the first Winter Games to South Korea would give hope that Olympic hopefuls wouldn’t have to travel halfway around the world to train.

MORE: Yuna Kim’s evolving Olympic role

The athlete turned ambassador.

“For her to do that in English, I don’t think she’d ever done it before, that kind of speech, a powerful, emotional speech,” Burns said. “We worked on eye contact, smiling in the right place, being self-effacing, being sweet. You only have to tell her once, and she got it.”

Kim cried after then-IOC president Jacques Rogge announced PyeongChang as the winner. She was standing next to the South Korean president and PyeongChang bid chairman.

“We all had tears in our eyes,” Burns said. “She’s used to making history, but it was a different way of making history.”

A Gallup Korea poll resulted in 46.5 percent of people saying Kim played the most important role in the victory, according to Yonhap News Agency.

Burns wouldn’t put it all on Kim. He said the other bedrock was Theresa Rah, the bid communications director and former TV personality who spoke in both Olympic languages (French and English) in her Durban speech.

But what Kim did at her age, in the middle of her athletic career, is almost unparalleled.

Burns said it reminded him of his friend Janet Evans, passing the 1996 Olympic flame to Muhammad Ali in Atlanta.

“She has to feel that not only part of Olympic history because of what she’s done,” Burns said, “but part of Korean history in a way that’s unassailable.”

Nick McCarvel contributed reporting to this column.

Adam Jones, five-time MLB All-Star, becomes Olympic eligible

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Should the U.S. qualify for baseball’s Olympic return, a five-time MLB All-Star could be eligible for its roster in Tokyo. And he has interest.

Outfielder Adam Jones signed with the Orix Buffaloes of Japan’s domestic league, which, unlike MLB, will take an Olympic break next summer to allow players to take part in the first Olympic baseball tournament in 12 years.

Jones, 34, made no mention of Olympic eligibility in a social media post announcing the signing. His Instagram avatar is a photo of him in a Team USA jersey from the World Baseball Classic.

Jones’ agent later said that Jones does have interest in playing for the U.S. in Tokyo, should an American team qualify in the spring.

“To play over in Japan has always been a desire of Adam’s, and the timing worked out that the Olympics happens to be played in Tokyo the first year of his contract,” Jones’ agent wrote in an email. “It wasn’t one of the factors on his decision BUT more of a [sic] addition to the overall package to decide to go.”

Jones called being part of the U.S.’ 2017 WBC title, “probably the best experience of my life so far, especially with sports,” according to The Associated Press. He was one of five players to be on the U.S. team at each of the last two World Baseball Classics.

The U.S. still faces a difficult task to qualify for the Tokyo Games. It lost to Mexico last month in its first of up to three chances at qualifying tournaments, using a roster of mostly double-A and triple-A caliber players.

Major Leaguers are not expected to be made available for qualifying or for the Tokyo Games.

The next two qualifying tournaments will be in late March (an Americas qualifier in Arizona) and early April (a final, global qualifying event in Chinese Taipei). It remains to be seen how MLB clubs will go about releasing minor leaguers for a tournament that will take place during spring training.

Jones could become the third player with prior MLB All-Star experience to compete at the Olympics from any nation, joining Australian catcher Dave Nilsson and Canadian pitcher Jason Dickson.

Jones made five All-Star teams during an 11-year stint with the Baltimore Orioles from 2008-18 before playing for the Arizona Diamondbacks last season.

Many players competed at the Olympics before making an MLB All-Star team, including Stephen Strasburg and Jason Giambi.

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Russia boxers to boycott Olympics if sanctions not lifted

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Russian boxers will only take part in the Tokyo Olympics if doping sanctions forcing them to compete as neutral athletes are overturned, the general secretary of the Russian Boxing Federation told The Associated Press on Wednesday.

Umar Kremlev said he has spoken with the Olympic boxing team and they “unanimously” rejected the conditions laid out by the World Anti-Doping Agency as punishment for manipulating doping data.

The WADA sanctions, announced on Monday, ban the use of the Russian team name, flag or anthem at a range of major sports competitions over the next four years, including next year’s Olympics.

“They said we won’t go without our flag and anthem,” Kremlev said. “We aren’t going for medals, but for that feeling that I brought the highest honor home for my country.”

Separately, the speaker of Russia’s upper house of parliament said Russia could create an alternative to the Olympics.

“This ruling show the clear crisis in international sports institutions. I believe that Russia could host its own games at home,” Valentina Matvienko said in comments reported by the Interfax news agency.

There is a precedent. After the Russian Revolution of 1917, the Soviet Union refused to compete in the Olympics and hosted its own Spartakiads — named after the ancient rebel slave Spartacus — with a strong socialist slant. However, the Soviet Union began competing at the Olympics in 1952 and Russians generally take great pride in the country’s Olympic achievements since then.

If the sanctions aren’t overturned, Kremlev said Russian boxers would prefer to turn pro rather than compete at the Olympics.

“A world champion (in professional boxing) is better known than an Olympic champion,” Kremlev said, adding the Russian anthem would be played before pro title fights.

Kremlev said boxers are being asked to shoulder the blame for offenses committed in other sports. He said they would still stay at home even if Russia’s athletes in other sports decided to take part.

“If other sports are guilty and people have breached the WADA code, why are we punished?” he said. “We are for honest sport and against doping. We want our sport to be clean … If someone breaks the rules, we push them out.”

Russia is a major power in amateur and Olympic boxing. It hosted both men’s and women’s world championships this year, finishing at the top of the medals table at the women’s event and second in the men’s championships. The International Olympic Committee has taken direct charge of boxing at the Tokyo Olympics after criticizing chronic financial problems and infighting at the International Boxing Association.

Russian Sports Minister Pavel Kolobkov talked up Russia’s chances of overturning the WADA sanctions.

“I think that there is every basis to appeal the decision, because our experts have presented their position, and they have the same database as WADA does,” Kolobkov said in comments reported by state news agency TASS. “There is an answer to every question and the whole process is ahead of us.”

The official decision on whether to dispute the sanctions will be made on Dec. 19 by the Russian anti-doping agency’s supervisory board, but senior figures, including Russian President Vladimir Putin, have signaled their preference for taking the matter to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

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