Shaun White
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Shaun White wins Olympic gold; 100th overall for Team USA

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Shaun White has reclaimed his Olympic halfpipe title and won the United States’ 100th all-time gold medal at the Winter Olympics.

And he did it in dramatic fashion, landing back-to-back 1440s as part of a final run that knocked Japan’s Ayumu Hirano out of the top spot.

With the win, White is now the first snowboarder to ever become a three-time Olympic champion. Twelve years after winning his first gold medal at the 2006 Torino Games, he is also the first American man to win the same individual event at three different Winter Olympics.

Much has been made of White’s quest for a third gold medal ever since a disappointing result at the last Olympics, where he finished fourth and lost his Olympic title to Switzerland’s Iouri Podladtchikov.

Podladtchikov was unable to compete in PyeongChang due to a recent injury, but there were two other riders considered to be White’s biggest challengers at these Olympics: Japan’s Ayumu Hirano and Australia’s Scotty James.

VIDEO: Watch Shaun White’s gold-medal run

White, Hirano and James have all stepped up their riding over the course of this season with progressive new runs. In Tuesday’s qualifying round, all three put down heavy runs in an attempt to outdo each other, but they saved their biggest tricks for the final.

James came out on his first run and grabbed the lead after landing a technical run that included back-to-back 1260s up top and a switch backside 1260 — an extremely challenging trick that no other rider has ever done — at the bottom.

But James’ score was quickly eclipsed by White, who was the next rider to drop. White landed a sequence of big tricks but still held back his biggest combination. He was so elated with that run that he unstrapped his helmet and whipped it into the crowd as he rode the corral.

White remained at the top of the leaderboard until Hirano took his second run. That’s where the 19-year-old nailed back-to-back 1440s, a difficult combination of tricks that he used to win X Games just a few weeks ago.

That forced White to up the ante. Up to that point, Hirano had been the only rider to ever land back-to-back 14s in a halfpipe competition. But White told media last week that he had been working on those tricks and planned to try that sequence in PyeongChang.

VIDEO: White can’t hold back the tears after winning gold

The back-to-back 1440s consist of two tricks: first a frontside double cork 1440 on one wall of the halfpipe, followed by the switch version of that trick (called a cab double cork 1440) on the other wall.

If the term “cab double cork 1440” sounds vaguely familiar, that’s because it was the big trick (the one often referred to as a “YOLO flip”) that Podladtchikov used to help him win gold four years ago in Sochi.

It was also the trick that White struggled to land clearnly, something that cost him an Olympic medal that year.

In order to win gold this year, White would need to land that trick, plus an additional 1440 right before it.

The first attempt didn’t go so well. White did the back-to-back 1440s in his second run — the first time he had ever done so in a competition — but didn’t land the second one cleanly and lost speed. He later fell on his signature trick, the double McTwist 1260.

That created a pressure situation for White on his third run. The final rider to drop, he was already assured of at least a silver medal, but he needed to land a full run, including the back-to-back 1440s, in order to have a shot at overtaking Hirano.

MORE: Watch Shaun White’s first halfpipe run  |  Second run

He landed the frontside double cork 1440 on his first hit, then succesfully put down the cab double cork 1440 to complete the combo. From there he finished out his run with a frontside 540, the double McTwist 1260 and a frontside double cork 1260. And all throughout the run, he showcased the signature amplitude that has made his halfpipe runs a must-see attraction throughout his whole career.

The score from the judges was a 97.75, enough to knock Hirano out of the top spot. And with that, White officially reclaimed his title and avenged the memories of Sochi that have haunted for the past four years.

“Honestly it’s one of the most challenging runs I’ve ever done,” White said, “I didn’t even link the combination, the 14 to 14, until I got here, today, this morning. So, honestly, I’m just so happy with my performance. I’m proud of the other riders for pushing me this whole time.”

Over the last four years, White has found himself pushed by competitors like Hirano and James. He busted his face in New Zealand last year while attempting one of those 1440s, leaving an injury that required 62 stitches. He has said that there were times when he questioned whether it was worth it to continue.

Perhaps that’s why White broke down after seeing his score, the 97.75, come in after his final run.

“Oh man, that was awful and amazing at the same time,” he said. “I knew I did a great ride and I was proud of that and I could walk away with my head high, but when they announced my score and I’d won, it crippled me.”

The U.S. has now won four gold medals at the 2018 Winter Olympics, and all four have come in snowboarding. Red Gerard and Jamie Anderson won the men’s and women’s slopestyle contests, and Chloe Kim won the women’s halfpipe event.

Arnie the Terminator: Aussie rival to Katie Ledecky an unlikely swim story

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In August 2016, a 15-year-old Australian swimmer named Ariarne Titmus followed the Rio Olympics as she prepared to fly to Maui for the Junior Pan Pacific Championships.

Titmus paid special attention to her best events, the 200m, 400m and 800m freestyles. Katie Ledecky swept them, breaking two of her own world records.

“I remember watching her races thinking, like, this chick is nuts,” Titmus told NBC Sports in Australia early this year. “She’s just doing stuff that no one’s gonna get near.”

Three years later, Titmus stunned Ledecky at the world championships, chasing down the American in the last 50 meters of the 400m freestyle. She became the first woman to beat Ledecky in a distance race in seven years and a bona fide rival one year from the Tokyo Games.

Ledecky at first attributed her late fade to tight and tired legs. Then she spent seven hours the next day in a South Korean emergency room with what she believed was a stomach virus.

“She was sick,” said Dean Boxall, Titmus’ South African-born coach, “and we happened to pounce.”

Titmus’ time — 3:58.76, a personal best by .59 — was slower than Ledecky’s wins at her previous three major international meets — Rio Olympics, 2017 Worlds and 2018 Pan Pacific Championships.

“It wasn’t a good swim by Arnie,” said Boxall, a vocal coach known to shout Ledecky’s name in practices. “And I know it wasn’t a good swim by Katie. Definitely not. But there was things that Arnie did in that race I was pleased with, and there was a lot of things that she did that I was not happy with at all.”

The Olympic postponement to 2021 gives Titmus and Boxall another year to work on those inefficiencies down in Brisbane. Another year to mature, to turn 20 years old before the Games.

“I try not to dwell on that [beating Ledecky] too much,” Titmus, sometimes called “the Terminator” by Australian press, said of the world championships, where she also out-split Ledecky in the 4x200m free relay and took bronze behind the American in the 800m free. “Next year’s the big one at the Olympics.”

Nowhere is swimming closer to a national sport than in Australia, but none of its Olympic champion Dolphins hail from Tasmania, an island 150 miles south of the mainland.

Notable Tasmanian sports persons include cricketer Ricky Ponting, retired NASCAR driver Marcos Ambrose and woodchopping world champion David Foster, but no listed swimmers.

Stephanie Rice, the last Australian female swimmer to win an individual Olympic title in 2008, visited “Tassie,” the state a little bigger than West Virginia, nearly a decade ago. She met a young Titmus, who still remembers what Rice scribbled: “Be the best you can be.”

“I say it’s my favorite quote,” Titmus said. “She wrote it on my shirt, so it has to be my favorite quote.”

Titmus was born a week before the Sydney Olympics — “She loved watching Thorpie,” her mom said — and grew up on 16 acres of country land. The family — parents Steve and Robyn and younger sister Mia — had horses, a trampoline and a swimming club just down the road in Launceston.

They also had an indoor pool (areas of Tasmania approach freezing in the winter). One evening more than 15 years ago, Robyn was chopping vegetables and peered to see her elder daughter, then a toddler without formal swim lessons, doing the breaststroke.

“We didn’t know anybody at the swimming club,” said Steve, a longtime TV journalist. “And we turned up and said, hi, we’re the Titmuses. We’ve got a daughter called Ariarne, and she wants to race. Tuesday nights they had club night, and she jumped in the water, and away she went.”

Titmus wasn’t the fastest at first, but by the time she won a third Australian junior title, she became too big for the Apple Isle.

“[My coach] said, look, you can’t really do anything else down here,” Titmus remembered. “There’s no one for you to train with. There’s no one for you to race. It’s all up in Queensland. And he said, if you really want a shot at this, you should really move.”

The family relocated to Brisbane when she was 14 or 15, following Titmus’ coach.

We packed up the car, got on the boat, sailed to Melbourne,” said Robyn, a former national-level track sprinter. “We even stopped at Albury on the way for a training session because the coach she had at the time was a hard task master.”

Right around that time, she first met Boxall while with the Australian junior national team.

“I originally thought this guy is nuts,” Titmus said. “He gave us this speech about the New Zealanders or something were trying to be better than us. His veins were popping. It was crazy. I was like, I’m never ever going to have a coach like him.”

Boxall became her coach about a year later.

“I’ve got great athletes here that hurt themselves, and they enjoy going through the pain,” he said, “but you want to try and get that little bit extra from someone. You have to actually go there with them a little bit.”

In a sitdown, on-camera interview, Boxall first told how he met Titmus, his first impression of her and a bit about their relationship. He first mentioned Ledecky, umprompted, when asked the fourth question, about Titmus’ progression.

Boxall noted that Titmus swam the 400m freestyle in 4:09.81 at the August 2016 Junior Pan Pacific Championships.

“Ledecky went 3:56:46,” Boxall said, correctly noting Ledecky’s Rio Olympic world record to the hundredth, “so we’re 13 seconds off [at] that stage.”

Titmus raced Ledecky for the first time at the 2017 Worlds and finished fourth in the 400m, closing the gap to six seconds. In 2018, she took second to Ledecky at Pan Pacs, 1.16 seconds behind, becoming the first Australian to break four minutes in the event.

At 2019 Worlds, Boxall needed to be alone during the 400m free final. He left the Australian team box and snuck into a VIP area. As Titmus reeled Ledecky in, Boxall stood up and ran.

“Like a shot of adrenaline,” he said. “I couldn’t contain myself, but I was calmer as I’d ever been as well.

“That’s the first race that Arnie has raced Katie and actually was in the race. … Prior to that, it was just Katie.”

Titmus swam 10 seconds faster than when Boxall first compared her to Ledecky in August 2016.

“She’s 2.4 seconds off [Ledecky’s] world record,” Boxall said. “We know what the benchmark is, and we’re still a long way off.”

Titmus recorded the eighth-fastest 400m freestyle in history. Ledecky owns the top seven times.

“The greatest thing apart from obviously winning, I think, [is] being able to actually race someone who has been on her own for so long,” Titmus said. “I find it so crazy that now I’m in this situation where she’s my main rival.”

Scroll down the list, and you’ll see that the top 27 times in history (aside from the now-banned suit era) are shared by Ledecky (23) and Titmus (four).

“She’s certainly special,” Boxall said of his pupil. “Special enough? We’ll see.”

MORE: Simone Manuel’s experiences shape her voice for change today

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Collin Morikawa jumps into projected Olympic golf field

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Collin Morikawa would not have qualified outright for the Tokyo Olympics had they been held this summer. Now, after winning the PGA Championship, he is third overall in global qualifying for the Tokyo Games in 2021.

Morikawa, a 23-year-old who took the same number of PGA Tour starts to win his maiden major as Tiger Woods (29), went from an alternate for the expected four-man U.S. Olympic team to No. 2 among Americans in the early qualifying standings, according to golf rankings guru @VC606 on Twitter.

Justin Thomas, Bryson DeChambeau and Patrick Reed are the other Americans in qualifying position, according to @VC606.

Morikawa, whose father is of Japanese descent, turned professional in June 2019 and made his first 22 cuts, a feat bettered only by Woods.

The 23-year-old could become the youngest U.S. Olympic male golfer since 1904 (important note: golf was not part of the Olympic program from 1908 through 2012). Come next summer, he will still be younger than all but seven men from the Rio Olympic golf field of 60, according to Olympedia.org.

Olympic golf qualifying standings will fluctuate significantly. There are five major championships left in the qualifying window, starting with the U.S. Open in September and finishing with next summer’s U.S. Open, both airing on NBC Sports.

How tough will it be to make the U.S. Olympic team? Consider that the three Americans to win majors in 2019 — Woods, Brooks Koepka and Gary Woodland — are currently not in Olympic qualifying position.

The U.S. has seven of the top nine in the Official World Golf Ranking, which is calculated differently than Olympic qualifying.

MORE: Nosferatu is golf’s Olympic rankings guru. Who is he?

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