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Ice and dirt: Connor Fields leaves one championship to pursue another

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Connor Fields‘ heart is in Las Vegas. His BMX bike and last remaining goal in the sport are in Azerbaijan.

Fields, who in Rio became the first U.S. Olympic champion in an event that debuted in 2008, can continue a recent run of American dominance in BMX at the world championships in Baku on Saturday (Olympic Channel, 6 p.m. ET).

“I’ve won every single title possible except for one,” he said. Nationals, Pan American Games, World Cup season title and Olympic gold. But not yet a world title in the elite race that’s on the Olympic program.

“I’d like to take that off and complete the full set,” Fields said.

The timing is a little unfortunate for the 25-year-old who was born in Plano, Texas but has lived in the Las Vegas area since age 4. Fields is so associated with the city that when the NHL’s Las Vegas Golden Knights opened their team store last June, he was the featured athlete in promotions.

“They didn’t have any players yet,” Fields admitted. The expansion draft was a day after the store’s grand opening, which Fields was invited to attend with coach Gerard Gallant.

Last week, Fields made a last-minute (and surely costly) decision to attend Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final between the Golden Knights and Washington Capitals, before flying to Europe ahead of worlds. The Knights won the opener but lost the next three games.

Speaking from France, Fields said he planned to be home in Nevada for Games 6 and 7. It might be moot. The Capitals can lift the Cup with a Game 5 win in Vegas on Thursday (NBC, 8 p.m. ET).

Fields brought Golden Knights gear to France — even to the Palace of Versailles — but his priority is clear.

“World title, easy, not even a question,” Fields said. “I don’t get to take home a trophy or anything if the Golden Knights win.”

Fields would appear an underdog given World Cup results this year — 14th, 15th and 34th — but he won the last World Cup race of 2017 to place second in last season’s overall standings.

He isn’t the only American in medal contention. Rio silver medalist Alise Willoughby and Corben Sharrah swept the 2017 World titles in Rock Hill, S.C., ending an eight-year drought for the U.S. for either gender.

Fields and Willoughby are the only active U.S. cyclists in any discipline (BMX, mountain, road, track) with an individual Olympic medal. Willoughby and Sharrah are two of three active U.S. cyclists in any discipline with an individual world title in an Olympic event (43-year-old Amber Neben, women’s road time trial, 2008 and 2016).

Before BMX made its Olympic debut, a 14-year-old Fields wrote in Sharpie on his parents’ garage wall, “One day I will be national and world champion.”

Then, maybe in two years, an Olympic champion twice.

“I’ve got four years more of experience, four years more to draw from, both good and bad, and mistakes that have been made that I can try not to make it again,” said Fields, who was so overwhelmed at his first Olympics in 2012 that he couldn’t manage a bite of his oatmeal on race day, crashed in the final and finished seventh. “I feel less pressure going in. I’m Olympic champion. I always will be Olympic champion. Nobody can ever take the gold medal away from me. Now I just get the opportunity to get two.”

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Swim meet canceled after FINA’s threat to ban athletes

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GENEVA (AP) — Amid growing conflict between swimmers and their world governing body, an international swimming meet was canceled on Thursday after threats to ban athletes who took part seeking better prize money.

The Italian swim federation called off the Dec. 20-21 competition it was organizing in Turin, saying it acted to protect athletes from FINA.

The Turin meet was linked to a proposed International Swimming League, a privately run operation which aims to operate outside FINA’s control and pay higher prize money.

“FINA declared the event ‘non-approved,’ threatening sanctions against the participating athletes,” Italian officials said in a statement.

FINA, based in Lausanne, Switzerland, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Some Olympic champions have long criticized FINA, believing swimmers should be better rewarded, have more say in decisions, and could create their own union.

Olympic champion Adam Peaty of Britain wrote on Thursday on Twitter he was “incredibly disappointed” by the cancellation.

The politics involved will “galvanize swimmers, not break them,” wrote Peaty, who holds 50m and 100m breaststroke world records.

Peaty has previously supported Hungarian star Katinka Hosszu in her public criticism of FINA, and calls to create a swimmers’ union.

Italian organizers said Peaty, Hosszu and other Olympic champions including Chad le Clos of South Africa and Sarah Sjostrom of Sweden were due to take part in their 25-meter pool event. It was scheduled days after the short-course world championships being staged in Hangzhou, China.

The clash of events seemed to provoke FINA into finding more prize money for its worlds event in the smaller pool.

On Nov. 6, FINA added to its promised prize fund for China by almost doubling the total to $2.07 million.

FINA wrote to member federations on Oct. 30 warning of bans of up to two years for taking part in Turin.

However, a European Commission decision last year suggests swimmers could successfully challenge any attempt to limit their right to race and earn money.

The European Union’s executive arm ruled the International Staking Union in breach of anti-trust laws by threatening severe bans for speed skaters who wanted to compete in a South Korean-organized event in Dubai.

The ISU’s threats “also serve to protect its own commercial interests,” the European officials said.

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Simon Ammann believes ski jumping career end is near

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Simon Ammann, the most decorated active ski jumper with four Olympic gold medals, said it is hard to imagine competing beyond this season, according to Swiss newspaper Blick.

Ammann, 37, swept the individual Olympic titles in 2002 and 2010 to join retired Finn Matti Nykänen as the only four-time Olympic ski jumping champs.

In PyeongChang, his sixth Olympics, Ammann placed 11th and 13th, one month after making his first World Cup podium in nearly three years. He decided after those Winter Games that he would continue at least one more season, but has no plan to go all the way to a seventh Olympics in 2022, according to Blick.

Ammann has teased retirement since at least 2011 and even said going into the 2014 Sochi Olympics that he was “99 percent sure” they would be his final Games.

The now-father of two first gained crossover celebrity with his surprise Salt Lake City 2002 gold medals, his first wins in top-level international competition. The bespectacled Ammann’s victory screams and resemblance to Harry Potter helped land him on “The Late Show with David Letterman” and one of Europe’s biggest shows, sitting next to Shakira.

Fellow ski jumper Noriaki Kasai of Japan holds the Winter Olympic record of eight appearances. Kasai, 46, has said he plans to go for a ninth participation at Beijing 2022.

NBC Olympic Research contributed to this report.

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