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Scott Hamilton CARES Foundation brings skating stars to Detroit ahead of U.S. Championships

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By Colton Wood

DETROIT – Scott Hamilton thought it was just an ulcer.

In 1997, figure skating icon Hamilton was 50 cities into a 60-city ice tour and could no longer stand the pain he was suffering through, so he went to the emergency room to get medication, a decision that will forever be etched in Hamilton’s mind.

Hamilton, 38 at the time, soon learned his pain wasn’t the result of an ulcer. Hamilton, the 1984 Olympic gold medalist, had testicular cancer.

After watching his mother struggle with cancer, Hamilton, who eventually lost her to cancer at 18, was frightened by his diagnosis.

Hamilton ended up winning his battle, but it gave him the idea to start his own foundation to change the future of cancer. So, in 1999, he started the Scott Hamilton CARES Foundation.

Twenty years later, Hamilton and his foundation hosted a free skating event – “Sk8 to Elimin8 Cancer” – in Detroit to help raise money for his foundation and cancer research.

The event, which was held on Wednesday in anticipation for the start of the U.S. Figure Skating Championships, brought together a slew of local skaters and several prominent Olympians and national champions.

“It’s really cool to be able to partner with [U.S. Figure Skating] and for them to be so willing to partner with me,” Hamilton said. “They’ve been unconditionally supportive. We have a lot of skaters here doing this. The skaters like doing this because there’s no one who hasn’t been touched by it in some way, shape or form.”

Among the skaters was Samantha Lang, a junior-level skater and Michigan resident who competed at Midwestern Sectionals this year.

“It’s a really big honor,” said Lang, who moved to Michigan from Texas at 13. “Not a lot of people can say they were a part of something like this. I feel really grateful that I got to do something as special as this and give back to the community because figure skating has done a lot for me.”

While Lang, 17, was skating for more than just the crowd’s enjoyment on Wednesday, she was honored to be able to skate alongside eminent figure skaters.

“It kind of puts pressure on your own back to say, ‘Hey, you need to step up to the plate and do the best you can because look at all these people that have done great things. You need to do great things,’” Lang said.

Yuka Sato, the 1994 world champion from Japan, was one of the last skaters to perform during Wednesday’s event.

Sato, who has lived in Michigan since 1998, said it meant a lot to her to be able to skate for Hamilton’s foundation.

“Numerous of [Hamilton’s and my] friends have fought cancer,” Sato said. “It’s always very sentimental. One more person that can be saved [from cancer], that would be wonderful. Scott and I have been longtime friends. I’ve seen a lot of ups and downs of what Scott has gone through. Anytime I’m available, and if we can do this together – this means a lot to myself, and anything I can do for Scott – I’m here.”

To wrap the night up, Olympic medalist and four-time U.S. national champion Jeremy Abbott took to the ice and awed the audience.

“I think everyone is affected by cancer in one way or another,” Abbott said. “I think what Scott’s doing is really important.”

Abbott was diagnosed and underwent surgery for basal cell carcinoma in Dec. 2017. It is the least malignant and most common form of skin cancer.

Abbott grew up admiring the career of Hamilton, so to be able to perform for the foundation was something he didn’t take for granted.

“Every once in a while,” Abbott said, “I’ll just step back and I’ll be like, ‘Oh, my God, I’m performing with these people that I idolized as a kid and wanted to be and wanted to have their careers. And now, they’re calling me to be a part of it.’ When I actually have those moments where I can really step back and see that progression, my mind is blown.”

MORE: Mariah Bell keeps getting better, but if you ask her, it’s just the start

As a reminder, you can watch the U.S. Championships live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. Go to NBCsports.com/gold/figure-skating to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season. NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.

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FIFA rules on Olympic men’s soccer tournament age eligibility

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For the first time since 1988, some 24-year-olds will be eligible for the Olympic men’s soccer tournament without using an over-age exception.

FIFA announced Friday that it will use the same age eligibility criteria for the Tokyo Olympics in 2021 that it intended to use in 2020 — that players born on or after Jan. 1, 1997 are eligible, plus three over-age exceptions. FIFA chose not to move the birthdate deadline back a year after the Olympics were postponed by one year.

Olympic men’s soccer tournaments have been U-23 events — save those exceptions — since the 1992 Barcelona Games. In 1984 and 1988, restrictions kept European and South American players with World Cup experience ineligible. Before that, professionals weren’t allowed at all.

Fourteen of the 16 men’s soccer teams already qualified for the Games using players from under-23 national teams. The last two spots are to be filled by CONCACAF nations, potentially the U.S. qualifying a men’s team for the first time since 2008.

The U.S.’ biggest star, Christian Pulisic, and French superstar Kylian Mbappe were both born in 1998 and thus would have been under the age limit even if FIFA moved the deadline to Jan. 1, 1998.

Perhaps the most high-profile player affected by FIFA’s decision is Brazilian forward Gabriel Jesus. The Manchester City star was born April 3, 1997, and thus would have become an over-age exception if FIFA pushed the birthdate rule back a year.

Instead, Brazil could name him to the Olympic team and still keep all of its over-age exceptions.

However, players need permission from their professional club teams to play in the Olympics, often limiting the availability of stars.

MORE: Noah Lyles details training near woods, dog walkers

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Jenny Thompson’s new team is on the front line fighting coronavirus

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Two weeks ago, Jenny Thompson, the 12-time Olympic swimming medalist turned anesthesiologist, told close friends about the worrisome situation at her hospital in Charleston, S.C.

Thompson and her perioperative team of 40 or 50 were stressed that they would not have the most effective personal protective equipment (PPE) for when the coronavirus pandemic peaks there, projected to be later this month.

The messages caused fellow former Stanford swimmers and Olympic teammates Gabrielle Rose and Lea Maurer to act.

“She almost never asks for any sort of help or support,” Maurer said. “She’s Herculean in her ability to take on life and all its challenges.”

Rose and Maurer started a GoFundMe titled “Go Jenny Go” on March 22 for help to purchase PPE for the hospital. At the time, critical care doctors were “scrambling to piece together purchases on their own in anticipation of their high risk patients,” Maurer wrote.

Thompson said the PPE situation is better now. The GoFundMe was suspended Wednesday. Future support is directed to help those in New York City. Thompson specifically noted a GoFundMe for NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital and the COVID-19 Emergency Relief Fund.

More than $9,000 was raised in less than two weeks. Also, the hospital started receiving more PPE on its own. Thompson’s team now feels prepared for what’s to come.

“People were responding and donating from all chapters of my life,” Thompson said by phone Thursday. “People I didn’t even know. Family from USA Swimming and international swimming. It’s really touched me to know that so many people care and are able to donate, help share the message.”

Thompson woke at 4 a.m. several days this week with thoughts of her peers in New York City. Healthcare workers there have cited a lack of PPE in putting their own lives at risk while they fight to save others. Some have contracted the virus.

“We’ve been fortunate [in South Carolina]. I feel lucky,” Thompson said. “We’ll definitely be in a place where we’re taking care of a lot of Covid patients, but we’re not there yet.

“I’ve heard people say, people in healthcare knew what they were signing up for. I never signed up to get sick and potentially die from this job. I always assumed that I would have the protection or the supplies needed to help me do my job, and that’s been a real struggle nationwide.”

Thompson went to medical school in New York at Columbia University starting in 2001.

“I’d been there maybe a couple weeks at Columbia, when 9/11 happened,” she said. “I remember feeling very helpless as a first-year medical student. I wanted to help so badly, but there really wasn’t much I could do. All my classmates felt the same way. I’ve always had that as part of the making of me as a doctor, having to go through crisis, but I never imagined a pandemic. I guess some people prepare for this sort of thing their whole life, but I didn’t.”

The term “front lines” has been applied to healthcare workers around the globe. Thompson said it’s apt at her hospital.

“We definitely have Covid here, but we have not had a major outbreak like some other cities,” she said. “We consider every patient who we give general anesthesia and intubate to be a potential risk. As anesthesia providers and people who intubate the airway, we are on the front line. We are at a much higher risk of getting sick without the right PPE.”

Thompson’s team feels more ready for the peak with every passing day. They’re simulating, donning and doffing and scheduling to work longer shifts starting next week. The preparation extends home, where she has a husband and three children.

“I have, like, four different pairs of shoes,” Thompson said. “I spray my socks with fabric disinfectant. I take them off in the car, and then I put on flip-flops. Then when I get home, I shower and put my clothes in the wash immediately. It’s a strange place to be, but just consider everything I touch to be contaminated in an effort to protect myself.”

Both Rose and Maurer still see in Thompson that swimmer who awed them in college. As Thompson trained to become the most decorated female U.S. Olympian in history, she studied at Stanford and then Columbia to become a doctor.

“I knew I wanted to take care of critically ill patients,” she said.

As a swimmer, Thompson was known as the ultimate teammate. Eight Olympic gold medals in relays, often an anchor. Always there. Dependable.

“She knows that she’s going to make a difference,” Maurer said. “She knows that she’s going to achieve that goal. She knows that she’s going to help to make people better. And so she does it.”

Thompson believes the next few weeks will be unlike anything she’s ever faced.

“Everybody was sort of freaking out in the beginning and feeling very stressed, and I think that at some level has not gone away,” she said. “That’s going to stay with us, but we have a we-can-do-this-together fighting mentality that we are leaning on each other for. It’s really no different than being a part of any kind of team.”