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One year after winning Olympic gold, Mikael Kingsbury is still striving for more

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While watching the 2002 Salt Lake Olympics, then-nine-year-old Mikael Kingsbury printed out the Olympic symbol on a piece of paper and wrote below it that he would win a gold medal. He taped it to the ceiling above his bed at his home in Quebec so that he could see it every night before he fell asleep.

Sixteen years later, Kingsbury stood on top of the podium at the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics – and over 6,000 miles away in Quebec, his brother scribbled across the sign so it read, ‘you did win.’ The edited version is still hanging above Kingsbury’s childhood bed today.

If anyone thought Kingsbury, 26, would take it easy now that he’s accomplished the goal he set at age nine, they were wrong. He opened his post-Olympic season with four-straight World Cup wins. If anything, he says his success in PyeongChang just inspired him more. “Winning gold just gave me more motivation,” he said in a phone interview at the end of January. “Once you reach the top, [you] want to stay there.”

In addition to his gold medal from PyeongChang, Kingsbury also owns silver from the 2014 Sochi Games. His dominance on the World Cup circuit is even more impressive. In 96 starts, he has stood on the podium 78 times, including 54 wins. His recent success is even more staggering: in his last 30 starts in singles moguls, he has won 23 times – and only finished off the podium twice. His strong results have helped him win seven-straight World Cup titles – and he’s well on his way to claiming an eighth this season. His consistency is even more improbable when you consider the unforgiving nature of moguls, an event that combines speed, form, and style – and is held on snowy slopes in ever-changing conditions.

Kingsbury’s record isn’t as flawless in world championship competition, though, something he says he’s hoping to improve upon this week in Park City, Utah. The singles competition will be held on Friday night, while the non-Olympic dual moguls event will take place on Saturday. At the 2017 World Championships, Kingsbury claimed bronze in singles, but placed 13th in duals.

“My last world championships didn’t go as well as I wanted it to,” Kingsbury said in January. “This year, [the world championships] are my main goal… I’m trying to be at my peak there.” Kingsbury has had plenty of previous success on ‘Champion,’ the slope at Deer Valley where this year’s World Championships are being held. (‘Champion’ is also the slope that was used at the 2002 Salt Lake Games, the competition that sparked Kingsbury’s gold-medal goal.) He has won the last four World Cup events at the venue,

The two-time Olympic medalist’s approach to competition is calculated carefully. In practice, he frequently skis up to a second-and-a-half faster than he generally does in competition. Because he typically qualifies in the top position heading into the final round, he’s able to watch his competitors go before him, and adjust his speed and tricks based on the score he thinks he needs.

Kingsbury also says his goals have changed since the PyeongChang Olympics, “Before it was only win, win, win. Now, it’s more about reaching my full potential.” He’s been working on new tricks to include in his repertoire and says he has a cork 1440 (four twists off-axis with skis crossed) ready to go if one of his competitor’s throws down the gauntlet.

He also trains double flips in the off-season, which are currently not approved for competition by the international ski federation (FIS). “I want to make sure I’m in the loop so if one day they say, ‘Ok, you can throw doubles,’ I’ll be ready.”

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At U.S. Open swim meet, teens make a splash with Olympic trials on horizon

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While Olympic and world champions Katie LedeckySimone Manuel and Chase Kalisz notched expected victories at the U.S. Open on Thursday, a trio of teenagers lowered personal bests to further establish their Tokyo Olympic hopes.

At the top domestic meet of the winter, Alex WalshCarson Foster and Kieran Smith each earned runner-up finishes, but their performances stood out in the big picture: looking at June’s Olympic trials, where the top two per individual event make the team.

Walsh, a rising Nashville high school senior, took 2.23 seconds off her 200m individual medley best. She clocked 2:09.01, overtaken by .17 by Melanie Margalis, the Rio Olympic and 2019 World Championships fourth-place finisher.

Full meet results are here.

Walsh moved from fifth-fastest in the U.S. this year to No. 2 behind Margalis, passing Olympic and world championships veterans Ella EastinKathleen Baker and Madisyn Cox. Of those swimmers, only Eastin was also in Thursday’s final.

Walsh joined her younger sister, Gretchen, in Olympic qualifying position based on 2019 times. Gretchen, 16, ranks fourth in the U.S. in the 100m free this year. The top six in that event at trials are in line to make the Olympic 4x100m free relay pool.

The Walshes could become the third set of sisters to make the same U.S. Olympic swim team, and the second to do it in pool swimming after Dana and Tara Kirk in 2004.

Foster, 18, continued his ascent Thursday in taking second to Kalisz in the men’s 200m IM. The world junior champion lowered his personal best in the prelims and the final, getting down to 1:57.59. Foster passed Ryan Lochte, who is nearly twice his age, in Thursday’s final and in the 2019 U.S. rankings. Only Kalisz and Michael Andrew have been faster among Americans this year.

Foster is trying to become the youngest U.S. Olympic male swimmer since 2000, when a 15-year-old Michael Phelps made his Olympic debut. Foster, who has been breaking Phelps national age-group records since he was 10, committed to the University of Texas in March 2018, two years before he graduates high school in Ohio.

Then there’s Kieran Smith, now a prime candidate to fill a huge void in the 400m freestyle. Zane Grothe is the only American ranked in the top 20 in the world this year.

Smith, a 19-year-old from the University of Florida, took 2.29 seconds off his lifetime best on Thursday to jump from outside the top 10 to No. 2 in the U.S. on the year. Smith was already ranked No. 2 in the country in the 200m free.

Two more runners-up in the 50m freestyles — Erika Brown to Manuel and Zach Apple to Brazilian Bruno Fratus — lowered personal bests to move to No. 3 in each U.S. ranking list this year.

The U.S. Open continues Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m. ET with live coverage on NBCSN and streaming on NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app.

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Nathan Chen distances Yuzuru Hanyu in Grand Prix Final short program

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A brilliant Nathan Chen outscored a flawed Yuzuru Hanyu for a fourth straight head-to-head program, taking a 12.95-point lead at the Grand Prix Final in Turin, Italy, on Thursday.

Chen, the two-time reigning world champion, tallied 110.38 points going into Saturday’s free skate. He landed a quadruple Lutz, triple Axel and quad toe loop-triple toe loop combination.

It’s the highest short program score in the world this season, leading the American to say “wow” in the kiss-and-cry area. His coach, the often-gruff Rafael Arutyunyan, banged his knee against his pupil’s.

Hanyu, the two-time reigning Olympic champion, hit a quadruple Salchow and triple Axel but then stepped out of a quad toe landing. He therefore failed to include a required jumping combination and ended up in second place.

“I wanted to do a great performance and do a good competition against [Chen], but that didn’t happen this time,” Hanyu, who was without longtime coach Brian Orser, or any other coach, said through a translator. Hanyu said Orser was busy last week, so he chose to use his lone accreditation on another coach who had travel delays.

Hanyu is not out of title contention. His world-leading free skate score this season is 16.61 points better than Chen’s best free skate from the fall Grand Prix Series.

Chen is undefeated since placing fifth at the PyeongChang Olympics, but this is just his second head-to-head with Hanyu in that span. Chen defeated Hanyu at March’s world championships, where the Japanese megastar was likely affected by an ankle injury.

After Thursday’s program, Chen repeated what he said before the competition: he still feels like he’s chasing Hanyu.

“Yuzu is like the goat, he’s the greatest of all time, really,” Chen said. “So, to have this opportunity to be able to share the ice with a guy like that, someone that I’ve looked up to for a long time, someone that I’ve watched grow up through the junior ranks when I was like a baby, it’s really cool to be able see him now. It’s really cool to even just be able to see him person.”

The Grand Prix Final, the biggest annual event outside the world championships, continues Friday with the rhythm dance, women’s short and pairs’ free skate. A full TV and live stream schedule is here.

Earlier in pairs, Chinese Sui Wenjing and Han Cong took their first step toward a first Grand Prix Final title. The Olympic silver medalists tallied 77.50, leading Russians Aleksandra Boikova and Dmitriy Kozlovskiy by .85 going into Friday’s free skate.

Sui and Han were imperfect, with Sui putting her hand down on a throw triple flip landing. They are undefeated in this Beijing Olympic cycle and own the world’s top total score this season.

The U.S. failed to qualify a pair for the six-team Final for the 11th time in the last 12 years.

Grand Prix Final
Men’s Short Program
1. Nathan Chen (USA) — 110.38
2. Yuzuru Hanyu (JPN) — 97.43
3. Kevin Aymoz (FRA) — 96.71
4. Dmitriy Aliyev (RUS) — 88.78
5. Alexander Samarin (RUS) — 81.32
6. Jin Boyang (CHN) — 80.67

Pairs’ Short Program
1. Sui Wenjing/Han Cong (CHN) — 77.50
2. Aleksandra Boikova / Dmitriy Kozlovskiy (RUS) — 76.65
3. Daria Pavliuchenko/Denis Khodykin (RUS) — 75.16
4. Anastasia Mishina/Aleksandr Galliamov (RUS) — 71.48
5. Peng Cheng/Jin Yang (CHN) — 69.67
6. Kirsten Moore-Towers/Michael Marinaro (CAN) — 67.08

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