Rory McIlroy changes stance, wants to play Tokyo Olympics

Rory McIlroy
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FARMINGDALE, N.Y. — Rory McIlroy once said he resented the Olympics. That’s all changed. McIlroy reversed his stance and wants to play at the 2020 Tokyo Games.

“More likely than not I will play. I think it would be a great experience,” McIlroy said when asked by NBCSports.com at the PGA Championship at Bethpage Black on Tuesday. “I’m excited to play for Ireland.

“I’ve thought about that for a long time, and in the end, it was the fact that when I was a little boy and I got that first call up to the national squad … I was so proud to do that.”

McIlroy, a native of Northern Ireland, skipped golf’s return to the Olympics in Rio, citing Zika virus concerns two months before the Opening Ceremony. He had the choice of playing for Ireland or Great Britain, since Northern Ireland does not field a separate Olympic team, and chose Ireland before announcing his withdrawal.

In the months that followed the Games, McIlroy hinted that other reasons went into his decision, perhaps primarily — that he didn’t consider Olympic golf that prestigious. Or because of the politics concerning which country he would represent.

He doubled down on the latter in January 2017. McIlroy said in one interview that he resented the Olympics “because of the position it put me in” for having to choose between representing two flags with which he felt no connection.

Two days later, the BBC published a video interview where McIlroy said it was fantastic that golf rejoined the Olympics, but he was unlikely to go for Tokyo 2020 given his unique situation.

On Tuesday, McIlroy reminisced glowingly about representing Ireland in the past. He last did so at the World Cup of Golf in 2011.

“As a young boy it was always my dream to play for Ireland,” he said. “I was very proud to put on that shirt or that blazer.

“When you put the Olympics into the equation, and then there’s a choice to be made, you really have to start thinking, OK, well, what are your beliefs and your values and your — it makes you sort of have to delve a little bit deeper. It’s not just a superficial decision. It’s something that you have to really believe in.

“So why would it be any different just because it’s a different golf tournament or because it’s a different arena or a different environment? That was basically what it came down to.”

McIlroy is very likely to qualify for the Olympics. Nations can qualify up to two golfers once past the top 15 in the world rankings, and McIlroy (No. 4) and Shane Lowry (No. 45) are the only Irishmen in the current top 100.

McIlroy had several conversations over the last two months with Neil Manchip, Ireland’s nominated team leader for the Olympics, Manchip said.

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Teri McKeever fired by Cal as women’s swimming coach after investigation

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Teri McKeever, the first woman to serve as a U.S. Olympic swimming head coach, was fired by the University of California at Berkeley after an investigation into alleged verbal and emotional abuse of swimmers that she denied.

McKeever was put on paid administrative leave from her job as head women’s swimming coach in May after an Orange County Register report that 20 current or former Cal swimmers said McKeever verbally and emotionally bullied her swimmers.

Cal athletics director Jim Knowlton wrote in a letter to the Cal team and staff that a resulting independent law firm report detailed “verbally abusive conduct that is antithetical to our most important values.”

“I strongly believe this is in the best interests of our student-athletes, our swimming program and Cal Athletics as a whole,” Knowlton said of McKeever’s firing in a press release. “The report details numerous violations of university policies that prohibit race, national origin and disability discrimination.”

The Orange County Register first published what it says is the full independent report here.

“I deny and unequivocally refute all conclusions that I abused or bullied any athlete and deny any suggestion I discriminated against any athlete on the basis of race, disability or sexual orientation,” McKeever said in a statement Tuesday confirming her firing and expressing disappointment in how the investigation was conducted. “While I am disappointed in the way my CAL Career will conclude, I wish to thank and celebrate the many student-athletes and staff that made my time in Berkeley a true blessing and gift.”

McKeever’s lawyer wrote that McKeever “will be filing suit to expose the manner in which gender has affected not only the evaluation of her coaching but harmed and continues to harm both female and male athletes.”

McKeever led Cal women’s swimming and diving for nearly 30 years, winning four NCAA team titles and coaching Olympic champions including Missy FranklinNatalie Coughlin and Dana Vollmer.

In 2004, she became the first woman to be on a U.S. Olympic swim team coaching staff, as an assistant. In 2012, she became the first woman to be head coach of a U.S. Olympic swim team. She was an assistant again for the Tokyo Games.

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Diana Taurasi returns to U.S. national basketball team

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Diana Taurasi is set to return to the U.S. national basketball team next week for the first time since the Tokyo Olympics, signaling a possible bid for a record-breaking sixth Olympic appearance in 2024 at age 42.

Taurasi is on the 15-player roster for next week’s training camp in Minnesota announced Tuesday.

Brittney Griner is not on the list but is expected to return to competitive basketball later this year with her WNBA team, the Phoenix Mercury (also Taurasi’s longtime team, though she is currently a free agent), after being detained in Russia for 10 months in 2022.

Taurasi said as far back as the 2016 Rio Games that her Olympic career was likely over, but returned to the national team after Dawn Staley succeeded Geno Auriemma as head coach in 2017.

In Tokyo, Taurasi and longtime backcourt partner Sue Bird became the first basketball players to win five Olympic gold medals. Bird has since retired.

After beating Japan in the final, Taurasi said “see you in Paris,” smiling, as she left an NBC interview. That’s now looking less like a joke and more like a prediction.

Minnesota Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve succeeded Staley as head coach last year. In early fall, she guided the U.S. to arguably the best FIBA World Cup performance ever, despite not having stalwarts Bird, Griner, Tina Charles and Sylvia Fowles.

Taurasi was not in contention for the team after suffering a WNBA season-ending quad injury in the summer. Taurasi, who is 38-0 in Olympic games and started every game at the last four Olympics, wasn’t on a U.S. team for an Olympics or worlds for the first time since 2002.

Next year, Taurasi can become the oldest Olympic basketball player in history and the first to play in six Games, according to Olympedia.org. Spain’s Rudy Fernandez could also play in a sixth Olympics in 2024.

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