Rory McIlroy
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Rory McIlroy changes stance, wants to play Tokyo Olympics

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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 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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Leanne Smith leads U.S. gold medalists at para swim worlds

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Leanne Smith has never competed at a Paralympics. Came into this week’s world championships with zero world medals. But she leaves London with three individual golds, most for any American, one year before the Tokyo Games.

Smith, 21, won the 150m individual medley, 50m breaststroke and 100m freestyle in her classification, all in American record times. The last two titles came on the final day of the seven-day meet on Sunday.

Smith, diagnosed with a rare neurological muscle disease called dystonia in January 2012, began swimming in 2013. By 2017, she broke a world record and then debuted at the world championships with a best individual finish of sixth.

The U.S. finished with 35 total medals and 14 golds, ranking sixth in the overall standings. Ukraine, usually strong at the Paralympics, led the way with 55 medals. Full results are here.

Jessica Long, the second-most-decorated U.S. Paralympian in history with 23 medals, earned six this week — five silvers and a bronze — to give her 52 career world championships medals.

Two-time Paralympian Mallory Weggemann earned two golds this week, giving her 15 world titles in three appearances (her others being in 2009 and 2010).

She won 50m titles in the butterfly and freestyle. Weggemann won a 2012 Paralympic 50m free title but was fortunate just to make it back for Rio after a 2014 accident that she said was harder to come back from than her teenage paralysis. She left Rio with no medals but a resolve to return for a third Games in Tokyo.

“I’m two seconds away from bursting into tears,” Weggemann said after winning the first of her two golds in the 50m fly, according to U.S. Paralympics. “I had a really rough go these past three years since Rio, so to finally be back after busting my butt to be here, and to be here in London of all places, is absolutely incredible.”

Fellow Rio Paralympians McKenzie Coan and Robert Griswold added two golds a piece.

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Heimana Reynolds wins skateboard world title, nears an Olympic goal from age 10

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In February 2009, a 10-year-old Heimana Reynolds was profiled by his local NBC TV station on Oahu.

“My goal is to become a professional skateboarder and compete in the X Games and the Olympics,” he said, according to the report.

Skateboarding would not be added to the Olympics for another seven years. But here Reynolds is, age 21, having just won the world title in park, one of two skateboarding events that debut at the Games in Tokyo.

Reynolds, who wasn’t named to the four-man U.S. national team in March, consolidated his lead in the Olympic qualification rankings by prevailing over a pair of Brazilians in Sao Paulo on Sunday.

A shirtless Reynolds scored 88 points in the final, beating Luis Francisco (85.50) and Pedro Quintas (85).

No more than three Americans can make the Olympic team in the event, which will make it difficult if three-time Olympic halfpipe snowboarding champion Shaun White decides to continue his skateboarding pursuit. White was the sixth-best American, bowing out in the semifinals in 13th place on Saturday in just his second contest since returning to competitive skating last year.

Back to Reynolds. He grew up on the North Shore and attended the Punahou School, where Barack Obama is the most famous alum. His first name is Tahitian, reportedly referring to the power of Jesus’ crown of thorns.

Reynolds, the son of a surfer, proved a natural on land. After pre-teen media profiles, he blossomed into a world silver medalist last year. He won an Olympic qualifier in China in July to take the top spot in the Olympic rankings despite a best career X Games finish of sixth.

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