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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WATCH LIVE: Nathan Chen in U.S. Figure Skating Championships free skate

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Nathan Chen tries to become the first man to win four straight U.S. figure skating titles since 1988, live on NBC Sports on Sunday.

NBC Sports Gold streams live coverage of the men’s free skate for subscribers starting at 2:30 p.m. ET in Greensboro, N.C. NBC joins with TV coverage at 3.

LIVE STREAM: Men’s Free Skate — Gold | NBC | Skate Order

Chen, a 20-year-old Yale sophomore, is undefeated since placing fifth at the PyeongChang Olympics. He can become the seventh man since World War II to win four straight national titles.

Five of the previous six went on to earn Olympic gold, including Dick ButtonScott Hamilton and, most recently, Brian Boitano in 1988.

Chen carries a substantial 13.14-point lead from Saturday’s short program, where he landed two quadruple jumps on one week of full training following a flu bout.

The anticipated drama Sunday comes in the battle for silver and bronze medals and the last two world championships team spots.

Jason BrownAndrew TorgashevVincent Zhou and Tomoki Hiwatashi are separated by 8.78 points. Brown, the 2015 U.S. champion, and Zhou, the 2019 World bronze medalist, are the only men in the field other than Chen with world team experience.

Key Skate Times
5:01 p.m. (ET) — Vincent Zhou
5:18 — Tomoki Hiwatashi
5:26 — Andrew Torgashev
5:35 — Nathan Chen
5:43 — Jason Brown

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As a reminder, you can watch the events from the 2019-20 figure skating season 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.

Mikaela Shiffrin, with 66th World Cup win, moves one shy of career dream

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Mikaela Shiffrin has said one of her career dreams is to win in every discipline in one season. She is now one victory shy of realizing it.

Shiffrin earned her 66th World Cup victory — and her second in three days — at a super-G in Bansko, Bulgaria, on Sunday.

She prevailed by .29 of a second over Italian Marta Bassino and .70 over Swiss Lara Gut-Behrami. Gut-Behrami, the last skier other than Shiffrin to win a World Cup overall title back in 2016, earned her first podium in exactly one year.

Full results are here.

“Perfect weekend for me,” said Shiffrin, who moved one shy of recently retired Austrian Marcel Hirscher for third place on the World Cup career wins list. “The whole team is excited about the whole weekend, but especially today.”

She is en route to a fourth straight World Cup overall title. And she is a combined victory away from wins in all five disciplines in one season. Only Marc GirardelliPetra KronbergerJanica Kostelic and Tina Maze have done it.

“The thing that I’m most proud of right now is that I know how to win in slalom, [giant slalom], super-G and downhill, which I never expected that would really happen,” she said.

Shiffrin struggled with confidence during a winless stretch in early January, trying not to compare herself to last season, when she won a record 17 times. She still leads the men’s and women’s tours with six victories this season, a little more than halfway through.

“Every race is such a big fight, and I haven’t been the one on top of this fight every time,” she said. “Certainly I’ve been like sometimes the expectations that I have or that other people might have, I’m not quite living up to that. Sometimes it’s hard not to feel like I’m failing sometimes, even though this is still just an incredible season.”

There are two combined races left this season for Shiffrin to achieve the dream — Feb. 23 in Switzerland and March 1 in Italy. While combined — mixing a speed run and a technical run — might seem perfect for Shiffrin, she has one victory in four starts in the discipline between the World Cup and Olympics.

And Shiffrin is careful about her race schedule. She is undecided on entering a downhill and super-G next weekend at the 2014 Olympic venue in Russia.

“After this weekend my brain is a little bit dead,” she joked.

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