Winter Olympics updates: Shaun White looks to go out a champion, Mikaela Shiffrin aims to ‘reset’ – USA TODAY

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The Beijing Olympics on Thursday belonged to Nathen Chen and Chloe Kim. Legendary American snowboarder Shaun White hopes he’s up next.

(Looking for a recap? We’ve got you covered.)

White, who announced that these Olympics would be his last for the United States, will compete in the men’s snowboarding halfpipe final in search of his fourth gold medal.

“It would have been nice to just cruise in and have a great, easy first run. But I had to fight for it,” White said after his run earlier this week. “I had to work for it. That’s been this entire season, me just grinding it out, working for it.”

White will be joined in the final by American teammates Taylor Gold and Chase Josey, who qualified seventh and 12th, respectively.

Mikaela Shiffrin, meanwhile, won’t be leaving Beijing without a fight. After DNFs in back-to-back technical races for the first time since 2011, Shiffrin will try a “reset” in the super-G.

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MEDAL COUNT: How each country is performing at the Winter Games

Men’s halfpipe update: Shaun White moves closer to medal position

Australian Scotty James, the 2018 bronze medalist, also laid down a monster run, good for a score of 92.50, and he leads the men’s halfpipe competition with one final attempt remaining for each competitor.

Three-time gold medalist Shaun White had a much cleaner trip down the pipe the second time, posting a score of 82. That puts him fourth overall, ahead of countryman Taylor Gold.

Japan’s Ayumu Hirano completed another triple cork in a clean second run, but the judges gave him a score of only 91.50 so he sits in second.

Men’s halfpipe underway: USA’s Taylor Gold on top after first run

They’ve completed one run and there’s American on top of the halfpipe standings in Beijing. But it’s not three-time gold medalist Shaun White.

Taylor Gold was the only rider to score above 80 points the first time through the order. So his 81.75 is the score to beat at the moment.

Japan’s Ayumu Hirano completed the first triple cork attempted and landed in Olympic history, but fell at the end of his opening run. 

White, in the final competition of his career, is currently in fourth place heading into run No. 2.  Only the best score of each rider’s three runs will count.

Some sketchy landings there, but Shaun White just put down a run with four double corks. Scores 72 and puts him in fourth, currently. He’ll have two runs to clean up or try something else.

— Rachel Axon (@RachelAxon) February 11, 2022

Five iconic moments from Shaun White’s stellar career

ZHANGJIAKOU, China – For more than 20 years, Shaun White has dominated his sport. Between the halfpipe walls, he landed new tricks that helped push snowboarding forward and made himself a household name.

After five Olympics and three Olympic gold medals, that comes to an end with White’s final competition, the halfpipe final in the Beijing Games. The final begins at 9:30 a.m. Friday in Beijing (8:30 p.m. Thursday night ET). 

“The thing I’m the most proud of would be staying on top of a sport that’s ever changing as long as I have,” White said. “The last Olympics, to be in a position where I was the last rider to go, one more run and I had never done that combination of tricks before and just put it down to win, that’s probably my legacy performance.”

As White’s career comes to a close, here’s a look back at the moments that defined it, from the “Flying Tomato” to Olympic redemption.

— Rachel Axon

Injured skier Nina O’Brien begins long journey back to the United States

BEIJING – Getting athletes to the Beijing Olympics was a challenge because of COVID restrictions. Getting one home, on short notice, took an even greater effort. 

Nina O’Brien flew home early Friday, four days after breaking her left tibia and fibula in a crash just short of the finish line in the giant slalom.

“It’s been very complicated. I’m lucky I had so many people working on it behind the scenes that I didn’t have to worry,” O’Brien told USA TODAY Sports while she was at the airport. “I got to pick which plan was best for me. But it was not simple logistically.”

Because China’s borders remain largely closed due to COVID, O’Brien couldn’t get a medical plane or a direct flight home. So she had to take an early-morning commercial flight that had her connecting through Tokyo. 

“This ended up being the quickest and most convenient way to get home,” O’Brien said.

— Nancy Armour

Russian drug controversy continues to loom over figure skating competition

Medals have yet to be awarded in the team figure skating competition, and we may now know why. The “legal issues” that Olympic officials atrributed to causing the delay involve a positive drug test on the gold medal-winning Russian team, USA TODAY’s Christine Brennan reported on Wednesday.

Officials were told the athlete involved is a minor. And 15-year-old Russian skater Kamila Valieva, who’s also the gold-medal favorite in the women’s individual competition, is the only minor on the Russian team. 

She, like other Russian skaters, has largely avoided speaking with Western media while in Beijing. But she was seen at practice Thursday.

“She is not suspended,” Olga Ermolina, a spokesperson for the Russian figure skating federation, said according to the Associated Press.

Several media outlets, including Russian newspaper RBC, have reported Valieva tested positive for trimetazidine, a heart medication used to treat angina and vertigo symptoms. It was added to the IOC’s banned list in 2014 because  it can improve endurance and blood flow. 

— Tom Schad

RELATED: USA TODAY’s Nancy Armour lays blame for the controversy squarely on the IOC

Team USA medal count after one week in Beijing: 4 gold, 10 overall

After the first seven days of competition at the 2022 Winter Olympics, it’s a good opportunity to look back at some of the highlights for the U.S. team.

Through Thursday’s events, the United States ranks fifth overall in total medals with 10. Austria has the most (13). 

Thursday’s three gold medals pushed Team USA to a total of four, trailing only Norway with five and Germany with six. 

Taylor Gold takes old-school approach to snowboarding

Taylor Gold knew it was a risk, was reminded often of the gamble he was making by not following the snowboarding crowd. As the world’s top riders followed the sport’s progression to more flips and spins, Gold sought a way to show his unique style in the halfpipe.

After missing the Pyeongchang Olympics because of injuries, Gold’s bet paid off and helped him punch his ticket to his second Games.

Still a stickler for precision, he built on the foundation of his riding with a one-of-a-kind trick linked in a run that others aren’t doing. While the rest of the field has zigged, Gold zagged – and his tricks in combination just might be enough for a medal in Beijing. 

Gold, 28, is part of a three-man U.S. contingent in the halfpipe final, which begins at 9:30 a.m. Friday in Beijing (8:30 p.m. Thursday night ET). 

— Rachel Axon

Chinese men’s hockey team has surprising number of North Americans

BEIJING — The majority of the host team’s country was not born here. Many of them do not have Chinese ancestry. Yet they wore “China” on the front of their hockey sweaters with pride and talked of growing the sport they are so passionate about.

“It was unique, seeing as I played for USA, now I’ve played against USA,” said China goaltender Jeremy Smith, who stopped 47 American shots Thursday but played for the U.S. at the 2008 world junior championships. “At the end of the day, I’m thankful and honored to be an Olympian – a Chinese Olympian.”

Of the 22 players who dressed for China in its 8-0 loss to the U.S. at National Indoor Stadium on Thursday, 17 were either born or raised in the United States or Canada.

How is this possible?

International Ice Hockey Federation bylaws stipulate that a person can represent a country in the Olympics if they’ve lived there for two years and played for the national team.

— Chris Bumbaca

Olympic TV ratings don’t quite reach gold standard for NBC

When NBC Sports’ turn in the rotation to televise a Super Bowl coincided with also broadcasting the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, the month of February was thought to be an all-out ratings wipeout, leaving others networks in the dust. 

So far, that has yet to materialize with the Beijing Games being tuned out in record numbers and Sunday’s Super Bowl between the Los Angeles Rams and Cincinnati Bengals hoping to bring in 100 million viewers to help pick up the slack. 

Executives from NBCUniversal spoke on a conference call Thursday to discuss their plans and while ratings have been down more than 40% for the Olympics, optimism remains. 

— Scooby Axson