Elena Hight

Elena Hight talks Olympic qualification, pushing the limits of snowboarding, ESPN Body Issue

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Women’s halfpipe may be the toughest U.S. Olympic team to make come 2014.

A maximum of four women can be selected from a group that includes 2002 Olympic champion and three-time reigning Winter X Games champion Kelly Clark, 2006 Olympic champion Hannah Teter, 2006 Olympic silver medalist Gretchen Bleiler and 2013 world champion Arielle Gold.

Elena Hight, a two-time Olympian and two-time reigning X Games silver medalist, knows that somebody who could potentially medal in Sochi will be left at home.

“Women’s halfpipe snowboarding is an extremely competitive field in the United States,” Hight said at a recent U.S. Olympic Committee event in New York. “For whatever reason, we have eight out of the top 10 women in halfpipe riding. … Looking forward into the season, a lot of people from other countries already have their spots secured going into the Olympics, which is a huge advantage. Already knowing that you’re going to be there is a huge weight lifted off your shoulders. For the U.S. it just makes me going into this season kind of focus on being the best that I can be before the season even starts because it’s not a free ride until the Olympics. It’s right off the bat in December, when our qualifiers are, you need to be as on it as possible because of that qualifying system.”

The qualifiers, or selection events, begin Dec. 12-15 in Breckenridge, Colo. There are four events spread across Colorado and California running through Jan. 19. An athlete’s two best results from those events are combined in a points system to determine three members of the Olympic team.

A fourth could be added as a discretionary pick by the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association.

Hight, 24, sees a lot of herself in Gold, 17. Hight debuted at the Olympics at age 16 in 2006, finishing sixth.

“It’s great to have new blood,” Hight said. “I was definitely the underdog (in 2006), the youngin’ coming in to shake and rattle the veterans. I think it’s rad. … It’s cool to help her out when we can and pass along that wisdom. I think that’s what’s snowboarding’s all about.”

Hight is helping take women’s halfpipe to the next level. She was the first woman to land a double cork, doing so last May and in competition for the first time at the X Games. She believes she’s the only woman currently doing the trick, which was the headline-making move for the men going into the 2010 Olympics.

“It’s definitely a new trick for me, but I’m starting to feel much more confident with it,” she said. “Practice makes perfect. I’m spending a lot of time on snow this summer to make sure that it’s secondhand.”

Hight also spent some time in front of cameras for ESPN’s Body Issue, which came out in July.

“I have been a big fan of the Body Issue for quite some time now,” she said. “I think ESPN does a great job portraying the athlete’s body in such an amazing way. I really wanted to be a part of it and worked my way in there.”

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Claressa Shields congratulated by famous boxing actor (video)

Claressa Shields
Getty Images
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Claressa Shields may just be the most dominant female athlete on the planet. The Flint, Mich., native is now a two-time Olympic boxing champion with a 77-1 record and a four-year unbeaten streak.

Actor Mark Wahlberg, who played boxer Micky Ward in the 2010 film “The Fighter,” took notice.

He taped a video that Shields watched before a celebration in her hometown Thursday, according to the Flint Journal.

“You are the true definition of a champion,” Wahlberg said. “You continue to inspire so many people, not only in Flint, but all over the world. I’m so proud of you. Your performance was amazing. God bless you. I look forward to seeing you, and I look forward to doing lots of things with you.”

Now Shields must decide whether to turn professional, which would end her Olympic career.

“Professional women’s boxing is not nowhere near on the same attention level as the Olympics are,” the 21-year-old Shields said, according to the Flint Journal. “I get way more attention than any female boxer who is professional right now with me being an amateur.

“So the goal is to go professional but still have that same attention and same mainstream. Hopefully, if they have the rule changed that the women professionals can come back and fight the Olympics, I would go professional to fight on TV and make a bunch of money but then come back and defend my two gold medals in 2020.”

MORE: Shields becomes first U.S. fighter to win back-to-back golds

Russian Olympic medalists gifts include racehorse

Abdulrashid Sadulaev
AP
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MOSCOW (AP) — Luxury cars, apartments, even a racehorse — being an Olympic medalist in Russia can come with great material rewards but also controversy.

Under President Vladimir Putin, it’s become a tradition for Russia’s Olympic heroes to be showered with large cash sums and sometimes unwanted gifts.

On Friday, less than 24 hours after dozens of medalists were presented with BMW cars at the Kremlin by Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, an advertisement appeared online offering one of them for sale, with photographs showing the car still covered in stickers celebrating Russia’s medal haul in Rio.

The advertisement offering the BMW X6 for 4.67 million rubles ($72,000) was anonymous and quickly withdrawn. It couldn’t be independently verified by The Associated Press, though Russian agency R-Sport claimed the seller was a Russian medalist who thought the car was too big and unwieldy.

Figure skater Maxim Trankov, who received a Mercedes-Benz SUV for his gold medal in 2014, said few Olympians could afford to own such cars.

“Has no one thought that these gift cars are not only liable for the tax on luxury items, but also aren’t cheap to run and earnings can’t cover it?” he wrote on Twitter. “I’d sell mine too if it came to it … Or does everyone think all sports pay as well as soccer, hockey or tennis?”

Gymnast Seda Tutkhalyan said she wouldn’t be able to drive her new BMW because at 17 years of age she was too young to have a license.

While online commenters mostly supported an athlete’s right to sell expensive Olympic gifts, many were critical of the government for a display of conspicuous consumption at the Kremlin at a time when Russia’s pension and healthcare systems are under financial strain.

It’s not fully clear how much the prizes have cost the Russian government.

State TV channel Rossiya 24 reported that the fleet of BMWs was provided by the Olympians’ Support Fund, which is backed by a group of Russia’s richest men, but that the accompanying cash prizes of tens of thousands of dollars per medalist came in part from the federal budget.

More awards are on offer from regional governments, many of which made public displays of generosity despite financial troubles of their own.

The Caucasus region of North Ossetia last month promised a free apartment for any medalists from the area, though it isn’t clear if this has happened yet.

In another grand gesture, the head of the restive Dagestan region gave Olympic wrestling champion Abdulrashid Sadulaev 6 million rubles ($93,000) in cash and a racehorse at a lavish welcoming ceremony featured on local TV.

Still, all may not be well for Sadulaev, who’s nicknamed the “Russian Tank” for his habit of crushing opponents on the wrestling mat. He’s already facing an allegation from a Moscow radio presenter of reckless driving in his eye-catching BMW.

MORE: Putin slams Russia’s Paralympic ban