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.”

Shaun White injured in training run at New Zealand event

Simone Manuel upsets world-record holder again for gold (video)

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Simone Manuel pulled off another upset for gold.

The Olympic 100m free co-gold medalist won the world 100m freestyle title by stunning world-record holder Sarah Sjöström in an American record 52.27 seconds in Budapest on Friday.

The Swede Sjöström took silver in 52.31, followed by Denmark’s Pernille Blume in 52.69. American Mallory Comerford was fourth.

Sjöström was a heavy favorite going into the final, given she clocked 51.71 leading off the 4x100m free relay Sunday, taking .35 off the world record. Sjöström was .08 faster than her world-record pace at the 50-meter mark, but Manuel passed her in the last 10 meters and lowered her personal best by .42.

One year ago, Manuel and Canadian Penny Oleksiak were surprise Rio 100m free co-champions, topping then-world-record holder Cate Campbell of Australia. Campbell skipped worlds.

Manuel became the first U.S. woman to win the world 100m free title since Jenny Thompson in 1998.

She also took back the American record from Comerford, the 19-year-old who lowered it leading off the 4x100m free relay Sunday.

Women’s 100m Freestyle Results
Gold: Simone Manuel (USA) — 52.27
Silver: Sarah Sjöström (SWE) — 52.31
Bronze: Pernille Blume (DEN) — 52.69
4. Mallory Comerford (USA) — 52.77
5. Ranomi Kromowidjojo (NED) — 52.78
6. Penny Oleksiak (CAN) — 52.94
7. Bronte Campbell (AUS) — 53.18
8. Emma McKeon (AUS) — 53.21

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Yulia Efimova beats Lilly King at worlds; Simone Manuel pulls upset

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Yulia Efimova and Lilly King are even with one round to go.

The Russian took the latest episode of the Cold War swim rivalry, winning her trademark 200m breaststroke at the world championships in Budapest on Friday.

Earlier, American Simone Manuel won the 100m free in an upset, but Efimova was the clear favorite in the 200m breast. The Russian entered worlds with the top time in the world this year by two seconds.

Efimova passed King, four lanes to her right, with less than 100 meters to go and clocked 2:19.64. American Bethany Galat earned silver. King was fourth.

In four career head-to-head events in Rio and Budapest, King won both 100m breast duels, while Efimova finished higher in both 200m breast events.

King and Efimova are both entered in the 50m breast, with the final on Sunday and King the favorite. The 50m breast is not contested at the Olympics.

The women’s 100m free was much closer than the 200m breast on Friday. Manuel stunned world-record holder Sarah Sjöström in an American record 52.27 seconds.

The Swede Sjöström took silver in 52.31, followed by Denmark’s Pernille Blume in 52.69. American Mallory Comerford was fourth.

Sjöström was a heavy favorite going into the final, given she clocked 51.71 leading off the 4x100m free relay Sunday, taking .35 off the world record. Sjöström was .08 faster than her world-record pace at the 50-meter mark, but Manuel passed her in the last 10 meters.

One year ago, Manuel and Canadian Penny Oleksiak were surprise Olympic 100m free co-champions, topping then-world-record holder Cate Campbell of Australia. Campbell skipped worlds.

Manuel became the first U.S. woman to win the world 100m free title since Jenny Thompson in 1998.

The U.S. also grabbed silver and bronze medals in the men’s 200m backstroke.

Russian Yevgeny Rylov won in 1:53.61, with Olympic champion Ryan Murphy nearly chasing him down in the last 50 meters. Murphy ended up six tenths back, followed by countryman Jacob Pebley.

In semifinals, Caeleb Dressel broke the American record in the 50m freestyle to lead the qualifiers into Saturday’s final.

Australian Emily Seebohm was the fastest qualifier into the women’s 200m back final Saturday. Seebohm, the 2015 World champion, is joined by 100m back world-record holder Kylie Masse and silver medalist Kathleen Baker, plus Hungarian superstar Katinka Hosszu and 15-year-old American Regan Smith.

Women’s 100m Freestyle Results
Gold: Simone Manuel (USA) — 52.27
Silver: Sarah Sjöström (SWE) — 52.31
Bronze: Pernille Blume (DEN) — 52.69
4. Mallory Comerford (USA) — 52.77
5. Ranomi Kromowidjojo (NED) — 52.78
6. Penny Oleksiak (CAN) — 52.94
7. Bronte Campbell (AUS) — 53.18
8. Emma McKeon (AUS) — 53.21

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