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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U.S. soccer perfect in Olympic qualifying group play, set to learn opponent for Rio berth

U.S. Soccer
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COMMERCE CITY, Colo. (AP) — Sluggish in the first half, the Americans needed some kind of catalyst.

So the team called on Jerome Kiesewetter and Jordan Morris, ending their nights off.

Kiesewetter sparked the offense with a goal and an assist in the second half, and the United States beat Panama 4-0 in CONCACAF Olympic qualifying on a rainy Tuesday.

Already through to the semifinal round, the Americans didn’t have much to play for and rested several of their starters. Scoreless at halftime, coach Andi Herzog turned to his bench for a lift, sending in Kiesewetter and Morris.

The U.S. caught a break early in the second half when Panama defender Fidel Escobar knocked in a crossing shot. Kiesewetter then scored about three minutes later and Morris right after that.

Luis Gil wrapped up the scoring by converting a penalty kick, helping the Americans advance out of Group A with a 3-0 record. Canada finished second.

“Overall, in the first half, Panama was not the better team, but created two or three chances,” Herzog said. “After halftime with three goals in 10 minutes, we showed them we’re the better team.”

Next up for the U.S. is an important game Saturday in Sandy, Utah, where the semifinal winners automatically qualify for the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro next summer. The U.S., which failed to qualify for the 2012 London Olympics, will play Mexico or Honduras, which face each other Wednesday night with the winner taking over the top spot in Group B.

U.S. goalkeeper Ethan Horvath had a rather quiet game as a steady rain fell most of the evening. He probably needed it as well, since he’s just arriving from his club team in Norway. Herzog had to all but beg Horvath’s club to allow him to travel to the U.S. for qualifying.

It just so happens that Horvath is from nearby Highlands Ranch, Colorado.

“At the end, I can’t make a decision if a player (will play) whether he’s born here or not,” Herzog said. “For me, it was clear that when Ethan was coming and felt fine, I wanted to start him right away.”

Goalkeeper Elieser Powell kept Panama close in the first half with one splendid save after another, including one where he tipped a ball over the crossbar.

Still, the disparity in talent was evident.

“These players have a better future than they have a present,” Panama coach Leonardo Pipino said through an interpreter. “We have to work hard, the federation has to work hard, to have something for them to do, a place for them to go.

“If you look at the U.S. and Mexico start lists, you’ll see players who play in the MLS, who play in Europe. … The federation has to work internally to find a place for them to go so they can continue to progress.”

There was a scary moment for the Americans near the end of the first half, when midfielder Maki Tall was tackled hard from behind and had to be carried off the field on a stretcher. He returned a few minutes later, but didn’t play in the second half.

Gboly Ariyibi sent the pass into the middle that hit off Escobar’s leg and went into the goal to start the scoring spree.

With nothing really on the line in this contest, the U.S. gave goalkeeper Zack Steffen and defender Matt Miazga the night off. Midfielder Marc Pelosi didn’t play after needing stitches in his shin following a hard tackle in the Cuba match last Saturday in Kansas City, Kansas.

“We were kind of slow in the first half. They put the pressure on us,” Gil said. “Second half we got things going and once one goal came, three goals came right after it.”

MORE SOCCER: Jurgen Klinsmann’s history at the Olympics, bronze medal

Mary Cain ‘back to basics’ after ‘disappointing year’

Mary Cain
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Mary Cain, who in 2013 became the youngest U.S. track and field athlete to make a World Championships team and turned pro at age 17 later that fall, is spending her run-up to next year and the 2016 Olympics home in New York rather than returning to Oregon where she went to college and trained last year.

In June, Cain finished eighth in the 1500m at the U.S. Championships, missing the top-four placement necessary to make the World Championships team.

“After a disappointing year, I knew that I needed a change,” Cain said in a blog post Tuesday. “For me, that meant returning home to New York (and its bagels) or where it all started. With 2016 being such an important year, it’s a blessing to be able to, as my mom says, ‘Go back to basics.'”

Cain, who was a freshman at the University of Portland last year, is still coached by three-time New York City Marathon champion Alberto Salazar with the aid of New Zealand 2004 Olympic 10,000m runner John Henwood, according to the blog.

“We’re trying to get [running] back to fun with her,” Henwood said, according to Runner’s World.

Cain moved from Bronxville, N.Y., to Portland after graduating high school last year, completing a decorated prep career filled with records and state and national titles. She trained with Salazar’s group, which includes Olympic 10,000m gold and silver medalists Mo Farah and Galen Rupp.

Cain won the World Junior Championships 3000m in 2014 and became the youngest woman to make a senior World Championships 1500m final in 2013, when she finished 10th.

“I always said the key to running well was keeping the sport fun,” Cain said in the blog post. “With the help of this great NY running community, I am happy to say that I have found that love again! I’m looking forward to a rewarding Indoor and Outdoor season.

“Thanks to everyone who has supported me through the ups and downs! I hope to make 2016 a year to remember!”

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