Sochi Slopestyle Course

Sochi 2014 Olympic slopestyle course revealed

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The course for the first slopestyle events in Olympic history has been revealed by the International Ski Federation (FIS).

The course at Rosa Khutor will house the new events of men’s and women’s ski slopestyle and snowboard slopestyle. The finish area will also be part of the skicross, snowboardcross and snowboard parallel giant slalom and parallel special slalom events.

Slopestyle, long a part of the Winter X Games, is an event where athletes are judged based on tricks done off rails and jumps over the duration of a course, 635 meters in this case. The course features three jumps that get progressively bigger. Freeskier.com has graphics of the course here.

“I’m actually pleasantly surprised,” American slopestyle skier Tom Wallisch, the 2013 world champion, told Freeskier.com. “It looks like they’ve included a good bit of variety and weather/snow depending I think it could be a quality course. Equal number of rail and jump features is also a plus.”

The U.S. has several medal threats in the slopestyle events. In addition to Wallisch, Nick Goepper is the reigning X Games champion in the ski slopestyle event.

“As exciting as it is to get a preview of the course this far in advance, I kind of wish they would have kept it under wraps until closer to the event so it was a bit more of a surprise, and so that runs wouldn’t be so planned out,” American Gus Kenworthy, who was fourth at the 2012 X Games, told Freeskier.com. “I will say that the rail options look really fun and technical, which is great, but I’m super disappointed that there are only three jumps. I think that for such a big event, having four jumps is crucial to allow the skiers to showcase every different direction of spinning. A three-jump course really leaves anybody as a contender and doesn’t necessarily demonstrate who is truly the best and who’s got the biggest repertoire.”

In women’s ski slopestyle, Canadian Kaya Turski is the reigning world champion, 2012 X Games champion and 2013 X Games silver medalist behind Norway’s Tiril Sjåstad Christiansen. Americans Keri Herman, Grete Eliassen and Devin Logan are all recent World Championships or X Games medalists, too.

“I think the course looks sick,” Christiansen told Freeskier.com. “A bunch of different rail features and the size of the jumps looks perfect. I like that they show us the course this far in advance, because now we know what we need to practice on.”

In women’s snowboard slopestyle, American Jamie Anderson is the two-time reigning X Games champion. She won her first X Games title in 2007 at age 16. She could be challenged by Australian Torah Bright, the 2010 Olympic gold medalist in the halfpipe who took bronze at the 2013 World Championships in slopestyle.

Likewise, the men’s Olympic halfpipe champion is dabbling in slopestyle. Shaun White was once the king of slopestyle, winning four straight X Games from 2003-2006. He’s now trying to catch Canadian Mark McMorris, 19, the two-time reigning X Games champion.

Kerrigan talks about 1994, father’s death on TODAY

U.S. figure skating could have its best world team since 2006

Nathan Chen performs during the men's free skate competition at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships, Sunday, Jan. 22, 2017, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
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KANSAS CITY — U.S. figure skating has a shot at medals in three of four disciplines at the world championships in Helsinki in two months, which hasn’t happened in 11 years.

Before this year, the U.S. men and U.S. women hadn’t boasted simultaneous medal contenders in a decade. Johnny Weir and Evan Lysacek spent the 2010 Olympic cycle in the world elite, while the U.S. women faded. After they stopped competing, Ashley Wagner and Gracie Gold moved into the women’s medal field while the U.S. searched for a new leading man.

He’s arrived. Nathan Chen confirmed he is one of the world’s best male skaters by landing a record seven quadruple jumps between two programs at Sprint Center this past week.

The 17-year-old already made the podium in an event that featured the world’s best, earning silver at the Grand Prix Final in December. Chen struggled with his short-program jumps at the Grand Prix Final and attempted one fewer quad overall yet still outscored everybody but Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu.

Of all of the U.S. medal hopes at worlds, Chen may face the stiffest trio of challengers. Not only is there Hanyu, but also two-time reigning world champion Javier Fernandez of Spain, plus Japan’s Shoma Uno, all of whom rank higher than Chen in best total scores in international competition this season.

MORE: Chen believes Olympic gold is possible after U.S. title

Wagner, who shares a coach with Chen, did not have her best nationals. She finished second to surprise winner Karen Chen (no relation to Nathan), who has yet to factor internationally.

But Wagner said before and after the U.S. Championships that her focus was to peak for the world championships. The goal for nationals was to make the world team, which required not winning but finishing in the top three. Mission accomplished.

The concern with Wagner is that she hasn’t produced a world medal-caliber result yet this season. Her best score from the fall ranks her sixth among women going to worlds. But Wagner has shown in the last few seasons that she can pull it together for major events. There’s her 2016 World Championships silver medal, plus her three straight Grand Prix Final medals from 2012-14.

At worlds, Wagner will have to deal with a Russian trio capable of sweeping the podium, three strong Japanese skaters, plus the revelation of this season, Canadian Kaetlyn Osmond.

VIDEO: Wagner passed Puffs in emotional press conference moment

The U.S.’ strongest discipline continues to be ice dance. Maia and Alex Shibutani and Madison Chock and Evan Bates finished second and third at the 2016 World Championships. They went one-two at the U.S. Championships this past week.

But two ice dance medals don’t appear to be in the cards in Helsinki. That’s because Canadians Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, who earned gold and silver at the last two Olympics, came back this season after a two-year break.

Virtue and Moir broke international scoring records in the fall, sweeping their four starts. The two-time reigning world champions, Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron of France, also beat the U.S. couples at the Grand Prix Final.

The Shibutani siblings and Chock and Bates have never finished ahead of Virtue and Moir in competition. Neither has bettered the French since the December 2014 Grand Prix Final, either.

But all it takes is one dance medal, plus Chen and Wagner at their best in Helsinki, and the U.S. could go into the Olympic year in its best place since 2006.

MORE: Gracie Gold comments on split from coach Frank Carroll

Laurie Hernandez discusses life after Rio, new book on TODAY (video)

Laurie Hernandez
TODAY
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Laurie Hernandez‘s book, “I Got This: To Gold and Beyond,” is out Tuesday, and the Olympic champion gymnast stopped by TODAY on Monday to discuss its contents and life post-Rio.

An excerpt on Hernandez’s experience in Rio and the story of her floor-exercise wink to judges, is here.

On TODAY, Hernandez discussed another interesting anecdote from the book about tissues.

“Before Olympic Trials, we went out to eat, and I had a little breakdown because practice was really rough, and my routines weren’t coming the way I wanted them to,” she said. “This poor waitress kept bringing me over piles of tissues. … We were leaving, and my sister [Jelysa] told my dad, I’m going to save these tissues. I’m going to give them to her when she makes the team. I’m thinking to myself, you guys are crazy, this is not going to happen.”

Hernandez went on to finish second to Simone Biles at the Olympic Trials and make the five-woman Olympic team as the first U.S. female Olympian born in the 2000s.

The family celebrated the achievement, where Jelysa handed the tissues to Hernandez in a bag.

“Even when you fell, you couldn’t believe in yourself, we were there for you,” Jelysa told her.

“So it was a really defining moment,” Hernandez said.

Hernandez is away from gymnastics while promoting her book and touring with “Dancing with the Stars,” but she is expected to return to the sport at some point.

MORE: Hernandez explains 2017 goals: First date, driver’s license, Law & Order