Kate Hansen

Kate Hansen, Chris Mazdzer win USA Luge National Championships

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Kate Hansen surprised the top two U.S. sliders at the National Luge Championships, beating Olympians Erin Hamlin and Julia Clukey for her first U.S. title.

Hansen, 21, posted a two-run time of 1 minute, 30.136 seconds at the Mount Van Hoevenberg track in Lake Placid, N.Y., on Sunday. Clukey, the 2012 U.S. champion, took second in 1:30.326. Hamlin, the 2008-2011 national champion, was third in 1:30.386.

“I’m impressed I had it in me,” Hansen told The Associated Press. “I’m feeling pretty good. It hasn’t hit me yet. I’m more or less just grateful that I threw down some solid runs.”

2010 Olympian Chris Mazdzer won the men’s crown in 1:46.498, as expected, and Jacob Hyrns and Andrew Sherk won their first doubles title.

The U.S. team for the World Cup season, which begins Nov. 16 in Lillehammer, Norway, will be determined after more races in Park City, Utah, on Oct. 20.

Hansen’s win makes her the early favorite to secure the third women’s berth on the Olympic team, should the U.S. qualify the maximum three spots as it’s expected to do. A nation’s Olympic spots are determined by World Cup results, as is the specific U.S. Olympic team.

Hansen, the 2008 world junior champion, tied with Emily Sweeney as the third-ranked U.S. woman in World Cup points standings last season. They were 20th overall. Clukey was sixth, and Hamlin, the 2009 world champion, was seventh.

Sweeney was fourth at the National Championships on Sunday.

Hansen, then 17, Sweeney and Sweeney’s older sister, Megan, competed in a race-off for the final berth on the 2010 Olympic team. Megan Sweeney won that spot.

For the men, Mazdzer is the only member of the 2010 Olympic team still active. He beat Tucker West by .114 of a second after the two tied for the National Championship last fall. Taylor Morris was third, followed by Aidan Kelly.

In doubles, Hyrns and Sherk ousted 2012 national champions Matt Mortensen and Preston Griffall (1:30.210) Christian Niccum and Jayson Terdiman placed third (1:30.493).

How Olympic bobsled teams are shaping up

Kerri Walsh Jennings’ next partner is a familiar one

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Kerri Walsh Jennings is slated to play with with 2008 Olympian Nicole Branagh this summer, after she and Olympic bronze medal teammate April Ross split last month.

Walsh Jennings, a three-time Olympic champion with Misty May-Treanor before that bronze in Rio, and Branagh, who made the Beijing Games quarterfinals with Elaine Youngs, are entered in an FIVB World Tour event in Croatia the last week of June.

Walsh Jennings and Branagh are both 38 years old and briefly paired in 2010 when May-Treanor was uncertain about making a run for the London Olympics. When May-Treanor told Walsh Jennings she was all-in for London, Walsh Jennings split from Branagh.

Walsh Jennings and Branagh are hoping to play together through the World Tour Finals in late August, according to Volleyball Magazine.

That includes the world championships in Vienna, Austria, in late July and early August.

It’s not known if they will have the combined ranking points to earn an outright worlds spot. They could also receive a wild card for worlds. Entries will be announced next month.

Walsh Jennings, a mother of three, has said she hopes to play in the 2020 Olympics at age 41, when she will be older than any previous Olympic beach or indoor volleyball player, according to Olympic historians.

Branagh returned to competition this year after a one-year break to have her second child. She has played few international events since 2012 and last won internationally in 2010 (with Walsh Jennings).

Ross, an Olympic silver and bronze medalist and 2009 World champion, is now partnered with Lauren Fendrick, who played with Brooke Sweat in Rio. Ross, 34, said she will figure out her long-term partner plans for Tokyo 2020 after this season.

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Catching up with Ross Powers

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Ross Powers, now 38 years old and 15 years removed from his Olympic snowboarding title, is still out with halfpipe riders on the snow five days per week.

The difference now is that Powers is coaching. He runs the snowboarding program at Stratton Mountain School in Vermont, where he graduated from in 1997.

Powers spoke with OlympicTalk before last season, reflecting on 20 years of snowboarding in the Olympics, Shaun White and how he likes coaching.

OlympicTalk: The PyeongChang Winter Games will mark 20 years since snowboarding’s debut in Nagano. What was it like competing in the first Olympic halfpipe?

Powers (who won bronze in Nagano at age 19): It seemed kind of like a regular World Cup. We were up in the mountains. At the time, it was a really good halfpipe, but we ended up competing in some bad weather, some rain. I didn’t realize until I left Japan and got home how big the Olympics were. But looking back, it was a special time. And I really learned from the ’98 Olympics, like if I get this chance again, I’m going to go there, I’m going to do it all. I’m going to go to Opening Ceremonies, Closing Ceremonies, watch as many events as I can and just make the most out of the Games.

OlympicTalk: The Nagano halfpipe was about half the size of today’s superpipes (394 feet long with 11 1/2-foot walls vs. 590 feet with 22-foot walls in Sochi). Could today’s snowboarders compete with you guys back in 1998?

Powers: It was so different. At the time, I want to say it was the biggest pipe we rode, but compared to today’s standards, it’s small. The weather was tricky. I think a lot of those guys [today] could ride it, but it’s so much different than today’s halfpipe for sure.

OlympicTalk: In 2002, when you led a U.S. men’s halfpipe medal sweep, the rider who just missed the Olympic team was a 15-year-old Shaun White. What do you remember about him?

Powers: You kind of knew he was going to be the next guy. Where he took our sport and certain tricks. One thing that really impressed me about him is he’ll train really hard for an event, show up, even if the conditions are bad, he’s planned this trick he wants to do, and he’ll try it no matter what. Most of the time he’ll give it a go and land it. That actually hurt him in Russia [White attempted but couldn’t perfect the YOLO Flip 1440 in Sochi] because he probably could have stepped down a notch, gotten a medal and maybe even won the event.

OlympicTalk: Did Shaun ever beat you before you retired?

Powers: I had my run from 1998, ’99, ’00, ’01, all those times that I was doing really well. I tried to make the 2006 Olympics in Italy. I was the alternate, so I just missed that. He was definitely beating me up through those times.

OlympicTalk: Did you travel to the Torino Olympics as an alternate?

Powers: I did, yeah. I traveled over there and actually watched my buddy [Seth] Wescott win the gold in boarder cross. That night, he was like, you should try boarder cross. That kind of got me into doing that my next few years after that.

[Editor’s Note: Powers almost made the 2010 Olympic team in snowboard cross, even finishing third in a December 2009 World Cup.]

OlympicTalk: Which is tougher, coaching or competing?

Powers: I would say it is tougher coaching than competing. You just have so many responsibilities and so much work. The nice thing about coaching, though, compared to competing, is you can kind of push yourself and have fun [riding] on certain days but then also sit back and really work with the athletes on all other days. So when you’re feeling it, you can push yourself. So it’s not like an athlete, where you have to push yourself.

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