Kelly Clark

Shaun White, Kelly Clark headline Dew Tour Olympic qualifying event

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U.S. Olympic qualification for snowboarding and freeskiing will be among the toughest of all sports. It begins in Breckenridge, Colo., this week.

The Dew Tour iON Mountain Championships, which run Wednesday through Sunday, are the first of five stops in this trials process. The others are on the U.S. Grand Prix schedule — Copper Mountain, Colo., Northstar, Calif., Park City, Utah, and Mammoth Mountain, Calif.

The five events will determine Olympians in snowboard halfpipe and the new Olympic events of snowboard slopestyle and ski halfpipe and ski slopestyle. The Olympic rosters are expected to be announced Jan. 22.

The overall Olympic qualification standings will be determined by the two best results for an athlete over the five events. No more than four athletes can make the U.S. Olympic Team per event. It’s possible fewer than four will be named for some events.

Here’s the Breckenridge competition schedule (all times Eastern):

Wednesday
Women’s snowboard halfpipe qualifying — 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m.
Women’s ski slopestyle qualifying — 11:45 a.m.-1:30 p.m.
Women’s ski halfpipe qualifying — 2:45-4:15 p.m.
Women’s snowboard slopestyle qualifying — 3:30-5:30 p.m.

Thursday
Men’s ski slopestyle qualifying — 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m.
Men’s snowboard halfpipe qualifying — 3-5 p.m.

Friday
Women’s ski halfpipe FINAL — 11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m.
Men’s snowboard slopestyle qualifying — 1:30-4 p.m.
Women’s snowboard slopestyle FINAL — 5-6 p.m.
Men’s ski halfpipe qualifying — 7-9 p.m.

Saturday
Men’s snowboard halfpipe FINAL — 12-2 p.m. (Live on NBC)
Women’s snowboard halfpipe FINAL — 2:15-3 p.m.
Women’s ski slopestyle FINAL — 4-5 p.m.
Men’s ski halfpipe FINAL — 6:30-8 p.m. (11 p.m. on NBCSN)

Sunday
Men’s ski slopestyle FINAL — 12-2 p.m. (Live on NBC)
Men’s snowboard slopestyle FINAL — 3-4:30 p.m. (Live on NBCSN)

Live streams will begin Thursday here. Here’s are event-by-event contenders:

Men’s Snowboard Halfpipe

Two-time Olympic champion Shaun White will make his season debut after suffering an ankle injury in New Zealand in August, touring with his new band and training on his private halfpipe and slopestyle course in Australia.

White’s competition to make the U.S. Olympic Team will include all of his 2010 Olympic teammates — Greg Bretz, Scotty Lago and Louie Vito. The man most likely to break up that group a year ago, reigning U.S. Snowboarding Grand Prix champion Luke Mitrani, broke his neck training in September and may never snowboard again. 

Consider Benji Farrow and Matt Ladley the next best in his place.

The top international competition are Sochi Olympic medal threats Moscow-born Swiss world champion Iouri Podladtchikov, I-Pod, and Japanese 15-year-old Ayumu Hirano. Hirano was second to White at the Winter X Games in January.

Women’s Snowboard Halfpipe

All four 2010 U.S. Olympians are vying to return to the Games, too — 2002 Olympic champion Kelly Clark, 2006 Olympic champion Hannah Teter, 2006 Olympic silver medalist Gretchen Bleiler and Elena Hight, the first woman to land a double cork.

They are under pressure from the next generation of American women’s halfpipe riders, including reigning world champion Arielle Gold, 17, and Kaitlyn Farrington and Maddy Schaffrick, who made the last two X Games finals.

Also in Breckenridge is the reigning Olympic champion, Australian Torah Bright, who is trying to become the first athlete to compete in three snowboarding events at one Olympics in halfpipe, slopestyle and snowboardcross. Bright is joined by countrywoman Holly Crawford, the 2011 world champion.

Men’s Snowboard Slopestyle

This is White’s new-and-old event. He won every X Games slopestyle title from 2003-06 but focused more on the halfpipe beginning with the 2006 Olympics. He finished fifth in slopestyle at January’s X Games.

The man who won X Games, for a second straight year, was Saskatchewan’s Mark McMorris. McMorris is competing in Breckenridge, and he is seen as the Olympic slopestyle favorite, trying to hand White his first loss at the Games.

Other U.S. Olympic Team contenders in action include Chas Guldemond, who was fourth at the X Games, and Sage Kotsenburg, who took silver to McMorris in 2012.

McMorris’ biggest competition could be a countryman, 2011 X Games champion Sebastien Toutant. Finland boasts the reigning world champion over McMorris, Roope Tonteri, but he is not entered in Breckenridge.

Women’s Snowboard Slopestyle

The favorite must be an American, two-time reigning X Games champion Jamie Anderson. She’s won four X Games titles, her first at age 16 in 2007.

But keep an eye on Ty Walker, 16, who may become the youngest athlete on the U.S. Olympic Team once the master roster is finalized. Walker was fifth at the World Championships in January.

International threats to Anderson include Canadian world champion Spencer O’Brien and Finland’s Enni Rukajärvi, who swept the X Games and the World Championships in 2011. Bright, the world bronze medalist, is entered, too.

Men’s Ski Halfpipe

The man to beat is David Wise, a married father of one from Reno, Nev., profiled excellently by The New York Times  last week. Wise is the two-time reigning X Games champion and the world champion.

The silver medalist at last winter’s X Games and World Championships was another American, Torin Yater-Wallace, who was the youngest Winter X Games medalist ever when he won a silver in 2011 one month after turning 15.

Simon Dumont completed the U.S. podium sweep at the X Games. He’s the veteran of the group at 27 and back from a broken ankle.

Internationally, Canada’s Mike Riddle and France’s Kevin Rolland were the world’s best before Wise’s ascension.

Women’s Ski Halfpipe

American Maddie Bowman won silver at the 2012 X Games, just after turning 18, behind Canadian Roz Groenewoud, and then gold a year later, relegating Groenewoud to silver. They’re both in Breckenridge.

Ski halfpipe is the event once dominated by Canadian Sarah Burke, a close friend of Groenewoud’s who died in a January 2012 training accident.

The other U.S. Olympic hopefuls in action include Jen Hudak, 27, once a rival to Burke, Brita Sigourney, 23, the silver medalist to Burke at the 2011 X Games, and Devin Logan, who may be better in ski slopestyle.

Men’s Ski Slopestyle

The U.S. is absolutely loaded here. Every World Championship and X Games gold medal has gone to an American since 2010, a list that includes Bobby BrownSammy CarlsonNick GoepperAlex Schlopy and Tom Wallisch.

They’re all in Breckenridge. At least one of them will not be in Sochi.

Goepper, the unlikely Indiana freeskiing product, is the reigning X Games champion. Wallisch, who fancies filming, is the reigning world champion.

If anybody is to break up a U.S. medal sweep in Breckenridge or the Olympics, it could be Brit James Woods, who did so at the World Championships by winning silver and added a bronze at the X Games in January.

Women’s Ski Slopestyle

The biggest star across all events not competing in Breckenridge is Canadian Kaya Turski. She’s a three-time X Games champion and the reigning world champion in ski slopestyle.

But Turski suffered a third torn ACL in August and hopes to be ready for Sochi.

Even in her absence, Americans will have a tough time prevailing in Breckenridge. Norway’s Tiril Sjåstad Christiansen snapped Turski’s X Games winning streak in January. Another Canadian, Dara Howell, was the silver medalist at the World Championships.

Wednesday update: Christiansen, who was entered at Breckenridge but did not start, tore an ACL last week, according to her social media accounts.

The U.S. contingent is deep, however. It includes X Games silver medalists Logan, who blew out her knee a year ago, and Keri Herman as well as Grete Eliassen, the world bronze medalist who tore an ACL almost two years ago. Also, Meg Olenick, whose had five knee surgeries.

Nate Holland breaks collarbone in snowboardcross training

World Figure Skating Championships pairs preview

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Volosozhar and Trankov couldn’t do it. Neither did Shen and Zhao. Nor Gordeeva and Grinkov.

Canadians Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford can win a third straight pairs world title next week, a feat not seen since Irina Rodnina and Alexander Zaitsev of the Soviet Union won six in a row from 1973 through 1978.

But they don’t feel like favorites.

“We’re coming in a little more under the radar,” Radford said.

They lost their two most recent international competitions — third at the Grand Prix Final in December; second at the Four Continents Championships in February.

Duhamel and Radford are seeded fifth by best international scores this season going into the world championships in Helsinki (broadcast schedule here).

“Sometimes it feels like worlds last year was so long ago,” Radford said.

Last year in Boston, Duhamel and Radford had the performance of their seven-year partnership in the world championships free skate. They tallied a personal-best 153.81 points, more than seven points clear of their previous best.

It was easily enough to overtake Chinese short-program leaders Sui Wenjing and Han Cong, who were relegated to silver behind the Canadians for a second straight year.

This season, Duhamel and Radford haven’t come within 13 points of their 2016 World Championships total. Duhamel went through “an unforeseeable circumstance” in her personal life in November that she chooses not to reveal.

They implemented the throw triple Axel, but Duhamel fell three times in a four-event stretch this fall. They lost by nearly 13 points at December’s Grand Prix Final, which ended with a Duhamel backstage meltdown.

“We never fell like that at home [in practice],” Duhamel said on the IceTalk podcast. “It started to shake us up a little bit.”

They replaced the throw triple Axel in their program. Without it in February, both skaters had trouble with jumps at Four Continents at the 2018 Olympic venue and finished nearly 13 points behind Sui and Han.

“We kind of went back to square one, to the drawing board after Four Continents, reassessing what’s gone on this season, why are we underperforming, why are we not succeeding in competition the way we are training,” Duhamel said.

They made program changes, notably on their throw and jump entrances and overhauling the footwork in their short program.

Duhamel adopted a rescue dog from South Korea. Radford, who had surgery over the summer to remove a cyst from his ankle bone, leaned on a sports psychologist.

“I personally feel a lot more relaxed and seemless,” Radford said. “That feeling has come a little bit later this season.”

Five pairs could take gold in Helsinki in perhaps the most wide-open event.

Germans Aliona Savchenko and (French-born) Bruno Massot won both of their fall Grand Prix events but missed the Grand Prix Final after she tore an ankle ligament. They returned to take silver at the European Championships in January with the best score of their two-year partnership.

Young Russians Yevgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov stepped up to win the Grand Prix Final, the second-biggest annual competition, and then the European Championships. But free-skate struggles have dogged them this season.

Another Russian pair, Olympic silver medalists Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov, are perhaps the biggest wild card. They missed the fall season due to Stolbova’s left leg injury, but then beat Tarasova and Morozov in their season debut at the Russian Championships. Stolbova fell on their throw triple flip in both programs at the European Championships in January, and they finished fourth.

Then there are Sui and Han, looking to break through for a first senior world title in their sixth try (though Sui is just 21 years old, and Han 24). They missed the fall season after Sui underwent right ankle and left foot surgeries last spring. They returned at Four Continents and posted personal-best free skate and total scores, ranking only behind Tarasova and Morozov for the season.

U.S. pairs Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Christopher Knierim and Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier have both missed significant time due to injury in the last two years. They are behind the top pairs from Canada, China and Russia.

The U.S. hasn’t put a pair in the world championships top five since 2006, and that doesn’t figure to change next week.

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NBC Sports researcher Sarah Hughes contributed to this report.

Ashley Caldwell will win or lose Olympic aerials gold with triples

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PARK CITY, Utah (AP) — As a teenager, Ashley Caldwell never had problems hanging with the boys when it came to doing the biggest flips off the aerials ramp. Now in her 20s, she sees no reason for that to change.

Caldwell will make or miss her third U.S. Olympic team, then potentially win or lose the gold medal in South Korea, by doing triple flips off the kicker while most of the women are doing doubles. It’s an all-or-nothing proposition that sets the bar high, and sends a certain message, regardless of whether she finishes first or last.

“It’s not just about trying to be there by myself,” Caldwell says. “It’s about maybe inspiring some younger girls to say, `I should be able to push to whatever I’m capable of doing, not necessarily what people say my gender is capable of doing.”‘

Caldwell never shirked from joining the teenage boys when they started moving to the bigger kickers and adding an extra flip to the doubles they did as kids.

Triples are the price of admission for the men, and while not unheard of among the women, the list of athletes who will try them is short: Jacqui Cooper, Alla Tsuper and Xu Mengtao are among the few who have tried them over the years. They’re also among the best to ever fly off a ramp.

At the Sochi Olympics, Lydia Lassila of Australia became the first woman to land a quadruple-twisting triple flip on snow in training. The next night, she brought it to the medals round, and though she touched her hand to the ground on the landing, she won a bronze medal anyway and stole the headlines.

“That’s who I’m inspired by,” Caldwell said that night. “She’s trying to push the sport so that girls are jumping like the boys, and she’s doing it, and it’s really impressive.”

At freestyle world championships earlier this month, Caldwell sent her message when she became the first woman to cleanly land that same triple-flipping, quadruple-twisting jump in competition (video here).

“It was the first time I had every coach come up to me and shake my hand before the score even came up,” said Todd Ossian, who works with Caldwell as head coach of the U.S. aerials team.

And yet, Caldwell was oh-so-close to not being able to even try that winning jump.

Aerials competitions go through a series of qualifying and elimination rounds that include only one jump each. Consistency is rewarded, and most women train a variety of double flips to make it through the rounds, then bring out their most intricate jump – more often than not, also a double – for when the medals are awarded.

Caldwell doesn’t go that route. She tries triples every time she steps onto the hill.

It adds extra – some might say unnecessary – risk to the early rounds. When the field was being cut from 12 to nine at world championships, for instance, Caldwell didn’t land her triple flip. She was able to squeak into the top nine and advance only because her degree of difficulty for the triple was so high.

“I’m OK sacrificing some good competition results to increase my consistency on the triple,” says Caldwell, giving a nod to the reality that training days on snow are precious and she needs to use them to focus on the jumps she’ll be performing when the contests start.

The recently ended season tested the limits of how much Caldwell was willing to sacrifice. In meet after meet, from Moscow to Minsk to an Olympic test event in South Korea, difficulties with the triple kept her far away from the podium. In the World Cup standings, Caldwell finished 10th.

To her, that’s more a badge of honor than a sign of failure. In a sport that oddly transforms daredevils into conformists, and rewards consistency over risk-taking, Caldwell plans to keep pushing anyway.

In doing triples, her mission is as much about winning as bringing others along for the ride.

“I want the crowd to feel like they know who won,” Caldwell said. “I want it to be impressive. I just want people to say, `That’s sweet. That’s what’s deserved.’ If a lot of girls are doing triples up there and I fall, there would still be a lot of girls who would do well. I’m cool with that. If I mess up, that’s OK. But I want the sport to look good.”

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VIDEO: Top U.S. aerials skier crashes hard at World Cup