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):

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.

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

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.

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)

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

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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Brazil’s best tennis player: ‘tough to dream’ of Rio Olympic medal

Thomaz Bellucci
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Thomaz Bellucci admits playing at a home Olympics brings at least some pressure.

“To well represent Brazil,” the Sao Paulo native clarified at the U.S. Open in New York last month. “It’s tough to dream about having a medal.”

The 27-year-old Bellucci is the only Brazilian tennis player, man or woman, ranked in the world top 50. He sits at No. 31, having this season reached his first ATP final since 2012 and winning it at the Geneva Open in Switzerland in May.

Brazil’s Olympic Committee set a target of 27 to 30 medals in Rio, after earning 17 at London 2012. The added glory likely won’t come from tennis, a sport in which a Brazilian has never stood on an Olympic podium.

“For the Olympics, I don’t feel too many pressure,” Bellucci said, “because even if I play in Brazil, I know there are many players more favored than me because [Roger] Federer‘s going to play, [Novak] Djokovic, all these guys have so much more pressure than me because they have more chance to have a medal.”

Olympic tennis gained greater significance on the busy tour calendars among top players with recent Games.

On the men’s side, every medalist from 2008 and 2012 had already reached at least one Grand Slam final in his career. That group of six included Federer (2012 silver), Djokovic (2008 bronze), Rafael Nadal (2008 gold) and Andy Murray (2012 gold).

But if Bellucci and the Brazilians look back, they can find unexpected, inspiring runs. In 1996, Brazil’s Fernando Meligeni came to the Atlanta Games ranked No. 95 in the world, having never made it past the fourth round of a Grand Slam.

The charismatic Meligeni, a lefty who sometimes played wearing his cap backwards, reached the final four in Stone Mountain, twice playing for a medal, and hitting a tweener on the penultimate point of his semifinal against Spain’s Sergi Bruguera.

He lost both medal-round matches, including the bronze match to Indian Leander Paes, who won the U.S. Open mixed doubles last month with another 1996 Olympic singles tennis player, Swiss Martina Hingis. Hingis is attempting to return to the Olympics next year for the first time since 1996.

In 2004, Chile’s Nicolas Massu won singles and doubles gold in Athens having never reached the fourth round of a Grand Slam in singles.

Bellucci debuted at the Olympics in 2008 and hasn’t won a single Games match. He rose from a No. 85 overall ranking in Beijing to No. 42 going into the London 2012 Olympics, where he forced then-Wimbledon semifinalist Jo-Wilfried Tsonga to three sets. Bellucci and partner Andre Sa were the only doubles pair to take a set off Americans Bob and Mike Bryan at London 2012.

“Beijing I was very surprised, because I was very young and had no idea,” Bellucci said. “In London, I had a very tough draw against Tsonga. Let’s see if I can have more luck in Brazil to have a better draw.”

Not even the great Gustavo Kuerten could sniff an Olympic medal. The three-time French Open champion — the only Brazilian man to win a Grand Slam — couldn’t do better than the quarterfinals in 2000 and 2004.

The analysis of Bellucci in the scope of Kuerten, who is of a similar tall, thin build, has silenced in recent years.

“They used to say that when I was young, when I was starting to play well,” said Bellucci, whose four ATP titles came on Kuerten’s favorite surface, clay, while the Rio Olympic tournament will be on hard courts. “They want to compare me and Guga [Kuerten], but anyway they are not comparing anymore because Guga is so much bigger than me.”

As much as Bellucci tries to keep expectations low, he urges that his sport is one of the most popular in Brazil.

“I think soccer, for sure, is No. 1 and then volleyball is second and then tennis, I think,” he said. “I think we have more people playing tennis than volleyball because I think all the ages can play tennis.”

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