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.

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Ashley Wagner eyes history at Grand Prix Final after ‘disaster’ in Japan

Ashley Wagner
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Ashley Wagner can next week become the first U.S. singles skater to make four straight Grand Prix Final podiums, but not if she performs like she did last weekend at NHK Trophy in Japan.

“NHK was a disaster,” the three-time U.S. champion said Tuesday, “but that was kind of a one-time deal.”

Wagner backed into the Grand Prix Final as the sixth and final women’s qualifier by finishing fourth at NHK Trophy on Saturday, snapping her streak of 10 straight podium finishes in Grand Prix events. She had won Skate Canada four weeks earlier.

The Grand Prix Final is the most prestigious annual figure skating competition outside of the World Championships and an event that Wagner calls a preview for Worlds (in Boston in late March/early April).

In Japan, Wagner had trouble cleanly landing and fully rotating jumps in both programs, and though she didn’t fall, her mental state was clearly shaken even before the free skate Saturday.

Japanese legend Mao Asada (one of three women to make four straight Grand Prix Final podiums, along with Irina Slutskaya and Michelle Kwan) skated immediately before Wagner.

The home crowd was at its loudest after Asada rebounded from her own poor short to move into the lead (temporarily, Asada finished third).

“I didn’t know how Mao had skated,” said Wagner, who was in third after the short program. “I figured I needed to at least get on the podium [to definitely make the Grand Prix Final], and I knew that I could probably afford a fourth place [to still make the Final]. I think that is where I went wrong. I should have just put my head down, started fresh and gone into that long program not focusing on, OK, well, I can get as low as this and I’ll make it to the [Grand Prix] Final. I think that didn’t really get me into the fighting spirit that I’m so used to competing with. When I focus on the results and not how I’m going to get there, it usually doesn’t go so well for me. It was a rookie mistake.

“I think I was playing it safe and trying to avoid making a mistake, and of course that’s exactly what I ended up doing.”

Wagner placed fifth in the free skate and fourth overall. She actually could have finished sixth overall and still made the Barcelona Grand Prix Final.

So she goes into next weekend’s competition as an underdog to Russians Yevgenia Medvedeva and Yelena Radionova, the last two World Junior champions. Plus countrywoman Gracie Gold and Asada.

Wagner’s confidence that the NHK hiccup won’t repeat could be bolstered by last season, when she was also the last qualifier into the Grand Prix Final (before Gold withdrew), was in last place after the Final short program but starred in the free skate to grab bronze.

“I like it when I have something not go so well,” she said. “When things are too perfect for too long, in a way it kind of freaks me out a little bit.”

Wagner called the women’s field in Barcelona “wide open.” It may be, given six different women won the six qualifying events, the first time nobody doubled up since 2006.

However, Wagner tapped Asada when asked to name her biggest competition. Wagner, 24, and Asada, 25, are the only women’s Grand Prix Final qualifiers older than 20.

“When she’s on, [Asada] has the whole package,” Wagner said of the three-time World champion who took last season off from competition. “She knows how to put on a performance. The audience loves her. Technically, she’s very strong. I think that If I had to pinpoint someone, Mao Asada on one of her good days, is definitely going to be one of the top girls.”

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Travis Ganong on the rise, leads U.S. men into Beaver Creek

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BEAVER CREEK, Colo. (AP) — Before checking into his Colorado hotel, Travis Ganong made a quick pit stop with his doctor to get the stitches removed from his surgically repaired right thumb.

The digit remains extremely swollen even two weeks after a training crash. So much so that he can barely push out of the starting gate.

Not that anyone could tell in Lake Louise, Alberta, last weekend, when Ganong finished third in a downhill race and came within a wisp of another podium spot in the super-G.

Stitches removed and confidence soaring, Ganong’s eager to take on the demanding course in Beaver Creek over the weekend. This is a place where last February he earned a breakthrough silver medal in the downhill at World Championships (video here).

”It’s really nice to have these solid results so early in the season. It takes the edge off,” Ganong said. ”Before you have the first result, you’re always questioning yourself. Now I can relax and that’s when the really good skiing comes.”

The 27-year-old from Squaw Valley, California, has been a rising force on the U.S. speed team since a fifth-place finish at the 2014 Sochi Games.

In such a fast sport, though, he’s taken a gradual approach to his development – never racing outside his comfort zone until he was good and ready. That was all part of his calculated plan, which came to fruition last season as he won his first World Cup downhill race in Italy and earned his first medal at Worlds.

”I was always building, building, building, getting better and better incrementally,” Ganong said. ”Last year I was like, ‘OK, my time is now. I need to try something new.’

”Bam, I won a race. But then I would have a horrible race. … Now this year it’s all about bringing that consistency back to the top, top level.”

Growing up in Squaw Valley, Ganong could always be found somewhere on the mountain, whether it was skiing powder in the back-country with his father, cross-country skiing (he was good, too), snowboarding (yep, he tried that), going over moguls or training with his team.

”We had this two- or three-inch rule where if it snowed that much, we didn’t worry about setting up gates. We’d go freeskiing and chase each other around the mountain,” Ganong said. ”That’s the No. 1 reason why so many good skiers come out of there.”

Like longtime U.S. skiing great Daron Rahlves, one of Ganong’s idols as a kid. The two talk all the time about ways Ganong can uncover more speed.

”I really excel on the steeper, more gnarly courses,” Ganong said. ”I need to try to figure out a way to bring that same intensity to the easier hills that are a little flatter and not my strong suit. Daron and I, that’s all we talk about when we talk about ski racing.”

Ganong broke through last weekend in Lake Louise, which is more of a glider’s course.

Not bad considering his recent wipeout. He tumbled during an early morning training session in Vail when he didn’t pick up a roll in the terrain. He needed surgery to fix a torn tendon and ligaments. He also bruised his left knee.

So he didn’t have all that high of expectations going into Lake Louise.

”For me to have that kind of speed on that kind of hill, yeah, that was a little surprising,” Ganong said. ”I skied really relaxed and just kind of within myself.”

No one could catch Norway’s Aksel Lund Svindal, though, who came away with wins on both days as he returns to the World Cup circuit after tearing his Achilles tendon last season while juggling a soccer ball.

”Aksel just knows how to let the skis go,” Ganong said. ”But Beaver Creek? It’s a different hill.”

Ganong’s kind of hill.

”Beaver Creek is way more my style of skiing and my style of hill,” said Ganong, who was fifth last December in a World Cup downhill at Birds of Prey. ”I’m trying to not think too much about it, just keep working hard, and keep thinking I’m an underdog and have something to prove.

”Hopefully, that’s a good mentality to keep me fired up.”

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