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

Ted Ligety out for rest of season

SOLDEN, AUSTRIA - OCTOBER 25:  (FRANCE OUT) Ted Ligety of the USA takes 1st place during the Audi FIS Alpine Ski World Cup Men's Giant Slalom on October 25, 2015 in Soelden, Austria.  (Photo by Michel Cottin/Agence Zoom/Getty Images)
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Ted Ligety will undergo back surgery and miss the rest of the Alpine skiing season, the latest in a series of health setbacks for the double Olympic champion, according to his social media.

Ligety, who won the combined at Torino 2006 and the giant slalom at Sochi 2014, said he had “stabbing (nerve) pain all the way down my leg” since the season-opening race in Soelden, Austria, on Oct. 23.

“That has no (sic) allowed me to ski at the level that I expect of myself,” was posted on Ligety’s social media Monday. “I have seen many doctors and therapists, undergone an array of treatments and therapies to no effect. Unfortunately surgery (microdiscectomy) means my season over … I will be back strong and fast again.”

Ligety also ended last season prematurely, after tearing his right ACL on Jan. 27. He also suffered three herniated disks in his back and tore a hip labrum in 2015.

Of his last seven giant slaloms dating to last season, Ligety has failed to finish four times and placed fourth, fifth and 11th.

Ligety’s World Cup giant slalom podium drought is his longest since he notched the first top-three finish of his career in 2006. He racked up 40 podiums in a decade.

Ligety, 32, also owns the last three world giant slalom titles, plus five World Cup season titles in the discipline, in addition to his Sochi gold.

If healthy, Ligety would have tried next month to become the first male Alpine skier to take gold at four straight world championships.

With Ligety’s absence, the U.S. will have zero past men’s Olympic or world gold medalists at a world championships for the first time since 2001.

Worlds are in St. Moritz, Switzerland, from Feb. 6-19.

MORE: Franz Klammer stars in commercial with Alpine skiing champions

Ashley Wagner, Nathan Chen make for contrasting favorites at U.S. Championships

Ashley Wagner, Nathan Chen
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Ashley Wagner and Nathan Chen trained on the same ice for the last three years. They enter this week’s U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Kansas City as favorites, but took different routes to arrive there.

Wagner, 25, seeks her fourth national title, following the worst Grand Prix result of her 10-year career.

Still, Wagner is the 2016 World Championships silver medalist, which carries the most weight of all with the PyeongChang Olympics coming in 13 months.

Wagner, the most accomplished U.S. women’s singles skater in a decade, can become the oldest U.S. women’s singles champion in 90 years.

“Mentally, I’m feeling very confident,” Wagner said last week. “At this point in my career it is very easy for me to get mentally worn out and worn down, but I usually feel strongest when my training is backing me up and when I know that I am physically fit.”

Chen, 17, is an even bigger favorite in the men’s field. The Salt Lake City native is already one of the most accomplished young skaters in U.S. history, taking two novice and two junior national titles.

In this his first senior international season, Chen had the best fall series of a U.S. man since Evan Lysacek won gold at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. Chen’s autumn culminated with a silver medal at December’s Grand Prix Final, beating the reigning Olympic and world champions in the free skate.

This week, Chen can become the youngest U.S. men’s singles champion in 51 years. He would do it one year after taking bronze and suffering a hip injury later that day that required season-ending surgery.

“I never thought that I would get there that fast,” Chen said.

MORE: U.S. Figure Skating Championships broadcast schedule

Chen was already working with Armenian coach Rafael Arutyunyan in Los Angeles when Wagner joined the training group in the middle of 2013.

Chen was barely 14 years old at the time, but Wagner, by then already a two-time U.S. champion, had learned about him back in 2010.

Wagner saw Chen win the U.S. Championships novice division at age 10, beating skaters six and seven years older than him, including her younger brother, Austin.

“And my brother retired after that year because of Nathan Chen,” Wagner said with a hint of humor.

Under Arutyunyan, a noted jumping technician, Wagner developed into the top consistent challenger to the dominant Russians.

She endured failure — finishing fourth at the 2014 U.S. Championships and last-place programs at the Grand Prix Final. She experienced success — national and international feats not done by an American since Michelle Kwan.

Most of the U.S. skaters whom Wagner came up with have retired. Her closest recent domestic rivals — Olympic teammates Gracie Gold and Polina Edmunds — struggled with poor performances and injury, respectively, in the last year.

If Wagner prevails as she should in Kansas City, the next step is returning to the podium at the world championships in two months in Helsinki, where three Russians, three Japanese and a Canadian will try to keep her off of it. A second straight world medal would make Wagner the best U.S. hope for an Olympic women’s singles medal since 2006.

“The biggest thing about her is her mental toughness,” Chen said of Wagner, “especially when she goes to competitions and zones in on what she wants to do and comes out with the result she wants.”

MORE: Gracie Gold makes desperate move after rock bottom

Mental toughness is something Chen hopes to develop with experience. He already owns the physical tools, most notably an arsenal of quadruple jumps.

Chen, whose adorable 2010 U.S. Championships exhibition at age 10 aired on NBC, is now electrifying. He attempts six quads combined in two programs.

At his last event, the Grand Prix Final in December, Chen recorded the highest free skate score, bettering Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan and world champion Javier Fernandez of Spain, who both were off their game. He finished second overall behind Hanyu, becoming the second-youngest men’s medalist in the event’s 22-year history.

NBC Olympics analyst Tara Lipinski, who took 1998 Olympic gold at age 15, has, like Wagner, known about Chen since 2010. Lipinski was in Spokane, Wash., for those U.S. Championships seven years ago.

“I remember thinking, oh boy, this kid is so talented, but not really thinking much of it because he was itty-bitty,” Lipinski said of Chen, who has grown a foot since 2010, to 5 feet, 5 inches. “Over time and with growth spurts, everything can change. But that’s why he’s so special. Every year, he improves. You talk about this quad revolution. He’s leading it.”

Chen responded to critics of his artistic skills this season by spending weeks away from Arutyunyan, which the coach supported.

“There is a brain of an adult in this kid’s head,” Arutyunyan said.

Chen went from Los Angeles to work in Michigan under Marina Zoueva, a Russian known for coaching the last two Olympic champion ice dance teams.

NBC Olympic analysts Johnny Weir and Lipinski saw an upgrade in Chen’s artistic components in his fall competitions. If he can challenge the top international skaters artistically, he can beat them with his jumping strength.

“The way that men’s figure skating is progressing, it’s about the quad game and how many you can do,” Wagner said. “It’s starting to look a little bit like ping-pong on the ice. … Going into the next couple of years, the ones that are going to stand out are the ones that do quads and are able to have a full, well-rounded program.”

In Sochi, the U.S. earned no singles figure skating medals for the first time since 1936.

The U.S. hasn’t earned men’s and women’s figure skating medals in the same Olympics since 2002, but it’s certainly looking possible with 13 months until PyeongChang.

“Of course, my goal would be to win the Olympics,” Chen said. “I feel like that’s everyone goal. It’s still a goal for me, but we’ll see how realistic it becomes over the next season.”

MORE: Jason Brown again slowed by injury going into U.S. Championships