Jilleanne Rookard

Jilleanne Rookard, Jonathan Kuck win at U.S. Olympic Speed Skating Trials

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Jilleanne Rookard and Jonathan Kuck are going back to the Olympics.

The 2010 Olympians won the opening races at the U.S. Olympic Speed Skating Trials in Kearns, Utah, on Friday night, clinching spots on the 2014 Olympic Team that will officially be named next week.

Rookard, 30, claimed the 3000m in 4 minutes, 9.66 seconds. She beat second-place Anna Ringsred by more than four seconds. Ringsred is also likely going to Sochi.

The U.S. qualified two entries in the Olympic 3000m, an event it hasn’t won an Olympic medal in since Beth Heiden‘s bronze in 1980.

Kuck, 23, won the men’s 5000m in 6:19.76, as expected. Emery Lehman and Patrick Meek, who were second and third, are also likely going to Sochi as the U.S. has three entries into the Olympic 5000m.

The U.S. Olympic Speed Skating Trials continue with the men’s and women’s 500m from the 2002 Olympic oval Saturday at 11:30 a.m. ET. NBC will broadcast the competition at 3 p.m.

U.S. Olympic Speed Skating Trials Preview, Schedule

Rookard finished 12th in the 2010 Olympic 3000m and is a contender to make the U.S. Olympic Team in the 1500m and the 5000m again, too. The former inline skater and weightlifter competed in Vancouver two months after her mother died of cancer.

“I’m going to pop champagne and celebrate with my teammate,” Rookard said, according to the U.S. Olympic Committee. “I’m really excited.”

Ringsred, 29, will join Rookard on the Olympic team as long as no more than 10 different women’s skaters qualify over the total of five distances at trials. It will help if stars Brittany Bowe and Heather Richardson qualify in multiple distances to keep the overall team size down.

Ringsred would be a first-time Olympian. The University of Calgary chemical engineering graduate briefly retired after failing to make the 2010 U.S. Olympic Team.

“Last Olympic Trials, I really did have too many nerves, and it really ruined my race; I didn’t perform well at all,” Ringsred said on NBCSN. “I went into this realizing that speed skating, for the first time in my life, amidst all the turmoil and the pressure, it makes me really feel alive.”

Among the women who missed out on the top two were 2010 Olympians Maria Lamb (fifth) and Nancy Swider-Peltz Jr. (ninth) and three-time Olympic short track speed skater Allison Baver (14th). They’ll try to qualify in other distances.

Kuck won an Olympic silver medal in the team pursuit in Vancouver and placed eighth in the 10,000m, his lone individual event in 2010. One month later, Kuck took silver in the World Allround Championships behind Dutch superstar Sven Kramer.

Kuck also won bronze in the 5000m and 10,000m at the 2012 World Single Distance Championships, though it will be hard for him to get past the Netherlands’ powerful trio in Sochi. Kuck is expected to win the 10,000m at the Olympic Trials on the final day of skating Wednesday.

“It’s nice to have it out of the way,” Kuck said on NBCSN. “A couple more races coming up [at trials], but there isn’t any question mark [about making the U.S. Olympic Team].”

Lehman and Meek are going to Sochi so long as 10 or fewer male skaters qualify over the five Olympic distances.

Lehman, an Oak Park (Ill.)-River Forest High School student, is likely to be the youngest male athlete among the entire U.S. Olympic delegation in Sochi. He’s 17 and the reigning world junior champion in the 5000m.

Meek, like Lehman, would be a first-time Olympian.

Comeback story at U.S. Olympic Trials

Simone Biles becomes honorary Houston Texans cheerleader

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The NFL’s Houston Texans may not be having the greatest season on the football field, but that hasn’t stopped one famous diehard fan from cheering them on.

On Sunday, Simone Biles took her fandom to the next level by debuting as an honorary Texans cheerleader before the team’s home game against the San Francisco 49ers.

game day feels ❤️ so excited to dance at the Houston Texans Game!

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officially ready for game day now that I got my legendary red boots 🏈

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As an added bonus, she also found time to take a few photos with NBA legend Hakeem Olajuwon, a 7-foot center who once starred for the Houston Rockets.

This isn’t the first time that the Olympic gold medalist has teamed up with her hometown Texans. In 2016, Biles had the honor of announcing one of the team’s draft picks, and in 2015, she made this memorable entrance onto the field after a pre-game introduction.

Julia Marino, Jamie Anderson close in on Olympic snowboard team spots after second U.S. qualifier

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Julia Marino is within striking distance of qualifying for her first Olympic team. Sochi gold medalist Jamie Anderson is even closer.

Marino, who won four X Games medals in slopestyle and big air competitions last season, unleashed a frontside 720 and her signature cab double underflip to take second place in big air at the U.S. Grand Prix at Copper Mountain, the second of five qualifying events for the U.S. snowboard slopestyle and big air team.

Anderson, who received high marks for her cab 900 but lower scores for her frontside 720, finished off the podium in fourth. Because she and Marino were the only Americans to reach the final at Copper though, Anderson still received a valuable haul of Olympic selection points and maintains the lead in the overall rankings.

Although Marino’s cab double underflip received the highest score of the competition, riders in big air are scored on their two best tricks. That enabled Japan’s Reira Iwabuchi to take the win with a pair of solid jumps that included a backside 1080. Silje Norendal of Norway finished on the podium in third behind Iwabuchi and Marino.

In order to be named to the U.S. Olympic slopestyle and big air snowboarding team, riders must have a minimum of one podium finish at the selection events. If more than three riders attain podium finishes, then the tiebreaker will come down each rider’s two best results.

Marino and Anderson have both fulfilled the minimum criteria for automatic selection. Either of them could clinch spots on the Olympic team for both slopestyle and big air by finishing as the top U.S. rider at any of the remaining selection events. The next event will be a slopestyle contest next week in Breckenridge, Colo.

Meanwhile, the men’s big air competition had the potential to shake up the U.S. Olympic rankings, as none of the podium finishers from the first selection event reached the final at Copper.

After a disappointing result in that first qualifier, which was held at Mammoth Mountain last winter, Chris Corning bounced back to finish as the top American in this contest and second place overall. He landed a frontside 1440 and a massive backside triple cork 1440 on his two jumps, putting his own stylish twist on both tricks with melon grabs.

Corning, the 2015/16 World Cup champion in slopestyle, has emerged as perhaps the U.S. team’s top hope for an Olympic medal this year in both men’s slopestyle and big air, events typically dominated by riders from Canada and Norway. Now that he has his first selection event podium under his belt, he can clinch a spot on the Olympic team by finishing as the top American at any of the remaining contests.

Also earning a podium result with a third-place finish was 19-year-old Chandler Hunt, who has suddenly added his name to the U.S. Olympic discussion.

The victory in men’s big air went to Norway’s Mons Roisland, who stomped a switch backside 1620 and a frontside 1440 tail grab on his jumps.

Three more selection events for the slopestyle and big air team still remain, and all three will be slopestyle events. Dew Tour will host a selection event next week in Breckenridge, then there will be a break until Olympic qualifying resumes in January with competitions at Aspen and Mammoth.

U.S. Grand Prix at Copper Mountain Results

Men’s Snowboard Big Air
1. Mons Roisland (NOR), 182.75
2. Chris Corning (USA), 177.25
3. Chandler Hunt (USA), 159.00
4. Ryan Stassel (USA), 154.50
5. Max Parrot (CAN), 121.50

Women’s Snowboard Big Air
1. Reira Iwabuchi (JPN), 169.25
2. Julia Marino (USA), 160.25
3. Silje Norendal (NOR), 156.75
4. Jamie Anderson (USA), 151.50
5. Sina Candrian (SUI), 135.50

U.S. Olympic Qualifying Standings

Men’s Snowboard Slopestyle/Big Air
1. Red Gerard, 1400*
2. Chris Corning, 1200*
3. Chandler Hunt, 1160*
4. Kyle Mack, 1000*
5. Judd Henkes, 1000

Women’s Snowboard Slopestyle/Big Air
1. Jamie Anderson, 1800*
2. Julia Marino, 1600*
3. Hailey Langland, 1300*
4. Jessika Jenson, 1050
5. Nora Healey, 950

*Has automatic qualifying minimum of one top-three result.