Maddie Bowman

Maddie Bowman, David Wise make U.S. Olympic Team in ski halfpipe

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Maddie Bowman and David Wise are the first halfpipe skiers to qualify for a U.S. Olympic Team.

Bowman and Wise won the third of five Olympic selection events in Breckenridge, Colo., on Sunday. Combined with past Olympic selection event results, they mathematically clinched berths in Sochi.

Ski halfpipe is making its Olympic debut this year.

Bowman, 20, is the reigning Winter X Games champion and a gold-medal contender.

“I’ve just been trying to take each competition day by day, not looking at the big ‘O,’ but now that I know I get to compete there so I’m pretty excited,” she said, according to U.S. Freeskiing.

Wise, 23, is the two-time reigning Winter X Games champion and reigning world champion. He lives in Reno, Nev., and is married with a daughter.

“I’ve been saying all along that just qualifying for this super strong American team is almost the harder challenge than actually competing in the Olympics is going to be, so this is a tremendous relief,” Wise said, according to ESPN.com. “Just to get it out of the way and lock in the spot feels amazing. Now the pressure’s off and I don’t have to send it as much, so I can focus on just having fun and figuring out the run I want to bring to Russia.”

The fourth and fifth Olympic selection events will both be in Park City, Utah, this week, concluding next Sunday.

Up to three halfpipe skiers per gender with at least two top-three results in Olympic selection events will clinch Olympic berths. If there are more than three, they go into tiebreaker rankings.

Here are the Olympic selection tiebreaker rankings, only counting those with at least one top-three result, in ski halfpipe through three of five events:

Men’s Ski Halfpipe
1. David Wise — 200 (clinched Olympic berth)
2. Aaron Blunck — 180 (has two top-three results)
3. Gus Kenworthy — 120
4. Lyman Currier — 110

Women’s Ski Halfpipe
1. Maddie Bowman — 200 (clinched Olympic berth)
2. Brita Sigourney — 180 (has two top-three results)
3. Angeli VanLaanen — 130

Shaun White unlikely to compete in Winter X Games

French ice dancers break world record again

AP
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French ice dancers Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron broke their own world record scores in the last major competition before the Olympics.

Papadakis and Cizeron totaled 203.16 points with 121.87 in Saturday’s free dance at the European Championships, both new bests, in Moscow.

Full results are here. NBCSN will air coverage Saturday at 7 p.m. ET.

The French go into the Olympics as favorites over Canadians Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, who won all three of their head-to-heads last season.

But the French finally overcame the 2010 Olympic champions Virtue and Moir at December’s Grand Prix Final.

Virtue and Moir rank No. 2 under an eight-year-old ice dance system with a personal best of 199.86 points.

Papadakis and Cizeron became the youngest world champions in ice dance in 40 years in 2015, then repeated as world champs in 2016.

Virtue and Moir returned after two years off for the 2016-17 season and went undefeated, including dethroning the French at worlds.

Three U.S. couples are the top contenders for the Olympic bronze medal.

Meryl Davis and Charlie White have not competed since becoming the first U.S. Olympic ice dance champions in Sochi.

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MORE: NBC Olympics PyeongChang preview series on Netflix

Tonga flag bearer from Rio says he qualified for Winter Olympics

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Pita Taufatofua, the shirtless, oiled-up Tongan flag bearer from the Rio Games, said he qualified for the PyeongChang Olympics in cross-country skiing on Saturday.

“This was my last race possible, and we did it,” Taufatofua said in an interview with Olympic Channel, which also reported that he qualified. “This is a miracle.”

Taufatofua said he qualified at the final weekend of the Olympic qualifying period in Iceland, which is more than 9,000 miles from his home archipelago.

The last two events before qualification ends were Saturday’s freestyle race and a classic race scheduled for Sunday. Saturday’s results have not been posted yet.

Taufatofua completed a journey this season that included races in Colombia, Turkey, Poland and Armenia.

Taufatofua said he had seven chances to qualify for PyeongChang before Saturday and failed in all of them, finishing last each time (The official results show Taufatofua beating skiers from Malaysia and Mexico in some of these races.).

Taufatofua scrambled to make it to Iceland from Croatia this week. He said his group drove three days through a blizzard, an avalanche closing off the road at one point.

“People don’t see the hard work that goes behind,” he said. “They just see the shiny guy that walks with the flag.”

Taufatofua lost his opening Olympic taekwondo match by mercy rule in Rio, two weeks after his viral appearance in the Opening Ceremony.

He announced in December 2016 that he was switching to cross-country skiing in a bid for PyeongChang.

Cross-country, while a physically taxing pursuit, is one of the easier Winter Olympic sports to gain qualification for athletes from nations without much Winter Games history.

“I decided to find the hardest sport possible because I needed a new challenge,” Taufatofua said. “The goal was to do it one year, and we did it.”

Taufatofua debuted at the 2017 World Championships and was 153rd of 156 finishers in the 1.6km sprint freestyle.

It took Taufatofua 5 minutes, 44.72 seconds to complete the course in Lahti, Finland, which was about 10,000 miles from Tonga. The top qualifier clocked 3:11.72.

How will he dress at the PyeongChang Opening Ceremony, where outdoor temperatures are likely to be below freezing?

“One step at a time,” Taufatofua said. “Right now, I just want to go and party. I destroyed myself just to get here.”

In 2014, Bruno Banani became the first Tongan to compete at a Winter Olympics, placing 32nd in men’s luge. He was later the subject of a documentary.

Banani gained fame starting in early 2012, when the story of his name was widely publicized. Banani’s real name is Fuahea Semi, but he changed it to the name of his German clothing sponsor as a marketing ploy.

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VIDEO: Shaun White scores perfect 100 to qualify for Olympics

I raced through 5 countries in the last 24hrs to try and get to my race in Croatia. I sat in a taxi for 6 hrs driving through Armenia into Georgia in the middle of the night. I sat on the front seat of the @turkishairlines plane, sprinted through the airport and snuck through the business class fast transit lane and somehow managed to arrive at the gate 15 min before departure for my flight to Croatia. Once there I found that @turkishairlines had shut the gate early even after their delayed initial flight from Georgia, leaving me stranded. After remembering a scene from a James Bond movie, I pressed all the buttons on the aerobridge door to see if I could somehow open it and sprint down to the connecting flight, unfortunately that didn’t work, and luckily I didn’t get arrested. So here I am sitting at Istanbul airport missing the race that could have possibly gotten me to the Olympics. It was always going to be a long shot but I had to give it a shot and I did. Soo many times in life we will get disappointed. When this happens I have two options. I can sit on that chair crying about what could have been and how unfair life is…. or I can go and find some good quality chocolate, pull out my notepad and start planning “what’s next”— I always did like chocolate…

A post shared by Pita Taufatofua (Pita T) (@pita_tofua) on