Shaun White

Shaun White lands new trick to win Mammoth halfpipe; Olympic picture crowded

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Shaun White moved closer to clinching his spot on the U.S. Olympic Team in halfpipe with his two best runs this season, including an unprecedented one, in Mammoth Mountain, Calif., on Friday.

White, the two-time Olympic halfpipe champion, captured the fourth of five Olympic selection events with the two best scores — 97 in his first run followed by 98.6, which included a cab double cork 1440. It marked the first time he landed the trick in competition.

“I treated it like an Olympic event, like it is,” White said on NBCSN, after saying before the second run he was going to ride like it was practice. “I wanted to up my score. I wanted to do something under pressure.”

White beat 2010 Olympic bronze medalist Scotty Lago by 3.8. Taylor Gold was third and became the first man to clinch a spot on the U.S. Olympic Team in snowboard halfpipe.

On Thursday, White crashed in a slopestyle event and then clinched his spot in slopestyle in a later event. He skipped the first of two halfpipe events Friday.

“I just woke up in a world of hurt,” White said on NBCSN after going through physical therapy to heal a sore back and neck. “I just knew if I wanted to make a good showing today, it was quality over quantity.”

Lago took second place to join the race for an Olympic berth. He scored 94.8 for his first top-four result of the Olympic selection event series.

“It was do or die,” Lago said on NCBSN. “I had to get on the podium, or else I didn’t have a shot at the Olympics.”

White joined Greg Bretz and Gold with 1,800 points to lead Olympic selection event standings. Gold clinched a berth thanks to strong results in all four selection events so far. Two more will clinch at the conclusion of the fifth and final selection event Sunday in Mammoth Mountain.

Even if White does not clinch an automatic spot, he can be placed on the U.S. Olympic Team as a discretionary selection.

“It’s nice coming back to pipe, obviously, just because this is the one event I feel like I’ve got a little bit of a lead from the season before,” White said on NBCSN. “At least I’m up to par with the other riders. Slopestyle, I’ve been doing catching up with the tricks and learning about my competitors.”

Kelly Clark, the 2002 Olympic champion, stayed perfect by winning a fourth straight women’s event. She scored 94.8 points, beating Chloe Kim, who would have clinched her Olympic berth Friday if she wasn’t too young for the Olympics at 13.

“I had a disappointing fall on my first run,” Clark said on NBCSN. “Right now, everything for me is practice. To be able to come out, second run, under that kind of pressure and put down a run, if I have to do that in Russia, I’m ready.”

2006 Olympic champion Hannah Teter was third, her second straight top-four finish Friday to move into third place in the Olympic selection standings behind Clark and Arielle Gold.

There are two automatic Olympic women’s berths still available after Clark. Gold is extremely close to wrapping one up. Teter, Gretchen Bleiler and Kaitlyn Farrington are contenders, too.

It is likely a fourth woman will be chosen as a discretionary selection.

Here are the Olympic selection standings in snowboard halfpipe:

Men’s Snowboard Halfpipe — Three automatic Olympic spots
1. Taylor Gold — 1,800 (clinched Olympic berth)
1. Greg Bretz — 1,800
1. Shaun White — 1,800
4. Danny Davis — 1,450
5. Scotty Lago — 1,250
6. Ben Ferguson — 1,050
7. Matt Ladley — 1,000
7. Louie Vito — 1,000

Women’s Snowboard Halfpipe – Three automatic Olympic spots
1. Kelly Clark — 2,000 (clinched Olympic berth)
2. Arielle Gold — 1,400
3. Hannah Teter — 1,200
4. Gretchen Bleiler — 1,050
5. Kaitlyn Farrington — 1,000

Reigning world champ must hope for discretionary pick to Olympics

Kerri Walsh Jennings’ next partner is a familiar one

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Kerri Walsh Jennings is slated to play with with 2008 Olympian Nicole Branagh this summer, after she and Olympic bronze medal teammate April Ross split last month.

Walsh Jennings, a three-time Olympic champion with Misty May-Treanor before that bronze in Rio, and Branagh, who made the Beijing Games quarterfinals with Elaine Youngs, are entered in an FIVB World Tour event in Croatia the last week of June.

Walsh Jennings and Branagh are both 38 years old and briefly paired in 2010 when May-Treanor was uncertain about making a run for the London Olympics. When May-Treanor told Walsh Jennings she was all-in for London, Walsh Jennings split from Branagh.

Walsh Jennings and Branagh are hoping to play together through the World Tour Finals in late August, according to Volleyball Magazine.

That includes the world championships in Vienna, Austria, in late July and early August.

It’s not known if they will have the combined ranking points to earn an outright worlds spot. They could also receive a wild card for worlds. Entries will be announced next month.

Walsh Jennings, a mother of three, has said she hopes to play in the 2020 Olympics at age 41, when she will be older than any previous Olympic beach or indoor volleyball player, according to Olympic historians.

Branagh returned to competition this year after a one-year break to have her second child. She has played few international events since 2012 and last won internationally in 2010 (with Walsh Jennings).

Ross, an Olympic silver and bronze medalist and 2009 World champion, is now partnered with Lauren Fendrick, who played with Brooke Sweat in Rio. Ross, 34, said she will figure out her long-term partner plans for Tokyo 2020 after this season.

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Catching up with Ross Powers

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Ross Powers, now 38 years old and 15 years removed from his Olympic snowboarding title, is still out with halfpipe riders on the snow five days per week.

The difference now is that Powers is coaching. He runs the snowboarding program at Stratton Mountain School in Vermont, where he graduated from in 1997.

Powers spoke with OlympicTalk before last season, reflecting on 20 years of snowboarding in the Olympics, Shaun White and how he likes coaching.

OlympicTalk: The PyeongChang Winter Games will mark 20 years since snowboarding’s debut in Nagano. What was it like competing in the first Olympic halfpipe?

Powers (who won bronze in Nagano at age 19): It seemed kind of like a regular World Cup. We were up in the mountains. At the time, it was a really good halfpipe, but we ended up competing in some bad weather, some rain. I didn’t realize until I left Japan and got home how big the Olympics were. But looking back, it was a special time. And I really learned from the ’98 Olympics, like if I get this chance again, I’m going to go there, I’m going to do it all. I’m going to go to Opening Ceremonies, Closing Ceremonies, watch as many events as I can and just make the most out of the Games.

OlympicTalk: The Nagano halfpipe was about half the size of today’s superpipes (394 feet long with 11 1/2-foot walls vs. 590 feet with 22-foot walls in Sochi). Could today’s snowboarders compete with you guys back in 1998?

Powers: It was so different. At the time, I want to say it was the biggest pipe we rode, but compared to today’s standards, it’s small. The weather was tricky. I think a lot of those guys [today] could ride it, but it’s so much different than today’s halfpipe for sure.

OlympicTalk: In 2002, when you led a U.S. men’s halfpipe medal sweep, the rider who just missed the Olympic team was a 15-year-old Shaun White. What do you remember about him?

Powers: You kind of knew he was going to be the next guy. Where he took our sport and certain tricks. One thing that really impressed me about him is he’ll train really hard for an event, show up, even if the conditions are bad, he’s planned this trick he wants to do, and he’ll try it no matter what. Most of the time he’ll give it a go and land it. That actually hurt him in Russia [White attempted but couldn’t perfect the YOLO Flip 1440 in Sochi] because he probably could have stepped down a notch, gotten a medal and maybe even won the event.

OlympicTalk: Did Shaun ever beat you before you retired?

Powers: I had my run from 1998, ’99, ’00, ’01, all those times that I was doing really well. I tried to make the 2006 Olympics in Italy. I was the alternate, so I just missed that. He was definitely beating me up through those times.

OlympicTalk: Did you travel to the Torino Olympics as an alternate?

Powers: I did, yeah. I traveled over there and actually watched my buddy [Seth] Wescott win the gold in boarder cross. That night, he was like, you should try boarder cross. That kind of got me into doing that my next few years after that.

[Editor’s Note: Powers almost made the 2010 Olympic team in snowboard cross, even finishing third in a December 2009 World Cup.]

OlympicTalk: Which is tougher, coaching or competing?

Powers: I would say it is tougher coaching than competing. You just have so many responsibilities and so much work. The nice thing about coaching, though, compared to competing, is you can kind of push yourself and have fun [riding] on certain days but then also sit back and really work with the athletes on all other days. So when you’re feeling it, you can push yourself. So it’s not like an athlete, where you have to push yourself.

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