Shaun White

Shaun White clinches Olympic halfpipe spot

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Shaun White is officially qualified for two events at the Sochi Olympics.

White wrapped up his spot on the U.S. Olympic Team in halfpipe by winning the final selection event in Mammoth Mountain, Calif., on Sunday. The two-time Olympic champion won with a first-run score of 96.6 points and erred in his second run.

White joins the already qualified Taylor Gold as well as Greg Bretz, who was off the podium Sunday but made it via strong results in the first two selection events in December.

(Update: Danny Davis earned the fourth and final Olympic berth as a discretionary selection announced a half-hour after competition ended.)

White, 27, capped a tumultuous month of Olympic qualifying. He crashed in the first Olympic selection event in halfpipe, injuring an ankle, and was not able to qualify for the Olympic Team in either slopestyle or halfpipe until this final weekend. Weather postponements did not help.

“It was a long [week], but I made the team,” White said on NBC. “I’m pretty happy. It’s everything I could have hoped for.

“I’m one of the only guys doing both [halfpipe and slopestyle]. Juggling the two has been out of hand. It’s really demanding to switch gears and do both, but I’m doing it. I’m making my way.”

White is favored to win Olympic gold in halfpipe and could become the first American man to win the same Winter Olympic event three times.

He might not compete again before the Olympic slopestyle competition that begins Feb. 6, one day before the Opening Ceremony. White has said he is likely to skip this week’s Winter X Games, which would be his first absence from the event this millennium.

It sounds like White could use the rest. His band, Bad Things, releases its debut album Tuesday.

“I’m pretty worked still,” White said. “I would be lying to say I’m all good. I knew I had one really good run in me. That’s kind of my Achilles. I get lazy on the second run if I post a really good score [in the first run].”

His top Olympic threats may not be Americans — Swiss Iouri Podladtchikov and Japanese Ayumu Hirano could also win. White performed a trick in a victory Friday that was first done in competition by Podladtchikov last year — a double cork 1440.

“To put my run down with the new trick I’ve got going, it’s really pulling its weight,” White said. “They’re definitely up to my expectation. I’ve been waiting to pull these new tricks out.”

Gold qualified for the Olympic Team before White on Friday. He is the older brother of Arielle Gold, who qualified for the women’s team earlier Sunday.

Bretz beat White in the first Olympic selection event in December. He finished 12th at the 2010 Olympics.

Davis would have made the 2010 Olympic Team if not for a drunken ATV ride that left him with a broken back four years ago.

Two 2010 Olympians — bronze medalist Scotty Lago and Louie Vito — did not make the 2014 Olympic Team.

Skier with Lyme disease makes Olympic Team

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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