Hannah Kearney

Hannah Kearney leads U.S. Olympic Team for moguls; Dylan Ferguson left off aerials

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Defending Olympic champion Hannah Kearney leads a nine-member U.S. Olympic Team in moguls and aerials skiing announced Tuesday.

Kearney, 27, will try to become the first freestyle skier to win multiple Olympic gold medals in Sochi. She leads the World Cup standings, having won three of six events, in her first full season since returning from injury. She’s going to her third Olympics.

Kearney is joined on the moguls team by 2010 Olympian Heather McPhie and first-time Olympians Heidi Kloser, who made her first World Cup podium this season, and Eliza Outtrim.

The men’s team is Patrick Deneen and Bradley Wilson, who like Kearney, both qualified via objective criteria before Tuesday’s announcement. Deneen is the 2009 World Champion who finished 19th at the 2010 Olympics. Wilson is the brother of 2010 Olympic bronze medalist Bryon Wilson.

The aerials team is made up of 2010 Olympian Ashley Caldwell and 2006 and 2010 Olympian Emily Cook. The lone men’s aerialist is Mac Bohonnon, while Dylan Ferguson was left off.

Ferguson, 25, was the top U.S. men’s aerialist each of the last three seasons in World Cup standings and ranks 10th this season, four spots ahead of Bohonnon. Bohonnon won a silver medal in one of five World Cup aerials events this season. Ferguson did not make a podium this season.

Ferguson misses out on the Olympics for the second time. He was named to the 2010 Olympic Team but was forced to pull out due to complications from an appenedectomy, giving his spot to best friend Scotty Bahrke, the younger brother of two-time Olympic moguls medalist Shannon Bahrke.

He watched the Opening Ceremony from a hospital bed, lost 20 pounds and could not eat for a week, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Bahrke wrote Ferguson’s name on his skis when he competed in 2010.

“Ever since I’ve been a kid, I’ve wanted to go to the Olympics, get a medal for my country,” Ferguson told the Los Angeles Times. “For me, to have that taken because something inside of me was wrong, I could understand maybe if I had a broken leg or if I hurt it during training or something, it would be a little different. I really didn’t have any control of what was going on.”

The U.S. is sending its smallest contingent of moguls and aerials skiers to the Olympics since aerials was added in 1994. This is because of International Ski Federation rules keeping Olympic freestyle skiing rosters to a maximum of 26 skiers and the addition of slopestyle and halfpipe skiing to the program.

The U.S. opted to send a maximum of four athletes per gender in slopestyle and halfpipe.

Of the moguls skiers and aerialists, Kearney is the likeliest candidate for a gold medal, perhaps the only candidate.

Kearney won 16 straight moguls or dual moguls World Cups from January 2011 to February 2012. In October 2012, she lacerated a liver, broke two ribs and punctured a lung in a training crash.

She returned to the World Cup circuit in January 2013, missing two stops, and won six of 10 events and the World Championship to close last season.

“[The injuries] took my sport away from me for a couple months,” Kearney said before this season. “Nothing like that to realize you love it and still feel motivated. I feel like I’m back and stronger than ever now.”

Former Bills, Packers receiver makes U.S. Olympic Team

What to watch at Drake Relays, Penn Relays

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Olympic gold medalists ramp up their track and field seasons at the Penn Relays and Drake Relays, live on NBCSN and NBC Sports Gold this weekend.

Athletes are working toward the U.S. Championships in June and the world championships in August.

First, the historic Penn Relays will air on NBCSN and NBC Sports Gold on Friday (5:30-6:30 p.m. ET) and Saturday (12:30-3 p.m. ET).

USA vs. The World in men’s and women’s 4x100m, 4x400m and sprint medley relays will air live on Saturday from Franklin Field in Philadelphia. A full schedule is here.

The U.S. teams are led by Olympic relay champions English Gardner and Natasha Hastings. The full roster is here.

Rio Olympic rematches highlight the individual-event fields at the Drake Relays in Des Moines on NBCSN and NBC Sports Gold from 3-5 p.m ET on Saturday. A full schedule is here.

Perhaps no field is deeper than the 100m hurdles. World-record holder Keni Harrison takes on Rio silver and bronze medalists Kristi Castlin and Nia Ali, plus 2008 Olympic champion Dawn Harper-Nelson.

The 110m hurdles contingent is strong as well. It features the last two Olympic champions, Jamaican Omar McLeod and American Aries Merritt, plus 2013 World champion David Oliver.

Grenada’s Kirani James and American LaShawn Merritt, who earned silver and bronze in Rio, go head-to-head again in the 400m at Drake.

The men’s 1500m is headlined by Rio Olympic 800m bronze medalist Clayton Murphy and London Olympic 1500m silver medalist Leo Manzano.

Rio bronze medalist Jenny Simpson races individually for the first time this year in the women’s 1500m.

That field also includes New Zealand’s Nikki Hamblin, who gained fame of her own in Rio. Hamblin and American Abbey D’Agostino fell in an Olympic 5000m heat and helped each other make it to the finish line. Both were praised for their sportsmanship.

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IOC president unsure whether esports should be considered sport

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Esports are gaining momentum in the international sports movement, but they are not close to becoming an Olympic sport.

“We are not yet 100 percent clear whether esports is really sport, with regard to physical activity and what it needs to be considered sport,” IOC president Thomas Bach said Tuesday, according to insidethegames. “We do not see an organization or a structure that will give us confidence, or guarantee, that in this area the Olympic rules and values of sport are respected and in place, and that the implementation of these rules are monitored and secured.”

The first clear step (of many) to become an Olympic sport is for the IOC to recognize the sport’s international governing body.

Esports will be added as a medal sport to the Asian Games in 2022, and has been praised by LA 2024 Olympic bid chairman Casey Wasserman, but it is not yet IOC recognized.

“We are watching it, we see the differences, we see the lack of organisation,” Bach said, according to the report. “But we also see the high engagement of youth in esports. Therefore, we have to carefully consider how this could be consolidated.”

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