Kikkan Randall leads U.S. Olympic cross-country team eyeing history

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Kikkan Randall can achieve two firsts at her fourth Olympics.

The Alaskan could become the first U.S. woman to win a cross-country skiing medal and the first American, man or woman, to win a cross-country skiing gold medal.

Cross-country skiing has been on the Olympic program since 1924 for men and 1952 for women. Bill Koch is the only American with an Olympic medal, silver from the 30km in 1976.

Randall, 31, leads a 14-member team to the Sochi Olympics announced Wednesday. It includes two other four-time Olympians, Kris Freeman and Torin Koos

Randall made her Olympic debut at 19 in 2002. Her best Olympic finish was sixth in the team sprint in 2010.

She’s a gold-medal contender in the individual sprint Feb. 11, having won the World Cup season title last year and individual World Cup races the last two weeks.

Her top foe in Sochi could be Norwegian Marit Bjorgen, who won four gold medals at the 2013 World Championships, including the individual sprint. Bjorgen also won the event at the 2010 Olympics, where she won three golds to bring her overall Olympic tally to seven.

Randall could also win a gold medal in the team sprint. She and Jessie Diggins are the reigning world champions.

The U.S. cross-country team includes siblings Erik and Sadie Bjornsen, which makes six total sets of siblings on the U.S. Olympic Team so far.

They join curlers Craig and Erika Brown, figure skaters Maia and Alex Shibutani, hockey players Amanda and Phil Kessel and Jocelyne and Monique Lamoureux and snowboarders Arielle and Taylor Gold

Another set of siblings is likely to be named later Wednesday — Nordic combined skiers Bryan and Taylor Fletcher.

Here is the full U.S. Olympic cross-country skiing team:

Men
Erik Bjornsen
Kris Freeman — 2002, 2006, 2010 Olympian
Brian Gregg
Simi Hamilton — 2010 Olympian
Noah Hoffman
Torin Koos — 2002, 2006, 2010 Olympian
Andy Newell — 2006, 2010 Olympian

Women
Sadie Bjornsen
Holly Brooks — 2010 Olympian
Sophie Caldwell
Jessie Diggins
Kikkan Randall — 2002, 2006, 2010 Olympian
Ida Sargent
Liz Stephen — 2010 Olympian

Snowboarder who lives in truck makes Olympics

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.