Shaun White turns to snowboarder who kept him off 2002 Olympic team

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The man who kept a 15-year-old Shaun White from making the 2002 Olympic team is now helping White’s bid to make the 2018 Olympic team.

White, the 2006 and 2010 Olympic halfpipe champion, has been working with a new (sort of) coach, 2002 Olympic bronze medalist J.J. Thomas, since an October training camp in New Zealand.

“We’re keeping it caj [casual],” White joked in a phone interview ahead of competing at this weekend’s Burton U.S. Open in Vail, Colo. “J.J. might become my full-time guy at the Olympics, or around the Olympics, but for now it’s kind of like a good friend, which is so funny because the guy beat me out of the Olympics when I was 15 for Salt Lake. It’s funny how life goes around.”

In 2002, White and Thomas were both in the running for the fourth and final U.S. Olympic men’s halfpipe berth for the Salt Lake City Winter Games.

Thomas beat White in the fifth and final qualifying competition to keep White from becoming the youngest American to compete in a Winter Olympics since 1992 (and younger than any American to compete in the 2006, 2010 and 2014 Olympics, too).

Thomas went on to earn bronze in Salt Lake City, part of the second-ever U.S. sweep of a Winter Olympic event behind gold medalist Ross Powers and silver medalist Danny Kass.

One week after losing to Thomas in the Olympic qualifier, White earned his first Winter X Games medal, a halfpipe silver behind Thomas.

“He’s been close to unbeatable ever since that whole [2002] season,” Thomas said. “We all kind of knew it, once he gets his man strength. We knew [2002] was the last chance to keep him under control.”

Thomas retired in 2011 or 2012 and started coaching, most notably guiding 2010 Olympian Louie Vito.

Thomas said he and White, who have known each other for nearly 20 years, began chatting as friends while Vito and White trained in New Zealand in October.

“By the second or third day I couldn’t keep my mouth shut,” talking about halfpipe tricks, Thomas said. “I started chirping. It kind of went from there. I started giving him my two cents, and we took it from there.”

In December, White competed for the second time since the Sochi Olympics at the Dew Tour Mountain Championships in Breckenridge, Colo., the same ski resort that hosted that final 2002 Olympic qualifier.

This time, Thomas was there to support White rather than beat him.

White prevailed, beating the Sochi Olympic gold and silver medalists and bouncing back from fourth-place finishes at the 2014 Olympics and 2015 Winter X Games.

“[Dew Tour] was a big statement,” Thomas said. “In my mind, I think he’s back. … When he’s feeling good, everyone else is in trouble.”

White is competing this weekend for the first time since Dew Tour, entered in both halfpipe and slopestyle at the U.S. Open. It’s his first slopestyle competition since he pulled out one day before the discipline’s Olympic debut in Sochi.

White said Wednesday that he wasn’t sure if he would try to qualify for the 2018 Olympic team in slopestyle.

“I kind of wanted to ride [the U.S. Open] and see where the competitors are at,” said White, who went on to finish 31st out of 31 riders in the event Friday, falling on the first feature (a rail) on both of his runs.

As for White’s coach at the last three Olympics, Bud Keene, both said they parted amicably after the Sochi Olympics.

Keene said he and White accomplished all they could together, and the coach wanted to invest more time in grass-roots snowboarding and instructing at his BKPro Camps.

“Working with Shaun was awesome and some of the best years of my life,” Keene said. “At the same time, working with an athlete of that caliber in any sport takes up most of, if not all of your time. There were a lot of things that I still wanted to accomplish as a coach or a mover and shaker in the snowboard world.

“It had nothing to do with what did or did not happen in Sochi.”

White never had an official coach before he linked up with Keene through the U.S. snowboarding team in the run-up to the Torino 2006 Winter Olympics.

Keene came out of retirement to reconnect with White leading up to and during the Vancouver 2010 Winter Games. He became White’s full-time coach for the first time leading into Sochi.

“Having someone like Bud around for the Olympic run was nice, it was great to have somebody in my corner, but as a full-time coach it just didn’t really work for me,” White said.

Plus, White planned to take the entire 2014-15 season off from competition, and he and Keene had “two-year chill-out periods” between past Olympics, Keene said.

Keene was at White’s side for a last-minute decision to compete at the 2015 Winter X Games, but that was a one-off deal.

“Bud and I had a great run together, and we did some amazing things,” White said. “I’m proud of what we’ve done, and I consider him a great friend, but there was part of that season of not having a coach [in 2014-15] and not doing those things and not competing to get me back into the mind frame of, man, this is really fun, and this is why I started doing it in the first place. I’m having a good time, and not sitting there beating myself over the head with this trick after trick and like we’ve got to do it and we’ve got to win it. And I put that on myself.”

White said if he does have a coach with him at the Pyeongchang 2018 Olympics, high-fiving or fist-pounding him before a halfpipe run like Keene used to do, it would probably be Thomas.

White made other additions to his staff since Sochi, including hiring a full-time trainer and physical therapist for the first time.

The physical therapist, Esther Lee, used to work with Venus and Serena Williams.

“So Serena came to my Halloween party, which was pretty dope,” White said. “[Esther] is getting to know this world of snowboarding because it’s completely different from tennis, obviously.”

White plans to compete again after the U.S. Open, heading to China for a competition later this month.

Next year, White plans to expand his Air & Style brand to include halfpipe and slopestyle competitions and at more venues, including Mammoth Mountain, Calif.

That means he also plans to compete in Air & Style for the first time since he bought a majority stake in the company before the Sochi Olympics.

“We were talking on the lift yesterday, the next Olympics start right now,” Thomas said. “It’s time to start planning out where to go and where to practice.”

VIDEO: Shaun White interview on ‘Last Call: Carson Daly’

Nathan Chen wins world title by nearly 50 points after everyone falls


Nathan Chen has the gold. It just came one month later than he had hoped (and against a much less impressive field).

The 18-year-old won the world championships on Saturday, becoming the first U.S. male singles skater to do so since Evan Lysacek in 2009 and the youngest man from any nation since Yevgeny Plushenko in 2001.

It came one month after Chen entered the Olympics as one of the favorites and finished fifth.

“I felt the pressure, but I used what I learned from the Olympics and tried to bring it here,” Chen said, adding that he wouldn’t trade this title for an Olympic gold.

Chen landed six quadruple jumps in his free skate (five clean), extending a 1.86-point lead from the short program to win by 47.63 points. Chen tallied personal-best free skate and total scores (219.46, 321.40), becoming the second man to break 320 total points after double Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu.

It’s the largest margin of victory in any event at an Olympics, worlds or Grand Prix Final under the 14-year-old points system.

Every other medal contender fell multiple times in the free skate. Chen, going last, said he was aware of that. Yet he still went all-out with six quads rather than the five he planned before going to Milan.

“That [the skaters’ falls] actually helped solidify my approach for six quads because it gave me an opportunity to make a mistake,” Chen said.

Olympic silver medalist Shoma Uno from Japan took silver despite three falls Saturday, reportedly skating through an ankle injury. Russian Mikhail Kolyada held on for bronze with two falls.

“I was not able to show my best,” Uno said, “but I did not give up until the end.”

American Vincent Zhou, third in the short program, also had three falls and ended up 14th. Jin Boyang, fourth in the short, fell five times and was 19th.

“I can’t even begin to describe how angry I am at myself for letting such an important FS [free skate] get away from me,” was tweeted from Zhou’s account, adding that he injured his back before leaving for Milan. “I’ve trained clean longs with 5 & 6 quads and I am so capable of being among the best.”

Later Saturday, French Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron rewrote the record books with the biggest ice dance blowout at an Olympics or worlds since the 6.0 was thrown out. A full recap is here.

WORLDS: Full Scores | Recaps | TV Schedule

Chen ended a season with six wins in seven events. That loss was costly, a fifth-place finish at the Olympics with that disastrous 17th-place short program.

But Chen rebounded not only in the Olympic free skate (highest score by nearly nine points) but also in Milan this week. Chen said he learned from PyeongChang to stop being “hell-bent” focused on gold.

His chances were no doubt boosted this week by the absences of Olympic gold and bronze medalists Hanyu and Javier Fernandez. Many medalists skip the worlds that are held one month after the Olympics due to exhaustion, off-ice opportunities or retirement.

This field lacked any prior Olympic or world champions for the first time since 1985.

Chen said before worlds he plans to continue competing next season, even though he may enroll in college. He will still work under Southern California-based coach Rafael Arutyunyan.

The third American, Max Aaron, finished 11th, landing one quad in his free skate, putting his hand down on a quad Salchow. Aaron, the 2013 U.S. champion, reportedly said it may have been his final competition.

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MORE: Best figure skating moments from PyeongChang

French ice dancers win third world title; first medal for U.S. champs

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French Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron won their third world title, one month after an Olympic silver medal, while U.S. champions Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue earned their first world medal, a silver in Milan on Saturday.

Papadakis and Cizeron captured their third world title in four years by breaking world records in the short and free dances. The pre-event favorites totaled 207.20 points and prevailed by 10.56 over Hubbell and Donohue. Canadians Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje grabbed bronze.

It’s the largest margin of victory in ice dance at an Olympics or worlds since the 6.0 system was thrown out in 2004.

Papadakis and Cizeron’s score would have won the Olympics by 1.13 over Canadians Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, who skipped worlds and may never compete again. Papadakis’ dress came undone in their short dance in South Korea, exposing her breast, though they were just .14 off their personal-best short dance score at the time.

Hubbell and Donohue became the fourth different American couple to earn an Olympic or world medal in five seasons. It’s been a breakout year for the newest stars in the U.S.’ deepest figure skating discipline.

They won their first national title in January after placing third or fourth the previous six years and were fourth at their first Olympics, giving up a potential bronze with Donohue’s fall in the free dance. Donohue also fell in the 2017 Worlds free dance after they were third in the short.

WORLDS: Full Scores | Recaps | TV Schedule

The world field lacked the Olympic gold and bronze medalists (Virtue and Moir and American siblings Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani). Medalists often skip the post-Olympic world championships due to off-ice opportunities, exhaustion or retirement.

“It was hard for everyone keeping the energy after the Games and keeping ready and prepared,” Papadakis said.

The second U.S. couple in Milan, two-time world medalists Madison Chock and Evan Bates, were fifth after placing ninth at the Olympics, where they tangled skates and both fell in the free dance.

The third U.S. couple, 2014 World junior champions Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker, improved from 15th after the short dance to finish 10th overall in their senior worlds debut.

The U.S. put three couples in the top 10 at worlds for the seventh time in eight seasons.

The 2018-19 figure skating season starts in earnest in October with Skate America in Everett, Wash.

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MORE: Best figure skating moments from PyeongChang