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Gus Kenworthy not fazed by condensed schedule for first X Games gold

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Gus Kenworthy may be the world’s best freestyle skier, yet he still lacks X Games gold. Kenworthy will get two chances for a maiden title in Aspen this weekend, but they will come in a tight 15-hour stretch.

An X Games crown “would be everything, everything he’s been shooting for ever since he started this sport,” his agent said Thursday.

Kenworthy, the Olympic ski slopestyle silver medalist, is entered in both ski halfpipe and ski slopestyle at X Games for a fifth straight year. (Kenworthy has also competed in ski big air in the past, but that is not an Olympic event, and he is not doing it this year)

Last year, Kenworthy became the first man to earn Aspen X Games medals in both halfpipe and slopestyle (silvers) since Swede Jon Olsson in 2005. They were his first career medals in Aspen.

The halfpipe was Thursday. The slopestyle was Sunday. Those events have been condensed on this weekend’s schedule.

The ski halfpipe final is at 10:30 p.m. ET on Friday. The ski slopestyle final is at 1 p.m. ET on Saturday.

“It’s actually not that bad, because they’re back to back,” Kenworthy’s agent said Thursday. “Because he went straight into the final for slope [bypassing Thursday qualifying], he gets to focus straight on pipe for tomorrow night. We’ve had all week to train, and the training’s gone pretty well except for some issues with snow.”

Kenworthy also hopes to double at the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics, where he should have days off between events.

“It’s really important to get to the Olympics in both disciplines,” Kenworthy, known in 2014 for adopting puppies in Sochi and in 2015 for coming out as gay, said in the fall. “If I only made it for one, I actually would rather go for pipe because I already got the experience of going for slope.”

In 2014, Kenworthy was part of a U.S. slopestyle sweep in Sochi with gold medalist Joss Christensen and bronze medalist Nick Goepper.

Some may forget that Kenworthy also nearly made the Olympic ski halfpipe team, finishing fourth in qualifying standings. The top three automatically made the Sochi team, while U.S. Ski and Snowboard had a discretionary selection for the last pick.

Kenworthy was passed over for Torin Yater-Wallace, who had won the 2013 World and X Games silver medals but missed all of Olympic qualifying after suffering a collapsed lung and two broken ribs.

Kenworthy called the decision “one of the most heartbreaking things.”

“I was really gutted, it made me feel like the coaches didn’t believe in me, so that really hurt,” said Kenworthy, who at that time had zero world or X Games halfpipe medals. “I felt like I kinda had risked my health for doing the qualifying events for both [slopestyle and halfpipe]. I achieved what I wanted to do — and the person they gave the spot to fell both of his runs [in the Olympics], so it was really upsetting.”

Yater-Wallace said he wasn’t fully recovered in time for Sochi. He and another American, Lyman Currier, finished 26th and 28th out of 28 in the first Olympic ski halfpipe won by American David Wise.

Yater-Wallace praises Kenworthy.

“The most impressive thing about Gus is the way he balances different disciplines,” Yater-Wallace said last week. “There’s few people in this day and age. In the history of freeskiing, everybody used to do it. Now that the levels are so intense in each discipline, and the tricks have such a high level, trying to compete in the halfpipe, big air and slopestyle really is a skill set that only a few can have. And to also maintain a physical and mental level of strength to do that. With such a little amount of people doing all three disciplines, event organizers never set up the practices and events to favor those people. If you’re going into Aspen X Games and you’re Gus Kenworthy, you’ve got to strategically pick which practices you’re going to skip because the other event might overlap that.”

Kenworthy puts the majority of his time into slopestyle because the fields are deeper and the courses more challenging than pipe.

“I train whenever there’s pipe training at an event, I’ll be there that whole time, and maybe in the summer I’ll ski pipe once or twice, learn a new trick to add into my run,” he said. “All my focus goes into slopestyle.”

Which makes Kenworthy’s improvement in halfpipe the last few years all the more impressive. Starting in 2012, his X Games halfpipe results have been 14th, 16th, seventh, fifth and then second last year.

“Gus always had all the tricks, but never went very, very big [in amplitude],” Wise, a three-time Aspen X Games ski halfpipe champion, said last fall. “Then, one year, he just decided that wasn’t OK anymore, and he started going big.”

NBC Olympics researcher Rachel Thompson contributed to this report.

MORE: Mark McMorris, after horrible injury, eyes 2 Olympic golds

Olympic ski cross champion suffers serious knee injury

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Canadian Marielle Thompson, the reigning Olympic and World Cup ski cross champion, ruptured an ACL and MCL in a training crash in Switzerland.

Alpine Canada did not say when the accident happened or what Thompson’s chances are of returning to defend her Olympic title in PyeongChang.

Thompson flew from Switzerland to Vancouver for an MRI that confirmed the injury.

“I’ll be making a plan with my team moving forward and when the time is right getting back on the ski cross course stronger than ever,” Thompson said in a press release.

Thompson, 25, tore a meniscus in January 2015 and returned to competition 11 months later. She won seven of the 13 World Cup races last season.

Other Olympic medal contenders include Swede Sandra Näslund and Swiss Fanny Smith.

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Nathan Chen leads Yuzuru Hanyu at Grand Prix opener (video)

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U.S. champion Nathan Chen hopes to become comfortable in this spot this season — ahead of reigning Olympic and world champion Yuzuru Hanyu in the standings.

The 18-year-old Chen landed two quadruple jumps in his short program at the opening Grand Prix event in Moscow, taking a 5.69-point lead over Hanyu going into Saturday’s free skate.

Two-time world champion Yevgenia Medvedeva of Russia topped the women’s short program with 80.75 points (one tenth off her world record).

Full Rostelecom Cup results are here.

Chen’s tally — 100.54 points — is the second-highest short of his flourishing international career. It would have been higher if not for two of his three jumping passes receiving negative grades of execution for wonky landings.

The Japanese megastar Hanyu fell on his final jump, a triple toe loop, on Friday. No matter, Winnie the Pooh bears rained down on the ice from the adoring crowd, many of whom traveled from Japan.

Hanyu scored 94.85 points, one month after breaking his world record short program score with 112.72 points in a small event in Canada.

“Today I made some mistakes in my short program, but overall it didn’t feel bad,” Hanyu said, according to the International Skating Union.

Hanyu, though he is the current PyeongChang favorite, has never won his season-opening Grand Prix event in seven tries.

Chen has now outscored Hanyu, who is four years older, in four of their last eight head-to-head skates.

Hanyu was better in the two biggest programs at last season’s world championships. Chen placed sixth at worlds in April, perhaps gassed at the end of his first senior season while competing on duct-taped skates.

In the women’s standings, Medvedeva topped Olympic bronze medalist Carolina Kostner of Italy by 6.13 points.

American Mirai Nagasu landed a triple Axel that was called under rotated and fell on her other two jumping passes. She ended up ninth, two spots behind U.S. bronze medalist Mariah Bell.

In the short dance, two-time world medalists and U.S. champions Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani tallied 77.30 points.

The siblings lead by .97 over Russians Yekaterina Bobrova and Dmitry Soloviyev going into the free dance.

Russians are one-two in pairs. World bronze medalists Yevgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov lead Olympic silver medalists Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov by 5.49.

All of the free skates are Saturday, live on Olympic Channel. A full schedule is here.

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Rostelecom Cup
Men’s Short
1. Nathan Chen (USA) — 100.54
2. Yuzuru Hanyu (JPN) — 94.85
3. Dmitriy Aliyev (RUS) — 88.77
11. Grant Hochstein (USA) — 67.56

Women’s Short
1. Yevgenia Medvedeva (RUS) — 80.75
2. Carolina Kostner (ITA) — 74.64
3. Wakaba Higuchi (JPN) — 69.60
7. Mariah Bell (USA) — 63.85
9. Mirai Nagasu (USA) — 56.15

Short Dance
1. Maia Shibutani/Alex Shibutani (USA) — 77.30
2. Yekaterina Bobrova/Dmitry Soloviyev (RUS) — 76.33
3. Alexandra Stepanova/Ivan Bukin (RUS) — 71.32
7. Rachel Parsons/Michael Parsons (USA) — 59.41

Pairs Short
1. Yevgenia Tarasova/Vladimir Morozov (RUS) — 76.88
2. Ksenia Stolbova/Fedor Klimov (RUS) — 71.39
3. Valentina Marchei/Ondřej Hotárek (ITA) — 68.48
7. Marissa Castelli/Mervin Tran (USA) — 54.37