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Sildaru exudes ‘madness and grace’ in X Games ski slopestyle for gold

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In 2016, at just 13, Kelly Sildaru walked off with her very first X Games gold, and the record as the youngest Winter X Games medalist ever. One year later, Estonia’s slopestyle star was back breaking more records in Aspen.

Already pocketing X Games big air silver on Saturday night, Sildaru put up a leaderboard-topping 92.33 in her first run in women’s ski slopestyle on Sunday, followed by Tess Ledeux of France and Giulia Tanno of Switzerland.

The solid scoring of the first round would not carry over into the second set, however, with the field unable to land a run to unseat the Estonian. Tess Ledeux hung on to win silver, while Norway’s Johanne Killi improved upon her first run to jump over Tanno to take the bronze.

Fellow Estonian and Cincinnati Bengals defensive end, Margus Hunt even showed his support for his fellow countrywoman on Twitter as he watched from home.

For Sildaru, she leaves Aspen with two medals – gold in women’s ski slopestyle and silver in big air. If that were not enough, she also became the first X Games athlete to win two golds before turning 15-years-old when she successfully defended her 2016 slopestyle title.

Next February, on Day 9 of the 2018 PyeongChang Olympic Games, Sildaru will celebrate her 16th birthday, and if the X Games are any indication, the party should be super sweet.

Later on the mountain, three M’s lead the men’s X Games snowboard slopestyle final going into the final run. Norway’s Marcus Kleveland and two Canadians – favorite Mark McMorris and X Games vet Max Parrot. Despite heavy movement in the silver and bronze medal positions, no one could come close to the Norwegian on Sunday.

The 17-year-old Kleveland unseated Canada’s Mark McMorris, the defending X Games snowboard slopestyle champ and 2014 Olympic slopestyle bronze medalist, to win his first X Games gold. Looking for a storybook ending in his final run, McMorris landed his second jump clean, but switched the direction of his approach going into his final trick – likely invisible to the unknowing eye. The adjustment was enough of a misstep for the judges to deduct points, costing him a shot at gold.

Tyler Nicholson of Canada crashed the podium on his second run, knocking Norway’s Stale Sandbech down a peg to third, barely allowing Sandbech enough time to catch his breath after he had just landed in silver position on his own follow-up run.

Unfortunately for Sandbech, McMorris’ first run score was a couple points better, keeping the four-time X Games snowboard slopestyle gold medalist on the 2017 podium for bronze.

In addition to his slopestyle gold, Kleveland won silver under the lights on Friday night in the men’s snowboard big air event, landing an off-axis quadruple cork – a first in X Games history.

Chinese lead, star pairs struggle in world championships short program

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China’s Sui Wenjing and Han Cong recorded the highest pairs short program score in the world since the 2014 Olympics, topping the world championships field in Helsinki on Wednesday.

Two-time defending world champions Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford of Canada and Olympic silver medalists Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov are well behind in seventh and 13th place, respectively.

Sui and Han, in just their second event this season, tallied a personal-best 81.23 points.

They lead by 1.39 over Germans Aliona Savchenko and Bruno Massot going into the free skate Thursday (1 p.m. ET, NBCSN, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app).

Russians Yevgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov are in third.

The Chinese will go for their first world title after giving up a short-program lead last year and taking silver for a second straight time.

Full worlds short program results are here.

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Sui and Han missed the fall season after Sui underwent right ankle and left foot surgeries last spring. They returned at the Four Continents Championships in February and posted personal-best free skate and total scores, ranking only behind Tarasova and Morozov for the season.

Duhamel and Radford, looking to become the first pair to three-peat in 40 years, came in slowed by Radford’s hip injury suffered in the last week. Radford was off-balance on his triple toe loop landing Wednesday. Duhamel’s hand touched the ice on her throw triple Lutz landing.

They scored 72.67 points, which is 8.56 behind Sui and Han.

Stolbova and Klimov both suffered falls in their short program and scored 65.59, qualifying for the 16-pair free skate by four points. The Russian champions missed the autumn season due to Stolbova’s left leg injury.

The top U.S. pair was Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Christopher Knierim, who posted a personal-best 72.17 points for eighth place. The husband-and-wife pair are competing for the second time this season after Scimeca Knierim’s serious abdominal injury.

U.S. champions Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier suffered two falls and placed 20th, matching the worst U.S. pairs finish in worlds history. They did not qualify for the 16-pair free skate.

Therefore, the Knierims must finish 10th or better after the free skate to ensure the U.S. earns two pairs places at the 2018 Olympics.

Pairs is the U.S.’ weakest discipline. The last U.S. medal in pairs at worlds came in 2002. The last Olympic medal was in 1988.

North Korean pair Ryom Tae Ok and Kim Ju Sik placed 14th in the short program, the highest of any pair expected to compete for one of four final Olympic quota spots in September.

North Korea sent no athletes to the Sochi Olympics, and it’s not a guarantee it will qualify any athletes for PyeongChang, or if it will send athletes to South Korea in February. But Ryom and Kim’s personal best by nearly 11 points on Wednesday was very encouraging.

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MORE: U.S. pairs skater back from life-threatening condition

Pairs Short Program
1. Sui Wenjing/Han Cong (CHN) — 81.23
2. Aliona Savchenko/Bruno Massot (GER) — 79.84
3. Yevgenia Tarasova/Vladimir Morozov (RUS) — 79.37
8. Alexa Scimeca Knierim/Christopher Knierim (USA) — 72.17
20. Haven Denney/Brandon Frazier (USA) — 56.23

Missy Franklin out due to shoulder surgeries

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Missy Franklin is sidelined from swimming competition for an undisclosed period of time to recover from surgeries on both of her shoulders due to bursitis, according to her social media.

“This is what’s best for me to come stronger than ever,” was posted on Franklin’s Instagram. “I’m so far from being done with this sport.”

The five-time Olympic champion was diagnosed in early January following an MRI, underwent surgeries that month and has returned to limited training.

Franklin, who has not raced since the Rio Olympics, will not compete in the next USA Swimming Pro Series meet in Mesa, Ariz., in two weeks.

Her return date is not set.

The U.S. Championships are in June in Indianapolis and serve as a qualifying meet for the world championships in Budapest in July.

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