Torin Yater-Wallace

Torin Yater-Wallace, Maddie Bowman lead U.S. skiers onto halfpipe podium at Olympic qualifier

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Heavy snow on Friday and high winds on Saturday led to the cancellation of the final round of the skiing halfpipe and snowboarding slopestyle events at the Toyota U.S. Grand Prix. The competition, held in Mammoth Mountain, Calif., served as the first Olympic qualifier for the U.S. athletes hoping to make the team for the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics.

With the final round unable to be contested, the results from qualification stood and four skiers moved halfway to earning an Olympic berth. In the men’s freeskiing halfpipe competition, Torin Yater-Wallace earned the top score of 92.33, followed by Gus Kenworthy with 92.oo. and Taylor Seaton with 90.00. Yater-Wallace and Kenworthy were 2014 Olympians, with Kenworthy earning a silver medal in the ski slopestyle event.

It was Yater-Wallace’s first World Cup win since 2014. He’s had his share of injuries in the years since Sochi, with a concussion in 2015 followed by an infection that affected his gall bladder, liver and lungs and put him on life support in 2016. At the Mammoth competition, he told U.S. Freeskiing, “(I’m) actually dealing with a really bruised heel right now, but I am working through it.”

In the women’s event, the reigning Olympic champion in ski halfpipe, Maddie Bowman, finished second. In first place was France’s Marie Martinod and third was Japan’s Ayana Onozuka.

Yater-Wallace, Kenworthy, Seaton and Bowman now just need one more podium finish at an Olympic selection event to automatically become PyeongChang Olympians. A maximum of three athletes per gender will be named to the U.S. team if they finish on the podium at two designated selection events. The second of the five planned qualifiers will be held next December.

“The fact that it’s an Olympic qualifier definitely adds a lot of pressure,” Kenworthy said, “but I tried not to think too much about the stakes at hand and just focused on landing my run.”

MORE: Torin Yater-Wallace healthy going into X Games after years of health scares

 

 

Yuzuru Hanyu opens Olympic season with record score

Yuzuru Hanyu
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A sore knee didn’t hold Yuzuru Hanyu back. A record score to open his Olympic season.

The Olympic and world champion from Japan hit a pair of quadruple jumps in his short program at the Autumn Classic, a lower-level event in Montreal.

He was rewarded with 112.72 points, the highest short program score recorded under the 13-year-old judging system. Video is here.

It looked like a home competition for Hanyu.

Upon finishing, he bowed toward one set of bleachers (maybe a dozen rows) at the Sportsplexe Pierrefonds. More than two dozen Japanese flags made it hard to see most of the faces.

He bettered Javier Fernández, a two-time world champion and training partner, by 11.52 points. Fernández also landed two quadruple jumps to tally 101.2.

Full scores will be here upon the conclusion of the short program. The free skate is Saturday at 8 p.m. ET. A live stream is here.

Hanyu now owns the three highest short program scores under the 13-year-old system. The other two were set in the 2015-16 season.

Showdowns like Hanyu-Fernández are usually reserved for, at the earliest, the Grand Prix series in late October and November.

Hanyu and Fernández are very familiar with each other, having shared a coach in Canadian Brian Orser, the 1988 Olympic silver medalist, since 2012. They train in Toronto.

In that time, Hanyu became the first Japanese man to win an Olympic title (and the second teen from any nation to do it). He followed it up with world titles later in 2014 and this year.

Fernández achieved unfathomable success for a Spanish skater — world titles in 2015 and 2016, overtaking Hanyu in the free skate both times.

In PyeongChang, Hanyu can become the first man to repeat as Olympic champion since Dick Button in 1952. Fernández can become the third Spaniard to earn a Winter Olympic medal of any color in any sport, and the first since 1992.

The figure skating season continues next week with Nebelhorn Trophy in Germany, the final Olympic qualifying competition. North Korea could clinch its first spots in any sport for the Olympics in the pairs event.

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MORE: What to watch every day of PyeongChang Olympics

USOC letter assures Olympians about South Korea security

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The U.S. Olympic Committee’s security chief sent a letter to potential Winter Olympians saying there are no indications that recent developments between the U.S. and North Korea have compromised security in South Korea.

The letter, obtained by The Associated Press shortly after it was sent Friday, makes no suggestion that the U.S. is considering skipping the PyeongChang Winter Games for security reasons.

But Chief Security Officer Nicole Deal does write that provocations that have been volleyed between the United States and North Korea are likely to persist for the foreseeable future, and “should not be dismissed as insignificant nor feared as precursors of an inevitable conflict.”

The letter comes at the end of a week in which France’s sports minister suggested the country’s athletes would stay home if security could not be guaranteed.

The International Olympic Committee, trying to calm concerns, reiterated that in conversations with high-level officials in China and South Korea, none have expressed doubt about the Winter Games proceeding as scheduled, next February.

The USOC also sent out a public statement Friday from CEO Scott Blackmun.

“We will continue to work with our State Department and local organizers to ensure that our athletes, and our entire delegation, are safe,” he said.

The letter, sent to athletes, national governing bodies and other Olympic leaders in the United States, said the USOC’s security division is operating as “business as usual for our security planning and preparations.”

Deal writes that the USOC is reviewing crisis management plans that address a range of potential scenarios “to ensure our athletes, and our entire delegation, are safe.”

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MORE: What to watch every day of PyeongChang Olympics