Sage Kotsenburg
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Sage Kotsenburg will not defend Olympic slopestyle title

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Sage Kotsenburg, the first Olympic snowboard slopestyle champion, will not defend his title in PyeongChang and is finished with contest riding.

Kotsenburg, 23, said he chose to devote the rest of his career to filming snowboarding movies rather than competing. It’s a common transition in the sport, but an unusual one for a reigning Olympic gold medalist.

“It had been on my mind since literally the day I won in Sochi,” said Kotsenburg, who last competed in early 2016. “I had my heart set on stopping competing after the Olympics, and then winning puts you in such a different mindset. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do anymore. I was on a high, so pumped on competing. I would get to the contests [after Sochi], and I don’t know what’s going on. I don’t have the edge to try this new trick anymore. All the time, I’m looking at [social media] posts from other people riding in Switzerland and Whistler [Canada] filming backcountry. I thought, I want to be there right now.

“I finally said to myself, I’ve got to do what makes me happy. Competing doesn’t make me happy right now.”

Kotsenburg said relief flooded over him after telling sponsors — including Oakley, Monster, GoPro and Stance socks — he would not ride in competition anymore. He wanted to know if they would stick with him during his filming career, but he understood if they felt otherwise.

“Each one of them said we’re happy to have you on board and keep it going,” he said. “After I told them, it was so much pressure off my chest. I knew I could just go snowboarding again.”

Growing up in Park City, Kotsenburg was fixated more on snowboarding movies than following contests. Though he’ll never forget watching the U.S. sweep the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympic men’s halfpipe and then meeting Ross PowersDanny Kass and J.J. Thomas as an 8-year-old.

Kotsenburg was truly a surprise Olympic champion in 2014, taking gold after going into his first Winter Games with a goal to “make snowboarding look cool.” The Park City native later said President Obama told him, “Sage, this guy was like the favorite moment of the Games.”

“Looking back on it in 30 or 40 years, I’ll remember all the hard work and stress and craziness that went into it,” Kotsenburg said. “It was so worth it in the end. It’s something that’s made me who I am today. I think about it every day.”

Kotsenburg was at best inconsistent at the Winter X Games before and after his Sochi breakout — fifth in 2010, 10th in 2011, second in 2012, 13th in 2013, 15th in 2014, fifth in 2015 and 10th in 2016. Kotsenburg’s win at the last U.S. Olympic qualifier in January 2014 marked his first trip to the top of a slopestyle podium in about nine years.

In Sochi, Kotsenburg took gold by landing a cab double cork 1260 with a Kotsenburg-invented Holy Crail grab and a back 1620 Japan Air, trying the latter trick for the first time in his life (he hasn’t tried it since). The rider known as “Second-Run Sage” did it on his first run, scoring 93.5 points.

After the Olympics, Kotsenburg capitalized on his gold. He ate a bacon gold medal given to him by Conan O’Brien, listened to Obama call him “sick and chill” and took his gold medal out of a white sock on “Mad Money” with Jim Cramer.

“Being backstage on Letterman, I was tripping,” he said. “Craziest one was definitely going to the White House and meeting Obama was insane. He said he watched the Olympics, and I had the chillest and most relaxed interview he had ever seen.”

Kotsenburg said he still needs to get a proper box to store his medal. He joked he might rather buy a manikin and hang it around its neck along with some cool outerwear.

Before what would have been the last contest of his career, Kotsenburg essentially suffered a concussion at Fenway Park in training at a big air event in February 2016. Kotsenburg said the head injury was very minor and that it did not factor into his retirement decision.

Kotsenburg spent all last winter riding in Alaska, Wyoming, Lake Tahoe, Utah and Whistler for a Snowboarder Magazine film called “Pepper.”

He plans to ride more this winter for his own film project and possibly attend the Olympics in a non-competitive capacity. 

The top slopestyle snowboarders going into PyeongChang are Canadians Mark McMorrisMax Parrot and Tyler Nicholson, Norwegians Marcus Kleveland and Stale Sandbech and American Red Gerard.

Gerard, 16, has known Kotsenburg for several years and once wore the Sochi gold medal.

“I hope [Gerard] comes home with a medal, even gold,” Kotsenburg said. “He’s got such awesome style and really respects the background of snowboarding. He’s been filming, too, and really respects that type of snowboarding. Which I respect a lot.”

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Snowboarders, freeskiers get last Olympic qualifying chance

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Many stars already qualified for PyeongChang — Shaun WhiteChloe KimJamie Anderson among them — but three Olympic gold medalists go into the last U.S. snowboard/freeski qualifier this week with work to do.

Two of them are in the same event.

Kelly Clark and Hannah Teter, the 2002 and 2006 Olympic snowboard halfpipe champions, are in different places.

Clark, 34, is trying to break her own record as the oldest U.S. halfpipe rider in Olympic history.

She can also join cross-country skier Kikkan Randall (and potentially Julia Mancuso) in PyeongChang as the only American women to compete in five Winter Olympics.

That should happen.

Clark has a pair of podium finishes from the first three Olympic qualifiers.

She’ll make the PyeongChang team this weekend (or be named the lone available discretionary pick shortly thereafter) barring some crazy finishes at her home halfpipe in Mammoth Mountain, Calif., this week.

Teter, 30, cannot feel as safe.

She finished fifth, ninth and ninth in the three qualifiers so far (and never among the top four Americans).

Four years ago, Teter did not qualify automatically for the Olympic team but was chosen with the lone discretionary spot. She followed her 2006 gold and 2010 silver with a fourth-place finish in Sochi.

Though Sochi gold medalist Kaitlyn Farrington retired, the rise of teens Maddie Mastro and Kim put Teter in an even more precarious spot in this Olympic qualifying season.

Simply put, Teter cannot like her Olympic chances unless she wins this week. And she hasn’t won a top-level contest in nearly nine years.

Another Olympic champion is on the ropes in Mammoth. That’s Joss Christensen, the surprise Sochi ski slopestyle gold medalist.

Christensen returned from a May 10 torn ACL and meniscus last week to finish 43rd and 14th in two qualifiers.

He gets two final qualifiers this week to prove he deserves to defend his Olympic title in PyeongChang.

The teammates who joined Christensen on the Sochi podium — Gus Kenworthy and Nick Goepper — are in much safer shape.

The Olympic qualifying standings and Mammoth broadcast schedule:

Snowboard Halfpipe
Qualifying Standings 
(through three of four events)
Three riders auto qualify per gender; one possible discretionary spot
1. Shaun White — 1,800* (QUALIFIED)
1. Ben Ferguson — 1,800* (QUALIFIED)

1. Jake Pates — 1,800* (QUALIFIED)
4. Danny Davis — 1,200 (3rd and 3rd)
5. Chase Josey — 1,000 (4th and 4th)
6. Gabe Ferguson — 950 (4th and 5th)

1. Chloe Kim — 2,000* (QUALIFIED)
2. Maddie Mastro — 1,600* (2nd and 2nd)
3. Kelly Clark — 1,400* (2nd and 3rd)
4. Arielle Gold — 1,100* (3rd and 4th)
5. Hannah Teter — 900 (5th and 5th)
6. Elena Hight — 850 (5th and 6th)
*Has automatic qualifying minimum of one top-three result against whole field.

Men: Nobody can clinch an automatic spot after White, Pates and Ferguson took them all last week. However, Davis (Sochi Olympian), Josey (fourth at 2017 X Games) and Gabe Ferguson (Ben’s younger brother) know that their results this week will go a long way in the eyes of a selection committee deciding on a possible fourth Olympic team member.

Women: There has been a clear tier system in U.S. women’s halfpipe this season. Kim has been in a class of her own. Then Mastro, Clark and Gold. Then Teter and Hight. Teter and Hight, who made Olympic debuts in 2006 (where Teter won gold), need to not only break into the Mastro-Clark-Gold tier this week, but also likely must beat them all to justify a spot on the Olympic team.

Snowboard Big Air/Slopestyle (through four of five events)
Three riders auto qualify per gender; one possible discretionary spot
1. Chris Corning — 2,000* QUALIFIED
1. Red Gerard — 2,000* QUALIFIED
3. Chandler Hunt — 1,400* (2nd and 3rd)
4. Kyle Mack — 1,000* (2nd and 13th)
5. Ryan Stassel — 1,400 (2nd and 3rd)
6. Judd Henkes — 1,100 (3rd and 4th)

1. Jamie Anderson — 2,000* QUALIFIED
2. Julia Marino — 1,600* (1st and 3rd)
3. Hailey Langland — 1,600* (2nd and 2nd)
4. Jessika Jenson — 1,600 (1st and 3rd)
5. Ty Walker — 1,300 (2nd and 4th)
*Has automatic qualifying minimum of one top-three result against entire field.

Men: Hunt takes the last automatic Olympic spot available if he’s the top American finisher in Mammoth (aside from Corning and Gerard). Stassel is the lone 2014 Olympian in the running (Sochi gold medalist Sage Kotsenburg retired). Henkes, born in 2001, is trying to become the youngest member of the Olympic team across all sports.

Women: It looks like all three Olympic medal favorites are going to PyeongChang. Sochi gold medalist Jamie Anderson is in as the top American finisher in the first and third qualifiers. X Games slopestyle champ Marino was the top American in the second qualifier. X Games big air champ Langland was right behind Anderson in the first and third qualifiers. Neither Marino nor Langland made the final last week, which kept Jenson and Walker in the running for automatic spots. But neither Jenson nor Walker has a top-three finish against an entire field yet, keeping them behind Marino and Langland.

Ski Halfpipe (through four of five events)
Three skiers can auto qualify per gender; up to four named to Olympic team
1. David Wise — 200** QUALIFIED
2. Alex Ferreira — 180** (1st and 2nd)
3. Aaron Blunck — 140** (2nd and 3rd)
4. Torin Yater-Wallace — 150* (1st and 4th)
5. Gus Kenworthy — 116* (2nd and 7th)

1. Maddie Bowman — 140** QUALIFIED
2. Devin Logan — 130* (2nd and 4th)
2. Brita Sigourney — 130* (2nd and 4th)
4. Annalisa Drew — 95 (4th and 5th)
5. Carly Margulies — 72 (6th and 7th)
**Has automatic qualifying minimum of two top-three results.
*Has one top-three result.

Men: Somebody with great credentials is going to be left off the team. As of now, that would either be Yater-Wallace, the three-time X Games medalist who came back from life support to win the first Olympic qualifier last February, or Kenworthy, the Sochi slopestyle silver medalist. In 2014, a committee gave the last spot on the Olympic team to Yater-Wallace over Kenworthy.

Women: The top four in the standings are all Sochi Olympians, but only Bowman has qualified so far and only Logan and Sigourney can clinch in Mammoth. Drew should be safe for the potential fourth spot if she finishers higher than Margulies this week, but she wasn’t able to do that in either of the last two qualifiers.

Ski Slopestyle (women through four of five events; men through three of five)
Three skiers can auto qualify per gender; up to four named to Olympic team
1. Maggie Voisin — 180** QUALIFIED

2. Devin Logan — 90 (4th and 6th)
3. Darian Stevens — 81 (5th and 7th)
4. Julia Krass — 72 (4th and 12th)
5. Taylor Lundquist — 65 (7th and 9th)

1. Nick Goepper — 160** (2nd and 2nd)
2. Gus Kenworthy — 140* (1st and 6th)
3. McRae Williams — 79 (4th and 9th)
3. Quinn Wolferman — 79 (4th and 9th)
5. Alex Hall — 57 (5th and 19th)
**Has automatic qualifying minimum of two top-three results.
*Has one top-three result.

Women: Nobody can clinch an Olympic spot because nobody other than Voisin made a podium in the first four qualifiers. Voisin, Logan and Krass all made the Sochi team (Logan took silver). Stevens just missed the team in 2014.

Men: Anything can happen with two of the five qualifiers to be held this weekend. None of the men who swept the Sochi podium are 100 percent safe, though Goepper has to like his chances. Kenworthy, too, after a much-needed win in Snowmass, Colo., last week. The man absent from the above standings is gold medalist Joss Christensen. He returned from a May 10 torn ACL and meniscus last week to finish 43rd and 14th in two qualifiers.

Mammoth Finals (all times Eastern)
Friday

Ski Halfpipe — 9:30-11 p.m. (NBCSports.com/live, NBC Sports app)

Saturday
Ski Slopestyle (#1) — 12:30-2 p.m. (NBCSports.com/live, NBC Sports app)
Snowboard Slopestyle — 5-6 p.m. (NBC, NBCSports.com/live, NBC Sports app)
Snowboard Halfpipe — 9:30-11 p.m. (NBCSports.com/live, NBC Sports app)

Sunday
Ski Slopestyle (#2) — 4:30-6 p.m. (NBCSports.com/live, NBC Sports app)

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South, North Korea agree to form joint Olympic team, march together

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SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — South Korea and North Korea agreed Wednesday to form their first unified Olympic team and march together in the Opening Ceremony for the first time since 2006.

The agreements still require approval from the International Olympic Committee.

But they are the most prominent steps toward rapprochement achieved by the Koreas since they recently began exploring cooperation during the Olympics.

During their third day of talks at the border in about a week, senior officials reached a package of agreements including fielding a joint women’s hockey team and marching together under a blue and white “unification flag” depicting their peninsula in the Opening Ceremony, Seoul’s Unification Ministry said.

A joint statement distributed by the ministry said the North Korean Olympic delegation will travel to South Korea across their heavily fortified land border before the Feb. 9-25 PyeongChang Games.

It said the delegation will include a 230-member cheering group, a 30-member taekwondo demonstration team, journalists, athletes and officials.

Ahead of the Olympics, the Koreas will hold a joint cultural event at the North’s scenic Diamond Mountain and have non-Olympic skiers train together at the North’s Masik ski resort, according to the statement.

It said the North also plans to send a 150-strong delegation to the Paralympics in March. The North earlier said it would send a 140-member art troupe.

The agreements are highly symbolic and emotional.

But it’s still not clear how many North Korean athletes will come to PyeongChang because none are currently qualified.

South Korean media have predicted only up to 10 North Korean athletes will end up being covered by an additional quota from the IOC.

A pair of North Korean figure skaters qualified for this year’s Olympics, but North Korea missed a deadline to confirm their participation.

The IOC said recently it has “kept the door open” for North Korea to take part in the Games.

IOC officials are to meet with sports and government officials from the two Koreas and officials from the PyeongChang organizing committee in Switzerland on Saturday.

The IOC said in statement Wednesday that it has “taken note of a number of interesting proposals from different sources.”

“There are many considerations with regard to the impact of these proposals on the other participating NOCs (national Olympic committees) and athletes. After having taken all this into consideration, the IOC will take its final decisions on Saturday in Lausanne,” it said.

The two Koreas sent joint teams to major international sports events twice previously, both in 1991.

One event was the world table tennis championships in Chiba, Japan, where the women’s team won the championship by beating the powerful Chinese, and the other was soccer’s World Youth Championship in Portugal, where the Korean team reached the quarterfinals.

During an era of detente in the 2000s, their athletes marched together in the Opening and Closing Ceremonies of nine international sporting events including the 2000, 2004 and 2006 Olympics, but they failed to produce a joint team.

Their last joint march was at the Asian Winter Games in Changchun, China, in 2007.

The current reconciliation mood began after North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said in a New Year’s speech that he was willing to send a delegation to the Games.

 

 

South Korea wants the IOC to allow its hockey team’s 23-player Olympic roster to be expanded so that several North Korean players can be added without removing any of the South Korean players.

But there are worries in South Korea that adding new players less than a month before the Olympics will weaken the team and deprive South Korean players of playing time.

Chief South Korean delegate Chun Hae-sung said the government is well aware of such concerns and North Korea has agreed that the South Korean coach Sarah Murray will be given full authority to select North Korean players to compete.

“If South and North Korea form one team and compete in the Games, that will be an everlasting historic event, which I think will move our people and people around the world,” South Korean President Moon Jae-in said Wednesday.

Murray said a joint team would be a distraction and present challenges, according to Yonhap News Agency.

“I think there is damage to our players,” the Canadian said Tuesday, according to Yonhap. “It’s hard because the players have earned their spots, and they think they deserve to go to the Olympics. Then you have people being added later. It definitely affects our players.

“This is another distraction, and we have to worry about things we can control. We can’t control this situation.

“Adding somebody so close to the Olympics is a little bit dangerous just for team chemistry because the girls have been together for so long. Teaching systems and different things … I’d have about a month to teach these (new) players the way our team plays. That makes me a little nervous.

“I hope that I am not being pressured to play (North Koreans). I am hoping we can just play the way we play and not have the influence of, ‘I need to play this player.’ I just want the best players to play. If you play your best, then you earn your ice time. Whether you’re South Korean or North Korean, they have to earn their place.”

North Korea boycotted the previous Olympics held in South Korea, the Summer Olympics in Seoul in 1988.

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