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Red Gerard is the new face of U.S. slopestyle

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Sage Kotsenburg went to the Sochi Olympics with one slopestyle win in the last nine years and a simple goal to “make snowboarding look cool.”

The Park City native captured the very first gold medal of the 2014 Winter Games and soaked up celebrity. Before the Olympic flame was extinguished, Kotsenburg sat down with David Letterman and ate a bacon gold medal given to him by Conan O’Brien.

Now that Kotsenburg is retired at 24, who could be the U.S. breakout star of the first weekend in PyeongChang?

Red Gerard may fill the role.

Gerard, like Kotsenburg, is a slopestyle snowboarder. Slopestyle is again one of the first medal events.

It’s on the Sunday morning after the Friday Opening Ceremony, which with the 14-hour time difference puts it on Saturday primetime on the U.S. East Coast.

Gerard, born in 2000, is younger than any previous U.S. Olympic male snowboarder. He is about 5 and a half feet after a recent growth spurt of a few inches. Not even 150 pounds.

He is also the towering American slopestyle rider at the moment.

He won the first U.S. Olympic qualifier in Mammoth Mountain, Calif., in February. Another podium finish in one of the final three qualifiers this season will all but send him to PyeongChang.

Gerard was also fifth and seventh at the last two U.S. Opens and 14th at his X Games debut last season. No American finished in the top six at X Games for the first time in at least 15 years.

So another U.S. gold in PyeongChang would take a Kotsenburg-level upset of Canadians Mark McMorrisMax Parrot and Tyler Nicholson and Norwegians Marcus Kleveland and Ståle Sandbech.

Gerard, whose Mammoth win came without McMorris, Parrot or Kleveland in the field, is younger than all of them and still finding himself in top-level contests.

“I don’t know how to describe my style,” Gerard, the sixth of seven kids, said last month. “It’s probably whack or something.”

Gerard said he’s been snowboarding since age 2. He signed with Burton Snowboards by age 11, soon after his family moved from Cleveland to Summit County, Colo.

His slopestyle skills were honed on the Gerard Farm. Or, if you prefer, Red’s Backyard.

That’s what they sometimes call a makeshift snow park in the family backyard in Silverthorne, visible from the Noodles and Co. across Interstate 70. Check it outRed’s Backyard has 5,000 Instagram followers.

About three years ago, one of Gerard’s four brothers, Brendan, noticed the yard had the perfect slant for a snow park. They put in rails, which are the first features at the top of a standard slopestyle course.

A dirt bike with a rope towed the riders — not just the Gerard boys but now dozens of neighborhood kids — from one end to the other. There are even lights.

“I’d come home and ride the rope tow until night,” Gerard said. “I never thought I’d end up learning tricks in the backyard.”

Gerard’s mom had the local kids sign release forms.

“There’s been some injuries, a lot of concussions,” Gerard said. “I have ate some serious crap back there, for sure. It’s a dangerous little park.”

The setup is ideal. Gerard’s older sister, Tieghan, is a food blogger with 400,000 Instagram followers. She lives in a converted horse barn just below Red’s Backyard.

“Sometimes I’ll go down there and grab a whole bunch of food,” for everyone riding in the park, Gerard said. “And they’ll be savaging it down.”

At times, Gerard’s parents had to pull him out of the yard to do homework. Though Gerard is filming and competing around the world now, spending less and less time riding his home rails, the park stays at his mom’s request.

“The other day, I was talking to her about it,” Gerard said. “I was like, ‘I don’t know if we can keep the backyard running.’ She was like, ‘Oh no, we’re going to keep it running.'”

In slopestyle judging, the harder-than-they-look rail moves can count just as much as the high-flying tricks off jumps at the bottom of the course. The Red’s Backyard rails may prove the training ground for an Olympic medalist.

“If you have good rails, you can take a lot off your jumps where you don’t have to do as gnarly as tricks,” Gerard said. “Hopefully, if I win a medal, I hope it has something to do with my rails. … Sometimes I don’t have enough speed for all the jumps. Weight plays into that.”

On Feb. 8, 2014, Gerard was coming home by car from a contest in Pennsylvania when he learned that Kotsenburg won the first gold medal of the Sochi Olympics.

“I was like, this can not be right,” said a flabbergasted Gerard, who has since worn his friend Kotsenburg’s gold medal. “He won, and he was doing some crazy grabs. That’s what really got my mind flowing on style stuff and making snowboarding different, to be honest.”

And Gerard is certainly different than the typical Olympic hopeful.

His biggest sense of accomplishment comes not from winning, but from filming snowboarding movies.

He prefers practice to competing. Halfpipe over slopestyle. Just about anything over media interviews.

No specific diet. Mountain Dew (another sponsor). In-N-Out Burger when he’s in LA. They know his name at the local Chipotle.

“But actually my favorite food is sushi, so that’s kinda healthy,” he said.

Gerard is serious about his concern for the future of snowboarding. Kleveland landed the first quad cork 1800 in big air competition at X Games last season (four off-axis flips with five full rotations).

“How many flips can you really do, how big can the jump really be — I mean, it’s already life-threatening — but without it seriously being insanely dangerous?” Gerard said. “What I’m hoping that happens is that we step it back a notch and deal with at least just triple corks from now on and try to put really good style into it.”

If Gerard’s rail prowess lands him on the medal stand on Feb. 11, he would welcome any portion of the fame that Kotsenburg received. But that’s not all he wants.

“Honestly, what I would like to do, is get a big RV and travel around all snowboarding spots around North America with a filmer and my friends,” he said.

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VIDEO: Slopestyle skier shows off acrobatic moves in training

Skylar Diggins-Smith has the opportunity to fill USA Basketball’s need

Skylar Diggins
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Skylar Diggins-Smith said making the U.S. Olympic team is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. This is her second chance.

An ACL tear derailed her Rio 2016 hopes. That happened in a WNBA game on June 28, 2015.

Though Diggins-Smith was among 25 Olympic finalists named in January 2016, she didn’t return to game action until that May, four weeks after the 12-woman Olympic team was chosen.

The 27-year-old guard said she’s played for USA Basketball for 12 years, since before her standout Notre Dame career that led to her current stint with the Dallas Wings (formerly Tulsa Shock).

“This is the most clear my mind has been,” with USA Basketball, Diggins-Smith said from training camp in Seattle on Tuesday, ahead of a Thursday exhibition against China at Key Arena (10 p.m. ET, usab.com/live).

Signs point to Diggins-Smith making her major international tournament debut at September’s FIBA World Cup, the quadrennial world championship event.

Though Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi‘s surprising returns crowd the backcourt, the other Olympic gold medalist guard, Lindsay Whalen, retired from the national team.

Diggins-Smith’s play last season, her first full campaign back from the ACL tear, boosts her case. She made the All-WNBA First Team.

She also made the first team in 2014. That year, Diggins-Smith was among the final cuts for the world championship team less than a week before the tournament.

“Every time I come to USA Basketball, I think you have a tendency to kind of overthink,” Diggins-Smith said Tuesday. “You just want to do the right thing, don’t really want to make mistakes. … You want to do the right thing, and you press a little bit.”

USA Basketball has stressed finding its next stalwart point guard following five-time Olympian Teresa Edwards, three-time Olympian Dawn Staley (now the U.S. head coach) and the 37-year-old Bird, eyeing her fifth Olympics in 2020.

“Give me three guards that have separated themselves from everyone else in the WNBA to put themselves at the same level as Sue, Diana, Lindsay Whalen,” then-U.S. coach Geno Auriemma said after the Olympic team was named in April 2016. “You really start to look around and, you go, that is a huge question that has to be answered.”

“Obviously, there’s a need,” Staley said in February, listing point guards other than Bird at that camp.

The first name Staley mentioned was Diggins-Smith, for what it’s worth.

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MORE: Candace Parker finished with USA Basketball

USA Track and Field to honor 1968 Olympic team on 50th anniversary

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USA Track and Field begins a campaign this week to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the 1968 Olympic team.

Members of the Mexico City Games team, one of the greatest track and field teams in history, will be honored at high-profile events the remainder of the year.

The campaign, “1968-2018: Celebrating Athletic Achievement and Courage,” culminates with a “Night of Legends” reunion in December at the USATF Annual Meeting in Columbus, Ohio, also attended by current U.S. stars.

The 1968 Olympic team is most remembered for Tommie Smith and John Carlos, who took gold and bronze in the 200m and were sent home after raising their black-gloved fists in a human rights salute during the national anthem.

The team also included gold medalists Bob Beamon (long jump), Dick Fosbury (high jump), Al Oerter (discus), Wyomia Tyus and Jim Hines (100m), Lee Evans (400m), Madeline Manning Mims (800m), Willie Davenport (110m hurdles), Bob Seagren (pole vault), Randy Matson (shot put), Bill Toomey (decathlon) and the men’s and women’s 4x100m and men’s 4x400m.

“The legacy of the greatest track & field team to ever be assembled is still felt 50 years later,” USATF CEO Max Siegel said in a press release. “These Olympians persevered through athletic challenges and social injustices, maintaining their composure and dignity when others may have fallen. It is USATF’s honor to pay homage to their achievements and bring the team together for an epic celebration at our Annual Meeting.”

U.S. track and field athletes will compete at two meets on NBC Sports and NBC Sports Gold this weekend — the Drake Relays and Penn Relays.

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WATCH: NBC Olympics documentary on 1968 Olympics