Shaun White
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Shaun White, snowboarders open Olympic qualifying

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U.S. Olympic halfpipe snowboarding qualification starts this weekend. Shaun White hopes it goes a little smoother than four years ago — and much smoother than his preseason training.

White is expected to earn one of three automatic Olympic men’s spots once the four-event selection process finishes in mid-January. He’s arguably the Olympic gold-medal favorite.

The two-time Olympic champion will clinch his fourth Winter Games berth if he is the top American in two of the events, starting with a Grand Prix in Copper Mountain, Colo., this week.

White was among the men to advance out of qualifying Thursday. The final is Saturday. A full broadcast schedule is at the bottom of this story.

Realistically, one win and another podium would probably be enough for one of the three spots. The safety net is a potential fourth spot, which would be handed out by a selection committee later in January.

All four men from the 2014 U.S. Olympic team are on the Copper entry list — White, Greg BretzDanny Davis and Taylor Gold. So are three of the women — Kelly ClarkArielle Gold and Hannah Teter — plus 17-year-old star Chloe Kim.

Sochi gold medalist Kaitlyn Farrington retired in 2015 due to a spine condition.

For the men and women, Olympic qualifying is structured the same.

White goes in trying to become the oldest U.S. Olympic men’s halfpipe snowboarder in the sport’s 20-year history at the Winter Games. He was already the oldest U.S. man on the 2010 and 2014 Olympic teams.

He’s back at the top of his sport.

White competed just once after his fourth-place finish in Sochi until December 2015. He changed coaches, underwent surgery on his long troublesome left ankle and dropped both slopestyle and his band.

The new White was 11th at January’s Winter X Games — his worst finish there since 2000 — but then finished first, second and first in his last three events of the 2016-17 season.

He peaked at the finale, the U.S. Open in Vail, Colo. White landed a cab double cork 1440 and a double McTwist 1260 in one run for the first time, according to The Associated Press.

Significant crashes curtailed training before this season.

In early September, White badly bruised his hip and his liver in New Zealand, which caused him to urinate blood. Doctors told him to take a few weeks off.

Then in October, White needed 62 stitches across his forehead, lips and tongue after a faceplant on a double flip 1440.

White is no stranger to this kind of thing, especially in an Olympic season.

In 2013-14, he withdrew before his season opener with an ankle injury from a training crash. Then he withdrew during the first Olympic selection event with a left ankle sprain. Finally, he spent a few minutes lying on the ground after this crash one month before the Olympics.

This week’s event in Copper also marks the second Olympic selection event for snowboard big air/slopestyle and ski halfpipe.

Olympic qualifying for snowboard big air/slopestyle is the same as halfpipe, except there are five total selection events instead of four and the automatic Olympic berths put riders in two Olympic events. Slopestyle makes its second Olympic appearance in Pyeongchang; big air its first.

The first big air/slopestyle qualifier was last season, when 17-year-old Red Gerard and Sochi slopestyle champion Jamie Anderson grabbed wins. If either is the top American in Sunday’s big air finals, they clinch an Olympic berth in both big air and slopestyle.

In ski halfpipe, Sochi gold medalist Maddie Bowman and Torin Yater-Wallace were the top Americans in the first selection event last season. If Yater-Wallace wins Friday, he clinches his second Olympic berth, while Bowman can all but wrap one up with a victory.

One skier who won’t qualify for Pyeongchang this week (or next week) is Gus Kenworthy. Perhaps the world’s most famous freeskier was second to Yater-Wallace in the first selection event last season but failed to advance out of qualifying Wednesday.

Olympic freeskiing and snowboarding qualifying continues in Breckenridge, Colo., next week.

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MORE: Shaun White details crash that led to 62 stitches

U.S. Grand Prix at Copper Mountain Finals
Friday

Ski Halfpipe
1 p.m. ET — NBCSports.com/live, NBC Sports app — LIVE

Saturday
Snowboard Halfpipe
1 p.m. ET — NBCSports.com/live, NBC Sports app — LIVE
4 p.m. ET — NBC, NBCSports.com/live, NBC Sports app

Ski Halfpipe
1 p.m. ET — NBC, NBCSports.com/live, NBC Sports app

Sunday
Snowboard Big Air
1 p.m. ET — NBCSports.com/live, NBC Sports app — LIVE
8 p.m. ET — NBCSN, NBCSports.com/live, NBC Sports app

Canada in control of hockey rivalry going into Olympics

AP
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Four years ago, the U.S. women’s hockey team rode a four-game winning streak over rival Canada into the Olympics, then lost both games in Sochi, including a gut-wrenching overtime final.

This time, Canada goes into the Winter Games having won four straight.

The Canadians beat the Americans 2-1 in overtime in Edmonton on Sunday night, taking their pre-Olympic series 5-3 overall.

“I don’t think it was our best performance,” Canada coach Laura Schuler said. “There’s still more work to do.”

The Canadians were led by their stalwarts — captain Marie-Philip Poulin scored in regulation, Sochi gold medalist Jennifer Wakefield scored 26 seconds into overtime and longtime goalie Shannon Szabados stopped 34 of 35 shots.

Hilary Knight netted the U.S. goal, with Maddie Rooney making 24 saves.

“The goal for us is to be hitting on all cylinders in February,” U.S. coach Robb Stauber said.

The U.S. appeared to be in that kind of form until about two weeks ago.

Before this losing streak, the U.S. had a 12-4 record against Canada since the start of 2015, including taking the last three world championship finals.

At one point, the U.S. won six straight games over a 12-month stretch, its longest streak over Canada since it famously won eight straight going into the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics then lost the gold-medal game.

Canada also beat the U.S. in their last four meetings before the 2006 Olympics and five straight going into the 2010 Olympics.

The U.S. Olympic team will be announced Jan. 1. The national-team roster is at 25 players (22 skaters, three goalies), but the Olympic roster is 23 (20 skaters, three goalies).

“Can’t live in the past, can’t live in the future, so tonight we were worried about this game,” U.S. captain Meghan Duggan said, according to the Canadian Press. “We weren’t looking ahead to February.”

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Yuzuru Hanyu to miss Japan Figure Skating Championships

Yuzuru Hanyu
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Yuzuru Hanyu, the reigning Olympic and world figure skating champion, will miss his national championships this week due to ankle and knee injuries suffered in a Nov. 9 practice fall, according to Japanese media citing the Japan Skating Federation.

Hanyu can (and very likely will) be named to Japan’s three-man Olympic team despite missing nationals.

Hanyu has reportedly been off the ice for more than one month since the fall.

“It is an important selection competition, and the Olympics are a big goal, so with that in mind we would like to think things through together,” Japan Skating Federation director Yoshiko Kobayashi said last week, according to Kyodo News.

Hanyu, who turned 23 on Dec. 7, fell on a quadruple Lutz attempted and then favored his right ankle in a Nov. 9 practice at a Grand Prix event (video here).

He skated the run-through for his free skate, although he elected not to do any more jumps.

“I have been told by the doctor that I need 10 days of complete rest,” Hanyu said in a statement on Nov. 12, according to Kyodo. “Following that, it will take three to four weeks to return and get back to where I was.”

Hanyu and world silver medalist Shoma Uno are favored to lead Japan’s Olympic men’s figure skating team. The third spot is likely to go to Takahito Mura or Keiji Tanaka.

Hanyu competed twice this season.

He posted a world-record short program score in his debut at a small September event in Canada, but struggled to fifth place in the free skate and finished second overall behind two-time world champion Javier Fernandez of Spain.

He then finished second to U.S. champion Nathan Chen at the first Grand Prix event of the season in Moscow in October.

Chen is the only undefeated male singles skater this season.

Hanyu won four straight national titles before missing last season’s event with the flu.

He was still named to Japan’s team for worlds, where he won his second title in four years.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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