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Alex Ferreira wins Olympic qualifier, crowds U.S. ski halfpipe standings

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BRECKENRIDGE, Colo. — U.S. Olympic qualifying is more than halfway done for the men’s freeski halfpipe team, and the picture remains crowded.

On Friday, Alex Ferreira boosted his chances of making his first Olympic team after winning Dew Tour Breckenridge, which served as the third U.S. selection event for ski halfpipe.

Ferreira’s winning run was full of amplitude and featured four doubles, including double cork 1260s spun in both directions.

One of the more demonstrative skiers in the field, an exuberant Ferreira whipped his ski poles around his head in celebration is he rode into the corral. “Oh my god, that was glorious!” he exclaimed after one of his runs.

“I’ve been working on that run since two years ago,” Ferreira said afterwards. “I just wanted to land the run, I didn’t care about the results. To be able to do that — hands down, best day of my life. It was my best halfpipe run ever.”

Finishing behind him was 2014 Olympian Aaron Blunck, who made his mark by showcasing a diverse array of technical tricks.

The final podium spot was claimed by France’s Kevin Rolland. The Sochi Olympic bronze medalist put his signature amplitude on display and was the only rider to land a double cork 1440.

It’s the first podium finish of the U.S. Olympic qualifying season for both Blunck and Ferreira. Skiers need a minimum of two top-three results in order to be eligible for automatic selection to the team, so they’re halfway there with two qualifiers left.

Up to three skiers can earn automatic spots on the team. Should more than three skiers get two podium finishes, then the team will be determined by a ranking list that factors in each skier’s two best results.

So far, six U.S. men have a top-three result at one of the selection events. No one has hit the two-podium minimum yet though.

Ferreira and 2014 Olympians David Wise and Torin Yater-Wallace have each won one of the selection events, putting them one victory away from confirming their nominations to the Olympic team. (Yater-Wallace was fourth in Breckenridge, Wise was 10th.)

However, accomplishing that feat is easier said than done.

“Sometimes I almost think it would be harder to make the Olympic team than do well in the Olympics,” Ferreira said. “It’s not easy stuff.”

The skiers will now have to wait until January for the final two Olympic qualifiers.

“These next couple months are definitely going to be pretty stressful,” Blunck said. “But I think Alex and I are both going at it with a grain of salt. We’re trying not to think about it as Olympic qualifiers, because at the end of the day, it’s still skiing for us and we’re enjoying our time out there.”

Breckenridge also hosted the third Olympic qualifier for the women’s halfpipe team.

Although U.S. women made up five of the eight skiers in the final, Maddie Bowman was the only one who finished on the podium. It’s a huge boon to the Olympic hopes of the reigning gold medalist, as she has now fulfilled the minimum criteria of two top-three finishes.

Bowman showed her technicality be spinning 900s in both directions during her run, but she ended up in third behind Canada’s Cassie Sharpe and France’s Marie Martinod, the 2014 Olympic silver medalist.

Sharpe and Martinod are both considered gold medal contenders for PyeongChang.

“I’m really excited because I feel like I’m really starting to break through on my grabbing,” a confident Bowman said. “I’m excited to go to the camp and work on that for the next events coming up.”

While she hasn’t mathematically confirmed her spot yet, a lot would have to happen for Bowman not to make the Olympic team.

Aside from Bowman, Devin Logan remains the only other U.S. woman with a top-three finish at a selection event.

Another podium at either of the final two contests could ultimately lock her into a spot. For the rest of the hopefuls, they will need to get on the podium at both of those events. Otherwise, the final spots will be awarded at the discretion of the coaching staff.

Breckenridge will also host selection events for ski slopestyle and snowboard halfpipe and slopestyle this weekend.

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MORE: U.S. athletes qualified for Olympic team

Olympic Qualifying Standings
Ski Halfpipe 
(through three of five events)
1. Torin Yater-Wallace — 150*
2. David Wise — 132*
3. Aaron Blunck — 130*
4. Alex Ferreira — 122*
5. Gus Kenworthy — 104*

1. Maddie Bowman — 140**
2. Devin Logan — 130*
3. Annalisa Drew — 95
4. Brita Sigourney — 90
5. Carly Margulies — 72
**Has automatic qualifying minimum of two top-three results.
*Has one top-three result.

Breckenridge Finals (all times Eastern)
Friday
Men’s Ski Halfpipe — 11 a.m.-12:15 p.m.
Women’s Ski Halfpipe — 12:45-1:30 p.m.
Men’s Snowboard Halfpipe — 2:30-3:45 p.m.
Women’s Snowboard Halfpipe — 4:15-5 p.m.

Saturday
Women’s Snowboard Slopestyle — 11-11:45 a.m.
Men’s Snowboard Slopestyle — 12:15-1:30 p.m.
Men’s Ski Slopestyle — 2:30-3:45 p.m.
Women’s Ski Slopestyle — 4:15-5 p.m.

Lindsey Vonn wins 79th World Cup race as oldest downhill victor (video)

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Lindsey Vonn became the oldest woman to win a World Cup downhill with three weeks until the Olympics, notching her 79th career victory in Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy, on Saturday.

In PyeongChang, she can become the oldest female Alpine medalist in Olympic history.

Vonn prevailed by .92 of a second over Liechtenstein’s Tina Weirather on Saturday, moving seven shy of Ingemar Stenmark‘s record of 86 World Cup victories.

“My focus right now is just so much on Olympics that I haven’t really thought about [the record] that much this season,” Vonn said. “After the Olympics, that will be my No. 1 priority again, and I’ll try to just rack up as many wins before I retire as possible.”

American Jackie Wiles was third to become the fifth U.S. female Alpine skier to qualify for PyeongChang, joining Vonn and Mikaela Shiffrin, among others. (full U.S. Olympic roster here)

Shiffrin was seventh in Saturday’s race in her least comfortable discipline.

Full results are here.

Vonn, 33, broke Austrian Elisabeth Goergl‘s record as the oldest woman to win a World Cup downhill. Goergl is still the oldest winner for any World Cup race, taking a super-G in 2014 at nearly 34 years old.

Vonn, already an Olympic medal favorite in downhill and super-G, won her first downhill since Jan. 21, 2017.

She had raced eight downhills in between with four podium finishes, including taking second to Italian Sofia Goggia on Friday in Cortina. Goggia failed to finish Saturday.

The World Cup continues with a super-G in Cortina on Sunday (5:30 a.m. ET, Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app).

“Mentally, I feel like it’s the first podium I ever got,” Vonn said. “Back in 2004, I feel the same. I have the same motivation, the same drive, the same excitement. I love going fast. That’s never changed. The only thing that’s changed is my body is not as good as it once was, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t still win.

“I’ll keep going until my poor little knee gives out.”

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VIDEO: Shaun White scores perfect 100 to qualify for Olympics

IOC approves unified Korea Olympic team, 22 North Korean athletes

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North and South Korean athletes will compete on the same team at the Olympics for the first time, while the IOC approved 22 North Koreans to compete overall in PyeongChang.

The IOC on Saturday approved the Koreas’ agreement to field a unified women’s hockey team and to march together in the Opening Ceremony behind the Korean Unification flag.

Twelve North Koreans have been added to the South Korean women’s hockey team. The other North Korean athletes will compete in figure skating, Alpine skiing, cross-country skiing and short track speed skating.

Full details are here.

“Today marks a milestone on a long journey,” IOC president Thomas Bach said. “Since 2014, the IOC has addressed the special situation of having the Olympic Winter Games 2018 on the Korean Peninsula. Until today, we met separately with the parties on a bilateral basis to address an often fast-changing political situation in a comprehensive way. Today is therefore a great day because the Olympic Spirit has brought all sides together. This was not an easy journey.”

At the Opening Ceremony on Feb. 9, one North Korean and one South Korean will carry the flag in the Parade of Nations. The Koreas previously marched together at the Opening Ceremonies in 2000, 2004 and 2006.

The hockey team will compete as “Korea,” under the unification flag and using the song “Arirang” as its anthem. North Koreans will compete under their own flag in all other sports.

North Korea did not qualify any spots for the Olympics, but the IOC had power to offer special invitations.

“Such an agreement would have seemed impossible only a few weeks ago,” Bach said. “The Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018 are hopefully opening the door to a brighter future on the Korean peninsula.”

The 22 North Korean athletes mark more North Koreans at a Winter Olympics than the last six Winter Games combined.

North Korea had zero athletes in 2014 and two in 2010.

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MORE: South Korea Olympic hockey rosters have North American flavor