Jaelin Kauf surges atop U.S. moguls with World Cup breakthrough

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With Hannah Kearney retired, there’s an opening for a new leader of the U.S. women’s moguls team. Jaelin Kauf may be that skier.

The 21-year-old from Wyoming notched her first World Cup moguls win in Thaiwoo, China, on Thursday, moving halfway to automatic qualification for her first Olympics.

Kauf continued a recent rise. She was FIS Rookie of the Year in moguls in 2015-16, then recorded her first World Cup win (in the non-Olympic event of dual moguls) last season.

She was also the top American at a February World Cup event at the PyeongChang Olympic venue in fifth place, plus took dual moguls bronze at the March world championships.

Kauf’s parents were both pro tour moguls champions. They never competed in the Olympics, but both later took up ski cross. Her mom made an X Games podium in 2002.

Kauf jostled with Morgan Schild and Keaton McCargo for top U.S. female moguls skier last season, but now she’s in the driver’s seat for one of three automatic Olympic berths through two of seven selection events.

A skier must make two podiums among the events to be eligible for automatic selection, and Kauf’s win is the only podium so far.

The U.S. women’s moguls team could end up with four total athletes in PyeongChang.

Troy Murphy took third in the men’s event Thursday to become the first U.S. man to make a podium in Olympic qualifying.

Kearney was part of the last three Olympic teams but retired in March 2015 after amassing two Olympic medals, three world titles and a record-tying 46 World Cup wins.

The PyeongChang favorites start with Australian Britt Cox, who won seven of 11 World Cup moguls and dual moguls events last season, plus the world title.

Cox was the youngest competitor at the 2010 Olympics in any sport at age 15, then finished fifth in Sochi. She won the season-opening World Cup event on Dec. 9 but was 25th on Thursday, her worst result in nearly seven years.

Sochi Olympic champion Justine Dufour-Lapointe of Canada made six World Cup podiums last season and was third at worlds.

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MORE: Athletes qualified for U.S. Olympic team

USA Gymnastics settles sex abuse lawsuit

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — USA Gymnastics has reached a confidential settlement in a Georgia lawsuit that spurred a newspaper investigation into the organization’s practices for reporting child abuse.

A former gymnast filed the lawsuit against USA Gymnastics in 2013, alleging that the organization that trains Olympians received at least four warnings about coach William McCabe, who videotaped her in various states of undress.

The lawsuit revealed that USA Gymnastics wouldn’t forward child sex abuse allegations to authorities unless they were in writing and signed by a victim or a victim’s parent.

A judge in Effingham County, Georgia, dismissed the lawsuit on April 12, according to court records. USA Gymnastics admits no wrongdoing or liability in the settlement, said W. Brian Cornwell of Cornwell & Stevens LLP, the gymnast’s lawyer.

Both parties have declined to comment on the settlement.

“We want to make it clear that the settlement does not prevent the former gymnast from speaking publicly about her experiences,” USA Gymnastics said in a statement Thursday.

McCabe pleaded guilty in Georgia in 2006 to federal charges of sexual exploitation of children and making false statements. He’s serving a 30-year prison sentence.

The suit sparked The Indianapolis Star’s investigation of USA Gymnastics, which exposed abuse by Larry Nassar, a former Michigan State University sports doctor, and spurred the resignations of the organization’s president and board.

Nassar, 54, pleaded guilty to molesting patients and possessing child pornography. He was sentenced this year to prison terms that will keep him locked up for life after roughly 200 women gave statements against him in two courtrooms over 10 days.

USA Gymnastics faces additional lawsuits from women who say Nassar sexually abused them. The suits allege the organization was negligent, fraudulent and intentionally inflicted emotional distress by failing to warn or protect athletes from Nassar’s abuse. The organization has denied the allegations and wants the lawsuits dismissed.

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Max Aaron retires from figure skating

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Max Aaron, a national champion and Skate America winner, has retired from competitive figure skating.

Aaron, 26, ends his career as the only Skate America men’s winner not to compete in an Olympics. He is one of three U.S. men’s champions in the last 55 years not to compete in an Olympics, along with Ryan Bradley and Rudy Galindo.

“Of course, becoming an Olympian, or having an Olympic medal would have been great to say, ride off on my white horse, but having the ability to say that I have no regrets in my entire career of figure skating, for me that is my gold medal,” Aaron said Thursday night.

Aaron, a former top USA Hockey developmental player, also figure skated growing up to help with his skating skills as one of the smaller players on his team.

He stopped playing hockey at 16 due to a broken vertebra but continued full-time with figure skating. By 2012, Aaron considered quitting figure skating after placing eighth at nationals (one year after being U.S. junior champion) and being told he wasn’t artistic enough.

But Aaron kept with it and completed a remarkable bounce back the next year, winning the U.S. title and setting himself up as a favorite to make the 2014 Olympic team.

But Aaron ended up third at the 2014 U.S. Championships. The two Sochi Olympic spots went to Jeremy Abbott and Jason Brown.

Aaron continued, becoming the first U.S. man to win Skate America in six years in 2015 and topping the short program at the 2016 U.S. Championships before ultimately finishing second to Adam Rippon.

Aaron plummeted to ninth at the 2017 U.S. Championships, coming back from offseason hernia surgery, but returned to the Olympic team radar last fall with a personal-best free skate at Cup of China, including three landed quadruple jumps. He went into the 2018 U.S. Championships ranking third among American men for the season.

But Aaron was again ninth at nationals, missing the Olympic team. He was called on to compete at last month’s world championships as the third alternate after Rippon, Ross Miner and Brown all passed.

Aaron had stopped skating and instead was training for a triathlon. He went to worlds in Milan on two weeks of training and finished 11th, a result that helped the U.S. keep three men’s spots for 2019 Worlds. Nathan Chen won the world title, but Vincent Zhou was 14th. The U.S. needed its second man to be 12th or better to go along with Chen’s first place to ensure three spots next year. Aaron reportedly said at worlds that it may have been his last competition.

Aaron said he’s started a job with Merrill Lynch.

“It’s really been a great ride. I have no regrets,” he said. “That’s one thing that I always told myself, in sport, in life, I want to have no regrets, and I can honestly say, with the help from my coaches and friends, that I have no regrets in the sport.”

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