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Nick Goepper becomes first skier to qualify for U.S. Olympic men’s slopestyle team

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The U.S. men’s freeski slopestyle team has its first member for PyeongChang.

Nick Goepper qualified for his second Olympic team on Sunday as the U.S. selection events start to draw to a close.

Goepper, who grew up learning to ski in Indiana, was on the podium earlier this year at two of the first three selection events for the ski slopestyle team, which enabled him to meet objective criteria for Olympic qualifying. Though he finished just eighth in the first of two Olympic qualifiers being held Sunday at Mammoth Mountain, he was able to secure his spot on the team because no other Americans finished on the podium.

At the last Olympics, where slopestyle made its debut, Goepper won a bronze medal. He was part of a historic medal sweep and was joined on the podium by Joss Christensen and Gus Kenworthy.

Those two are still looking to qualify.

Christensen just returned to competition last week after rehabbing from a torn ACL. After not making the final at either slopestyle qualifier last week, he finished seventh at Mammoth and could be in contention for a discretionary spot.

As for Kenworthy, he took a hard slam in Friday night’s halfpipe final and then did not advance out of Saturday’s preliminary round for slopestyle. He is slated to compete in another slopestyle qualifier, which will be held later today. Kenworthy can still clinch his spot on the Olympic team with a top-three finish in that one.

Another contender for the team is McRae Williams, who was the top U.S. skier at Mammoth with a sixth-place finish. Williams won a silver medal at X Games last year.

While the bronze medal and the U.S. podium sweep put Goepper in the spotlight in Sochi, he is hungry for more.

“To be completely honest, I was a bit frustrated with my result at first,” Goepper told NBC Olympics last year. “I really wanted to win that day, and I went there with all the confidence in the world and the expectation to be on the top. I definitely feel like I’ve got some unfinished business at the Winter Olympics.”

Olympic qualifying for the ski slopestyle team concludes with a second contest later today.

Kenworthy is the only one who could officially secure a nomination in that event, but all other skiers will still be looking to earn discretionary spots on the team, which are expected to be allocated next week.

Up to four men and four women can ultimately be named to the U.S. Olympic slopestyle team.

U.S. Qualifying Standings

Men’s Freeski Slopestyle
After 4 of 5 Events:
1. Nick Goepper, 160** (QUALIFIED)
2. Gus Kenworthy, 140*
3. McRae Williams, 90
4. Quinn Wolferman, 79
5. Alex Hall, 57
6. Bobby Brown, 56
7. Joss Christensen, 54
8. Willie Borm, 50

Women’s Freeski Slopestyle
After 5 of 5 Events:
1. Maggie Voisin, 180** (QUALIFIED)
2. Caroline Claire, 92*
3. Devin Logan, 90
4. Darian Stevens, 85
5. Taylor Lundquist, 81
6. Julia Krass, 72

**Has met qualifying minimum of two top-three finishes.
*Has one top-three finish.

Andre De Grasse’s return headlines Drake Relays on NBC Sports

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Andre De Grasse believes he could have entered the Drake Relays as the world champion in the 100m and 200m. Instead, he watched those finals last August. One from his hotel room. The other on replay on social media.

De Grasse, the Rio Olympic 100m bronze medalist and 200m silver medalist, will race for the first time in nine months at the Drake Relays in Des Moines, Iowa, on Saturday as part of NBC Sports’ weekend track and field coverage.

NBCSN and NBC Sports Gold will air live coverage of the Drake Relays and Penn Relays.

Friday
Penn Relays: 5-6 p.m. ET, NBCSN and NBC Sports Gold

Saturday
Penn Relays: 12:30-3 p.m. ET, NBCSN and NBC Sports Gold
Drake Relays: 3-5 p.m. ET, NBCSN and NBC Sports Gold

The Canadian De Grasse is the Drake Relays headliner, racing for the first time since suffering a grade 2 right hamstring strain four days before last year’s worlds in London.

De Grasse faces a Drake field that includes six other men who have broken 10 seconds, but of them only U.S. Olympian Mike Rodgers (9.85) has a better personal best than De Grasse’s 9.91 from the Rio Olympic final.

Rodgers, a decade older than De Grasse, hasn’t broken 10 seconds in his last 28 wind-legal races, according to Tilastopaja.org.

The field is not of much concern for De Grasse.

“I’m not looking for a specific time or anything,” he said Monday. “Just looking to get my legs under me, get the rust off, see what I can do and go from there.”

De Grasse said in a recent CBC interview that he’s been training for five months since the injury. He remembers the thoughts as he watched the world championships, starting with Usain Bolt‘s relegation to bronze in his last individual race won by Justin Gatlin‘s late surge.

“I knew that it could have been anybody’s race; [silver medalist Christian] Coleman could have won, Bolt could have won or Gatlin,” De Grasse said Monday. “When I watched it, I was surprised because usually Bolt would usually catch [up to win]. Coleman was out in front. You couldn’t really see where Gatlin was. Usually, Bolt would come back at the end. It looked like, for sure, that would happen. It looked like from my view that Coleman won. When I saw the replay, Gatlin kind of just snuck in there. … I was definitely surprised of the outcome. … I wish I could have been in it, but there’s going to be more opportunities for me.”

(De Grasse said Tuesday he has not recently spoken with Bolt or “anybody in track in a while.” Last July, De Grasse’s coach was quoted saying that his sprinter was “booted out” of a race per Bolt’s wishes, which De Grasse later denied in a report, calling Bolt a legend.)

Gatlin’s winning time was 9.92 seconds into a .8 meters/second headwind. De Grasse failed to break 10 seconds in all five of his wind-legal 100m races last season, but he did run 9.69 seconds with a mammoth 4.8 meters/second tailwind a month and a half before worlds.

Then came the world 200m final five days later. De Grasse said he had never heard of surprise winner Ramil Guliyev of Turkey. Guliyev won in 20.09 seconds, the slowest Olympic or world gold-medal time since 2003.

“I ran against all of those guys before and felt like I was capable of winning a race like that if I wasn’t injured,” De Grasse said. “To be honest, I had never heard of most of those guys in the 200m final except for I think a couple of guys, Wayde van Niekerk and [Nethaneel] Mitchell-Blake from Great Britain.”

De Grasse’s goals this season include breaking the Canadian 100m record of 9.84 (shared by Bruny Surin and Donovan Bailey, the latter’s time a then-world record at the 1996 Olympics). He would like to lower his 200m personal best of 19.80 from Rio.

He wants to win a Diamond League trophy for being the best man over 100m or 200m through the season. The 100m remains his preferred distance (“That’s the glory event.”).

De Grasse said he plans to race most of the Diamond League schedule, starting with the first two meets in Doha and Shanghai the next two weeks. De Grasse and Coleman are slated for a head-to-head at a Diamond League meet in London in July.

No matter what De Grasse does this season, he does not believe he can wrestle the mantle of world’s fastest man from Gatlin or Coleman.

“You can’t say off this year that you’re the fastest man in the world,” De Grasse said, noting it’s the only year in the quadrennium without a global championships. “You’ve got to wait until next year to do that.”

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U.S. snowboarder Brock Crouch seriously injured in avalanche

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U.S. snowboarder and surfer Brock Crouch was buried alive for five minutes in an avalanche before being rescued with three broken vertebrae, according to an older brother’s Instagram and USA Surfing.

Crouch, 18, “was swept off an 80-foot cliff,” by the avalanche while snowboarding in Canada, according to USA Surfing, adding that he fractured his T12, L1 and L2 vertebrae.

Images of Crouch holding a thumbs-up and peace sign lying in a hospital bed were posted on his Instagram Story on Tuesday.

“I was riding with Brock two days ago when he took a nasty ride in an avalanche down multiple rock bands due to a cornice failure resulting in him being buried for about 4 or 5 minutes,” was posted on snowboarder John Jackson‘s Instagram on Tuesday. “Crazy how a situation like this can surprise you so quickly. I’m so glad the whole crew performed a rockstar rescue and Brock is strong enough to handle what he went down.”

Crouch was in the running to make the PyeongChang Olympic team in big air and slopestyle but missed the four-man roster. He won the Olympic slopestyle test event in South Korea in 2016.

Can’t explain how happy I am to see this guy! @brockcrouch you are a soldier! I was riding with Brock two days ago when he took a nasty ride in an avalanche down multiple rock bands due to a cornice failure resulting in him being buried for about 4 or 5 minutes. Crazy how a situation like this can surprise you so quickly. I’m so glad the whole crew performed a rockstar rescue and Brock is strong enough to handle what he went down. Especially thankful for our pilot Josh, who didn’t waste a second in the situation. I was so impressed with this kids talent while we were riding all morning and know he will come back with a fury to continue getting after it. Love you bud, and massive prayers for that body to heal quickly! #extreme18 will be back! Although might have to change the m.o. to #nasty19 👊 #toughasnails

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