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Ayumu Hirano makes history in the halfpipe, wins X Games gold

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The favorite in snowboard halfpipe for the PyeongChang Olympics? Right now, it just might be Japanese teenager Ayumu Hirano.

Hirano, the 2014 Olympic silver medalist, won gold at X Games Aspen after landing a historic run.

Already holding the lead heading into his final run, Hirano boosted a backside air nearly 20 feet out of the pipe before landing a frontside double cork 1440, cab double cork 1440, frontside double cork 1260, and backside double cork 1260.

It marked the first time that back-to-back 1440s have ever been landed in a halfpipe competition.

Hirano’s run scored a 99.0 from the judges, about as close to a perfect score as you can get when there are still other riders left to go.

Taking the silver medal was Australia’s Scotty James, who landed a frontside double cork 1260, backside double cork 1260, frontside 900, backside 360, and switch backside double cork 1260.

James’ technicality was rewarded with a 98.0 on his final run, not far off the mark set by Hirano. It continued a streak of runner-up finishes this season for James.

Next up for Hirano and James will be the PyeongChang Olympics. Both riders will be among the top favorites.

The other rider near the top of the list is two-time Olympic gold medalist Shaun White, who withdrew from X Games after making the decision to return home and rest before the Olympics.

White recently won a qualifying event at Snowmass with a new run that scored a 100 from the judges, but that was before Hirano raised the bar with back-to-back 1440s. (White’s winning run included a frontside 1440 and back-to-back 1260s, but he did not attempt a cab 1440.)

Aside from White, the U.S. has another strong medal contender for PyeongChang in Ben Ferguson. Ferguson continued his strong season by winning X Games bronze on Sunday night. (Full results here.)

But the night was marred by an injury to Iouri Podladtchikov. The defending Olympic gold medalist from Switzerland went down after taking a hard slam on the final hit of his second run. The contest had to be delayed while medical staff attended to him.

According to a report from ESPN, Podladtchikov went to the hospital to be evaluated for a head injury after being taken off on a sled.

Podladtchikov already had to overcome one injury recently. Last March at the FIS World Championships, he suffered a torn ACL.

Earlier on Sunday, Henrik Harlaut won X Games gold in the freeski slopestyle contest. It was his second gold of the weekend, as the Swede also won the big air event on Saturday.

Norway’s Oystein Braaten and Switzerland’s Andri Ragettli rounded out the ski slopestyle podium. The top Americans were Gus Kenworthy in sixth and Nick Goepper in seventh. (Full results here.)

Shaun White scores perfect 100, qualifies for Olympics (video)

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Shaun White scored a perfect 100 to clinch his fourth Olympic berth on Saturday.

White won a U.S. Grand Prix at Snowmass, Colo., with a perfect score on the last run of the contest. Jake Pates and Ben Ferguson also qualified for their first Olympics on Saturday.

White scored a perfect 100 for what’s believed to be the second time in his career along with the 2012 Winter X Games. Perfect 100s are only given out on the last run of a contest, according to NBCOlympics.com’s Shawn Smith.

He threw a frontside double cork 1440, cab double cork 1080, frontside 540, double McTwist 1260 and frontside double cork 1260.

“Fell on the first run, fell on the second run, and I was like, let’s play it safe … until I’m standing in the start gate, and these guys are like, send the 14 first hit,” White said. “That’s even more risky than the last run we were trying to do. But I went for it, came through, stuck it.

“I was doing horribly [after two runs], and the suspense was killing me inside.”

White, the 2006 and 2010 Olympic halfpipe champion, is trying to bounce back from a fourth-place finish at the 2014 Olympics.

He won for the first time in three contests this season, returning after hard crashes in September and October, the latter resulting in 62 face stitches (video here).

“Now I feel like I’m on the right course for the Olympics,” White said. “These were Olympic judges. It’s great. If that’s the criteria they like, and they like what I’m doing, I’m going to keep this run and build from there.”

White edged Australian rival Scotty James, who scored 96.25 on his last run. James is the reigning X Games and world champion.

Pates and Ferguson were fourth and fifth but have done enough through the first three of four qualifiers to go to PyeongChang.

Spain’s Queralt Castellet won the women’s event Saturday with 91.50 points, followed by Americans Chloe Kim (88.75) and Maddie Mastro (87.25).

Kelly Clark was fourth and Arielle Gold sixth. Kim qualified for PyeongChang last month.

Nobody else qualified Saturday, but Mastro, Clark and Gold are in great position for the last spots.

The fourth and last snowboard halfpipe selection event is next weekend in Mammoth Mountain, Calif.

The U.S. Grand Prix at Snowmass concludes Sunday with a second set of ski slopestyle finals. A full broadcast schedule is here.

Pates, 19, came from nowhere to qualify for the Olympic halfpipe team.

He’s never competed at Winter X Games Aspen but did sweep halfpipe and slopestyle at the 2016 Youth Olympics. He turned heads by winning the second Olympic qualifier in Breckenridge, Colo., last month.

Ferguson, 22, is more known. He was second at the 2016 X Games and the top American at the first qualifier last month.

Looking at the women’s standings, 2006 Olympic champion Hannah Teter and two-time Olympian Elena Hight may need to win the last qualifier to make it to PyeongChang.

U.S. Olympic Qualifying Standings
Snowboard Halfpipe

through three of four events
three riders auto qualify per gender; one possible discretionary spot
1. Shaun White — 1,800* (QUALIFIED)
1. Ben Ferguson — 1,800* (QUALIFIED)

1. Jake Pates — 1,800* (QUALIFIED)
4. Danny Davis — 1,200 (3rd and 3rd)
5. Chase Josey — 1,000 (4th and 4th)
6. Gabe Ferguson — 950 (4th and 5th)

1. Chloe Kim — 2,000* (QUALIFIED)
2. Maddie Mastro — 1,600* (2nd and 2nd)
3. Kelly Clark — 1,400* (2nd and 3rd)
4. Arielle Gold — 1,100* (3rd and 4th)
5. Hannah Teter — 900 (5th and 5th)
6. Elena Hight — 850 (5th and 6th)
*Has automatic qualifying minimum of one top-three result.

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Shaun White leads U.S. snowboarders, freeskiers eyeing Olympic spots in Aspen

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It was a rare sight. A U.S. Olympic halfpipe snowboarding qualifier without Shaun White in the final.

That’s what happened at the second of four selection events in Breckenridge, Colo., last month. White was 14th in qualifying when he needed to be top 12.

White’s focus turned to this week’s U.S. Grand Prix in Aspen, Colo., the third of four selection events.

NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app will combine to air live coverage of all 10 finals across men’s and women’s snowboard halfpipe and slopestyle and ski halfpipe and slopestyle.

A full live broadcast schedule is at the bottom of this post. NBC and NBCSN will air TV coverage later each day.

White, who was third overall and second among Americans in the first qualifier in December, can only clinch his fourth Olympic berth this week with help (more on qualifying scenarios for all events below).

Still, he’s in strong position to either earn one of three automatic Olympic spots after the last qualifier next week or receive the one committee-chosen selection.

Other U.S. snowboard stars — halfpipe rider Chloe Kim and Sochi slopestyle champ Jamie Anderson — were among the first athletes to clinch Olympic spots last month.

White and 2002 Olympic halfpipe champion Kelly Clark are the two biggest names who can clinch in Aspen.

No freeskiers have clinched Olympic spots yet, but that’s likely to change this weekend.

The fields include Sochi halfpipe gold medalists David Wise and Maddie Bowman and slopestyle champ Joss Christensen, competing for the first time since tearing an ACL and meniscus May 10.

An event-by-event look at U.S. Olympic qualifying going into Aspen:

Snowboard Halfpipe
Qualifying Standings 
(through two of four events)
1. Ben Ferguson — 1,800* (1st and 2nd)
2. Jake Pates — 1,320* (1st and 8th)
3. Danny Davis — 1,200 (3rd and 3rd)
4. Shaun White — 1,120* (2nd and 8th)
5. Gabe Ferguson — 950 (4th and 5th)
5. Chase Josey — 950 (4th and 5th)

1. Chloe Kim — 2,000* (QUALIFIED)
2. Kelly Clark — 1,400* (2nd and 3rd)
3. Maddie Mastro — 1,300* (2nd and 4th)
4. Arielle Gold — 1,100* (3rd and 4th)
5. Elena Hight — 850 (5th and 6th)
5. Hannah Teter — 850 (5th and 6th)
*Has automatic qualifying minimum of one top-three result.

Men: It’s very likely at least one man clinches an Olympic berth this week. Ben Ferguson is definitely in with a top-two finish among Americans. Pates, the surprising winner of the second qualifier, is definitely in if he’s the top American, though either rider can also qualify with a lower finish and help. White, who missed the final at the second qualifier, will clinch if he’s the top American and if either Pates or Ferguson is the second-best American.

Women: Clark or Mastro joins Kim on the Olympic team if either is the top American finisher. The pressure is rising on Hight, the reigning X Games champion, and Teter, the 2006 Olympic champion, since the team can be no more than four women total.

Snowboard Big Air/Slopestyle (through three of five events)
1. Chris Corning — 2,000* QUALIFIED

2. Red Gerard — 1,800* (1st and 2nd)
3. Chandler Hunt — 1,160* (2nd and 7th)
4. Kyle Mack — 1,000* (2nd and 13th)
5. Judd Henkes — 1,100 (3rd and 4th)

1. Jamie Anderson — 2,000* QUALIFIED
2. Julia Marino — 1,600* (1st and 3rd)
2. Hailey Langland — 1,600* (2nd and 2nd)
4. Jessika Jenson — 1,050 (3rd and 5th)
5. Ty Walker — 1,000 (4th and 4th)
*Has automatic qualifying minimum of one top-three result.

Men: Gerard clinches if he’s the top American, or if Corning is the top American. Neither Hunt nor Mack can clinch this week, even with a win. No U.S. man has made an X Games Aspen podium in slopestyle or big air since 2012, and Sochi Olympic champion Sage Kotsenburg has retired.

Women: It looks like all three Olympic medal favorites are going to PyeongChang. Sochi gold medalist Jamie Anderson is in as the top American finisher in the first and third qualifiers. X Games slopestyle champ Marino was the top American in the second qualifier. X Games big air champ Langland was right behind Anderson in the other two. Marino clinches if she’s the top American this week. Langland clinches if she’s the top American and Anderson or Marino is the second American.

Ski Halfpipe (through three of five events)
1. Torin Yater-Wallace — 150* (1st and 4th)
2. David Wise — 132* (1st and 8th)
3. Aaron Blunck — 130* (2nd and 4th)
4. Alex Ferreira — 122* (1st and 12th)
5. Gus Kenworthy — 104* (2nd and 11th)

1. Maddie Bowman — 140** (2nd and 3rd)
2. Devin Logan — 130* (2nd and 4th)
3. Annalisa Drew — 95 (4th and 5th)
4. Brita Sigourney — 90 (4th and 6th)
5. Carly Margulies — 72 (6th and 7th)
**Has automatic qualifying minimum of two top-three results.
*Has one top-three result.

Men: Sochi Olympian Yater-Wallace came back from life support to win the first qualifier in February. Sochi gold medalist Wise silenced doubters by grabbing his first win in three years in the second qualifier, according to TeamUSA.org. Then Ferreira, who didn’t make the 2014 Olympic team, complicated things by winning the third qualifier. If any of them win this week, they qualify for PyeongChang. Kenworthy, the Sochi slopestyle silver medalist trying to make Pyeongchang in both pipe and slope, needs at least one podium this week or next to have a shot at automatic qualification, or else he’ll hope for the spot(s) available via committee decision. Same goes for Blunck, the reigning X Games champ.

Women: The top four in the standings are all Sochi Olympians, but only Sochi gold medalist Bowman has met the minimum criteria of two podium finishes among the first three qualiifers. Bowman clinches an Olympic berth with a win, or if no more than one American other than Logan makes the podium this week.

Ski Slopestyle (women through two of five events; men through one of five)
1. Maggie Voisin — 150* (1st and 4th)
2. Devin Logan — 82 (4th and 8th)
3. Darian Stevens — 81 (5th and 7th)
4. Taylor Lundquist — 52 (7th and 15th)
5. Nadia Gonzales — 28 (14th and 21st)

1. Nick Goepper — 80*
2. Alex Hall — 45
3. Gus Kenworthy — 40
4. Bobby Brown — 32
5. Cody LaPlante — 29
**Has automatic qualifying minimum of two top-three results.
*Has one top-three result.

Men: Goepper will likely clinch with a win in either of the two Aspen finals. Joss Christensen, who led a U.S. podium sweep in Sochi, is expected to return this week from a May 10 ACL and meniscus tear. The U.S. field is loaded with the Sochi medalists Christensen, Kenworthy, Goepper and Brown, plus McRae Williams, the 2017 X Games silver medalist and world champion.

Women: Voisin will clinch her second Olympic berth with a top-two finish in either Aspen final. She would have been the youngest U.S. competitor across all sports in Sochi, but Voisin fractured her right fibula in practice the day of the Opening Ceremony. No U.S. woman made the podium at either of the last two X Games, but the two-time reigning X Games champ Kelly Sildaru of Estonia will miss the Olympics due to knee surgery.

 

Aspen Finals (all times Eastern)
Friday
Snowboard Slopestyle — 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m. (NBCSports.com/live, NBC Sports app)
Ski Halfpipe — 3-4:30 p.m. (NBCSports.com/live, NBC Sports app)
NBCSN coverage from 9:30 p.m.-12 a.m.

Saturday
Ski Slopestyle (#1) — 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m. (NBCSports.com/live, NBC Sports app)
Snowboard Halfpipe — 3-4:30 p.m. (NBCSports.com/live, NBC Sports app)

Sunday
Ski Slopestyle (#2) — 3-4:30 p.m. (NBCSports.com/live, NBC Sports app)
NBC coverage from 3-4 p.m. of snowboard halfpipe

NBCSN also airs coverage Monday from 1:30-2:30 a.m. ET and 11 p.m.-midnight and Tuesday at midnight.

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VIDEO: Shaun White’s crash that led to 62 face stitches