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Joss Christensen must battle back from major injury to defend Olympic title

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Olympic ski slopestyle champion Joss Christensen landed awkwardly and felt a pop in his right knee while training three weeks ago.

“The first thought in my mind was, it’s over,” Christensen recalled in a phone interview Thursday.

It’s not.

Christensen, one of the biggest surprises of the Sochi Winter Games, suffered a torn ACL and meniscus, plus an MCL sprain in Mammoth Mountain, Calif., on May 10.

He underwent surgery May 18 and had another knee scope last Friday due to excess swelling.

He expects to be off snow for the next five and a half months.

The 25-year-old plans to be competition ready around mid-December, right around the start of PyeongChang Olympic qualifying. No more than four men will earn Olympic berths after a series of selection events.

Christensen’s initial fear that he wouldn’t be able to defend his Olympic title in February has given way to a fighter’s spirit.

“I know that a lot of the other skiers are probably counting me out right now,” he said. “This puts me right back where I like to be. There’s no target on my back this time. I’m the underdog again. I just want to prove everyone wrong.”

Christensen was overlooked going into the 2013-14 Olympic season. He finished eighth and 12th at the first two Olympic qualifiers but won the last selection event for Sochi, wrapping up the final U.S. berth.

Christensen then led a U.S. Olympic ski slopestyle podium sweep with Gus Kenworthy and Nick Goepper.

He dedicated the surprise victory to his father, who had died of a congenital heart problem six months earlier.

Christensen struggled with injuries after Sochi. There were rabies and tetanus shots after a dog bit him in Bosnia and Herzegovina. He broke his left hand and bruised his left knee and suffered cartilage damage at the 2016 Winter X Games.

Christensen underwent left knee surgery last summer and was off snow for four months.

He returned to finish sixth at X Games last January. More importantly, he ranked second among Americans behind McRae Williams.

Christensen said last fall he expected the 2017-18 season to be his last. Now, he’s not as sure.

“My goal right now is I’m going to keep competing as long as I’m getting invited to the contests,” he said.

MORE: Mark McMorris’ brother details snowboarder’s life-threatening crash

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World Cup champ lands first quad cork 1800 (video)

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Switzerland’s Andri Ragettli landed what’s being touted as the first ski quad cork 1800 in a video published recently.

Ragettli, 18, is one of the leading slopestyle skiers in the world. He won the World Cup season title in 2015-16 and placed second this year, in addition to fifth- and sixth-place finishes at the last two Winter X Games.

Previously, Ragettli became the first slopestyle skier to land back-to-back triples in a full competition at the 2016 Winter X Games, according to ESPN.com.

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MORE: McMorris’ brother details life-threatening crash

U.S. Grand Prix at Mammoth broadcast schedule; first Olympic qualifier

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Shaun White and Chloe Kim, plus freeskiers and snowboarders seeking Olympic berths, take flight at the U.S. Grand Prix at Mammoth Mountain, Calif., on NBC, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app starting Saturday.

White, a two-time Olympic champion, and Kim, a 16-year-old who already owns two X Games titles, head the halfpipe snowboarding fields at Mammoth. They’re looking to bounce back after being upset at the X Games last week.

White takes on a field including U.S. Olympic teammates Greg BretzTaylor Gold and Louie Vito, plus X Games winner Scotty James of Australia.

Kim will face a more daunting challenge in Olympic champions Kelly Clark and Hannah Teter and Sochi Olympian Arielle Gold.

While White and Kim build toward next season, Mammoth marks the first of five Olympic qualifiers for ski and snowboard slopestyle and ski halfpipe.

That means U.S. Olympic champions Jamie AndersonMaddie BowmanJoss Christensen and David Wise open their quests to qualify for PyeongChang this week. Sage Kotsenburg, the surprise first Olympic snowboard slopestyle champion, is sitting out Mammoth as he decides whether he wants to make a run for PyeongChang.

Olympic qualifying in those three disciplines consists of five events for ski halfpipe and slopestyle and four events for snowboard slopestyle. The remaining events will be next season.

Each athlete’s top two results across qualifying will determine standings from which three athletes per gender per event can be named to the PyeongChang team. More athletes can be added based on discretionary selection by the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association next January.

MORE: Shaun White impressed by Chloe Kim

U.S. Grand Prix at Mammoth Schedule
Friday
Ski Halfpipe, 12:30-2:30 p.m. ET — LIVE STREAM POSTPONED DUE TO WEATHER
Snowboard Slopestyle, 4-5:30 p.m. ET — LIVE STREAM POSTPONED DUE TO WEATHER

Saturday
Ski Halfpipe — 12:15-1:55 p.m. ET — LIVE STREAM
Snowboard Slopestyle — 4:30-6:15 p.m. ET — LIVE STREAM
NBC broadcast — 4:30-6 p.m. ET

Sunday
Snowboard Halfpipe — 12:30-2 p.m. ET — LIVE STREAM
Ski Slopestyle — 5:15-7 p.m. ET — LIVE STREAM
NBC broadcast — 3-4 p.m. ET