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U.S. Olympic snowboard, freestyle skiing qualifying heats up this week

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It’s likely that the first members of the U.S. Olympic snowboard and freestyle skiing teams will emerge from Breckenridge, Colo., this weekend.

Snowboard and ski halfpipe and slopestyle finals are Friday and Saturday, streamed on DewTour.com.

The following athletes will qualify for Pyeongchang with a win in Breckenridge (and might still qualify with a lesser result) as the selection season hits the halfway point:

Ben Ferguson (snowboard halfpipe)
Chloe Kim 
(snowboard halfpipe)
Chris Corning (snowboard slopestyle)
Red Gerard (snowboard slopestyle)
Jamie Anderson (snowboard slopestyle)
Julia Marino 
(snowboard slopestyle)
David Wise (ski halfpipe)
Torin Yater-Wallace (ski halfpipe)
Maddie Bowman (ski halfpipe)
Devin Logan (ski halfpipe)
Maggie Voisin (ski slopestyle)

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

Snowboard Halfpipe
Qualifying Standings 
(through one of four events)
1. Ben Ferguson — 1000*
2. Shaun White — 800*
3. Danny Davis — 600
4. Gabe Ferguson — 500
5. Chase Josey — 450

1. Chloe Kim — 1000*
2. Maddie Mastro — 800*
3. Kelly Clark — 600*
4. Arielle Gold — 500
5. Elena Hight — 450
*Has automatic qualifying minimum of one top-three result.

Men: Ben Ferguson, the 2016 Winter X Games silver medalist, was the surprise top U.S. man at the first Olympic qualifier last week, edging the favorite and two-time Olympic champion White. Ferguson makes the Olympic team if he’s the top American this week, while White would have all but clinched his fourth Olympic trip if he was the top American, but he failed to make the final.

Women: Like Ferguson, Kim will make her first Olympic team with a win this week. She would have made the Sochi roster but was too young at age 13. The two-time X Games champ led a U.S. podium sweep last week with Mastro and the 2002 Olympic champion Clark, who are now the favorites to claim the three automatic Olympic berths available in qualifying. A fourth rider could be chosen via committee after qualifying ends. The U.S. women are so deep that it’s likely two of these three will not make it — 2006 Olympic champion Hannah Teter, 2017 X Games champion Hight and Sochi Olympian Gold.

Snowboard Slopestyle/Big Air
Qualifying Standings 
(through two of five events)
1. Red Gerard — 1400*
2. Chris Corning — 1200*
3. Chandler Hunt — 1160*
4. Kyle Mack — 1000*
5. Judd Henkes — 1000

1. Jamie Anderson — 1800*
2. Julia Marino — 1600*
3. Hailey Langland — 1300*
4. Jessika Jenson — 1050
5. Nora Healey — 950
*Has automatic qualifying minimum of one top-three result.

Men: The first two qualifiers produced very different results. Gerard won the opener last winter but was 12th last week. Corning was 37th last winter and second last week as the top American. It’s really wide open given 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: In contrast to the men, the U.S. has three medal contenders. All of them have performed well so far in qualifying. Sochi slopestyle gold medalist Anderson and X Games big air champ Langland went one-two at the first qualifier in February. Marino, the X Games slopestyle champ, was second last week as the top American. It would be a surprise if anybody else snatched one of the three automatic Olympic spots from them.

Ski Halfpipe 
Qualifying Standings 
(through two of five events)
1. Torin Yater-Wallace — 145*
2. David Wise — 132*
3. Gus Kenworthy — 94*
4. Aaron Blunck — 82
5. Taylor Seaton — 64*

1. Maddie Bowman — 125*
2. Annalisa Drew — 95
3. Brita Sigourney — 90
4. Devin Logan — 81*
5. Carly Margulies — 72
**Has automatic qualifying minimum of two top-three results.
*Has one top-three result.

Men: Sochi gold medalist Wise silenced doubters last week by grabbing his first win in three years, according to TeamUSA.org. Sochi teammate Yater-Wallace came back from life support to win the first qualifier in February. Their victories put the pressure on reigning X Games champion Blunck and Kenworthy, the Sochi slopestyle silver medalist trying to make Pyeongchang in both pipe and slope. Like in snowboard, three automatic berths are available and a committee could put a fourth man on the team via discretionary selection.

Women: Olympic silver medalist Marie Martinod won the first two qualifiers, but she’s French. Sochi champ Bowman was second in February; Logan, the Sochi slopestyle silver medalist, was second last week. The top four in the standings are all Sochi Olympians.

Ski Slopestyle
Qualifying Standings 
(through one of five events)
1. Maggie Voisin — 100*
2. Devin Logan — 50
3. Darian Stevens — 45
4. Taylor Lundquist — 36
5. Keri Herman — 22
**Has automatic qualifying minimum of two top-three results.
*Has one top-three result.
Dew Tour will be the first men’s ski slopestyle qualifier.

Men: The men weren’t able to overcome poor weather at the first scheduled ski slopestyle qualifier in February. Olympic gold medalist Joss Christensen, who led a U.S. podium sweep in Sochi, remains sidelined from competition after a May 10 ACL and meniscus tear but plans to return for the next qualifier in January. The top American last season was McRae Williams, who missed the Sochi team. Williams won silver at X Games in January and gold at the world championships in March.

Women: Voisin won the first qualifier in February, putting her in strong position to make a second Olympic team. 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.

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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.

Correction: An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated that Joss Christensen is competing at Breckenridge.

Gus Kenworthy, chasing first gold, recalls trembling when he came out

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PARK CITY, Utah — Asked if he has a motto, Gus Kenworthy wrote, “The longer you wait, the harder it gets.”

It’s the morning of Oct. 22, 2015. Kenworthy, the 2014 Olympic ski slopestyle silver medalist, is at the house of two friends after a sleepless night.

He’s trembling.

“I went to post what I had written, post the link to the article and post the photo saying that I was gay,” he recalled Monday. “I was so scared.”

Kenworthy, a London-born, Colorado-raised 25-year-old, knew as far back as age 5 that he was gay.

When he decided to come out a year and a half after the Sochi Olympics, Kenworthy did an interview and a photo shoot. It would be another month before publication.

The longer you wait, the harder it gets.

“There’s no going back now,” Kenworthy thought during those four weeks. “I couldn’t be, like, actually, you know what, I’m not quite ready yet. I’m scared.”

Before the world knew, Kenworthy told his family, best friends and his agent. He built up the worst-case scenario. If everybody else left him — sponsors, fans, fellow skiers — he knew he could count on that close support group.

So on the morning of Oct. 22, 2015, Kenworthy was at the home of two close friends as his news aired on ESPN and ran online. His brother and sister-in-law came over for breakfast, too.

He posted. Then, he cried.

“Instant relief,” he said. “All this weight off my shoulders.”

Such overwhelming support that Kenworthy could not unlock his phone because of the stream of notifications.

“I still get messages every day, like I wanted to say how much your article meant to me. It helped me come out,” Kenworthy said. “It’s the one thing I’m most proud of.”

Now, Kenworthy is one of the marquee names going into the PyeongChang Winter Games.

He picked up zero Olympic sponsors leading up to Sochi. In the last eight days alone, he announced deals with Visa and Ralph Lauren.

Kenworthy, even though he is arguably the world’s best freeskier, acknowledges coming out helped with that.

“I am more marketable now as an out athlete,” he said. “Every brand is looking for diversity. It’s more important for brands to have diversity than it ever has been in the past.

“Since coming out, I’m definitely, like, the gay skier now. I knew I was stepping into that role when I did it. It’s like, in some ways I don’t really care if that’s the label that sticks because I very much am the gay skier.”

Kenworthy is comfortable in the spotlight.

He has been quoted calling Anderson Cooper “a father figure” after appearing on his New Year’s Eve special. His dream is to host “Saturday Night Live.” He said he made out with Miley Cyrus one month after Sochi.

Last Saturday night, the kid who grew up in a small Colorado ski town was a co-host at the Global Citizen Festival. The concert draws more than 50,000 people annually to New York City’s Central Park.

Other presenters included Hugh JackmanDemi Lovato and Lupita Nyong’o.

“Walking up the side of the stage, looking up and seeing the New York skyline behind the park,” remembered Kenworthy, who now splits time between Brooklyn and Colorado. “I’m from a town of 2,000 people. My high school class had 48 kids in it. So, I had never seen people like that. … That’s the impact, in part, the Olympics has, because I never would have been there without it.”

Kenworthy has been a world-class freeskier for six years. He’s the only man with podium credentials in halfpipe and slopestyle.

As far as gold goes, the wait has been long. Kenworthy earned silver medals at the Olympics, world championships and X Games Aspen, but never a title.

“I have the LGBT audience watching me, and I want to do right by them,” Kenworthy said. “There’s all these people I want to do right by, including myself. I think it puts a little pressure on, but it’s good pressure. … It’s a motivator.”

When Kenworthy came out in 2015, he was mounting a comeback from a reported torn MCL and meniscus and surgery to repair a broken femur. And from contemplating retirement after missing the halfpipe and slopestyle podiums at the 2015 X Games. (Kenworthy also thought about giving up skiing after his best friend died in a ski accident when he was 14 years old.)

After coming out, Kenworthy won his first contest, reportedly on his ninth day on snow post-surgery. A month later, Kenworthy captured his first X Games Aspen medals, silvers in halfpipe and slopestyle.

That was big.

X Games meant so much to Kenworthy that, before he came out, he threw up on the chair lift at the event, Olympic teammate Bobby Brown told ESPN.com.

“I had a long time where I would qualify first or second at X Games, always, and then fall every run in the finals,” Kenworthy said. “The pressure got to me. I couldn’t handle it. I don’t know if it’s because I was in the closet that I couldn’t compete, but I think it was something that was ever-present in my mind. It was always distracting.”

This past January, Kenworthy tumbled to 10th in both halfpipe and slopestyle at X Games.

He rebounded for slopestyle silver at worlds, but the Olympic favorites now appear to be Aaron Blunck in halfpipe and McRae Williams in slopestyle.

“It wasn’t a bad season by any means, but I think I struggled more than past seasons,” Kenworthy told NBC Olympic Research in May. “It was a little bit of a tough pill to swallow, but I think I ended on a strong note, feel pretty good about my skiing at the moment.”

Kenworthy hoped to make the Sochi Olympic team in halfpipe and slopestyle but was passed over in the former for the last of four U.S. spots.

He’s trying again this winter. If he could choose one over the other, it would be halfpipe.

“If and when I make the team I will be very much freed up to enjoy it,” Kenworthy said, “more so than I was in the past.”

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MORE: 15-year-old Olympic skiing favorite to miss PyeongChang

15-year-old Olympic skiing favorite to miss PyeongChang

Kelly Sildaru
Red Bull
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The gold-medal favorite in women’s ski slopestyle will reportedly go to the PyeongChang Olympics purely as a spectator.

Estonian Kelly Sildaru, 15, said in a statement Tuesday that she is out through the Winter Games after suffering a left knee injury in a training fall earlier this month, according to Estonian media.

The knee injury requires surgery that will keep Sildaru out six to nine months, according to her doctor’s posted by Estonian media. She plans to attend the Winter Olympics as a fan.

Sildaru, who was born during the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics, won the last two Winter X Games ski slopestyle titles. Her first, at age 13 in 2016, made her the youngest Winter X Games champion in any event.

The PyeongChang ski slopestyle event takes place on her 16th birthday.

Sildaru was also a medal contender in ski halfpipe after winning the world junior title last season and placing second in a World Cup event in New Zealand on Sept. 1. She outscored the three Sochi Olympic pipe medalists, including gold medalist Maddie Bowman, in the World Cup.

By age 12, Sildaru was already in an Estonian yogurt commercial with one of the nation’s pop stars. A video of her skiing from when she was 8 and 9 years old has more than 200,000 YouTube views.

All seven of Estonia’s Winter Olympic medals have come in cross-country skiing.

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