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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.

Red Gerard is the new face of U.S. slopestyle

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Sage Kotsenburg went to the Sochi Olympics with one slopestyle win in the last nine years and a simple goal to “make snowboarding look cool.”

The Park City native captured the very first gold medal of the 2014 Winter Games and soaked up celebrity. Before the Olympic flame was extinguished, Kotsenburg sat down with David Letterman and ate a bacon gold medal given to him by Conan O’Brien.

Now that Kotsenburg is retired at 24, who could be the U.S. breakout star of the first weekend in PyeongChang?

Red Gerard may fill the role.

Gerard, like Kotsenburg, is a slopestyle snowboarder. Slopestyle is again one of the first medal events.

It’s on the Sunday morning after the Friday Opening Ceremony, which with the 14-hour time difference puts it on Saturday primetime on the U.S. East Coast.

Gerard, born in 2000, is younger than any previous U.S. Olympic male snowboarder. He is about 5 and a half feet after a recent growth spurt of a few inches. Not even 150 pounds.

He is also the towering American slopestyle rider at the moment.

He won the first U.S. Olympic qualifier in Mammoth Mountain, Calif., in February. Another podium finish in one of the final three qualifiers this season will all but send him to PyeongChang.

Gerard was also fifth and seventh at the last two U.S. Opens and 14th at his X Games debut last season. No American finished in the top six at X Games for the first time in at least 15 years.

So another U.S. gold in PyeongChang would take a Kotsenburg-level upset of Canadians Mark McMorrisMax Parrot and Tyler Nicholson and Norwegians Marcus Kleveland and Ståle Sandbech.

Gerard, whose Mammoth win came without McMorris, Parrot or Kleveland in the field, is younger than all of them and still finding himself in top-level contests.

“I don’t know how to describe my style,” Gerard, the sixth of seven kids, said last month. “It’s probably whack or something.”

Gerard said he’s been snowboarding since age 2. He signed with Burton Snowboards by age 11, soon after his family moved from Cleveland to Summit County, Colo.

His slopestyle skills were honed on the Gerard Farm. Or, if you prefer, Red’s Backyard.

That’s what they sometimes call a makeshift snow park in the family backyard in Silverthorne, visible from the Noodles and Co. across Interstate 70. Check it outRed’s Backyard has 5,000 Instagram followers.

About three years ago, one of Gerard’s four brothers, Brendan, noticed the yard had the perfect slant for a snow park. They put in rails, which are the first features at the top of a standard slopestyle course.

A dirt bike with a rope towed the riders — not just the Gerard boys but now dozens of neighborhood kids — from one end to the other. There are even lights.

“I’d come home and ride the rope tow until night,” Gerard said. “I never thought I’d end up learning tricks in the backyard.”

Gerard’s mom had the local kids sign release forms.

“There’s been some injuries, a lot of concussions,” Gerard said. “I have ate some serious crap back there, for sure. It’s a dangerous little park.”

The setup is ideal. Gerard’s older sister, Tieghan, is a food blogger with 400,000 Instagram followers. She lives in a converted horse barn just below Red’s Backyard.

“Sometimes I’ll go down there and grab a whole bunch of food,” for everyone riding in the park, Gerard said. “And they’ll be savaging it down.”

At times, Gerard’s parents had to pull him out of the yard to do homework. Though Gerard is filming and competing around the world now, spending less and less time riding his home rails, the park stays at his mom’s request.

“The other day, I was talking to her about it,” Gerard said. “I was like, ‘I don’t know if we can keep the backyard running.’ She was like, ‘Oh no, we’re going to keep it running.'”

In slopestyle judging, the harder-than-they-look rail moves can count just as much as the high-flying tricks off jumps at the bottom of the course. The Red’s Backyard rails may prove the training ground for an Olympic medalist.

“If you have good rails, you can take a lot off your jumps where you don’t have to do as gnarly as tricks,” Gerard said. “Hopefully, if I win a medal, I hope it has something to do with my rails. … Sometimes I don’t have enough speed for all the jumps. Weight plays into that.”

On Feb. 8, 2014, Gerard was coming home by car from a contest in Pennsylvania when he learned that Kotsenburg won the first gold medal of the Sochi Olympics.

“I was like, this can not be right,” said a flabbergasted Gerard, who has since worn his friend Kotsenburg’s gold medal. “He won, and he was doing some crazy grabs. That’s what really got my mind flowing on style stuff and making snowboarding different, to be honest.”

And Gerard is certainly different than the typical Olympic hopeful.

His biggest sense of accomplishment comes not from winning, but from filming snowboarding movies.

He prefers practice to competing. Halfpipe over slopestyle. Just about anything over media interviews.

No specific diet. Mountain Dew (another sponsor). In-N-Out Burger when he’s in LA. They know his name at the local Chipotle.

“But actually my favorite food is sushi, so that’s kinda healthy,” he said.

Gerard is serious about his concern for the future of snowboarding. Kleveland landed the first quad cork 1800 in big air competition at X Games last season (four off-axis flips with five full rotations).

“How many flips can you really do, how big can the jump really be — I mean, it’s already life-threatening — but without it seriously being insanely dangerous?” Gerard said. “What I’m hoping that happens is that we step it back a notch and deal with at least just triple corks from now on and try to put really good style into it.”

If Gerard’s rail prowess lands him on the medal stand on Feb. 11, he would welcome any portion of the fame that Kotsenburg received. But that’s not all he wants.

“Honestly, what I would like to do, is get a big RV and travel around all snowboarding spots around North America with a filmer and my friends,” he said.

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VIDEO: Slopestyle skier shows off acrobatic moves in training

Michael Phelps, Usain Bolt, Simone Biles win ESPYs

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Michael PhelpsUsain Bolt and Simone Biles earned ESPY awards on Wednesday for their Rio Olympic triumphs.

Phelps earned best record-breaking performance for extending his records for most Olympic medals (28) and gold medals (23).

“Today is my wife’s birthday, and we met here 10 years ago,” said Phelps, who was also named the best male U.S. Olympic athlete. “It’s the most amazing thing in the world.”

Bolt won best international athlete for a third time. He also did so in 2013 and 2017, one year after sweeping the Olympic 100m and 200m as he did in Rio.

Biles took best female U.S. Olympic athlete and best female athlete over nominees including Katie Ledecky.

“Ever since Rio, it has been an amazing year, and the best part of all has been meeting all of the young people who look up to all the athletes in this room,” Biles said in her acceptance speech. “It is an incredible honor and responsibility of being a role model.”

Snowboarding stars Mark McMorris and Anna Gasser won best action sports athlete awards.

A full list of winners is here.

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