Seth Wescott, Nick Baumgartner up for one Olympic spot

Seth Wescott
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Apologies to figure skating, but men’s snowboardcross appears to include the most intriguing U.S. Olympic discretionary selection.

Three men have qualified automatically — two-time Olympian Nate Holland and first-time Olympians Trevor Jacob and Alex Deibold — via earning one top-four finish in World Cup events this season.

The U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association has the ability to add a fourth man to the team, and it is expected to do so next week.

That fourth spot could go to Seth Wescott, who has won both Olympic gold medals since the sport was added to the Olympics in 2006.

Wescott, 37, underwent a complete reconstruction of his left ACL in April after falling into an Alaska crevasse while shooting part of a film for ski and snowboard director Warren Miller. He tore the ACL and broke his tibia.

His return to competition came in Andorra last weekend, the final World Cup event before the Olympics. Wescott finished an unimpressive 49th and 31st in two races, aiming for that top-four criteria.

“I knew it was going to be a tough order for me to jump back on in basically on the last weekend and try to make [the Olympic Team],” Wescott said in a phone interview. “Getting back up to speed, it takes a little while. with my whole scenario, my coming off injury. I thought, mainly for my health, I needed to wait until the last possible moment [to return].”

That fourth spot could also go to Nick Baumgartner, a 2010 Olympian and the only U.S. man with three top-10 finishes on the World Cup tour this season.

“I’m definitely stressed and sweating a little bit,” Baumgartner said in a phone interview. “I don’t want to sound cocky, but as of right now I feel like the strongest rider on the team.”

Baumgartner, 32, hoped to secure his spot in Andorra with a top-four finish, but he came in sixth and eighth in two races.

“It definitely is tough because Seth has had some great results,” Baumgartner said. “There’s no taking it away, he won the last two [Olympics]. … It’s a hard call, but in my eyes I really just hope they go with the results and how the riding is going right now. I think that’s the fair way to go. I also wish I didn’t put myself in this situation.”

Wescott is one of three Olympians trying to become the first American man to win the same Winter Olympic event three straight times (Bonnie Blair is the only U.S. woman to do it). Fellow snowboarder Shaun White (halfpipe) and speed skater Shani Davis (1000m) also won in 2006 and 2010.

Wescott, if they all make the Olympic team, would be the last of the three to make the attempt. Men’s snowboardcross in Sochi is Feb. 17, five days after Davis’ 1000m and six days after White’s halfpipe.

“My history is what it is, and I have the best history of anyone on the U.S. team at major events, worlds, X Games, Olympics,” Wescott said. “So I know, from a USOC perspective, if they’re looking at fielding a team, they’re looking at fielding who’s going to bring medals. That definitely has to weigh in some.

“I was really happy with the progress I made last week and knowing we’ve got more than 30 days until the race day for us over there [in Sochi], I really do feel like I could be ready to go the way I need to be.”

Wescott said he has not made contact with anybody to argue his case to be picked. He believes in the system, that a spot must be earned, and is not feeling pressure despite the uncertainty.

“There is no grandfathering,” he said. “There is no taking me because of what I’ve done in the past. I’m honestly a fan of that.”

Baumgartner calls Wescott a friend.

“I look up to him very much,” Baumgartner said. “You always want great things for your friends, and I want to go [to Sochi] as well. I feel as if I earned it.”

Knowing the qualifying scenario, Wescott still cheered Baumgartner on at the bottom of the course in Andorra.

“Go punch your ticket today,” Wescott told Baumgartner. “I would be happy to see him have great success. Frankly, I don’t think there’s anyone on the team that deserves it more than he does.

“I’ve been so fortunate to have two [Olympic] experiences I’ve had. A third one right now isn’t going to drastically change my life one way or another,” said Wescott, who harbors plans for 2018 whether or not he goes to Sochi. “I look at him as a single father and all the stuff that he has on his plate. He’s an amazing athlete, one of the best we have.”

Wescott brought up an interesting point. He and Baumgartner are slated to compete in the Winter X Games in Aspen, Colo., on Jan. 24. The Winter X Games is not an official Olympic qualifying event, but in this case, he hopes the results there will be taken into consideration.

The final nominations to the Olympic Team are due Jan. 25.

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Gaon Choi breaks Chloe Kim record, youngest X Games snowboard halfpipe champion

Gaon Choi
Jamie Schwaberow/X Games
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South Korean Gaon Choi broke Chloe Kim‘s record as the youngest X Games snowboard halfpipe champion, winning at age 14 on Saturday in Aspen, Colorado.

Choi, the world junior champion, landed three different 900s in her third of four runs to overtake two-time U.S. Olympian Maddie Mastro. She then landed a frontside 1080 in her fourth run.

In a format introduced three years ago, athletes were ranked on overall impression of their best run over the course of a jam session rather than scoring individual runs.

Choi became the first Winter X Games medalist for South Korea, a nation with a best Olympic halfpipe finish of 14th. She is six months younger than Kim was when Kim won the first of her five X Games Aspen halfpipe titles in 2015.

“I began snowboarding because of Chloe Kim and now almost being near her level when she was 14, it feels weird that I can see a possibility that I would go beyond her some day,” Choi said through a translator, according to organizers. “I’m already starting to look forward to the next Olympics.”

Kim, the daughter of South Korean immigrants, posted that she has known Choi for almost a decade.

“I feel like a proud Mom,” she posted. “The future of snowboarding’s in good hands.”

Kim, the only woman to land back-to-back 1080s in a contest, is taking this season off after repeating as Olympic champion but plans to return ahead of the 2026 Milan-Cortina Winter Games.

Mastro, who was 12th and 13th at the last two Olympics, landed her patented double crippler (two back flips) on two of her runs, but it wasn’t enough. She was the last woman to beat Kim at the 2019 U.S. Open.

Earlier, American Colby Stevenson earned his second X Games ski slopestyle title, one year after taking silver in ski big air’s Olympic debut. Stevenson, who was one millimeter from brain damage in a 2016 car crash, capped his first two of four runs with 1620s, according to commentators, taking the lead for good after the latter.

American Alex Hall, the Olympic slopestyle champion, was seventh.

Later, Japan’s Reira Iwabuchi won women’s snowboard big air, highlighted by a triple underflip. The field lacked 2021 X Games champion Jamie Anderson (pregnant) and 2018 and 2022 Olympic champion Anna Gasser of Austria. Iwabuchi was fourth at the last two Olympics.

Gasser withdrew moments before the competition after placing seventh in Friday’s slopestyle, according to commentators.

Zoe Atkin became the first British female skier to win an X Games title, taking the halfpipe in the absence of Olympic champion Eileen Gu of China. Atkin had two 720s in her fourth and final run to overtake Olympic bronze medalist Rachael Karker of Canada.

Atkin, the 20-year-old and Stanford student and younger sister of 2018 Olympic slopestyle bronze medalist Izzy Atkin, was ninth at the Olympics and never previously won an X Games medal.

Gu withdrew on Friday with a knee injury from a training crash.

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Madison Chock, Evan Bates win historic U.S. ice dance title for figure skaters in their 30s

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Madison Chock and Evan Bates won their fourth national ice dance title at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships and made all sorts of longevity history.

Chock and Bates, fourth at the Olympics and third at last March’s world championships, totaled 229.75 points between the rhythm dance and free dance. They prevailed by 22.29 over Caroline Green and Michael Parsons, the largest margin of victory in a U.S. ice dance since it was shortened from three programs to two in 2011.

“This is probably the best we’ve ever skated in our careers,” Bates said on NBC. “I think that’s the statement that we wanted to make.”

Christina Carreira and Anthony Ponomarenko took bronze but are likely to be left off the three-couple team for March’s world championships in favor of Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker, last year’s U.S. bronze medalists who planned to petition for a worlds spot after withdrawing before nationals citing mental health.

Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue, the top U.S. couple at the 2022 Olympics (bronze) and 2022 Worlds (silver), retired after last season.

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Chock, 30, and Bates, 33, who are engaged, became the first dance couple in their 30s to win a U.S. title in the modern era (at least the last 50 years).

Chock and Bates made the nationals podium for an 11th consecutive year, one shy of the record for any discipline.

Bates, who last year became the oldest U.S. champion in any discipline in decades, has made 13 career senior nationals podiums with Chock and former partner Emily Samuelson. It is believed that breaks the U.S. record for a single discipline that he shared with Michelle KwanNathaniel Niles and Theresa Weld Blanchard.

Those records matter less to Chock and Bates than what they’re hoping is a career first in March: a world championships gold medal.

They earned silver or bronze a total of three times. All of the teams that beat them at last year’s Olympics and worlds aren’t competing this season, but Canadians Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier defeated Chock and Bates at December’s Grand Prix Final, which is a sort-of dress rehearsal for worlds.

“If we don’t win gold at worlds, we’ll be disappointed,” Bates, whose first senior nationals in 2008 came when new U.S. women’s singles champion Isabeau Levito was 10 months old, said earlier this month. “We’ve set the goal for ourselves in he past and haven’t met it yet.”

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