Shaun White

Shaun White lands new trick to win Mammoth halfpipe; Olympic picture crowded

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Shaun White moved closer to clinching his spot on the U.S. Olympic Team in halfpipe with his two best runs this season, including an unprecedented one, in Mammoth Mountain, Calif., on Friday.

White, the two-time Olympic halfpipe champion, captured the fourth of five Olympic selection events with the two best scores — 97 in his first run followed by 98.6, which included a cab double cork 1440. It marked the first time he landed the trick in competition.

“I treated it like an Olympic event, like it is,” White said on NBCSN, after saying before the second run he was going to ride like it was practice. “I wanted to up my score. I wanted to do something under pressure.”

White beat 2010 Olympic bronze medalist Scotty Lago by 3.8. Taylor Gold was third and became the first man to clinch a spot on the U.S. Olympic Team in snowboard halfpipe.

On Thursday, White crashed in a slopestyle event and then clinched his spot in slopestyle in a later event. He skipped the first of two halfpipe events Friday.

“I just woke up in a world of hurt,” White said on NBCSN after going through physical therapy to heal a sore back and neck. “I just knew if I wanted to make a good showing today, it was quality over quantity.”

Lago took second place to join the race for an Olympic berth. He scored 94.8 for his first top-four result of the Olympic selection event series.

“It was do or die,” Lago said on NCBSN. “I had to get on the podium, or else I didn’t have a shot at the Olympics.”

White joined Greg Bretz and Gold with 1,800 points to lead Olympic selection event standings. Gold clinched a berth thanks to strong results in all four selection events so far. Two more will clinch at the conclusion of the fifth and final selection event Sunday in Mammoth Mountain.

Even if White does not clinch an automatic spot, he can be placed on the U.S. Olympic Team as a discretionary selection.

“It’s nice coming back to pipe, obviously, just because this is the one event I feel like I’ve got a little bit of a lead from the season before,” White said on NBCSN. “At least I’m up to par with the other riders. Slopestyle, I’ve been doing catching up with the tricks and learning about my competitors.”

Kelly Clark, the 2002 Olympic champion, stayed perfect by winning a fourth straight women’s event. She scored 94.8 points, beating Chloe Kim, who would have clinched her Olympic berth Friday if she wasn’t too young for the Olympics at 13.

“I had a disappointing fall on my first run,” Clark said on NBCSN. “Right now, everything for me is practice. To be able to come out, second run, under that kind of pressure and put down a run, if I have to do that in Russia, I’m ready.”

2006 Olympic champion Hannah Teter was third, her second straight top-four finish Friday to move into third place in the Olympic selection standings behind Clark and Arielle Gold.

There are two automatic Olympic women’s berths still available after Clark. Gold is extremely close to wrapping one up. Teter, Gretchen Bleiler and Kaitlyn Farrington are contenders, too.

It is likely a fourth woman will be chosen as a discretionary selection.

Here are the Olympic selection standings in snowboard halfpipe:

Men’s Snowboard Halfpipe — Three automatic Olympic spots
1. Taylor Gold — 1,800 (clinched Olympic berth)
1. Greg Bretz — 1,800
1. Shaun White — 1,800
4. Danny Davis — 1,450
5. Scotty Lago — 1,250
6. Ben Ferguson — 1,050
7. Matt Ladley — 1,000
7. Louie Vito — 1,000

Women’s Snowboard Halfpipe – Three automatic Olympic spots
1. Kelly Clark — 2,000 (clinched Olympic berth)
2. Arielle Gold — 1,400
3. Hannah Teter — 1,200
4. Gretchen Bleiler — 1,050
5. Kaitlyn Farrington — 1,000

Reigning world champ must hope for discretionary pick to Olympics

Richard Callaghan, figure skating coach, banned for life

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Richard Callaghan, a figure skating coach best known for helping Tara Lipinski earn 1998 Olympic gold, was ruled permanently ineligible for violations including sexual misconduct involving a minor.

Callaghan can still appeal the sexual misconduct violation, according to the U.S. Center for SafeSport, a watchdog for U.S. Olympic sports organizations that updated Callaghan’s status Wednesday.

He was first suspended in March 2018 pending an investigation into allegations first made against him more than 20 years ago.

Earlier this month, another former skater, Adam Schmidt, said in a lawsuit that he was sexually molested as a teenager by Callaghan starting in 1999.

Callaghan was previously accused of sexual misconduct in April 1999 by Craig Maurizi, one of his former students and later an assistant to him in San Diego and Detroit.

Maurizi told The New York Times that Callaghan had engaged in inappropriate sexual contact with him beginning when he was 15 years old. The alleged misconduct had begun nearly 20 years earlier. Callaghan denied the allegations.

In March 2018, Callaghan told ABC News: “That’s 19 or 20 years ago. I have nothing to say.”

Maurizi’s previous grievance against Callaghan with the U.S. Figure Skating Association, the precursor to U.S. Figure Skating, was dismissed on procedural grounds.

He was Callaghan’s assistant at the Detroit Skating Club until they split after Lipinski turned pro, left Callaghan and decided to train with Maurizi.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Pita Taufatofua, Tonga flag bearer, finishes last in kayak debut

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Pita Taufatofua, the Tonga Olympic flag bearer who went viral in Rio and PyeongChang, began his quest to make a third straight Olympics in a third different sport with a last-place finish in his opening-round heat at the world sprint kayak championships in Hungary on Wednesday.

The start of the heat appeared delayed as Taufatofua struggled to get his kayak into position in the water. He was left at the start as the other six kayakers raced out and finished between 33 and 40 seconds. Taufatofua took 58.19 seconds, the slowest of 53 finishers among seven total heats.

“Well that was slightly better than the first time I competed in Taekwondo or skiing,” was tweeted from Taufatofua’s account. “Would have liked to start facing the right way but that’s life.”

Taufatofua, 35, was the oldest athlete in the heat by nearly a decade. He is also entered in doubles races with Tonga canoe federation president Malakai Ahokava with heats Thursday and Friday.

Taufatofua hopes to compete at the Tokyo Olympics in taekwondo, where he competed in Rio, and in sprint kayak.

But he hasn’t competed in taekwondo in three years and just started training kayak this spring. At worlds, Taufatofua told the BBC he is still having trouble staying afloat in the water.

Taufatofua said in announcing the new sport in April that it would be “largely impossible” to qualify for Tokyo. He could be the first athlete to compete in a different sport in three straight Olympics (Summer and Winter) since the Winter Games began in 1924, according to the OlyMADMen.

“It’s certainly going to be the greatest challenge that I’ve ever had to embark on,” he said then.

Taufatofua’s results at worlds this week has little bearing on his Olympic qualifying prospects. Rather, he just needed to compete in Hungary to stay eligible for the Olympics.

The key will be an Oceania qualifying event early next year, where one Olympic bid is available. He will likely have to beat the best kayakers from Australia and New Zealand to grab it. Australian Stephen Bird placed eighth at the Rio Olympics and 11th at the 2018 World Championships.

If Taufatofua fails, he could receive a special tripartite invitation sometimes offered to smaller nations like Tonga.

Taufatofua became a social-media celebrity by marching into the Rio Olympic Opening Ceremony shirtless and oiled up. He then lost in the first round via mercy rule in his taekwondo tournament.

He made a quixotic bid for the PyeongChang Winter Games in cross-country skiing — and accomplished the feat, barely, in a sport that has lenient qualifying requirements for nations with a lack of Winter Games depth.

Taufatofua finished 114th out of 116 in his 15km Olympic cross-country skiing race, nearly 23 minutes behind the winner.

If Taufatofua is able to carry the Tongan flag at a third Opening Ceremony, he will definitely be shirtless again, in a similar outfit to what he wore in Rio and PyeongChang, he said last year.

MORE: Five-time Olympic kayak medalist banned four years

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