Preview: Slopestyle snowboarders looking to make Olympic history

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Slopestyle snowboarding will be hitting the big time in Sochi as the discipline makes its Olympic debut as one of two new snowboarding events alongside parallel slalom. However, it has not been a smooth beginning.

Medal threat Torstein Horgmo of Norway broke his collarbone in a training crash and was knocked out of the Olympics (he later said he blames himself, not the challenging Rosa Khutor course for the injury). Another contender, two-time Olympic gold medalist Shaun White of the U.S., jammed his wrist Tuesday and then bowed out this morning to focus solely on attaining his third consecutive Olympic gold in the halfpipe.

His training incident occurred shortly before a female rider from Finland sustained a concussion after she fell and hit her head at the end of a run.

Changes have since been made to the course, which had no test event prior to the Olympics. The ones who hit the podium in Sochi will likely be the quickest learners.

EVENT SCHEDULE
Tomorrow – Men’s qualification, 1 a.m. ET; Women’s qualification, 4 a.m. ET
Saturday – Men’s semifinal, 12:30 a.m. ET; Men’s final, 3:45 a.m. ET
Sunday – Women’s semifinal, 1:30 a.m. ET; Women’s final, 4:15 a.m. ET

TV SCHEDULE
Tomorrow – Men’s/women’s, 8 p.m. ET, NBC
Saturday – Men’s final, 8 p.m. ET, NBC
Sunday – Women’s final, 7 p.m. ET, NBC

MORE: Photo gallery of the 2014 U.S. Olympic snowboarding team

U.S. OUTLOOK
With White gone, the Americans will feature Sage Kotsenburg, Chas Guldemond, and Ryan Stassel. Kotsenburg won the last of five Olympic qualifier events and both he and Guldemond are former X Games medalists. As for Stassel, he also took a victory during the qualifier series.

Leading the U.S. women is a potential gold medalist in Jamie Anderson. Regarded as one of the best female slopestyle riders out there, she enters the Games after winning four of five Olympic qualifiers. 16-year-old Ty Walker is the youngest U.S. snowboarder at Sochi but has already developed a solid reputation but is dealing with multiple injuries of her own and concedes that she’s looking ahead to Sunday’s semifinal for her chance to qualify into the final. Jessika Jenson and Karly Shorr each earned two podiums in the qualifiers.

INTERNATIONAL OUTLOOK
Horgmo’s injury and White’s decision to focus on halfpipe may have cleared the way for a Canadian sweep of the men’s podium. Mark McMorris was the gold medal favorite but isn’t 100 percent as he deals with a fractured rib. If that slows him down, fellow countrymen Max Parrot (the new X Games champ) and Sebastien “Seb Toots” Toutant are talented enough to win.

Another Canadian, 2013 world champion Spencer O’Brien, should provide a stiff challenge to Anderson for the women’s gold. Also in the hunt are Norway’s Silje Norendal, who beat Anderson for the X Games title last month, and Australia’s Torah Bright, who will also compete in halfpipe and snowboard cross.

In a tie, Wendy Holdener puts to rest a remarkable stat in Alpine skiing

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Swiss Wendy Holdener ended one of the most remarkable victory droughts in sports by tying for the win with Swede Anna Swenn Larsson in a World Cup slalom in Killington, Vermont, on Sunday.

Holdener, after 15 second-place finishes and 15 third-place finishes in her career, stood on the top step of a World Cup slalom podium for the first time. She shared it with Swenn Larsson, who had six World Cup slalom podiums before Sunday and also earned her first win.

They beat Austrian Katharina Truppe by .22 of a second combining times from two runs.

ALPINE SKIING: Full Results | Broadcast Schedule

Holdener, 29, previously won three World Cups in other disciplines, plus two world championships in the combined and Olympic and world titles in the team event.

“To be tied first when I came into the finish was such a relief,” Holdener said while shoulder to shoulder with Swenn Larsson. “On the end, it’s perfect, because now we can share our first win together.”

Mikaela Shiffrin had the best first-run time but lost her lead midway through the second run and finished fifth. Shiffrin, who won the first two slaloms this season last weekend, was bidding for a 50th World Cup slalom victory and a sixth win in six slaloms in Killington.

“I fought. I think some spots I got a little bit off my timing, but I was pushing, and that’s slalom,” she said before turning her attention to Holdener and Swenn Larsson. “It’s a pretty special day, actually.”

The women’s Alpine skiing World Cup moves next weekend to Lake Louise, Alberta, with two downhills and a super-G.

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Injured Ilia Malinin wins Grand Prix Finland, qualifies for Grand Prix Final

Ilia Malinin
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Ilia Malinin, competing “a little bit injured” this week, still won Grand Prix Finland and goes into the Grand Prix Final in two weeks as the world’s top-ranked male singles skater.

Malinin, who was second after Friday’s short program, landed four clean quadruple jumps in Saturday’s free skate to overtake Frenchman Kevin Aymoz.

Malinin, who landed a quad flip in competition for the first time, according to SkatingScores.com, also attempted a quad Axel to open his program, but spun out of the landing and put his hand down on the ice.

Malinin also won his previous two starts this season in come-from-behind fashion. The 17-year-old world junior champion became the first skater to land a clean, fully rotated quad Axel in September, then did it again in October at Skate America, where he posted the world’s top overall score this season.

Next, Malinin can become the second-youngest man to win the Grand Prix Final after Russian Yevgeny Plushenko. His biggest competition is likely to be world champion Shoma Uno of Japan, who like Malinin won both of his Grand Prix starts this fall. Malinin and Uno have not gone head-to-head this season.

Grand Prix Finland highlights air on NBC, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app on Sunday at 3:30 p.m. ET.

FIGURE SKATING: Results | Broadcast Schedule

Earlier, Japan’s Mai Mihara overtook world silver medalist Loena Hendrickx of Belgium to become the only woman to win both of her Grand Prix starts this season. Mihara prevailed by .23 of a point. The top three women this season by best total score are Japanese, led by a junior skater, 14-year-old Mao Shimada, who isn’t Olympic age-eligible until 2030.

Mihara and Hendrickx qualified for the Grand Prix Final, joining world champion Kaori Sakamoto and Rinka Watanabe, both of Japan, South Korean Yelim Kim and American Isabeau Levito, the world junior champion.

Italians Rebecca Ghilardi and Filippo Ambrosini won both pairs’ programs and qualified for their first Grand Prix Final.

Japan’s Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara and Americans Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier headline the Final. Both pairs won each of their Grand Prix starts earlier this fall. The Japanese have the world’s two best scores this season. The Americans are reigning world champions.

At least one Russian or Chinese pair made every Grand Prix Final podium — usually pairs from both countries — but neither nation competed in pairs this Grand Prix season. All Russian skaters are banned due to the war in Ukraine. China’s lone entry on the Grand Prix across all disciplines was an ice dance couple.

Canadians Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier improved on their world-leading score for this season in winning the ice dance by 17.03 points over Americans Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker. Both couples qualified for the Grand Prix Final in the absence of all three Olympic medalists this fall.

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