Thank your stars and stripes for freestyle skiing


KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia – The International Olympic Committee made a landmark decision three years ago when it added women’s ski jumping to the Winter Olympic sports program.

It’s easy to forget that in that same announcement, the IOC postponed a decision on adding men’s and women’s ski and snowboard slopestyle for the Sochi Olympics. An IOC sport director said slopestyle needed “further feasibility study.” Proponents had to wait nearly three more months before the IOC finally green lighted slopestyle as the final sport for the 2014 Winter Games.

Thank your stars and stripes that it did.

The final slopestyle event of the Sochi Olympics concluded Thursday with the third U.S. sweep of any event in Winter Olympic history.

Joss Christensen, Gus Kenworthy and Nick Goepper bagged the medals. The U.S. jumped to 12 medals overall, including four golds. Half of those medals belong to slopestyle skiers and snowboarders, including three of the four golds.

VIDEO: See how U.S. dominated event

“It’s one thing to be out here and get on the podium with Gus and Joss, but it’s another thing to think about the big picture and think about the advance in medals that we’ve gotten for the U.S.,” said the bronze medalist Goepper, who was bidding to become the first individual Winter Olympic champion born in Indiana.

There was some concern over the U.S.’ performance in the first five days of the Olympics. It sat in fourth place overall with nine medals going into Thursday.

In 2010, the U.S. won 37 medals over 16 days at the Vancouver Games, the greatest overall medal haul in Winter Olympic history. Of course, the Vancouver Olympics featured more events than any Winter Olympics ever (as does Sochi), so it didn’t come as a huge shock.

To compare the U.S.’ performance in Sochi to only Vancouver would be short-sighted. The U.S. and Canada (the gold-medal leader in Vancouver) had an advantage over European powers Germany, Norway and Russia being closer to home.

MORE: Twitter reacts to the Team USA sweep

A fairer way to compare the U.S.’ early performance in Sochi would be to put it against other recent non-North American Olympics. So let’s do that.

  • The U.S. won nine out of 96 medals in the first five days of the Sochi Olympics. That’s 9.3 percent.
  • In 2006, the U.S. won 25 out of 252 total medals at the Torino Olympics. That’s 9.9 percent.
  • In 1998, the U.S. won 13 out of 204 total medals at the Nagano Olympics. That’s 6.4 percent.
  • In 1994, the U.S. won 13 out of 183 total medals at the Lillehammer Olympics. That’s 7.1 percent.

The U.S. was right within its range of non-North American Olympics after five days in Sochi. There shouldn’t have been alarm.

On the flip side, the U.S. would plunge down the medal table if these were the 1994 Sochi Olympics. In addition to the six slopestyle medals, the U.S. had won three others in events that weren’t part of the Olympic program 20 years ago.

The remaining three were all bronze medals – Erin Hamlin (luge), Hannah Kearney (moguls) and Julia Mancuso (super combined). (Note: moguls didn’t join the Olympics until 1992, and super combined was adapted from the combined in 2010).

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Veteran medal threats in traditional Olympic sports have faltered, from speed skater Shani Davis (eighth in the 1000m) to Alpine skier Bode Miller (eighth in the downhill) to cross-country skier Kikkan Randall (eliminated in the quarterfinals of the individual sprint).

Yet the new kids, rookie Olympians, have been surprisingly spectacular.

Gold medalists Sage Kotsenburg, Kaitlyn Farrington and Christensen needed until the final weekend of Olympic selection events to earn their spots on the U.S. Olympic Team in January.

VIDEO: The science behind Christensen’s golden run

None were considered the top U.S. medal threats in their events.

Yet Kotsenburg won the first U.S. medal in Sochi in snowboard slopestyle on Saturday, an event best known as the one Shaun White skipped.

Farrington soared above Olympic champions Kelly Clark and Hannah Teter and world champion Arielle Gold to win snowboard halfpipe gold Wednesday.

Then came Christensen, the biggest nail-biter of them all in Olympic qualification last month. Christensen won the final Olympic selection event in his hometown of Park City, Utah, after being unable to ski for two weeks because he cut open his knee.

Even that victory wasn’t enough to clinch the final Team USA spot, though.

U.S. officials had to choose from among Christensen and the last two world champions in ski slopestyle – Alex Schlopy and Tom Wallisch.

They went with the hot hand in Christensen, whose form reached a boiling point under warm, sunny skies this week.

Christensen posted the top qualifying score in the morning Thursday and the best first run in the afternoon final. He had clinched gold before his final run, which became a victory lap that would have won gold as well.

“The stars lined up for me,” Christensen said.

And for the U.S., which jumped from fourth to second in medals, one behind Norway.

“We were kind of falling behind in the medal count,” Christensen said. “Hopefully that can bring us up a few and the U.S. can keep dominating.”

The slopestyle athletes will have no say in that. Their fruitful Olympics are over, but their impact won’t be forgotten.

Oscar Pistorius denied parole, hasn’t served enough time

Oscar Pistorius
File photo

Olympic and Paralympic runner Oscar Pistorius was denied parole Friday after it was decided that he had not served the “minimum detention period” required to be released from prison following his murder conviction for the 2013 killing of girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp.

The parole board ruled Pistorius would be able to apply again in August 2024, South Africa’s Department of Corrections said in a statement. The board cited a new clarification on Pistorius’ sentence that was issued by South Africa’s Supreme Court of Appeal three days ago, according to the statement.

The result was a surprise but there has been legal wrangling over when Pistorius should be eligible for parole because of the series of appeals in his case. He was initially convicted of culpable homicide, a charge comparable to manslaughter, in 2014 but the case went through a number of appeals before Pistorius was finally sentenced to 13 years and five months in prison for murder in 2017.

Serious offenders must serve at least half their sentence to be eligible for parole in South Africa.

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Ukraine officials say athletes should not compete in Olympic qualifiers with Russians

Ukraine Russia Fencing

The Ukraine government decided that its athletes should not compete in 2024 Olympic qualifying events if Russians are present, according to several media reports in Ukraine.

“At a meeting of the government, a protocol decision was made on the proposal of colleague (sports minister Vadym) Guttsait that we take part in qualifying competitions only where there are no Russians,” government minister Oleh Nemchinov said Thursday, according to a Reuters translation of a Ukraine public broadcaster report. “Accordingly, participation outside these criteria may be grounds for depriving federations of their national status.”

A decision has not been published on the Ukraine government website.

Guttsait is also the president of Ukraine’s National Olympic Committee. A message was sent to the committee late Thursday seeking comment.

On Tuesday, the IOC updated its recommendations for the possible participation of Russian and Belarusian athletes in international competition. Previously, the IOC recommended no Russians or Belarusians be allowed to compete.

Tuesday’s update called for strict measures should international sports federations decide to readmit Russians and Belarusians who do not actively support the war as neutral athletes in individual events.

“I want to tell our fellow athletes who are worried that due to the IOC measures and the admission of Russians or Belarusians to competitions, and accordingly Ukrainians will not be able to participate, that their careers will be broken,” Nemchinov said, according to the Reuters translation of the public broadcaster report. “But your life and that of your children will remain.”

The International Fencing Federation (FIE) decided earlier in March that it planned to readmit Russians and Belarusians starting in the second half of April, which is also when the 2024 Olympic qualifying period begins in that sport.

Most other international federations for Olympic sports are so far still barring Russians and Belarusians. Some have said they are considering the IOC’s updated recommendations as they monitor their positions.

After Nemchinov’s reported comments, the Ukraine fencing federation press secretary said late Thursday that its fencers will not compete against Russians.

“Ukrainian fencers will not only refuse to compete against Russian and Belarusian athletes but will not participate in events of any level where Russian or Belarusian athletes will be competing,” the press secretary said in an email.

Ukraine won at least one fencing medal at each of the last five Olympics.

“We are all professionals, and if I will fence, which can be or cannot, I think I will be professional,” Ukrainian fencer Olga Kharlan, a four-time Olympic medalist and a four-time individual world champion, said Wednesday regarding a possible boycott. “As a Ukrainian citizen, it’s tough to even imagine how to stand next to [Russians], to know that they’re supporting or they’re in silence and we haven’t heard any word from them or we know that they represent army that’s shelling Ukraine every day.”

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