Kaitlyn Farrington

Kaitlyn Farrington sees changes on, off snowboard after Olympic gold

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NEW YORK — Kaitlyn Farrington attended the Daytona 500, a Vanity Fair party and the “Game of Thrones” premiere after Sochi, but they don’t compare with what happened when the gold medalist returned to her hometown of Sun Valley, Idaho.

Two dozen screaming 12-year-old girls chased her down a street.

“It was pretty epic,” Farrington said, “but also very scary at the same time.”

Farrington, 24, upset a field that included the last three Olympic champions to win halfpipe gold in Sochi.The rider raised on a cattle ranch was considered questionable to make the U.S. Olympic Team entering winter qualifying, but she beat two-time Olympians Gretchen Bleiler and Elena Hight to join previous Olympic champions Kelly Clark and Hannah Teter and world champion Arielle Gold on the four-woman squad.

At the Olympics, her second-run score of 91.75 edged 2010 Olympic champion Torah Bright by .25 for gold in the closest Olympic halfpipe competition ever.

Farrington said life has changed “100 percent” since Sochi.

“I feel that I’m no longer just Kaitlyn Farrington,” she said at Right To Play’s Big Red Ball gala on Wall Street on Tuesday night. “I’m Kaitlyn Farrington, the gold medalist.”

Farrington flew from Sochi to New York for a week of media, then to Florida to be an honorary marshal at the Daytona 500 (and ride a pace car) and then to Idaho.

She cried for the first time since winning gold entering the terminal at Friedman Memorial Airport, where a marching band and girls from the Sun Valley snowboard team waited for her arrival on the tarmac. A parade was held for Farrington, who rode in a silver 1966 Ford Mustang GT convertible and a Wood River Fire & Rescue ladder truck.

Farrington said students were let out of schools to see her, which caused many kids to let out their excitement by chasing the gold medalist. Farrington could only think to run away from the stampede, though she’s very appreciative of Sun Valley and the surrounding community, which raised money to send her parents to Sochi.

“It felt like everyone’s victory,” Farrington said.

Then she traveled to Hollywood for the Oscars and to Colorado for the U.S. Open, where she said she arrived the day of the competition and finished 11th, her first time riding halfpipe since the Olympics.

Then she flew back to New York for the “Game of Thrones” premiere and to British Columbia for a week of back-country riding.

Her medal picked up scratches and dings through it all, including a dent after it dropped out of her pocket when she was on a dance floor before she left Russia.

Farrington may take one more adventure to Costa Rica before returning to riding in Mt. Hood, Ore., this summer and then probably in New Zealand. She’ll work not only on her halfpipe skills but also on slopestyle, with a goal of entering slope at the Dew Tour iON Mountain Championships.

She’s entertaining the idea of attempting to qualify for the 2018 Olympics in slopestyle and trying to become the first snowboarder to win medals in multiple disciplines, a feat Shaun White and Bright couldn’t accomplish in Sochi.

“Winning the gold medal was something that I’ve always wanted to do, but it was never expected out of me,” Farrington said. “Now that I’ve done it, I feel like I can take my snowboarding to places that I’ve always wanted to.”

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At U.S. Open swim meet, teens make a splash with Olympic trials on horizon

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While Olympic and world champions Katie LedeckySimone Manuel and Chase Kalisz notched expected victories at the U.S. Open on Thursday, a trio of teenagers lowered personal bests to further establish their Tokyo Olympic hopes.

At the top domestic meet of the winter, Alex WalshCarson Foster and Kieran Smith each earned runner-up finishes, but their performances stood out in the big picture: looking at June’s Olympic trials, where the top two per individual event make the team.

Walsh, a rising Nashville high school senior, took 2.23 seconds off her 200m individual medley best. She clocked 2:09.01, overtaken by .17 by Melanie Margalis, the Rio Olympic and 2019 World Championships fourth-place finisher.

Full meet results are here.

Walsh moved from fifth-fastest in the U.S. this year to No. 2 behind Margalis, passing Olympic and world championships veterans Ella EastinKathleen Baker and Madisyn Cox. Of those swimmers, only Eastin was also in Thursday’s final.

Walsh joined her younger sister, Gretchen, in Olympic qualifying position based on 2019 times. Gretchen, 16, ranks fourth in the U.S. in the 100m free this year. The top six in that event at trials are in line to make the Olympic 4x100m free relay pool.

The Walshes could become the third set of sisters to make the same U.S. Olympic swim team, and the second to do it in pool swimming after Dana and Tara Kirk in 2004.

Foster, 18, continued his ascent Thursday in taking second to Kalisz in the men’s 200m IM. The world junior champion lowered his personal best in the prelims and the final, getting down to 1:57.59. Foster passed Ryan Lochte, who is nearly twice his age, in Thursday’s final and in the 2019 U.S. rankings. Only Kalisz and Michael Andrew have been faster among Americans this year.

Foster is trying to become the youngest U.S. Olympic male swimmer since 2000, when a 15-year-old Michael Phelps made his Olympic debut. Foster, who has been breaking Phelps national age-group records since he was 10, committed to the University of Texas in March 2018, two years before he graduates high school in Ohio.

Then there’s Kieran Smith, now a prime candidate to fill a huge void in the 400m freestyle. Zane Grothe is the only American ranked in the top 20 in the world this year.

Smith, a 19-year-old from the University of Florida, took 2.29 seconds off his lifetime best on Thursday to jump from outside the top 10 to No. 2 in the U.S. on the year. Smith was already ranked No. 2 in the country in the 200m free.

Two more runners-up in the 50m freestyles — Erika Brown to Manuel and Zach Apple to Brazilian Bruno Fratus — lowered personal bests to move to No. 3 in each U.S. ranking list this year.

The U.S. Open continues Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m. ET with live coverage on NBCSN and streaming on NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app.

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Nathan Chen distances Yuzuru Hanyu in Grand Prix Final short program

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A brilliant Nathan Chen outscored a flawed Yuzuru Hanyu for a fourth straight head-to-head program, taking a 12.95-point lead at the Grand Prix Final in Turin, Italy, on Thursday.

Chen, the two-time reigning world champion, tallied 110.38 points going into Saturday’s free skate. He landed a quadruple Lutz, triple Axel and quad toe loop-triple toe loop combination.

It’s the highest short program score in the world this season, leading the American to say “wow” in the kiss-and-cry area. His coach, the often-gruff Rafael Arutyunyan, banged his knee against his pupil’s.

Hanyu, the two-time reigning Olympic champion, hit a quadruple Salchow and triple Axel but then stepped out of a quad toe landing. He therefore failed to include a required jumping combination and ended up in second place.

“I wanted to do a great performance and do a good competition against [Chen], but that didn’t happen this time,” Hanyu, who was without longtime coach Brian Orser, or any other coach, said through a translator. Hanyu said Orser was busy last week, so he chose to use his lone accreditation on another coach who had travel delays.

Hanyu is not out of title contention. His world-leading free skate score this season is 16.61 points better than Chen’s best free skate from the fall Grand Prix Series.

Chen is undefeated since placing fifth at the PyeongChang Olympics, but this is just his second head-to-head with Hanyu in that span. Chen defeated Hanyu at March’s world championships, where the Japanese megastar was likely affected by an ankle injury.

After Thursday’s program, Chen repeated what he said before the competition: he still feels like he’s chasing Hanyu.

“Yuzu is like the goat, he’s the greatest of all time, really,” Chen said. “So, to have this opportunity to be able to share the ice with a guy like that, someone that I’ve looked up to for a long time, someone that I’ve watched grow up through the junior ranks when I was like a baby, it’s really cool to be able see him now. It’s really cool to even just be able to see him person.”

The Grand Prix Final, the biggest annual event outside the world championships, continues Friday with the rhythm dance, women’s short and pairs’ free skate. A full TV and live stream schedule is here.

Earlier in pairs, Chinese Sui Wenjing and Han Cong took their first step toward a first Grand Prix Final title. The Olympic silver medalists tallied 77.50, leading Russians Aleksandra Boikova and Dmitriy Kozlovskiy by .85 going into Friday’s free skate.

Sui and Han were imperfect, with Sui putting her hand down on a throw triple flip landing. They are undefeated in this Beijing Olympic cycle and own the world’s top total score this season.

The U.S. failed to qualify a pair for the six-team Final for the 11th time in the last 12 years.

Grand Prix Final
Men’s Short Program
1. Nathan Chen (USA) — 110.38
2. Yuzuru Hanyu (JPN) — 97.43
3. Kevin Aymoz (FRA) — 96.71
4. Dmitriy Aliyev (RUS) — 88.78
5. Alexander Samarin (RUS) — 81.32
6. Jin Boyang (CHN) — 80.67

Pairs’ Short Program
1. Sui Wenjing/Han Cong (CHN) — 77.50
2. Aleksandra Boikova / Dmitriy Kozlovskiy (RUS) — 76.65
3. Daria Pavliuchenko/Denis Khodykin (RUS) — 75.16
4. Anastasia Mishina/Aleksandr Galliamov (RUS) — 71.48
5. Peng Cheng/Jin Yang (CHN) — 69.67
6. Kirsten Moore-Towers/Michael Marinaro (CAN) — 67.08

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