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Chloe Kim’s winning streak at stake at X Games

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Olympic favorite Chloe Kim puts a year-long halfpipe winning streak on the line at Winter X Games on Saturday night.

Kim, 16, goes for her third straight title in Aspen, Colo., and her eighth straight halfpipe victory overall. The streak started at last year’s X Games, where Kim scored 95 points to easily top Olympian Arielle Gold, who tallied 85.

Kim continued to rack up comfortable victories since (runner-up’s score):

2016 Park City Grand Prix — 100 points (Maddie Mastro, 92)
2016 Youth Olympics — 96.5 points (Emily Arthur, 90)
2016 X Games Oslo — 98 points (Kelly Clark, 82.33)
2016 U.S. Open — 89.37 points (Cai Xuetong, 82.99)
2016 Copper Mountain Grand Prix — 95.5 points (Liu Jiayu, 91)
2017 Laax Open — 90.5 points (Arielle Gold, 86.5)

Kim was a budding prodigy four years ago. She had not yet competed at the X Games, but at 13 years old she performed well enough at 2014 Olympic qualifying to be a podium contender in Sochi. Alas, Kim was too young to compete in those Winter Games.

She has since won back-to-back X Games halfpipes, unseating Kelly Clark, a three-time Olympic medalist and the greatest female snowboarder of all time. Clark was the last rider to beat Kim, at Kim’s native Mammoth Mountain, Calif., on Jan. 24, 2016.

“Definitely not, I wasn’t expecting it at all,” Kim said of her overwhelming success. “I always looked up to Kelly and [2010 Olympic champion] Torah Bright and Arielle Gold when I was like, 10.”

Clark didn’t win back-to-back X Games titles until she was 28 years old. Shaun White didn’t repeat until he was 22 years old.

Neither Clark nor White ever entered the Olympics winning all of their contests in the previous two years, which Kim could very well accomplish.

For now Kim is focused on X Games, keeping media commitments to a minimum in Aspen this week. The invited riders list includes all but one of the runners-up to Kim during her seven-contest streak.

Kim’s parents emigrated from South Korea, host of the 2018 Olympics, and she grew up in a Korean-speaking household. Kim and her father, Jong Jin, began snowboarding at the same time.

“Chloe was 4, I was 48,” he said last fall. “I was better than her, maybe one year. Right about a year later, she passed me.”

She has since passed everyone else.

NBC Olympic researcher Rachel Thompson contributed to this report.

MORE: Mark McMorris, after horrible injury, eyes 2 Olympic golds

*Correction: An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated that the U.S. Grand Prix at Mammoth Mountain, Calif., in February is an Olympic qualifier. It is for ski and snowboard slopestyle and snowboard slopestyle, but not snowboard halfpipe.

Major League Baseball sponsors U.S. Olympic softball team

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NEW YORK (AP) — Major League Baseball is using its financial muscle to support the U.S. women’s softball team, which already is assured a spot in the Tokyo Olympics while the American men’s baseball team struggles to qualify.

MLB announced an agreement Thursday to become presenting sponsor of the women’s “Stand Beside Her” tour, a slate of exhibition games leading up to the Olympic tournament from July 22-28.

“We’re both bat and ball sports. Even though we’re not the same sport, there are so many similarities that you just can’t ignore,” said Kim Ng, MLB’s senior vice president for baseball operations. “It was important for us to make sure that they have this acknowledgment and recognition of their ability and their talent.”

Softball began as an Olympic sport for the 1996 Atlanta Games. The U.S. won gold medals in 1996, 2000 and 2004 with players that included Dot Richardson, Jennie Finch and Jessica Mendoza, then lost to Japan in the 2008 gold-medal game.

Baseball and softball were dropped for the next two Olympics, then restored for this year, when the U.S. and Japan will be joined by Australia, Canada, Italy and Mexico for games in Fukushima and Yokohama but not Tokyo. The sports are likely to be dropped for 2024 in Paris but could return four years later in Los Angeles.

The U.S. men’s baseball team stumbled in its first attempt to qualify, wasting a ninth-inning lead against Mexico in the final game of the Premier12 tournament in November and losing in the 10th. The U.S. has two more chances to join Israel, Japan, Mexico and South Korea in the Olympic field: an Americas tournament in Arizona from March 22-26 and a final tournament in Taiwan from April 1-5.

MLB is not allowing players on 40-man big league rosters to compete in qualifying, and few top pitching prospects were at the November tournament.

Softball has no such issues. The Olympics are the sport’s highest-profile event.

“The platform for us is 10 times bigger,” American outfielder Haylie McCleney said. “For us, it’s a great opportunity for people that have never watched softball before, people that have only followed it at the collegiate level, to really see how fun our game is to watch, how pure it is. If people are baseball fans, I guarantee they’re going to love softball because it’s pretty much just a faster game – it’s shorter, it’s quicker, it’s more entertaining to watch, in my opinion.”

The 2008 gold-medal softball game took 1 hours, 45 minutes — less than half the 3:45 average for this year’s World Series.

As part of the deal with MLB, the softball team’s official training facility will be at the Jackie Robinson Training Complex in Vero Beach, Florida, the old Dodgertown spring training camp.

MLB Network will include programming from the tour, which currently starts Feb. 4 in Tampa and has about three dozen stops.

The U.S. women’s soccer team has attracted huge television audiences. MLB sees softball as an opportunity for the sport’s growth.

“These are world-class athletes,” Ng said. “Because we have not been in the Olympics for the last 12 years, they just haven’t had that stage. So it’s really important at this point that we show as much support as we can for them.”

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MORE: U.S. athletes qualified for Tokyo Olympics

Rafael Nadal advances at Australian Open; American back on Slam stage

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Rafael Nadal joined Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic in the Australian Open third round, sweeping Argentine Federico Delbonis 6-3, 7-6 (4), 6-1 on Thursday.

Nadal, whose lone Australian Open title came in 2009, gets countryman Pablo Carreno Busta in Saturday’s third round. He could face No. 23 Nick Kyrgios of Australia in round four, but neither Federer nor Djokovic until the final.

No. 4 Daniil Medvedeva and No. 2 Karolina Pliskova and No. 4 Simona Halep were also winners Thursday. Friday’s third-round action is headlined by defending champion Naomi Osaka facing 15-year-old U.S. phenom Coco Gauff.

AUSTRALIAN OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women

The only top-20 seed to lose Thursday was No. 20 Karolina Muchova of the Czech Republic. American CiCi Bellis bounced her 6-4, 6-4.

This was a big deal for Bellis: Two full years and four right arm operations have come and gone since she was last healthy enough to participate in a Grand Slam tournament.

Bellis was something of a teen prodigy. In her very first tour-level match, at age 15 at the 2014 U.S. Open, she stunned 12th-seeded Dominika Cibulkova, an Australian Open runner-up, to become the youngest American to win a match at Flushing Meadows in 28 years.

She reached No. 35 in the rankings at 17, when she won WTA Newcomer of the Year honors.

Then came the series of health problems, including for torn tendons in her wrist, to shorten a bone in her arm and for bone spurs in her elbow. All the time away from the tour has her at No. 600 in the rankings currently, but she was able to get into the draw in Australia via the protected ranking rule.

In other action, U.S. Open runner-up Medvedev  found himself seated in the nosebleed section at Margaret Court Arena, even though he was playing his second-round match there.

That’s because the No. 4-seeded Russian found himself dealing with something he said happens to him a couple of times each year: a nosebleed.

Medvedev blotted his nose with a towel and then was treated by a trainer while his 7-5, 6-1, 6-3 over Spanish qualifier Pedro Martinez was delayed for more than five minutes late in the second set.

“Can happen to me sometimes. Doesn’t usually happen during the match, so I had to stop (playing). Usually takes like four minutes — three, four minutes. … But it’s nothing,” Medvedev said.

MORE: Another top U.S. tennis player cools on Olympics

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