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Aaron Blunck wins surprise gold in crash-filled ski halfpipe

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Television commentators described the Aspen X Games ski halfpipe as “the most infamous pipe in the sport.” And for good reason.

In Friday night’s first run, Canada’s Noah Bowman was the only skier out of 11 to land cleanly. In the second run, just American Aaron Blunck and Miguel Porteous of New Zealand stayed upright.

Blunck’s second-run score was good enough to earn him the gold medal, followed by Porteous and Bowman.

“It’s just hard conditions out here for everyone,” Blunck, who finished seventh at the Sochi Games as a 17-year-old, said to reporters afterwards. “It was really icy and it was really fast, so with that everybody was going so big, which makes them get a little bit closer to the deck.”

The 2014 Winter Olympic medalists struggled in the Aspen ski halfpipe. 2014 Olympic champion David Wise finished last, while 2014 Olympic bronze medalist Kevin Rolland of France was eighth. 2014 Olympic slopestyle silver medalist Gus Kenworthy was 10th, one spot ahead of Wise.

Earlier on Friday, the 2014 Olympic medalists claimed the top three spots in women’s ski halfpipe. 2014 Olympic runner-up Marie Martinod of France won X Games gold. At 32, she was the oldest skier in the competition. After her first run, she removed her gloves to show the message “#WOMEN” written in permanent marker on her hands.

Ayana Onozuka, the 2014 Olympic bronze medalist from Japan, finished second, followed by 2014 Olympic champion Maddie Bowman of the United States. Three U.S. skiers—Devin Logan, Brita Sigourney and Annalisa Drew—claimed the three spots after Bowman.

Max Parrot successfully defended his X Games gold medal in men’s snowboard big air. Marcus Kleveland of Norway finished second, followed by Canada’s Mark McMorris.

It was the 12th medal of McMorris’ decorated X Games career. McMorris has missed the podium just once in his 13 X Games starts—when he finished fourth in big air in 2011.

MORE: Shaun White has worst X Games finish since 2000

Gregorio Paltrinieri swims second-fastest 1500m freestyle in history

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Olympic champion Gregorio Paltrinieri swam the second-fastest 1500m freestyle in history, clocking 14:33.10 in his native Italy on Thursday.

Paltrinieri, 25, missed Chinese Sun Yang‘s world record from the 2012 Olympics by 2.08 seconds.

The Italian now owns the second- and third-fastest times in history, including his 14:34.10 from the 2016 European Championships, also held at the 2012 Olympic pool in London.

Paltrinieri is a versatile distance swimmer. At last year’s world championships, he finished sixth in the open-water 10km to qualify for the Olympics, then won the 800m free in the pool in a European record time and finished with 1500m bronze, just missing a third straight world title in that event.

German Florian Wellbrock won the 1500m in 14:36.54 at worlds, with Paltrinieri finishing 2.21 seconds back.

Sun, 28, was in February banned eight years stemming from destroying a drug-test sample with a hammer in September 2018. Sun, who focused more on the 200m and 400m frees in recent years, did not race the 1500m at the 2017 or 2019 Worlds.

Top-level swim meets in the U.S. are scheduled to resume in November with the Tyr Pro Series.

MORE: Michael Phelps qualifies for first Olympics at age 15

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Bianca Andreescu to miss U.S. Open

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Bianca Andreescu withdrew from the U.S. Open, citing “unforeseen challenges, including the Covid pandemic” compromising her ability to prepare to defend her Grand Slam title.

“I have taken this step in order to focus on my match fitness and ensure that I return ready to play at my highest level,” Andreescu, a 20-year-old Canadian, posted on social media. “The US Open victory last year has been the high point of my career thus far and I will miss not being there. However, I realize that the unforeseen challenges, including the Covid pandemic, have compromised my ability to prepare and compete to the degree necessary to play at my highest level.”

Andreescu’s absence means the U.S. Open, the first Grand Slam tournament since tennis resumed amid the coronavirus pandemic, will be without both 2019 male and female singles champions.

Rafael Nadal previously announced he would not defend his title, saying he would rather not travel given the global situation. Roger Federer is also out after knee surgery. Women’s No. 1 Ash Barty didn’t enter, either, citing travel concerns.

Last year, Andreescu made her U.S. Open title run as the 15th seed, sweeping Serena Williams in the final. Ranked 208th a year earlier, she became the first player born in the 2000s to win a Slam and the first teen Slam winner since Maria Sharapova at the 2006 U.S. Open.

Andreescu then missed the Australian Open in January due to rehab from a knee injury that forced her to retire during a match at the WTA Finals on Oct. 30. She also missed the French Open and Wimbledon in 2019 following a rotator cuff tear.

MORE: Serena Williams, reclusive amid pandemic, returns to tennis competition

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