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Sildaru exudes ‘madness and grace’ in X Games ski slopestyle for gold

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In 2016, at just 13, Kelly Sildaru walked off with her very first X Games gold, and the record as the youngest Winter X Games medalist ever. One year later, Estonia’s slopestyle star was back breaking more records in Aspen.

Already pocketing X Games big air silver on Saturday night, Sildaru put up a leaderboard-topping 92.33 in her first run in women’s ski slopestyle on Sunday, followed by Tess Ledeux of France and Giulia Tanno of Switzerland.

The solid scoring of the first round would not carry over into the second set, however, with the field unable to land a run to unseat the Estonian. Tess Ledeux hung on to win silver, while Norway’s Johanne Killi improved upon her first run to jump over Tanno to take the bronze.

Fellow Estonian and Cincinnati Bengals defensive end, Margus Hunt even showed his support for his fellow countrywoman on Twitter as he watched from home.

For Sildaru, she leaves Aspen with two medals – gold in women’s ski slopestyle and silver in big air. If that were not enough, she also became the first X Games athlete to win two golds before turning 15-years-old when she successfully defended her 2016 slopestyle title.

Next February, on Day 9 of the 2018 PyeongChang Olympic Games, Sildaru will celebrate her 16th birthday, and if the X Games are any indication, the party should be super sweet.

Later on the mountain, three M’s lead the men’s X Games snowboard slopestyle final going into the final run. Norway’s Marcus Kleveland and two Canadians – favorite Mark McMorris and X Games vet Max Parrot. Despite heavy movement in the silver and bronze medal positions, no one could come close to the Norwegian on Sunday.

The 17-year-old Kleveland unseated Canada’s Mark McMorris, the defending X Games snowboard slopestyle champ and 2014 Olympic slopestyle bronze medalist, to win his first X Games gold. Looking for a storybook ending in his final run, McMorris landed his second jump clean, but switched the direction of his approach going into his final trick – likely invisible to the unknowing eye. The adjustment was enough of a misstep for the judges to deduct points, costing him a shot at gold.

Tyler Nicholson of Canada crashed the podium on his second run, knocking Norway’s Stale Sandbech down a peg to third, barely allowing Sandbech enough time to catch his breath after he had just landed in silver position on his own follow-up run.

Unfortunately for Sandbech, McMorris’ first run score was a couple points better, keeping the four-time X Games snowboard slopestyle gold medalist on the 2017 podium for bronze.

In addition to his slopestyle gold, Kleveland won silver under the lights on Friday night in the men’s snowboard big air event, landing an off-axis quadruple cork – a first in X Games history.

Justin Morneau nixes Olympic baseball qualifying return

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Justin Morneau, the 2006 AL MVP with the Minnesota Twins, was taken off Canada’s Olympic baseball qualifying roster before he would have played his first competitive game in more than two years.

Morneau, 38, experienced an unspecified setback in training and was replaced on Canada’s roster for next month’s Premier12. The global tournament marks the first opportunity for many world baseball powers to qualify for the sport’s return to the Olympics.

Morneau never played in the Olympics before baseball was cut from the Games after 2008; active MLB players have never competed in the Games. But he was on Canada’s roster at all four World Baseball Classics from 2006 through 2017.

At November’s Premier12, the top nation from North and South America will qualify for the Tokyo Olympics. Japan and Israel are already qualified. Those that do not qualify will get another chance next year.

Morneau could become the second Major League Baseball MVP to play Olympic baseball as a medal sport. The other was Jason Giambi, who made the U.S. team in 1992, the same summer he was drafted in the second round by the Oakland Athletics.

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Kolohe Andino is first U.S. Olympic surfing qualifier; Kelly Slater faces last chance

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Kolohe Andino is the first American to qualify for surfing’s Olympic debut, which leaves one spot left for 47-year-old Kelly Slater to chase at the final contest of the season.

Andino, a 25-year-old Californian whose first name means “rascal” in Hawaiian, clinched his place in Tokyo on Friday at the penultimate stop on the World Surf League Championship Tour in Portugal. He is ranked fifth in the world, trailing a trio of Brazilians.

One more American man will join Andino on the Olympic team. It will be one of Slater, the 11-time world champion, John John Florence, the 2016 and 2017 World champion, and rising 22-year-old Hawaiian Seth Moniz.

Slater was handed a golden opportunity to qualify when Florence announced in early July that he tore an ACL for the second time in 13 months. Florence had won two of the first five events this season.

Slater has been chasing the sidelined Florence in the standings ever since. But it has not been easy.

Slater hasn’t made the quarterfinals in any of his last seven contests going into December’s finale — the prestigious Billabong Pipeline Masters on the North Shore of Oahu.

“Ninth place, to me, used to be a pretty awful result. I’m used to at least a quarterfinal on for most of my career,” he said in July, noting a back injury. “I’m not horrified by my results, but I’m also not surprised. Maybe other people are because everyone focuses on my age and that kind of thing. It’s not like I’m going to all of a sudden forget how to do this thing, you know?”

Slater, who won the Pipe Masters seven times between 1992 and 2013, must reach the quarterfinals at this year’s event to have any chance of passing Florence to qualify for the Olympics.

Complicating matters: Florence said in August it was his “goal to get better for Pipeline in case I have to come back and compete and gain points,” according to ESPN.com. If Florence does return for the December contest, and makes the quarterfinals, Slater could only pass him with a victory.

Moniz goes into the finale ranked one spot behind Slater, meaning he, too, can grab that second and final Olympic spot with a win or a runner-up.

Slater, who turns 48 on Feb. 11, would be the oldest U.S. Summer Olympic rookie competitor in a sport other than equestrian, sailing or shooting (or art competitions!) in the last 100 years, supplanting Martina Navratilova, according to the OlyMADMen.

MORE: Top U.S. surfer has links to Egg McMuffin, Guinness World Record holder

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