Shaun White, snowboarders open Olympic qualifying

Shaun White
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U.S. Olympic halfpipe snowboarding qualification starts this weekend. Shaun White hopes it goes a little smoother than four years ago — and much smoother than his preseason training.

White is expected to earn one of three automatic Olympic men’s spots once the four-event selection process finishes in mid-January. He’s arguably the Olympic gold-medal favorite.

The two-time Olympic champion will clinch his fourth Winter Games berth if he is the top American in two of the events, starting with a Grand Prix in Copper Mountain, Colo., this week.

White was among the men to advance out of qualifying Thursday. The final is Saturday. A full broadcast schedule is at the bottom of this story.

Realistically, one win and another podium would probably be enough for one of the three spots. The safety net is a potential fourth spot, which would be handed out by a selection committee later in January.

All four men from the 2014 U.S. Olympic team are on the Copper entry list — White, Greg BretzDanny Davis and Taylor Gold. So are three of the women — Kelly ClarkArielle Gold and Hannah Teter — plus 17-year-old star Chloe Kim.

Sochi gold medalist Kaitlyn Farrington retired in 2015 due to a spine condition.

For the men and women, Olympic qualifying is structured the same.

White goes in trying to become the oldest U.S. Olympic men’s halfpipe snowboarder in the sport’s 20-year history at the Winter Games. He was already the oldest U.S. man on the 2010 and 2014 Olympic teams.

He’s back at the top of his sport.

White competed just once after his fourth-place finish in Sochi until December 2015. He changed coaches, underwent surgery on his long troublesome left ankle and dropped both slopestyle and his band.

The new White was 11th at January’s Winter X Games — his worst finish there since 2000 — but then finished first, second and first in his last three events of the 2016-17 season.

He peaked at the finale, the U.S. Open in Vail, Colo. White landed a cab double cork 1440 and a double McTwist 1260 in one run for the first time, according to The Associated Press.

Significant crashes curtailed training before this season.

In early September, White badly bruised his hip and his liver in New Zealand, which caused him to urinate blood. Doctors told him to take a few weeks off.

Then in October, White needed 62 stitches across his forehead, lips and tongue after a faceplant on a double flip 1440.

White is no stranger to this kind of thing, especially in an Olympic season.

In 2013-14, he withdrew before his season opener with an ankle injury from a training crash. Then he withdrew during the first Olympic selection event with a left ankle sprain. Finally, he spent a few minutes lying on the ground after this crash one month before the Olympics.

This week’s event in Copper also marks the second Olympic selection event for snowboard big air/slopestyle and ski halfpipe.

Olympic qualifying for snowboard big air/slopestyle is the same as halfpipe, except there are five total selection events instead of four and the automatic Olympic berths put riders in two Olympic events. Slopestyle makes its second Olympic appearance in Pyeongchang; big air its first.

The first big air/slopestyle qualifier was last season, when 17-year-old Red Gerard and Sochi slopestyle champion Jamie Anderson grabbed wins. If either is the top American in Sunday’s big air finals, they clinch an Olympic berth in both big air and slopestyle.

In ski halfpipe, Sochi gold medalist Maddie Bowman and Torin Yater-Wallace were the top Americans in the first selection event last season. If Yater-Wallace wins Friday, he clinches his second Olympic berth, while Bowman can all but wrap one up with a victory.

One skier who won’t qualify for Pyeongchang this week (or next week) is Gus Kenworthy. Perhaps the world’s most famous freeskier was second to Yater-Wallace in the first selection event last season but failed to advance out of qualifying Wednesday.

Olympic freeskiing and snowboarding qualifying continues in Breckenridge, Colo., next week.

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MORE: Shaun White details crash that led to 62 stitches

U.S. Grand Prix at Copper Mountain Finals
Friday

Ski Halfpipe
1 p.m. ET — NBCSports.com/live, NBC Sports app — LIVE

Saturday
Snowboard Halfpipe
1 p.m. ET — NBCSports.com/live, NBC Sports app — LIVE
4 p.m. ET — NBC, NBCSports.com/live, NBC Sports app

Ski Halfpipe
1 p.m. ET — NBC, NBCSports.com/live, NBC Sports app

Sunday
Snowboard Big Air
1 p.m. ET — NBCSports.com/live, NBC Sports app — LIVE
8 p.m. ET — NBCSN, NBCSports.com/live, NBC Sports app

Kelly Cheng, Sara Hughes, beach volleyball’s new sensation, win World Tour Finals

Kelly Cheng, Sara Hughes
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In just a few months since reuniting, Kelly Cheng and Sara Hughes have become not just the best women’s beach volleyball team in the U.S., but also, arguably, the world.

Cheng and Hughes, former partners who got back together for a 2024 Olympic run, won the World Tour Finals for the biggest title for a U.S. pair since April Ross and Alix Klineman took gold in Tokyo.

The 27-year-old Californians swept reigning world champions Duda and Ana Patricia of Brazil 21-18, 21-16 in Sunday’s final in Doha.

Cheng and Hughes have entered four tournaments since reuniting last fall and won all of them — once on the domestic AVP tour and now three international events.

They are rolling into the start of the 2024 Olympic qualifying window next week. It’s likely that the top two U.S. women’s pairs across international events over the course of the next 18 months qualify for the Paris Games.

Cheng and Hughes were previously NCAA champion teammates at USC, then the most promising, young U.S. pro team before splitting in 2018. Cheng made the Tokyo Olympics with Sarah Sponcil (lost in the round of 16), while Hughes’ Tokyo bid flamed out when partner Summer Ross suffered a back injury in 2019.

“It was a lot of the unknown and being young and kind of immature and listening to maybe outside forces and not really knowing how to deal with things as well,” Hughes said in October of their past breakup. “We’ve pretty much moved past that in our relationship. Moving forward with one another, we’re completely different players, and we’re a lot more mature. It feels like the right time. The past is past. We’re just moving forward.”

Cheng and Hughes have taken over from April Ross and Klineman as the top U.S. team. After winning Olympic gold, Klineman underwent shoulder surgery in January 2022 and last week announced she is pregnant and may return from childbirth for a “last-second” 2024 Olympic qualifying bid.

April Ross, a 40-year-old with an Olympic medal of every color, last competed in March, then withdrew before June’s world championships, where she was entered with Emily Day, with an unspecified injury. She has not announced if or when she plans to return to competition.

The U.S. earned at least one beach volleyball medal at every Olympics that the sport has been on the program (since 1996), and a men’s or women’s gold at all but one Olympics. Eighteen months out from the Paris Games, Cheng and Hughes are the best hope to keep the podium streak going.

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Germany opens bobsled worlds with double gold; Kaillie Humphries gets silver

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Germans Laura Nolte and Johannes Lochner dethroned the reigning Olympic and world champions to open the world bobsled championships in St. Moritz, Switzerland, this weekend.

Nolte, the Olympic two-woman champion driver, won the four-run monobob by four tenths of a second over American Kaillie Humphries, who won the first world title in the event in 2021 and the first Olympic title in the event in 2022. Another German, Lisa Buckwitz, took bronze.

In the two-man, Lochner became the first driver to beat countryman Francesco Friedrich in an Olympic or world championships event since 2016, ending Friedrich’s record 12-event streak at global championships between two-man and four-man.

Friedrich, defeated by 49 hundredths, saw his streak of seven consecutive world two-man titles also snapped.

Lochner, 32, won his first outright global title after seven Olympic or world silvers, plus a shared four-man gold with Friedrich in 2017.

Swiss Michael Vogt drove to bronze, one hundredth behind Friedrich. Geoff Gadbois and Martin Christofferson filled the top American sled in 18th.

Americans Steven Holcomb and Steven Langton were the last non-Germans to win a world two-man title in 2012.

Bobsled worlds finish next weekend with the two-woman and four-man events.

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