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