Shaun White
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Shaun White, snowboarders open Olympic qualifying

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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

Daniel Romanchuk’s ascent to marathon stardom accelerated at University of Illinois

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The rise of Daniel Romanchuk has been one of the major stories of this Paralympic cycle. The wheelchair racer was eliminated in the first round of all five of his races in Rio.

But now, he’s the world’s best marathoner with a 6-foot-10 wingspan, a world-record holder on the track and already qualified for the Tokyo Games.

Romanchuk, born with spina bifida, was profiled by NBC Sports Chicago as part of a series of NBC Sports Regional Networks pieces published this week — marking 150 days until the Tokyo Olympics and six months until the Tokyo Paralympics.

NBC RSN Olympic and Paralympic Profiles
NBC Sports Bay Area

Abbey Weitzeil (Swimming) — LINK

NBC Sports Boston
Margaret Bertasi (Rowing) — LINK
Abbey D’Agostino Cooper (Track and Field) — LINK

NBC Sports Chicago
Ryan Murphy (Swimming) — LINK

NBC Sports Northwest
Galen Rupp (Marathon) — LINK
Mariel Zagunis (Fencing) — LINK

NBC Sports Philadelphia
Vashti Cunningham (Track and Field) — LINK
Julie Ertz (Soccer) — LINK

NBC Sports Washington
Katie Ledecky (Swimming) — LINK
Kyle Snyder (Wrestling) — LINK

Romanchuk, 21, swept the Boston, London, Chicago and New York City Marathon titles in 2019. He attributes that success to his native Baltimore and his training residence of the University of Illinois.

At age 2, he was enrolled in Baltimore’s Bennett Blazers, an adaptive sports program for children with physical disabilities. Tatyana McFadden, a 17-time Paralympic medalist who dominated women’s wheelchair marathons, also began her career there.

“Their motto is to teach kids they can before they’re told they can’t,” Romanchuk said.

Things really blossomed for Romanchuk after he moved from Baltimore to the University of Illinois. Illinois was designated a U.S. Paralympic training site in 2014 and has produced McFadden, Jean Driscoll and other U.S. Paralympic stars.

“Without this program, I certainly would not be where I am,” Romanchuk said. “It’s a very unique combination of coaching and teammates.”

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MORE: Ten Paralympic hopefuls to watch for 2020 Tokyo Games

Chloé Dygert wanted to be Steve Prefontaine. Then Larry Bird. Now, her coach.

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Chloé Dygert is the U.S.’ top cyclist, an Olympic medalist and world champion in line to race on the track and the road at the Tokyo Games.

To get to this point — leading the American contingent at the world track cycling championships this week — Dygert was kicked off a soccer team, bribed by her father and, when she thought her career was over, enrolled in 5 a.m. classes to get back on the bike.

“I had no interest in being a cyclist. I did not want to be a cyclist,” she said. “The funny thing is, my dad kept getting me bikes.”

It began in Brownsburg, Ind., a 25,000-person town 15 miles northwest of Indianapolis. Dygert had an older brother, younger brother and a BMX dirt bike track on a 4.5-acre property.

She played soccer, but was moved from the girls’ team to the boys. Dygert developed physically earlier than the other girls. And, “I was a little too mean and aggressive,” she said.

She played basketball but broke too many bones — her own and those of other girls. “Not on purpose,” she said, “but I was just so much bigger and naturally so much stronger.”

Dygert ran cross-country, too, but none of those sports worked out.

“I was going to be Steve Prefontaine,” she said of the fabled 1972 Olympian. “I had some injuries, and I started playing basketball. I was going to be Larry Bird. I had some more injuries, and cycling was just kind of my go-to.”

Dygert, at first reluctant, picked up cycling at the urging of her father, David, a mountain biker. She received bikes for Christmas and her New Year’s birthday, but it wasn’t until later, when she was 15, that her father’s words changed her life.

That summer, when Dygert needed a shoulder surgery from a basketball injury, she went for a ride at a local park with her father. David marveled.

“He said, ‘Chloe, I don’t think a girl your age should be able to put out the power that you’re putting out,'” Dygert remembered. “That kind of stuck with me and got me into wanting to ride a little bit more and seeing where I could go with it.”

David lured her: a pair of Oakleys if Dygert won at her first major competition. She entered junior nationals and grabbed a victory.

“That’s kind of what gave me the motivation to keep going,” she said. “It took me a while to actually love the sport. It definitely was not an interest that I had. But I thrive on winning. I love to win.”

Dygert pursued cycling, but she didn’t stop basketball. Everything changed when she tore an ACL on the court at age 17, a nine-month injury. She never returned to competitive basketball, but she also lost motivation to get back on the bike. Again, David urged her. One last time.

She joined the cycling team at Marian University, a private Catholic school in Indianapolis. David signed her up for 5 a.m. classes.

“I’m still not happy about it,” she said. “I got really disciplined.”

And reinvigorated. The freshman Dygert noticed in a power booster class that her wattage was impressive.

“If it wasn’t for that and the structure and the discipline that I had gotten from that and my dad, I would not be here,” she said. “There’s not a day that goes by, I’m just so thankful for that and for him.”

Dygert dropped out after that first fall semester to focus on a cycling career. That winter, she won a world title with the U.S. team pursuit and was named to become the youngest female U.S. Olympic track cyclist in history.

“I see myself being a Kristin Armstrong, following in her footsteps, being a good all-around rider and a very good time trialist,” Dygert said before earning team pursuit silver at the Rio Olympics, according to The Associated Press.

Armstrong earned her third Olympic road time trial title in Rio, a day before turning 43. She retired and transitioned from Dygert’s mentor to her coach. Dygert recently moved to Armstrong’s native Idaho.

On the eve of September’s world road cycling championships time trial, Armstrong told Dygert to make sure she hurt more than any other rider on the 18-mile course. Dygert obeyed. She went out and won by 92 seconds, the largest margin in history, to become the youngest world champion ever in the event. She collapsed onto the pavement getting off her bike.

“I didn’t race with a power meter,” Dygert said that day, “and I think that really helped not restricting myself, just kind of going as fast as I could the entire time and not really have anything to gauge it off of.”

It qualified Dygert for the Tokyo Olympics on the road. The track team hasn’t been named, but Dygert will surely anchor a new team pursuit quartet. The U.S. has never won an Olympic women’s track title, but the pursuit has been its trademark event — world titles in 2016, 2017 and 2018. Olympic silver medals in 2012 and 2016.

The only woman on both of those Olympic teams retired (Sarah Hammer).

The cycling community was floored when Kelly Catlin, on all three world title teams with Dygert, committed suicide last March at age 23.

“It’s definitely hard not having her there, but we will carry her legacy on,” Dygert said. “She will be with us every step of the way when we win gold in Tokyo.”

The U.S. women’s team pursuit finished seventh at last year’s worlds without Catlin and without Dygert, who sat out nearly a year after a May 2018 concussion from a road crash. Dygert wondered if she might not be able to come back from the head injury. Expectations were tempered when she and a new team entered a November World Cup in Belarus.

A coach predicted nothing faster than 4 minutes, 17 seconds. They clocked 4:13 and won in what Dygert believed was the U.S.’ second-fastest time since the Rio Games.

“We’ve never raced together before,” Dygert said. “We didn’t really know what we would be able to do.”

Dygert is bidding to race in three events in Tokyo — road race (July 26), road time trial (July 29) and team pursuit (Aug. 3-4). People compare combining the road and the track to training for both the sprints and the marathon. The plurality of the focus will be on the time trial and follow the path set by Armstrong.

“We’re going to be smart about which event that we choose to be full gas for so my fitness is still there for all the other events,” Dygert said. “Being fit for the time trial will also correlate for the track.”

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MORE: Full list of U.S. athletes qualified for Tokyo Olympics