Chloe Kim wins, Shaun White third to open Olympic qualifying (video)

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Chloe Kim and Shaun White took strong steps toward making the U.S. Olympic halfpipe team on Saturday.

Kim won the first Pyeongchang qualifier at Copper Mountain, Colo., while White finished third (and second among Americans).

They’ve met the qualifying minimum for automatic Olympic selection — a top-three finish in one of the four selection events — but haven’t clinched spots yet.

Kim landed a 1080 en route to her 93.75-point winner on her first of three runs, leading a U.S. podium sweep with fellow 17-year-old Maddie Mastro (90.75) and 2002 Olympic champion Kelly Clark (83.75).

“I almost cried,” Kim said after collapsing to the ground in the finish corral. “I’m OK. My mascara’s still on.”

Kim, who won seven straight contests from January 2016 to January 2017, has reclaimed her dominance after a stretch last season when she lost three straight events (and had a trip to the ER in South Korea among them).

Kim’s accolades include youngest Winter X Games halfpipe champion (age 14 in 2015), the only woman to score a perfect 100 and the only woman to land back-to-back 1080s.

She would have made the 2014 Olympic team but didn’t meet the age minimum.

Olympic silver medalist Ayumu Hirano won the men’s event with 95.25 points on Saturday. He launched a frontside 1440 indy into a cab double cork 1080 mute to frontside 1260 indy, according to the International Ski Federation (FIS).

The Japanese rider attempted to become the first man to land back-to-back 1440s in his last run, according to commentators, but washed out.

Ben Ferguson was second with 89.75, followed by White with 89.25.

White, bidding to make his fourth Olympic team after two significant preseason crashes, landed a 1260 and a 1440 in his third and final run but did not improve his standing.

“I really thought that I was going to bump up my score in my third run with the [1440], double [1080] and a double [1260], so I’m a little bit disappointed,” White said, according to FIS.

Ferguson, 22 and the 2016 X Games silver medalist, is in very strong position to make his first Olympic team.

Copper Results: Men | Women

No more than three men and three women can clinch Olympic berths via one top-three finish among the four qualifiers, so tiebreakers could come into play. The tiebreaker is best two finishes, so a pair of wins seals the deal and a first and a second would likely be enough, too.

The U.S. Olympic halfpipe teams can include up to four men and four women, depending on how U.S. Ski & Snowboard decides to allocate its snowboarding quota spots across all disciplines. The last male and female spot would be via discretionary selection by a committee.

The U.S. Grand Prix Olympic qualifier at Copper Mountain concludes with snowboard big air finals Sunday.

The next snowboard halfpipe qualifier is next week at Breckenridge, Colo.

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MORE: Shaun White details crash that led to 62 stitches

U.S. Olympic Qualifying Standings
Snowboard Halfpipe
1. Ben Ferguson — 1000*
2. Shaun White — 800*
3. Danny Davis — 600
4. Gabe Ferguson — 500
5. Chase Josey — 450

1. Chloe Kim — 1000*
2. Maddie Mastro — 800*
3. Kelly Clark — 600*
4. Arielle Gold — 500
5. Elena Hight — 450

*Has automatic qualifying minimum of one top-three result.

U.S. Grand Prix at Copper Mountain Finals
Saturday

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

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

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

Chock, Bates charge to second U.S. title; Hubbell, Donohue charge the wrong way

Madison Hubbell, Zach Donohue
AP
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GREENSBORO, N.C. – Evan Bates, who had just won his second U.S. ice dance title with partner Madison Chock, put it best.

“Ice dance is a strange sport in some ways,” he said.

Chock and Bates have had their share of unusual mishaps in their near 10-year career, but on Saturday night at the 2020 U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Greensboro, North Carolina, everything was smooth sailing.

The couple’s exotic “Egyptian Snake Dance” free dance went off without a hitch, gaining the highest possible levels for nearly all of its elements and impressing judges with its intricacy, synchronization and striking lifts. It earned 134.23 points, giving the Montreal-based team the win with 221.86.

“It was (our coach Marie-France Dubreuil’s) idea for me to be a snake, and Evan a traveler who finds me,” Chock said of the routine. “It was just such a fun process, cool new characters for us to dive into, and we’ve really been enjoying it. It shows when we skate.”

Greensboro has been lucky for the skaters, who teamed up in 2011; they won their first U.S. title here in 2015. The five-year title gap is the longest in history for U.S. ice dance champions.

“It feels longer than five years,” Chock said with a breezy laugh. “It feels so much has changed, and in us as people as well (as dancers). We’re in a very good place, we could not be happier with the way the season has been going.”

If Chock’s humor was lighthearted, Madison Hubbell’s can only be described grim.

Hubbell and her partner, Zach Donohue, trailed their long-time rivals and Montreal training partners by about 1.3 points following Friday’s rhythm dance. A stellar outing of their Star is Born free dance might have won a third consecutive U.S. title; instead, it became a living nightmare.

“Out of the first element, the dance spin, we got turned around somehow and came out the wrong direction,” Hubbell said. “The next four elements, which are pretty valuable elements, all were facing the wrong direction.”

(Video available here for NBC Sports Gold subscribers; Hubbell and Donohue skate at the 1:06:50 mark.)

Not until their fifth element, a step sequence, did the skaters get back on track. In between, there was a world of hurt, likely unnoticed by many members of the audience but readily apparent to the judges, who had seen the free dance in  practice.

“Our twizzle sequence, it’s a high-scoring element, is supposed to charge right at the judges, and today it charged away from them,” Hubbell said. “In the rotational life, there’s a large leg flare that looks very cool going the opposite direction, and today I just opened my crotch right in front of the judges.”

The score was far from disastrous; Hubbell and Donohue’s 130.88 points for their “wrong-way” free dance gave them 217.19 overall. But it was a missed opportunity to show judges, and fans, the improvements they had made to A Star Is Born since the Grand Prix Final in December.

“It was probably one of the hardest performances, and not the most enjoyable,” Hubbell said. “It was a really thoughtful focus on the elements, and somehow putting one portion of the brain aside to fix things as best we could.”

The silver medal was Hubbell and Donohue’s first. They also won bronze medals in 2012, and 2015-17.

Kaitlyn Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker, whose rhythm dance to Saturday Night Fever stole the show on Friday, felt their Flamenco-style free dance didn’t pack the same punch.

“Yesterday was such a high for us, in terms of (audience) reaction and performance, that tonight didn’t have the same euphoria when we finished,” Hawayek said. “Both Jean-Luc and I see the potential for it being much higher than what we were able to put out today.”

Despite the disappointment, the third team in the Montreal troika earned 118.57 points and won a second consecutive bronze medal with 201.16.

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NATIONALS: TV/Live Stream Schedule | Full Results

As a reminder, you can watch the events from the 2019-20 figure skating season live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. Go to NBCsports.com/gold/figure-skating to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season. NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.

Coco Gauff eliminated from Australian Open by Sofia Kenin

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Coco Gauff‘s run at the Australian Open ended in the round of 16, foiled by fellow American Sofia Kenin on Sunday.

Kenin ousted the 15-year-old phenom 6-7 (5), 6-3, 6-0 to reach her first Grand Slam quarterfinal. Gauff, too, was bidding for her first major quarterfinal after a sterling seven months ignited by her march to the Wimbledon fourth round.

Gauff, ranked No. 684 this time last year, will near the top 50 after the Australian Open. She beat Venus Williams in the first round at Wimbledon and the Australian Open and took out defending Australian Open champion Naomi Osaka in the third round on Friday.

Gauff’s play catapulted her to fifth in U.S. Olympic singles qualifying, but she has half the points as fourth-place Madison Keys, and a country can’t qualify more than four players in singles. The Olympic field will be determined by the WTA rankings after the French Open in June.

The 14th seed Kenin, who beat Serena Williams in the 2019 French Open third round, ranks second behind Williams in U.S. Olympic qualifying. She will face No. 27 Wang Qiang or Ons Jabeur in the quarterfinals.

Kenin and Alison Riske are the two remaining U.S. women in the draw.

AUSTRALIAN OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women

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