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U.S. Olympic snowboard, freestyle skiing qualifying heats up this week

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It’s likely that the first members of the U.S. Olympic snowboard and freestyle skiing teams will emerge from Breckenridge, Colo., this weekend.

Snowboard and ski halfpipe and slopestyle finals are Friday and Saturday, streamed on DewTour.com.

The following athletes will qualify for Pyeongchang with a win in Breckenridge (and might still qualify with a lesser result) as the selection season hits the halfway point:

Ben Ferguson (snowboard halfpipe)
Chloe Kim 
(snowboard halfpipe)
Chris Corning (snowboard slopestyle)
Red Gerard (snowboard slopestyle)
Jamie Anderson (snowboard slopestyle)
Julia Marino 
(snowboard slopestyle)
David Wise (ski halfpipe)
Torin Yater-Wallace (ski halfpipe)
Maddie Bowman (ski halfpipe)
Devin Logan (ski halfpipe)
Maggie Voisin (ski slopestyle)

An event-by-event look at U.S. Olympic qualifying going into Breckenridge:

Snowboard Halfpipe
Qualifying Standings 
(through one of four events)
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.

Men: Ben Ferguson, the 2016 Winter X Games silver medalist, was the surprise top U.S. man at the first Olympic qualifier last week, edging the favorite and two-time Olympic champion White. Ferguson makes the Olympic team if he’s the top American this week, while White would have all but clinched his fourth Olympic trip if he was the top American, but he failed to make the final.

Women: Like Ferguson, Kim will make her first Olympic team with a win this week. She would have made the Sochi roster but was too young at age 13. The two-time X Games champ led a U.S. podium sweep last week with Mastro and the 2002 Olympic champion Clark, who are now the favorites to claim the three automatic Olympic berths available in qualifying. A fourth rider could be chosen via committee after qualifying ends. The U.S. women are so deep that it’s likely two of these three will not make it — 2006 Olympic champion Hannah Teter, 2017 X Games champion Hight and Sochi Olympian Gold.

Snowboard Slopestyle/Big Air
Qualifying Standings 
(through two of five events)
1. Red Gerard — 1400*
2. Chris Corning — 1200*
3. Chandler Hunt — 1160*
4. Kyle Mack — 1000*
5. Judd Henkes — 1000

1. Jamie Anderson — 1800*
2. Julia Marino — 1600*
3. Hailey Langland — 1300*
4. Jessika Jenson — 1050
5. Nora Healey — 950
*Has automatic qualifying minimum of one top-three result.

Men: The first two qualifiers produced very different results. Gerard won the opener last winter but was 12th last week. Corning was 37th last winter and second last week as the top American. It’s really wide open given no U.S. man has made an X Games Aspen podium in slopestyle or big air since 2012, and Sochi Olympic champion Sage Kotsenburg has retired.

Women: In contrast to the men, the U.S. has three medal contenders. All of them have performed well so far in qualifying. Sochi slopestyle gold medalist Anderson and X Games big air champ Langland went one-two at the first qualifier in February. Marino, the X Games slopestyle champ, was second last week as the top American. It would be a surprise if anybody else snatched one of the three automatic Olympic spots from them.

Ski Halfpipe 
Qualifying Standings 
(through two of five events)
1. Torin Yater-Wallace — 145*
2. David Wise — 132*
3. Gus Kenworthy — 94*
4. Aaron Blunck — 82
5. Taylor Seaton — 64*

1. Maddie Bowman — 125*
2. Annalisa Drew — 95
3. Brita Sigourney — 90
4. Devin Logan — 81*
5. Carly Margulies — 72
**Has automatic qualifying minimum of two top-three results.
*Has one top-three result.

Men: Sochi gold medalist Wise silenced doubters last week by grabbing his first win in three years, according to TeamUSA.org. Sochi teammate Yater-Wallace came back from life support to win the first qualifier in February. Their victories put the pressure on reigning X Games champion Blunck and Kenworthy, the Sochi slopestyle silver medalist trying to make Pyeongchang in both pipe and slope. Like in snowboard, three automatic berths are available and a committee could put a fourth man on the team via discretionary selection.

Women: Olympic silver medalist Marie Martinod won the first two qualifiers, but she’s French. Sochi champ Bowman was second in February; Logan, the Sochi slopestyle silver medalist, was second last week. The top four in the standings are all Sochi Olympians.

Ski Slopestyle
Qualifying Standings 
(through one of five events)
1. Maggie Voisin — 100*
2. Devin Logan — 50
3. Darian Stevens — 45
4. Taylor Lundquist — 36
5. Keri Herman — 22
**Has automatic qualifying minimum of two top-three results.
*Has one top-three result.
Dew Tour will be the first men’s ski slopestyle qualifier.

Men: The men weren’t able to overcome poor weather at the first scheduled ski slopestyle qualifier in February. Olympic gold medalist Joss Christensen, who led a U.S. podium sweep in Sochi, remains sidelined from competition after a May 10 ACL and meniscus tear but plans to return for the next qualifier in January. The top American last season was McRae Williams, who missed the Sochi team. Williams won silver at X Games in January and gold at the world championships in March.

Women: Voisin won the first qualifier in February, putting her in strong position to make a second Olympic team. She would have been the youngest U.S. competitor across all sports in Sochi, but Voisin fractured her right fibula in practice the day of the Opening Ceremony. No U.S. woman made the podium at either of the last two X Games, but the two-time reigning X Games champ Kelly Sildaru of Estonia will miss the Olympics due to knee surgery.

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Breckenridge Finals (all times Eastern)
Friday
Men’s Ski Halfpipe — 11 a.m.-12:15 p.m.
Women’s Ski Halfpipe — 12:45-1:30 p.m.
Men’s Snowboard Halfpipe — 2:30-3:45 p.m.
Women’s Snowboard Halfpipe — 4:15-5 p.m.

Saturday
Women’s Snowboard Slopestyle — 11-11:45 a.m.
Men’s Snowboard Slopestyle — 12:15-1:30 p.m.
Men’s Ski Slopestyle — 2:30-3:45 p.m.
Women’s Ski Slopestyle — 4:15-5 p.m.

Correction: An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated that Joss Christensen is competing at Breckenridge.

Major League Baseball sponsors U.S. Olympic softball team

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NEW YORK (AP) — Major League Baseball is using its financial muscle to support the U.S. women’s softball team, which already is assured a spot in the Tokyo Olympics while the American men’s baseball team struggles to qualify.

MLB announced an agreement Thursday to become presenting sponsor of the women’s “Stand Beside Her” tour, a slate of exhibition games leading up to the Olympic tournament from July 22-28.

“We’re both bat and ball sports. Even though we’re not the same sport, there are so many similarities that you just can’t ignore,” said Kim Ng, MLB’s senior vice president for baseball operations. “It was important for us to make sure that they have this acknowledgment and recognition of their ability and their talent.”

Softball began as an Olympic sport for the 1996 Atlanta Games. The U.S. won gold medals in 1996, 2000 and 2004 with players that included Dot Richardson, Jennie Finch and Jessica Mendoza, then lost to Japan in the 2008 gold-medal game.

Baseball and softball were dropped for the next two Olympics, then restored for this year, when the U.S. and Japan will be joined by Australia, Canada, Italy and Mexico for games in Fukushima and Yokohama but not Tokyo. The sports are likely to be dropped for 2024 in Paris but could return four years later in Los Angeles.

The U.S. men’s baseball team stumbled in its first attempt to qualify, wasting a ninth-inning lead against Mexico in the final game of the Premier12 tournament in November and losing in the 10th. The U.S. has two more chances to join Israel, Japan, Mexico and South Korea in the Olympic field: an Americas tournament in Arizona from March 22-26 and a final tournament in Taiwan from April 1-5.

MLB is not allowing players on 40-man big league rosters to compete in qualifying, and few top pitching prospects were at the November tournament.

Softball has no such issues. The Olympics are the sport’s highest-profile event.

“The platform for us is 10 times bigger,” American outfielder Haylie McCleney said. “For us, it’s a great opportunity for people that have never watched softball before, people that have only followed it at the collegiate level, to really see how fun our game is to watch, how pure it is. If people are baseball fans, I guarantee they’re going to love softball because it’s pretty much just a faster game – it’s shorter, it’s quicker, it’s more entertaining to watch, in my opinion.”

The 2008 gold-medal softball game took 1 hours, 45 minutes — less than half the 3:45 average for this year’s World Series.

As part of the deal with MLB, the softball team’s official training facility will be at the Jackie Robinson Training Complex in Vero Beach, Florida, the old Dodgertown spring training camp.

MLB Network will include programming from the tour, which currently starts Feb. 4 in Tampa and has about three dozen stops.

The U.S. women’s soccer team has attracted huge television audiences. MLB sees softball as an opportunity for the sport’s growth.

“These are world-class athletes,” Ng said. “Because we have not been in the Olympics for the last 12 years, they just haven’t had that stage. So it’s really important at this point that we show as much support as we can for them.”

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MORE: U.S. athletes qualified for Tokyo Olympics

Rafael Nadal advances at Australian Open; American back on Slam stage

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Rafael Nadal joined Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic in the Australian Open third round, sweeping Argentine Federico Delbonis 6-3, 7-6 (4), 6-1 on Thursday.

Nadal, whose lone Australian Open title came in 2009, gets countryman Pablo Carreno Busta in Saturday’s third round. He could face No. 23 Nick Kyrgios of Australia in round four, but neither Federer nor Djokovic until the final.

No. 4 Daniil Medvedeva and No. 2 Karolina Pliskova and No. 4 Simona Halep were also winners Thursday. Friday’s third-round action is headlined by defending champion Naomi Osaka facing 15-year-old U.S. phenom Coco Gauff.

AUSTRALIAN OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women

The only top-20 seed to lose so far Thursday was No. 20 Karolina Muchova of the Czech Republic. American CiCi Bellis bounced her 6-4, 6-4.

This was a big deal for Bellis: Two full years and four right arm operations have come and gone since she was last healthy enough to participate in a Grand Slam tournament.

Bellis was something of a teen prodigy. In her very first tour-level match, at age 15 at the 2014 U.S. Open, she stunned 12th-seeded Dominika Cibulkova, an Australian Open runner-up, to become the youngest American to win a match at Flushing Meadows in 28 years.

She reached No. 35 in the rankings at 17, when she won WTA Newcomer of the Year honors.

Then came the series of health problems, including for torn tendons in her wrist, to shorten a bone in her arm and for bone spurs in her elbow. All the time away from the tour has her at No. 600 in the rankings currently, but she was able to get into the draw in Australia via the protected ranking rule.

In other action, U.S. Open runner-up Medvedev  found himself seated in the nosebleed section at Margaret Court Arena, even though he was playing his second-round match there.

That’s because the No. 4-seeded Russian found himself dealing with something he said happens to him a couple of times each year: a nosebleed.

Medvedev blotted his nose with a towel and then was treated by a trainer while his 7-5, 6-1, 6-3 over Spanish qualifier Pedro Martinez was delayed for more than five minutes late in the second set.

“Can happen to me sometimes. Doesn’t usually happen during the match, so I had to stop (playing). Usually takes like four minutes — three, four minutes. … But it’s nothing,” Medvedev said.

MORE: Another top U.S. tennis player cools on Olympics

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