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Alex Ferreira wins Olympic qualifier, crowds U.S. ski halfpipe standings

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BRECKENRIDGE, Colo. — U.S. Olympic qualifying is more than halfway done for the men’s freeski halfpipe team, and the picture remains crowded.

On Friday, Alex Ferreira boosted his chances of making his first Olympic team after winning Dew Tour Breckenridge, which served as the third U.S. selection event for ski halfpipe.

Ferreira’s winning run was full of amplitude and featured four doubles, including double cork 1260s spun in both directions.

One of the more demonstrative skiers in the field, an exuberant Ferreira whipped his ski poles around his head in celebration is he rode into the corral. “Oh my god, that was glorious!” he exclaimed after one of his runs.

“I’ve been working on that run since two years ago,” Ferreira said afterwards. “I just wanted to land the run, I didn’t care about the results. To be able to do that — hands down, best day of my life. It was my best halfpipe run ever.”

Finishing behind him was 2014 Olympian Aaron Blunck, who made his mark by showcasing a diverse array of technical tricks.

The final podium spot was claimed by France’s Kevin Rolland. The Sochi Olympic bronze medalist put his signature amplitude on display and was the only rider to land a double cork 1440.

It’s the first podium finish of the U.S. Olympic qualifying season for both Blunck and Ferreira. Skiers need a minimum of two top-three results in order to be eligible for automatic selection to the team, so they’re halfway there with two qualifiers left.

Up to three skiers can earn automatic spots on the team. Should more than three skiers get two podium finishes, then the team will be determined by a ranking list that factors in each skier’s two best results.

So far, six U.S. men have a top-three result at one of the selection events. No one has hit the two-podium minimum yet though.

Ferreira and 2014 Olympians David Wise and Torin Yater-Wallace have each won one of the selection events, putting them one victory away from confirming their nominations to the Olympic team. (Yater-Wallace was fourth in Breckenridge, Wise was 10th.)

However, accomplishing that feat is easier said than done.

“Sometimes I almost think it would be harder to make the Olympic team than do well in the Olympics,” Ferreira said. “It’s not easy stuff.”

The skiers will now have to wait until January for the final two Olympic qualifiers.

“These next couple months are definitely going to be pretty stressful,” Blunck said. “But I think Alex and I are both going at it with a grain of salt. We’re trying not to think about it as Olympic qualifiers, because at the end of the day, it’s still skiing for us and we’re enjoying our time out there.”

Breckenridge also hosted the third Olympic qualifier for the women’s halfpipe team.

Although U.S. women made up five of the eight skiers in the final, Maddie Bowman was the only one who finished on the podium. It’s a huge boon to the Olympic hopes of the reigning gold medalist, as she has now fulfilled the minimum criteria of two top-three finishes.

Bowman showed her technicality be spinning 900s in both directions during her run, but she ended up in third behind Canada’s Cassie Sharpe and France’s Marie Martinod, the 2014 Olympic silver medalist.

Sharpe and Martinod are both considered gold medal contenders for PyeongChang.

“I’m really excited because I feel like I’m really starting to break through on my grabbing,” a confident Bowman said. “I’m excited to go to the camp and work on that for the next events coming up.”

While she hasn’t mathematically confirmed her spot yet, a lot would have to happen for Bowman not to make the Olympic team.

Aside from Bowman, Devin Logan remains the only other U.S. woman with a top-three finish at a selection event.

Another podium at either of the final two contests could ultimately lock her into a spot. For the rest of the hopefuls, they will need to get on the podium at both of those events. Otherwise, the final spots will be awarded at the discretion of the coaching staff.

Breckenridge will also host selection events for ski slopestyle and snowboard halfpipe and slopestyle this weekend.

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MORE: U.S. athletes qualified for Olympic team

Olympic Qualifying Standings
Ski Halfpipe 
(through three of five events)
1. Torin Yater-Wallace — 150*
2. David Wise — 132*
3. Aaron Blunck — 130*
4. Alex Ferreira — 122*
5. Gus Kenworthy — 104*

1. Maddie Bowman — 140**
2. Devin Logan — 130*
3. Annalisa Drew — 95
4. Brita Sigourney — 90
5. Carly Margulies — 72
**Has automatic qualifying minimum of two top-three results.
*Has one top-three result.

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.

Maria Sharapova appears set to miss Tokyo Olympics

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Maria Sharapova, who would have a difficult time qualifying for the Olympics next year, committed to play an event in California the week of the Tokyo Games.

Sharapova is scheduled to play World Team Tennis matches in California during the Olympic tennis events in late July, according to a press release. Sharapova’s longtime agent hasn’t responded to a message seeking confirmation that she is ruling out the Tokyo Games.

Sharapova, 32 and the 2012 Olympic silver medalist, was barred from the Rio Games due to her 15-month meldonium suspension in 2016 and 2017. That alone could rule her ineligible for Tokyo, given the World Anti-Doping Agency’s sanctions against Russia on Monday.

Sharapova is ranked No. 131 after a season shortened by shoulder surgery. She would have to be among the top four ranked Russian women after the French Open in June for possible automatic Olympic qualification. She is currently the 14th Russian.

Olympic eligibility rules include minimum participation requirements in Fed Cup, which Sharapova hasn’t done in this Olympic cycle, though exceptions can be made.

Sharapova’s passion for the Olympics is well documented.

She carried the Russian flag into the London 2012 Opening Ceremony and carried the Olympic flame into Fisht Stadium at the Sochi 2014 Opening Ceremony, where she worked for NBC Olympics.

“It was the one thing that my parents allowed me to watch on TV late into the evening was the Olympics,” Sharapova said in 2017. “I grew up watching figure skating and hockey and a little bit of tennis. … Just capturing the Opening Ceremonies and seeing all the countries and the little hats that they wore, and I, as a little girl, I just imagined that maybe it would be me. But I never, ever thought that I would be carrying the flag.

“I received that [flag] honor in a text message, which is a very Russian way of communicating. I originally thought it was a joke, a big fat joke. Then I showed it to my mother, and she [said], no, they probably wouldn’t joke like that.”

In February 2016, Sharapova entered a Fed Cup tie, despite saying she was injured, in order to receive Olympic eligibility. One month later, her failed drug test was announced.

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Russia banned from Olympics, world champs for 4 years; athletes could compete as neutrals

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Russia is banned from the next two Olympics and other major sports events for four years, though its athletes could still compete without representing the country if cleared by anti-doping authorities.

Russia’s hosting of world championships in Olympic sports also face being stripped after the World Anti-Doping Agency executive committee approved a full slate of recommended sanctions for tampering with a Moscow laboratory database.

Russian athletes will be allowed to compete in major events — including world championships — only if they are not implicated in positive doping tests or their data was not manipulated, according to the WADA ruling. “In this circumstance, they may not represent the Russian Federation,” according to a WADA release.

“While I understand the calls for a blanket ban on all Russian athletes whether or not they are implicated by the data, it was the unanimous view of the CRC [compliance review committee], which includes an athlete, that in this case, those who could prove their innocence should not be punished, and I am pleased that the WADA ExCo [executive committee] agreed with this,” WADA CRC chairman Jonathan Taylor said.

There are 145 unnamed athletes within WADA’s “target group of most suspicious athletes” from 2012-15 who would not be allowed to compete at the Olympics, Taylor said, adding that it’s possible those names will be made public. About one-third of them are still active.

Russia’s anti-doping agency can appeal the decision within 21 days. Russia previously signaled it would appeal the ruling.

“The decision will come into effect only when it becomes final ie when either RUSADA accepts it or it is upheld by the Court of Arbitration for Sport,” a WADA spokesperson said in an email.

Russia avoided blanket bans for the Rio and PyeongChang Olympics after a state-run doping program was exposed by media and WADA investigations after Russia hosted the 2014 Sochi Winter Games.

Approved Russian athletes competed as neutrals — “Olympic Athletes from Russia” — including in team sports in PyeongChang. Those Russians combined to earn two gold medals (figure skater Alina Zagitova and men’s hockey) and 17 overall, compared to the leading 33 Russia earned at the Sochi Olympics before medals were stripped for doping.

“Will Russian athletes be accepted as Olympic Athletes from Russia?” during the ban, Taylor said. “No, they are neutral athletes, which means not representatives of any country. Not representatives of Russia.”

Going forward, “they cannot use the name of the country in the name of the team,” WADA president-elect Witold Bańka told The Associated Press.

Two of the 168 Russians who competed in PyeongChang failed drug tests and were punished for doping.

More recent evidence shows that Russian authorities tampered with a Moscow laboratory database to hide hundreds of potential doping cases and falsely shift the blame onto whistleblowers, WADA investigators and the International Olympic Committee said last month. “Flagrant manipulation” of the Moscow lab data was “an insult to the sporting movement worldwide,” the IOC said last month.

“Russia was afforded every opportunity to get its house in order … but it chose instead to continue in its stance of deception and denial,” WADA president Craig Reedie said.

Russia will be allowed to participate in the Youth Olympics in Lausanne, Switzerland, that open Jan. 9.

WADA’s inability to fully expel Russia from the Tokyo Olympics and 2022 Beijing Winter Games frustrated the doping watchdog’s vice president.

“I’m not happy with the decision we made today. But this is as far as we could go,” said Linda Helleland, a Norwegian lawmaker who serves on WADA executive committee and has long pushed for a tougher line against Russia. “This is the biggest sports scandal the world has ever seen. I would expect now a full admission from the Russians and for them to apologize on all the pain all the athletes and sports fans have experienced.”

Although the IOC has called for the strongest possible sanctions, it wants those sanctions directed at Russian state authorities rather than athletes or Olympic officials.

“To allow Russia to escape a complete ban is yet another devastating blow to clean athletes, the integrity of sport and the rule of law,” USADA CEO Travis Tygart said in a statement. “And, in turn, the reaction by all those who value sport should be nothing short of a revolt against this broken system to force reform.”

Russia’s Olympic champion women’s handball team is currently competing at the world championships in Japan. Its next match is Tuesday against Montenegro. Russia has been the scheduled host for the world luge championships in Sochi in mid-February.

The “major sports” events that fall under WADA’s sanctions do not include European Championships or other non-world championships events such as tennis’ upcoming Australian Open.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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