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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.

Simone Biles returns to the gym, going from mental drain to physical pain

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For Simone Biles, this was supposed to be the stretch run of a legendary career.

Instead, she returned to her gym on May 18 with long-term thoughts of waiting 14 months until the Tokyo Olympics. And the immediate aches of a world-class gymnast who just missed nearly two months of regular training.

“After that amount of time off, it kind of sucks because your body hurts and then you get really sore,” Biles said in a pre-recorded ESPNW interview that aired Thursday. “So you just have to get back into the swing of things. But it felt nice to see my coaches, my teammates, and just to be back on the equipment and in the environment.”

In that same Texas gym three months ago, Biles had a far different outlook. One that would have put fear into any gymnast who still harbored ambition of ending her near-seven-year win streak.

“I never felt more ready this early in the season,” she said. “I was so ready for the Olympics to be this year.”

Biles repeated in interviews the last two months that the Olympic postponement to 2021 was devastating. Thoughts zig-zagged: How do I go on another year, at age 23, in a sport recently dominated by (but not limited to) teenagers?

“I’m getting pretty old,” she said in the interview published Thursday. “Will I be at the top of my game?”

Biles proved the last two years — after a year off — that she can win — and comfortably — while not at her best. She grabbed the 2018 World all-around title by a record margin — with two falls. Last year, she became the most decorated gymnast in world championships history. In Tokyo, she can become the first woman to repeat as Olympic all-around champion, and the only one older than 20, in more than 50 years.

This for a gymnast whose early goal was to earn a college scholarship. Biles did, to UCLA, but had to give it up by turning professional.

“So I’ve exceeded that,” Biles said. “And then I wanted to go to world championships and Olympics, and I’ve been to five worlds and one Olympic Games. So, I’d be more than happy [to walk away].”

After gymnastics, Biles has another goal — to be a voice for foster kids. She was in foster care multiple times before being adopted at age 6 by grandparents Ron and Nellie.

Those plans, along with so much else for Biles and so many others, have been pushed back a full year.

“I was already being mentally drained and almost, not done with the sport, but just going into the gym and feeling tired and being like, OK, I’m going to get my stuff [done], get out,” she said. “We have this one end goal, and now that it’s postponed another [year], it’s just like, how are we going to deal with that? We’re already being drained, and so it’s to keep the fire in the sport within yourself alive.”

MORE: Top U.S. gymnasts disagree with Tokyo Olympic age rule

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2022 Pan Pacific Championships canceled as swimming calendar shifts

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The Pan Pacific Swimming Championships, a quadrennial major international meet, will not be held in 2022 “out of respect for the recent changes to the international sporting calendar,” according to a press release.

The Pan Pacs’ charter nations — the U.S., Australia, Canada and Japan — agreed to the move. The 2026 event will be held in Canada, which was supposed to be the 2022 host.

The decision came after the 2021 World Championships were moved to May 2022, following the Tokyo Olympics moving from 2020 to 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic. The quadrennial multi-sport Commonwealth Games — which includes Australia and Canada, but not the U.S. or Japan — are scheduled for July 27-Aug. 7, 2022.

“Organizing a third major championships in that window presented several challenges,” according to the Pan Pacs release.

Pan Pacs mark the third-biggest major international meet for U.S. swimmers, held in non-Olympic, non-world championships years.

MORE: Caeleb Dressel co-hosts a podcast. It’s not about swimming.

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