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Shaun White leads U.S. snowboarders, freeskiers eyeing Olympic spots in Aspen

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It was a rare sight. A U.S. Olympic halfpipe snowboarding qualifier without Shaun White in the final.

That’s what happened at the second of four selection events in Breckenridge, Colo., last month. White was 14th in qualifying when he needed to be top 12.

White’s focus turned to this week’s U.S. Grand Prix in Aspen, Colo., the third of four selection events.

NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app will combine to air live coverage of all 10 finals across men’s and women’s snowboard halfpipe and slopestyle and ski halfpipe and slopestyle.

A full live broadcast schedule is at the bottom of this post. NBC and NBCSN will air TV coverage later each day.

White, who was third overall and second among Americans in the first qualifier in December, can only clinch his fourth Olympic berth this week with help (more on qualifying scenarios for all events below).

Still, he’s in strong position to either earn one of three automatic Olympic spots after the last qualifier next week or receive the one committee-chosen selection.

Other U.S. snowboard stars — halfpipe rider Chloe Kim and Sochi slopestyle champ Jamie Anderson — were among the first athletes to clinch Olympic spots last month.

White and 2002 Olympic halfpipe champion Kelly Clark are the two biggest names who can clinch in Aspen.

No freeskiers have clinched Olympic spots yet, but that’s likely to change this weekend.

The fields include Sochi halfpipe gold medalists David Wise and Maddie Bowman and slopestyle champ Joss Christensen, competing for the first time since tearing an ACL and meniscus May 10.

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

Snowboard Halfpipe
Qualifying Standings 
(through two of four events)
1. Ben Ferguson — 1,800* (1st and 2nd)
2. Jake Pates — 1,320* (1st and 8th)
3. Danny Davis — 1,200 (3rd and 3rd)
4. Shaun White — 1,120* (2nd and 8th)
5. Gabe Ferguson — 950 (4th and 5th)
5. Chase Josey — 950 (4th and 5th)

1. Chloe Kim — 2,000* (QUALIFIED)
2. Kelly Clark — 1,400* (2nd and 3rd)
3. Maddie Mastro — 1,300* (2nd and 4th)
4. Arielle Gold — 1,100* (3rd and 4th)
5. Elena Hight — 850 (5th and 6th)
5. Hannah Teter — 850 (5th and 6th)
*Has automatic qualifying minimum of one top-three result.

Men: It’s very likely at least one man clinches an Olympic berth this week. Ben Ferguson is definitely in with a top-two finish among Americans. Pates, the surprising winner of the second qualifier, is definitely in if he’s the top American, though either rider can also qualify with a lower finish and help. White, who missed the final at the second qualifier, will clinch if he’s the top American and if either Pates or Ferguson is the second-best American.

Women: Clark or Mastro joins Kim on the Olympic team if either is the top American finisher. The pressure is rising on Hight, the reigning X Games champion, and Teter, the 2006 Olympic champion, since the team can be no more than four women total.

Snowboard Big Air/Slopestyle (through three of five events)
1. Chris Corning — 2,000* QUALIFIED

2. Red Gerard — 1,800* (1st and 2nd)
3. Chandler Hunt — 1,160* (2nd and 7th)
4. Kyle Mack — 1,000* (2nd and 13th)
5. Judd Henkes — 1,100 (3rd and 4th)

1. Jamie Anderson — 2,000* QUALIFIED
2. Julia Marino — 1,600* (1st and 3rd)
2. Hailey Langland — 1,600* (2nd and 2nd)
4. Jessika Jenson — 1,050 (3rd and 5th)
5. Ty Walker — 1,000 (4th and 4th)
*Has automatic qualifying minimum of one top-three result.

Men: Gerard clinches if he’s the top American, or if Corning is the top American. Neither Hunt nor Mack can clinch this week, even with a win. 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: It looks like all three Olympic medal favorites are going to PyeongChang. Sochi gold medalist Jamie Anderson is in as the top American finisher in the first and third qualifiers. X Games slopestyle champ Marino was the top American in the second qualifier. X Games big air champ Langland was right behind Anderson in the other two. Marino clinches if she’s the top American this week. Langland clinches if she’s the top American and Anderson or Marino is the second American.

Ski Halfpipe (through three of five events)
1. Torin Yater-Wallace — 150* (1st and 4th)
2. David Wise — 132* (1st and 8th)
3. Aaron Blunck — 130* (2nd and 4th)
4. Alex Ferreira — 122* (1st and 12th)
5. Gus Kenworthy — 104* (2nd and 11th)

1. Maddie Bowman — 140** (2nd and 3rd)
2. Devin Logan — 130* (2nd and 4th)
3. Annalisa Drew — 95 (4th and 5th)
4. Brita Sigourney — 90 (4th and 6th)
5. Carly Margulies — 72 (6th and 7th)
**Has automatic qualifying minimum of two top-three results.
*Has one top-three result.

Men: Sochi Olympian Yater-Wallace came back from life support to win the first qualifier in February. Sochi gold medalist Wise silenced doubters by grabbing his first win in three years in the second qualifier, according to TeamUSA.org. Then Ferreira, who didn’t make the 2014 Olympic team, complicated things by winning the third qualifier. If any of them win this week, they qualify for PyeongChang. Kenworthy, the Sochi slopestyle silver medalist trying to make Pyeongchang in both pipe and slope, needs at least one podium this week or next to have a shot at automatic qualification, or else he’ll hope for the spot(s) available via committee decision. Same goes for Blunck, the reigning X Games champ.

Women: The top four in the standings are all Sochi Olympians, but only Sochi gold medalist Bowman has met the minimum criteria of two podium finishes among the first three qualiifers. Bowman clinches an Olympic berth with a win, or if no more than one American other than Logan makes the podium this week.

Ski Slopestyle (women through two of five events; men through one of five)
1. Maggie Voisin — 150* (1st and 4th)
2. Devin Logan — 82 (4th and 8th)
3. Darian Stevens — 81 (5th and 7th)
4. Taylor Lundquist — 52 (7th and 15th)
5. Nadia Gonzales — 28 (14th and 21st)

1. Nick Goepper — 80*
2. Alex Hall — 45
3. Gus Kenworthy — 40
4. Bobby Brown — 32
5. Cody LaPlante — 29
**Has automatic qualifying minimum of two top-three results.
*Has one top-three result.

Men: Goepper will likely clinch with a win in either of the two Aspen finals. Joss Christensen, who led a U.S. podium sweep in Sochi, is expected to return this week from a May 10 ACL and meniscus tear. The U.S. field is loaded with the Sochi medalists Christensen, Kenworthy, Goepper and Brown, plus McRae Williams, the 2017 X Games silver medalist and world champion.

Women: Voisin will clinch her second Olympic berth with a top-two finish in either Aspen final. 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.

 

Aspen Finals (all times Eastern)
Friday
Snowboard Slopestyle — 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m. (NBCSports.com/live, NBC Sports app)
Ski Halfpipe — 3-4:30 p.m. (NBCSports.com/live, NBC Sports app)
NBCSN coverage from 9:30 p.m.-12 a.m.

Saturday
Ski Slopestyle (#1) — 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m. (NBCSports.com/live, NBC Sports app)
Snowboard Halfpipe — 3-4:30 p.m. (NBCSports.com/live, NBC Sports app)

Sunday
Ski Slopestyle (#2) — 3-4:30 p.m. (NBCSports.com/live, NBC Sports app)
NBC coverage from 3-4 p.m. of snowboard halfpipe

NBCSN also airs coverage Monday from 1:30-2:30 a.m. ET and 11 p.m.-midnight and Tuesday at midnight.

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Richard Callaghan, figure skating coach, banned for life

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Richard Callaghan, a figure skating coach best known for helping Tara Lipinski earn 1998 Olympic gold, was ruled permanently ineligible for violations including sexual misconduct involving a minor.

Callaghan can still appeal the sexual misconduct violation, according to the U.S. Center for SafeSport, a watchdog for U.S. Olympic sports organizations that updated Callaghan’s status Wednesday.

He was first suspended in March 2018 pending an investigation into allegations first made against him more than 20 years ago.

Earlier this month, another former skater, Adam Schmidt, said in a lawsuit that he was sexually molested as a teenager by Callaghan starting in 1999.

Callaghan was previously accused of sexual misconduct in April 1999 by Craig Maurizi, one of his former students and later an assistant to him in San Diego and Detroit.

Maurizi told The New York Times that Callaghan had engaged in inappropriate sexual contact with him beginning when he was 15 years old. The alleged misconduct had begun nearly 20 years earlier. Callaghan denied the allegations.

In March 2018, Callaghan told ABC News: “That’s 19 or 20 years ago. I have nothing to say.”

Maurizi’s previous grievance against Callaghan with the U.S. Figure Skating Association, the precursor to U.S. Figure Skating, was dismissed on procedural grounds.

He was Callaghan’s assistant at the Detroit Skating Club until they split after Lipinski turned pro, left Callaghan and decided to train with Maurizi.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Pita Taufatofua, Tonga flag bearer, finishes last in kayak debut

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Pita Taufatofua, the Tonga Olympic flag bearer who went viral in Rio and PyeongChang, began his quest to make a third straight Olympics in a third different sport with a last-place finish in his opening-round heat at the world sprint kayak championships in Hungary on Wednesday.

The start of the heat appeared delayed as Taufatofua struggled to get his kayak into position in the water. He was left at the start as the other six kayakers raced out and finished between 33 and 40 seconds. Taufatofua took 58.19 seconds, the slowest of 53 finishers among seven total heats.

“Well that was slightly better than the first time I competed in Taekwondo or skiing,” was tweeted from Taufatofua’s account. “Would have liked to start facing the right way but that’s life.”

Taufatofua, 35, was the oldest athlete in the heat by nearly a decade. He is also entered in doubles races with Tonga canoe federation president Malakai Ahokava with heats Thursday and Friday.

Taufatofua hopes to compete at the Tokyo Olympics in taekwondo, where he competed in Rio, and in sprint kayak.

But he hasn’t competed in taekwondo in three years and just started training kayak this spring. At worlds, Taufatofua told the BBC he is still having trouble staying afloat in the water.

Taufatofua said in announcing the new sport in April that it would be “largely impossible” to qualify for Tokyo. He could be the first athlete to compete in a different sport in three straight Olympics (Summer and Winter) since the Winter Games began in 1924, according to the OlyMADMen.

“It’s certainly going to be the greatest challenge that I’ve ever had to embark on,” he said then.

Taufatofua’s results at worlds this week has little bearing on his Olympic qualifying prospects. Rather, he just needed to compete in Hungary to stay eligible for the Olympics.

The key will be an Oceania qualifying event early next year, where one Olympic bid is available. He will likely have to beat the best kayakers from Australia and New Zealand to grab it. Australian Stephen Bird placed eighth at the Rio Olympics and 11th at the 2018 World Championships.

If Taufatofua fails, he could receive a special tripartite invitation sometimes offered to smaller nations like Tonga.

Taufatofua became a social-media celebrity by marching into the Rio Olympic Opening Ceremony shirtless and oiled up. He then lost in the first round via mercy rule in his taekwondo tournament.

He made a quixotic bid for the PyeongChang Winter Games in cross-country skiing — and accomplished the feat, barely, in a sport that has lenient qualifying requirements for nations with a lack of Winter Games depth.

Taufatofua finished 114th out of 116 in his 15km Olympic cross-country skiing race, nearly 23 minutes behind the winner.

If Taufatofua is able to carry the Tongan flag at a third Opening Ceremony, he will definitely be shirtless again, in a similar outfit to what he wore in Rio and PyeongChang, he said last year.

MORE: Five-time Olympic kayak medalist banned four years

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