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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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VIDEO: Shaun White’s crash that led to 62 face stitches

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Jordan Thompson, U.S. volleyball’s new weapon, took unique route to NCAA history

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It was about this time last year that Jordan Thompson first appeared on the radar of U.S. women’s volleyball coach Karch Kiraly. Since, Thompson emerged as the youngest starter, and arguably a star, for the national team.

She goes into what could be her final weekend of college volleyball as one of the most dominant athletes in any sport. And one of the most unique stories in NCAA history.

Thompson plays not for a Big Ten or Pac-12 powerhouse, but for Cincinnati, a school that, before she arrived, never made it past the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

The unranked Bearcats upset second-ranked Pittsburgh in the second round last Saturday. They play Penn State, winner of six of the last 12 NCAA titles, in the Sweet 16 on Friday.

In 33 games this season, Thompson has registered a Division I-leading 768 kills, which is 143 more than the next most prolific attacker. That margin of 143 is the same number that separates No. 2 from No. 31.

Last season, she had 827 kills, which was 240 more than anybody else and a single-season record (by 112 kills) since NCAA match formats shifted from 30-point to 25-point sets in 2008.

She is a contender, if not a favorite, to be AVCA National Player of the Year. All of the previous winners dating to 1985 came from schools that reached at least one Final Four.

On Oct. 4, a UCF player’s face caught the wrong end of a Thompson attack. Cincinnati teammates watching from the bench dropped to the floor in astonishment.

Thompson tallied 50 kills in one match alone on Nov. 3, becoming the first D-I player to do so in 20 years.

That happened on Senior Day. Before that match, Thompson received a plaqued No. 23 jersey and flowers.

She posed for a photo standing with her husband, former Cincinnati offensive lineman Blake Yager, her mother, Mary, whose bribes helped Thompson develop into an attacker, and her father, 1990s Harlem Globetrotter Tyrone Doleman (and brother of Pro Football Hall of Famer Chris Doleman).

Mary has been most instrumental, raising Thompson as a single mom in Minnesota. Thompson, who is 6 feet, 4 inches now, was always tall for her age.

She played youth basketball against older girls and grew frustrated by the physical contact. Kneepads weren’t comfort enough. She decided to give volleyball a try in middle school.

“She was very timid,” Mary said of her daughter, who has since gotten 10 tattoos, including one of a hummingbird. “She would tell me she didn’t want to hurt anyone on the other side of the net. I told her I would give her a dollar for every time she would whack it. And I would give her $10 if she would actually hit someone on the other end of the court.”

It took a while, but Thompson was motivated by her love of horses. The payouts from her mom went toward a saddle and a bridal. A box with horse equipment remains in the family garage back home.

“She was trying to build up her supplies to be able to one day say to me, look, I’ve got a saddle, I’ve got all of my tack, I’ve got stuff to clean the hooves, can we get a horse now?” Mary said. 

After just two years of club volleyball, Thompson received her first Division-I scholarship offer. It came from Syracuse. Thompson was a high school sophomore.

“In the back of my head, I’m thinking, I’m never going to get another offer, so I better take this one,” she said.

Thompson was intent on Syracuse for a year before a coaching change led her to decommit. She wasn’t sure if many schools knew she had reopened her recruiting. A Minnesota club teammate had committed to Cincinnati and suggested Thompson take a visit.

The Bearcats went 3-29 the season before she committed.

“I said, Jordan, you can play D-I at Texas. You can go to Nebraska,” Mary said. “She was like, no, no, I want to play all four years. I actually want to get playing time, mom. She really struggled believing how good she could be.”

The biggest obstacle came junior year. In a preseason training session, Thompson collided with that Minnesota club teammate, Jade Tingelhoff, and tore the UCL in her dominant, right arm. She was in an armpit-to-wrist brace for two months post-Tommy John surgery, including three weeks with her arm locked in place.

She couldn’t brush her hair, had a hard time brushing her teeth and found it difficult showering and getting dressed.

She still went to every Bearcats game and traveled with the team. Cincinnati went from 22-10 her sophomore season to 13-19 that year without her on the court.

“It ended up being OK,” Tingelhoff said. “She came back that next season — I’m not kidding — 10 times as better than she was even the previous year.”

As a redshirt junior, Thompson and her 827 kills helped Cincinnati to a 26-8 record and its first NCAA Tournament win in seven years. She also caught the eye of Kiraly by the end of that 2018 season.

“She was one of the elite players in all of college volleyball,” he said. “Probably the only one who came from a conference other than the ones known for producing the most NCAA champions, like the Big Ten and the Pac-12.”

By last spring break, Thompson had become a favorite of U.S coaches at a camp to help select teams for summer international tournaments.

She had a one-on-one conversation with Kiraly, the only person to own Olympic indoor and beach gold medals. The legend told her she had potential to play at the Pan American Games. Later, he upped the praise to say she was ready for the top-level Nations League, a precursor to Olympic qualifying.

Thompson made her national team debut in May. By August, she came off the bench to help spur a comeback in a crucial Olympic qualifying match. The next day, she was in the starting lineup for the U.S.’ final Olympic qualifier, where the Americans clinched a Tokyo 2020 berth.

“I think a lot people don’t know she is still in college,” two-time U.S. Olympic outside hitter Jordan Larson said then. “She still has one more year left.”

Agents reached out, but Thompson had no intention of giving up her final year of NCAA eligibility. She wanted to make history at Cincinnati. That was secured with the Sweet 16 berth.

With the new year, she will trade the Cincinnati red and black for Team USA colors. She will keep in mind what the U.S. coaching staff told the team during Olympic qualifying and what she called a dream summer.

“My big goal in life was I just wanted to be in the USA gym,” said Thompson, who is working on her master’s in criminal justice. “To hear that we’re all working towards this goal of trying to make this roster, and we are being looked as potential players to make that roster, my jaw dropped. To know that it’s even a remote possibility is mind-blowing.”

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Tahiti chosen for Olympic surfing competition at 2024 Paris Games

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Paris 2024 Olympic organizers want the surfing competition to be held in Tahiti, an island in French Polynesia that is about 9,800 miles from Paris.

It would break the record for the farthest Olympic medal competition to be held outside the host. In 1956, equestrian events were moved out of Melbourne due to quarantine laws and held five months earlier in Stockholm, some 9,700 miles away.

The Paris 2024 executive board approved the site Thursday — specifically, the village of Teahupo’o — and will propose it to the IOC. It beat out other applicants Biarritz, Lacanau, Les Landes and La Torche, all part of mainland France.

“If, ever, we have two alternatives, and where one alternative gives the athletes of a particular sport more closeness to the heart of the Games and allows them to enjoy the magic and the spirit of the Games better, then in the interest of the athletes, we prefer this solution,” IOC President Thomas Bach said in June when asked about Tahiti’s interest in hosting surfing.

Surfing will debut at the 2020 Tokyo Games but is not on the permanent Olympic program. Surfing was among sports added to the Paris 2024 program in June and could be added for the 2028 Los Angeles Games.

MORE: U.S. athletes qualified for Tokyo Olympics

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