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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

Naomi Osaka, Coco Gauff set Australian Open duel

Naomi Osaka, Coco Gauff
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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Plenty was going badly for Coco Gauff in the second round of the Australian Open.

The double-faults kept coming Wednesday, nine in all. The deficits, too: First, she dropped the opening set against 74th-ranked Sorana Cirstea.

Then, after forcing a third, Gauff fell behind by a break, ceding 14 of 16 points with a series of mistakes. Later, after getting even at 3-all, Gauff was a mere two points from a loss.

None of that mattered. As she keeps showing, over and over, Gauff is not a typical 15-year-old. Not a typical tennis player, either.

And by getting past Cirstea 4-6, 6-3, 7-5 in a little more than two hours thanks to a more aggressive approach in the late going, she now has set up yet another Grand Slam showdown against Naomi Osaka.

AUSTRALIAN OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women

“I kind of felt the momentum changing,” Gauff said about turning things around against Cirstea. “I knew I had to keep pressing.”

Less than five months after their memorable meeting at the U.S. Open — Osaka won that one in straight sets, then consoled a crying Gauff on court and encouraged her to address the spectators — the two will face each other again. Like that time, Osaka is the major’s reigning champion and Gauff is making her debut at the tournament.

“I think I’ll be less nervous this time,” said Gauff, who eliminated seven-time Grand Slam champion Venus Williams in the first round Monday. “I think I’m more confident this time around.”

As for what sticks with her about the post-match comforting Osaka offered in New York, Gauff said: “If I had a child or something, that’s something I would want my child to see. It just shows what being a competitor really is. You might hate the person on the court, but off the court you love them — not really, like, ‘hate,’ but you want to win. Sometimes when we’re on the court, we say things we don’t mean because we have that mentality. When it’s all said and done, we still look at each other with respect.”

Other winners included Serena Williams — 6-2, 6-3 against Tamara Zidansek in a match that finished with the Rod Laver Arena retractable roof closed because of rain — No. 1 Ash Barty, 2018 Australian Open champion Caroline Wozniacki and two-time major champion Petra Kvitova, the runner-up to Osaka in Australia a year ago.

Defending men’s champion Novak Djokovic required all of 95 minutes to breeze past Japanese wild-card entry Tatsuma Ito 6-1, 6-4, 6-2, while Roger Federer swept Filip Krajinovic 6-1, 6-4, 6-1.

Gauff was not at her very best on a windy afternoon against Cirstea but managed to figure her way out of trouble repeatedly. Gauff demonstrated plenty of grit, yes, and also enthusiasm, pumping herself up by shaking a fist and yelling, “Come on!” after most of her successful points down the stretch.

All the while, Gauff was supported by a Melbourne Arena crowd that chanted, “Let’s go, Coco! Let’s go!”

Her father, Corey, was animated in the stands, too, except when he was squeezing his eyes shut at critical moments.

There were several of those for his precocious daughter, who was ranked only 313th last year when she became the youngest player in history to qualify for Wimbledon, then wound up beating Williams there en route to the fourth round.

It is a measure of her came-so-soon stardom that Gauff was playing at Melbourne Park’s third-largest stadium Wednesday, even though this was a matchup between a pair of players ranked outside the top 60 and with one career Grand Slam quarterfinal between them, more than a decade ago (Cirstea made it that far at the 2009 French Open).

Indeed, every Grand Slam singles match — “every” being a relative term, of course, because this was No. 9 — of the 67th-ranked Gauff’s nascent career has been placed on a show court.

This was the first main draw match at a major for Gauff in which she held a better ranking than her opponent.

Didn’t seem that way at the outset: Gauff dropped the first set. After forcing things to a third, she trailed 3-0. After making it 3-3, Gauff needed to get through one more gut-check: Twice, she was two points from departing.

But the American teenager broke in the next-to-last game, then held to win.

How did Gauff get through this test?

“Just my will to win,” she said. “My parents, they always told me I can come back, no matter what the score is.”

Osaka worked through some frustrations Wednesday by grabbing her racket with both hands and chucking it to the ground, tossing away a tennis ball and kicking the racket along the court, to boot.

Then she plopped herself down on her sideline seat and draped a towel over her head. Soon, she was gathering herself and defeating Zheng Saisai 6-2, 6-4.

“I mean, my racket just magically flew out of my hand. I couldn’t control it,” Osaka said with a mischievous smile. “I think that’s how I dealt with my frustration. It was a bit childish. I just want to play one match without throwing my racket or kicking it. That’s all I want.”

Perhaps because her news conference took place while Gauff and Cirstea were still playing, Osaka deflected a question seeking some sort of lookahead to the third round, saying simply she would go watch the end of that match.

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

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John Isner leaning toward skipping Olympics again

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John Isner, the highest-ranked U.S. male singles tennis player, is considering skipping the Olympics for a second straight time.

“I haven’t put a ton of thought into it, but as of right now, I think I’m leaning towards not playing,” the 19th-ranked player said at the Australian Open on Tuesday. “It’s about scheduling. I know the Olympics, it’s a fantastic honor. There’s no doubt about that. … Right now, at this stage in my career, it’s not a huge priority for me. So that’s probably the main reason I won’t be going. I certainly love playing in the summer in America, and I’m going to focus on that.”

The Tokyo Games take place the same week as a lower-level ATP Tour event in Atlanta that Isner, a former University of Georgia star, has won five times.

Other notable male players already said they will pass on Tokyo, including Sam Querrey, the top American in Olympic qualifying standings.

Austrian Dominic Thiem, a two-time French Open finalist, is prioritizing an ATP event in Kitzbühel the week of the Olympics. The U.S. doubles team of Bob and Mike Bryan are not planning to play the Olympics in their final season before retirement, their manager said in November.

“The Olympics is very tough on the schedule … especially with Davis Cup,” Isner said in 2016, according to USA Today. “I think the fact that they have no [ATP ranking] points [at the Olympics], to be honest, was a pretty big factor as well. Obviously the Olympics is not about the money, but no points I think hindered me a bit.”

Isner, who turns 35 on April 26, is likely giving up his last chance to play Olympic singles. In his only Olympic participation, he reached the quarterfinals of the 2012 London Games, plus lost an opening-round doubles match there with Andy Roddick.

The top four U.S. men qualify for Tokyo, assuming they are among the top 60 overall qualifiers (maximum four per country) after this spring’s French Open.

Taylor FritzReilly Opelka, Steve Johnson and Tommy Paul are the U.S. men currently in Olympic qualifying position if excluding Querrey and Isner.

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