David Wise, Maddie Bowman make Olympics; Gus Kenworthy on bubble

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David Wise and Maddie Bowman won the first Olympic ski halfpipe golds in Sochi. On Friday, they became the first U.S. halfpipe skiers to qualify for PyeongChang.

Wise won for the second time in the first four Olympic qualifiers, this time as part of an American sweep.

Bowman finished fourth in Snowmass, Colo., but she clinched her Olympic spot from having two podiums in the previous three qualifiers.

Neither Wise nor Bowman has to sweat out the fifth and final qualifier next week.

Sochi slopestyle silver medalist Gus Kenworthy can’t say the same. He finished seventh Friday, after placing second, 11th and 17th in the first three halfpipe qualifiers.

Kenworthy fell on his first hit on two of his three runs, with one of his skis falling off on the landing both times.

Kenworthy must finish first or second next week to have a shot at automatic halfpipe qualification.

If he doesn’t, Kenworthy will put himself in the same position as four years ago, hoping a committee uses one available spot to put him on the team.

Kenworthy was left off four years ago in favor of Torin Yater-Wallace but of course still qualified in slopestyle.

Alex Ferreira and Aaron Blunck finished second and third on Friday to reach the automatic Olympic qualification minimum but can’t clinch a berth until next week.

Still, they’re both ahead of Kenworthy. As is Yater-Wallace, who won the first Olympic qualifier last February but didn’t make the final in Snowmass.

A maximum of four U.S. men can make the Olympic ski halfpipe team.

Kenworthy competes in a slopestyle qualifier Sunday in Snowmass. A full broadcast schedule is here.

Wise, 27, went three years between victories when he won an Olympic qualifier last month, according to TeamUSA.org.

The father of two struggled last season with a back injury and concussion but now looks like an Olympic medal favorite again.

Bowman, who turned 24 on Wednesday, is going back to the Olympics after a trying four years.

She underwent May 2014 left knee surgery, then tore her right ACL in January 2015. Still, she managed to win her third and fourth straight Winter X Games titles in 2015 and 2016.

Last season, Bowman’s streak was snapped by Frenchwoman Marie Martinod, who returned from a five-year break to win Olympic silver in 2014.

Martinod, a 33-year-old mom, made the podium in all of her events last season, including titles at X Games and the Olympic test event in South Korea.

This season, Bowman and Martinod have gone head-to-head four times, with Martinod finishing higher at every event until she was eliminated in qualifying this week.

But the most impressive skier this season has been Canadian Cassie Sharpe, who would have won Friday with any of the scores from her three runs — 91.60, 90.8 and 93.2. Sharpe also won the previous U.S. Olympic qualifier last month.

Bowman will be joined on the U.S. Olympic team by Sochi ski slopestyle silver medalist Devin Logan and Sochi Olympian Brita Sigourney, should they finish on the podium next week.

Even if they don’t, Logan and Sigourney have the best resumés of the remaining U.S. women. The team will include three or four women.

U.S. Olympic Qualifying Standings
Ski Halfpipe 
(through four of five events)
1. David Wise — 200** QUALIFIED

2. Alex Ferreira — 180** (1st and 2nd)
3. Aaron Blunck — 140** (2nd and 3rd)
4. Torin Yater-Wallace — 150* (1st and 4th)
5. Gus Kenworthy — 116* (2nd and 7th)

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

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

John McFall, Paralympic medalist, becomes first parastronaut in Europe

John McFall
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The European Space Agency made history Wednesday by selecting an amputee who lost his leg in a motorcycle accident to be among its newest batch of astronauts — a leap toward its pioneering ambition to send someone with a physical disability into space.

John McFall, a 41-year-old Briton who lost his right leg when he was 19 and later won a Paralympic 100m bronze medal in 2008, called his selection at Europe’s answer to NASA “a real turning point and mark in history.”

“ESA has a commitment to send an astronaut with a physical disability into space … This is the first time that a space agency has endeavored to embark on a project like this. And it sends a really, really strong message to humanity,” he said.

The newly-minted parastronaut joins five career astronauts in the final selection unveiled during a Paris news conference — the conclusion of the agency’s first recruitment drive in over a decade aimed at bringing diversity to space travel.

McFall will follow a different path than his fellow astronauts because he will participate in a groundbreaking feasibility study exploring whether physical disability will impair space travel. It’s uncharted land, since no major Western space agency has ever put a parastronaut into space, according to the ESA.

Speaking with pride amid flashes of emotion, McFall said that he was uniquely suited to the mission because of the vigor of his mind and body.

“I’m very comfortable in my own skin. I lost my leg about twenty plus years ago, I’ve had the opportunity to be a Paralympic athlete and really explored myself emotionally … All those factors and hardships in life have given me confidence and strength — the ability to believe in myself that I can do anything I put my mind to,” he added.

“I never dreamt of being an astronaut. It was only when ESA announced that they were looking for a candidate with a physical disability to embark on this project that it really sparked my interest.”

The feasibility study, that will last two to three years, will examine the basic hurdles for a parastronaut including how a physical disability might impact mission training, and if modifications to spacesuits and aircraft are required, for example.

ESA’s Director of Human and Robotic Exploration David Parker said it was still a “long road” for McFall but described the fresh recruitment as a long-held ambition.

Parker said it started with a question. “Maybe there are people out there that are almost superhuman in that they’ve already overcome challenges. And could they become astronauts?”

Parker also says that he “thinks” it may be the first time the word “parastronaut” has been used, but “I do not claim ownership.”

“We’re saying that John (McFall) could be the first parastronaut, that means someone who has been selected by the regular astronaut selection process but happens to have a disability that would normally have ruled him out,” he said.

It will be at least five years before McFall goes into space as an astronaut — if he is successful.

Across the Atlantic, Houston is taking note. Dan Huot, a spokesman for NASA’s Johnson Space Center, home to the American agency’s astronaut corps, told the AP that “we at NASA are watching ESA’s para-astronaut selection process with great interest.”

Huot acknowledged that “NASA’s selection criteria currently remains the same” but said the agency is looking forward to working with the “new astronauts in the future” from partners such as the ESA.

NASA stressed that it has a safety-conscious process for vetting future astronauts who might be put in life-threatening situations.

“For maximum crew safety, NASA’s current requirements call for each crew member to be free of medical conditions that could either impair the person’s ability to participate in, or be aggravated by, spaceflight, as determined by NASA physicians,” Huot added.

NASA said future “assistive technology” might change the game for “some candidates” to meet their stringent safety requirements.

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Ilia Malinin in familiar position after Grand Prix Finland short program

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Ilia Malinin landed a quadruple Axel in his free skate to win his first two competitions this season. Less known was that the 17-year-old American had to come from behind to win each time.

An at least slightly injured Malinin looks up in the standings again after the short program of his third event, Grand Prix Finland. Malinin had erred landings on two of his three jumping passes in Friday’s short, where quad Axels are not allowed, then said he had a left foot problem, according to the International Skating Union.

“I’m a little bit injured, I’m playing it safe, protect it to make sure the injury doesn’t get worse,” he said, according to the ISU.

He tallied 85.57 points for second place, which is 3.39 fewer than leader Kevin Aymoz of France going into Saturday’s free skate.

Malinin, the world junior champion ranked No. 1 in the world in his first full senior season, merely needs to finish fourth or better (perhaps even fifth) to qualify for December’s Grand Prix Final, which pits the top six per discipline in the world in a preview of March’s world championships.

Grand Prix Finland concludes with all of the free skates on Saturday.

GRAND PRIX FINLAND: Results | Broadcast Schedule

Earlier Friday, world silver medalist Loena Hendrickx of Belgium led the women’s short with 74.88 points, edging Mai Mihara of Japan by 1.3. Hendrickx and Mihara are in position to qualify for the Grand Prix Final. World champion Kaori Sakamoto of Japan, South Korea’s Yelim Kim and American Isabeau Levito already have spots in the Final.

The world’s top ice dance couple this season, Canadians Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier, improved on their world-leading rhythm dance score by tallying 87.80 points. They lead Americans Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker by 6.87, with both couples in position to qualify for the Grand Prix Final.

Italians Rebecca Ghilardi and Filippo Ambrosini topped the pairs’ short program by 4.3 points over Americans Anastasiia Smirnova and Danil Siianytsia. The Italians rank fourth in the world this season behind three teams that aren’t in the Finland field but will be at the Grand Prix Final, including world champions Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier of the U.S.

Smirnova and Silanytsia are competing in their lone Grand Prix this season after withdrawing before Skate America, making them ineligible for Grand Prix Final qualification. Their short program score ranks fourth among American pairs this season, putting them in contention for one of three spots on the team for worlds, to be decided after January’s national championships.

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