Gus Kenworthy’s hard crash dents Olympic double hope (video)

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Gus Kenworthy‘s goal of making the Olympic team in two events may have disintegrated as he tumbled to the bottom of the halfpipe in Mammoth Mountain, Calif., on Friday night.

He crashed on the lip of the pipe on his last run to finish ninth at the fifth and final Olympic ski halfpipe qualifier. Kenworthy needed at least a runner-up to automatically qualify for PyeongChang.

Kenworthy is still very likely to make the Olympic ski slopestyle team for a second straight time, but he wanted to be the first American to contest slope and pipe at the Games. That’s likely gone.

What we know: The three automatic Olympic halfpipe spots went to Sochi gold medalist David Wise, fellow Sochi Olympian Torin Yater-Wallace and first-time Olympian Alex Ferreira.

U.S. Ski & Snowboard can add a fourth man to the team via discretionary selection. It’s unlikely to be Kenworthy based on qualifying results. Kenworthy ranks sixth in the standings overall.

The man with the best credentials is Aaron Blunck, a Sochi Olympian and reigning X Games champ who made two podiums among the five selection events.

Another strong option is Kyle Smaine, the surprise winner of the fifth and final qualifier Friday night. But Smaine doesn’t have a finish better than seventh from the other four qualifiers.

Kenworthy has two ski slopestyle qualifiers Sunday in Mammoth, after which the Olympic team will be named.

He is stronger in slopestyle than halfpipe, earning silver in Sochi and at the 2017 World Championships in the former. Kenworthy missed the Sochi team in halfpipe.

In women’s ski halfpipe on Friday, Devin Logan and Brita Sigourney joined Sochi gold medalist Maddie Bowman on the Olympic team.

Sigourney won the fifth and final Olympic selection event with a 91.20-point run, edging Bowman (89.80) and Logan (83.80).

Logan, the Sochi ski slopestyle silver medalist, is very likely to make the Olympic team in both halfpipe and slopestyle, which no man or woman did in Sochi.

One more discretionary Olympic women’s halfpipe spot could be awarded, likely to Sochi Olympian Annalisa Drew or Carly Margulies, who both missed the podium Friday night.

U.S. Olympic Qualifying Standings
Ski Halfpipe 
(through five of five events)
Three skiers can auto qualify per gender; up to four named to Olympic team
1. David Wise — 200** QUALIFIED
2. Alex Ferreira — 180** QUALIFIED
3. Torin Yater-Wallace — 160** QUALIFIED

4. Aaron Blunck — 140** (2nd and 3rd)
5. Kyle Smaine — 136* (1st and 7th)
6. Gus Kenworthy — 116* (2nd and 7th)

1. Brita Sigourney — 180** QUALIFIED
2. Maddie Bowman — 160** QUALIFIED

3. Devin Logan — 140** QUALIFIED

4. Annalisa Drew — 95 (4th and 5th)
5. Carly Margulies — 90 (4th and 6th)
**Has automatic qualifying minimum of two top-three results.
*Has one top-three result.

Mammoth Finals (all times Eastern)
Friday

Ski Halfpipe — 9:30-11 p.m. (NBCSports.com/live, NBC Sports app)

Saturday
Ski Slopestyle (#1) — 12:30-2 p.m. (NBCSports.com/live, NBC Sports app)
Snowboard Slopestyle — 5-6 p.m. (NBC, NBCSports.com/live, NBC Sports app)
Snowboard Halfpipe — 9:30-11 p.m. (NBCSports.com/live, NBC Sports app)

Sunday
Ski Slopestyle (#2) — 4:30-6 p.m. (NBCSports.com/live, NBC Sports app)

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Major League Baseball sponsors U.S. Olympic softball team

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NEW YORK (AP) — Major League Baseball is using its financial muscle to support the U.S. women’s softball team, which already is assured a spot in the Tokyo Olympics while the American men’s baseball team struggles to qualify.

MLB announced an agreement Thursday to become presenting sponsor of the women’s “Stand Beside Her” tour, a slate of exhibition games leading up to the Olympic tournament from July 22-28.

“We’re both bat and ball sports. Even though we’re not the same sport, there are so many similarities that you just can’t ignore,” said Kim Ng, MLB’s senior vice president for baseball operations. “It was important for us to make sure that they have this acknowledgment and recognition of their ability and their talent.”

Softball began as an Olympic sport for the 1996 Atlanta Games. The U.S. won gold medals in 1996, 2000 and 2004 with players that included Dot Richardson, Jennie Finch and Jessica Mendoza, then lost to Japan in the 2008 gold-medal game.

Baseball and softball were dropped for the next two Olympics, then restored for this year, when the U.S. and Japan will be joined by Australia, Canada, Italy and Mexico for games in Fukushima and Yokohama but not Tokyo. The sports are likely to be dropped for 2024 in Paris but could return four years later in Los Angeles.

The U.S. men’s baseball team stumbled in its first attempt to qualify, wasting a ninth-inning lead against Mexico in the final game of the Premier12 tournament in November and losing in the 10th. The U.S. has two more chances to join Israel, Japan, Mexico and South Korea in the Olympic field: an Americas tournament in Arizona from March 22-26 and a final tournament in Taiwan from April 1-5.

MLB is not allowing players on 40-man big league rosters to compete in qualifying, and few top pitching prospects were at the November tournament.

Softball has no such issues. The Olympics are the sport’s highest-profile event.

“The platform for us is 10 times bigger,” American outfielder Haylie McCleney said. “For us, it’s a great opportunity for people that have never watched softball before, people that have only followed it at the collegiate level, to really see how fun our game is to watch, how pure it is. If people are baseball fans, I guarantee they’re going to love softball because it’s pretty much just a faster game – it’s shorter, it’s quicker, it’s more entertaining to watch, in my opinion.”

The 2008 gold-medal softball game took 1 hours, 45 minutes — less than half the 3:45 average for this year’s World Series.

As part of the deal with MLB, the softball team’s official training facility will be at the Jackie Robinson Training Complex in Vero Beach, Florida, the old Dodgertown spring training camp.

MLB Network will include programming from the tour, which currently starts Feb. 4 in Tampa and has about three dozen stops.

The U.S. women’s soccer team has attracted huge television audiences. MLB sees softball as an opportunity for the sport’s growth.

“These are world-class athletes,” Ng said. “Because we have not been in the Olympics for the last 12 years, they just haven’t had that stage. So it’s really important at this point that we show as much support as we can for them.”

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MORE: U.S. athletes qualified for Tokyo Olympics

Rafael Nadal advances at Australian Open; American back on Slam stage

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Rafael Nadal joined Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic in the Australian Open third round, sweeping Argentine Federico Delbonis 6-3, 7-6 (4), 6-1 on Thursday.

Nadal, whose lone Australian Open title came in 2009, gets countryman Pablo Carreno Busta in Saturday’s third round. He could face No. 23 Nick Kyrgios of Australia in round four, but neither Federer nor Djokovic until the final.

No. 4 Daniil Medvedeva and No. 2 Karolina Pliskova and No. 4 Simona Halep were also winners Thursday. Friday’s third-round action is headlined by defending champion Naomi Osaka facing 15-year-old U.S. phenom Coco Gauff.

AUSTRALIAN OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women

The only top-20 seed to lose so far Thursday was No. 20 Karolina Muchova of the Czech Republic. American CiCi Bellis bounced her 6-4, 6-4.

This was a big deal for Bellis: Two full years and four right arm operations have come and gone since she was last healthy enough to participate in a Grand Slam tournament.

Bellis was something of a teen prodigy. In her very first tour-level match, at age 15 at the 2014 U.S. Open, she stunned 12th-seeded Dominika Cibulkova, an Australian Open runner-up, to become the youngest American to win a match at Flushing Meadows in 28 years.

She reached No. 35 in the rankings at 17, when she won WTA Newcomer of the Year honors.

Then came the series of health problems, including for torn tendons in her wrist, to shorten a bone in her arm and for bone spurs in her elbow. All the time away from the tour has her at No. 600 in the rankings currently, but she was able to get into the draw in Australia via the protected ranking rule.

In other action, U.S. Open runner-up Medvedev  found himself seated in the nosebleed section at Margaret Court Arena, even though he was playing his second-round match there.

That’s because the No. 4-seeded Russian found himself dealing with something he said happens to him a couple of times each year: a nosebleed.

Medvedev blotted his nose with a towel and then was treated by a trainer while his 7-5, 6-1, 6-3 over Spanish qualifier Pedro Martinez was delayed for more than five minutes late in the second set.

“Can happen to me sometimes. Doesn’t usually happen during the match, so I had to stop (playing). Usually takes like four minutes — three, four minutes. … But it’s nothing,” Medvedev said.

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

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