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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VIDEO: Shaun White scores perfect 100 to qualify for Olympics

Mikaela Shiffrin wins 85th World Cup, can tie overall record Sunday

Mikaela Shiffrin
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Mikaela Shiffrin earned her 85th World Cup win on Saturday and can tie the Alpine skiing World Cup victories record on Sunday.

Shiffrin won the first of back-to-back slaloms in Spindleruv Mlyn, Czech Republic, site of her World Cup debut in 2011 at age 15, for her 11th victory in 22 starts this season.

She prevailed by six tenths of a second over German Lena Duerr combining times from two runs. Then she celebrated with an uncharacteristic shoulder shimmy before “Simply the Best” by Tina Turner began playing over loudspeakers in the finish area.

It’s not the first time that song has been played after a Shiffrin victory this season.

“I knew it would take some risk,” she said. “There’s a chance I don’t finish at all.”

ALPINE SKIING: Full Results | Broadcast Schedule

Shiffrin, having her best season since her record 17-win campaign in 2018-19, is now one victory shy of the Alpine World Cup record held by Swede Ingemar Stenmark, who won 86 times between slalom and giant slalom in the 1970s and ’80s.

Stenmark has held the record since January 1982.

Shiffrin races in another slalom on Sunday in Spindleruv Mlyn, the last women’s race before February’s world championships. World championships races do not count as World Cups. The World Cup season resumes following worlds in late February.

Shiffrin is on her second winning streak this season and has won nine of her last 14 races dating to Dec. 18. Last Tuesday, she won a giant slalom in Kronplatz, Italy, to break her tie with Lindsey Vonn for the women’s Alpine World Cup wins record. On Wednesday, she won another GS In Kronplatz.

She leads the standings for the World Cup overall title, the biggest annual prize in ski racing, by more than 600 points through 27 of 39 scheduled races. At this rate, she could clinch her fifth overall title before March’s World Cup Finals.

She is currently tied with Vonn for the second-most women’s overall titles behind Austrian Annemarie Moser-Pröll, who won five in the 1970s.

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Aryna Sabalenka wins Australian Open for first Grand Slam singles title

Aryna Sabalenka Australian Open 2023
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MELBOURNE, Australia — Aryna Sabalenka won her first Grand Slam title by coming back to beat Elena Rybakina 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 in the Australian Open women’s final Saturday.

The 24-year-old Sabalenka, who is from Belarus, was appearing in her first major final.

She improved to 11-0 in 2023, and the only set she has dropped all season was the opener on Saturday against Wimbledon champion Rybakina.

But Sabalenka turned things around with an aggressive style that resulted in 51 winners, 20 more than her opponent. She used 17 aces to overcome seven double-faults. And she managed to break the big-serving Rybakina three times, the last coming for a 4-3 lead in the third set that she never relinquished.

Still, Sabalenka needed to work for the championship while serving in what would be the last game, double-faulting on her initial match point and requiring three more to close things out.

When Rybakina sent a forehand long to cap the final after nearly 2 1/2 hours, Sabalenka dropped to her back on the court and stayed down for a bit, covering her face as her eyes welled with tears.

Sabalenka is a powerful player whose most glowing strength was also her most glaring shortfall: her serve. Long capable of hammering aces, she also had a well-known problem with double-faulting, leading the tour in that category last year with nearly 400, including more than 20 apiece in some matches.

After much prodding from her team, she finally agreed to undergo an overhaul of her serving mechanics last August. That, along with a commitment to trying to stay calm in the most high-pressure moments, is really paying off now.

Sabalenka was 0-3 in Grand Slam semifinals until eliminating Magda Linette in Melbourne. Now Sabalenka has done one better and will rise to No. 2 in the rankings.

As seagulls were squawking loudly while flying overhead at Rod Laver Arena, Rybakina and Sabalenka traded booming serves. Rybakina’s fastest arrived at 121 mph, Sabalenka’s at 119 mph. They traded zooming groundstrokes from the baseline, often untouchable, resulting in winner after winner.

The key statistic, ultimately, was this: Sabalenka accumulated 13 break points, Rybakina seven. And although Sabalenka converted just a trio of them, that was enough, and the constant pressure she managed to apply during Rybakina’s service games had to take a toll.

Sabalenka had been broken just six times in 55 service games through the course of these two weeks, an average of once per match. It took Rybakina fewer than 10 minutes of action and all of two receiving games to get the measure of things and lead 2-1, helped by getting back one serve that arrived at 117 mph (189 kph).

A few games later, Sabalenka returned the favor, also putting her racket on one of Rybakina’s offerings at that same speed. Then, when Sabalenka grooved a down-the-line backhand passing winner to grab her first break and pull even at 4-all, she looked at her coach and fitness coach in the stands, raised a fist and shouted.

In the next game, though, Sabalenka gave that right back, double-faulting twice — including on break point — to give Rybakina a 5-4 edge. This time, Sabalenka again turned toward her entourage, but with a sigh and an eye roll and arms extended, as if to say, “Can you believe it?”

Soon after, Rybakina held at love to own that set.

Sabalenka changed the momentum right from the get-go in the second set. Aggressively attacking, she broke to go up 3-1, held for 4-1 and eventually served it out, fittingly, with an ace — on a second serve, no less.

Sabalenka acknowledged ahead of time that she expected to be nervous. Which makes perfect sense: This was the most important match of her career to date.

And if those jitters were evident ever-so-briefly early — she double-faulted on the evening’s very first point — and appeared to be resurfacing as the end neared, Sabalenka controlled them well enough to finish the job.

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