Ayumu Hirano makes history in the halfpipe, wins X Games gold

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The favorite in snowboard halfpipe for the PyeongChang Olympics? Right now, it just might be Japanese teenager Ayumu Hirano.

Hirano, the 2014 Olympic silver medalist, won gold at X Games Aspen after landing a historic run.

Already holding the lead heading into his final run, Hirano boosted a backside air nearly 20 feet out of the pipe before landing a frontside double cork 1440, cab double cork 1440, frontside double cork 1260, and backside double cork 1260.

It marked the first time that back-to-back 1440s have ever been landed in a halfpipe competition.

Hirano’s run scored a 99.0 from the judges, about as close to a perfect score as you can get when there are still other riders left to go.

Taking the silver medal was Australia’s Scotty James, who landed a frontside double cork 1260, backside double cork 1260, frontside 900, backside 360, and switch backside double cork 1260.

James’ technicality was rewarded with a 98.0 on his final run, not far off the mark set by Hirano. It continued a streak of runner-up finishes this season for James.

Next up for Hirano and James will be the PyeongChang Olympics. Both riders will be among the top favorites.

The other rider near the top of the list is two-time Olympic gold medalist Shaun White, who withdrew from X Games after making the decision to return home and rest before the Olympics.

White recently won a qualifying event at Snowmass with a new run that scored a 100 from the judges, but that was before Hirano raised the bar with back-to-back 1440s. (White’s winning run included a frontside 1440 and back-to-back 1260s, but he did not attempt a cab 1440.)

Aside from White, the U.S. has another strong medal contender for PyeongChang in Ben Ferguson. Ferguson continued his strong season by winning X Games bronze on Sunday night. (Full results here.)

But the night was marred by an injury to Iouri Podladtchikov. The defending Olympic gold medalist from Switzerland went down after taking a hard slam on the final hit of his second run. The contest had to be delayed while medical staff attended to him.

According to a report from ESPN, Podladtchikov went to the hospital to be evaluated for a head injury after being taken off on a sled.

Podladtchikov already had to overcome one injury recently. Last March at the FIS World Championships, he suffered a torn ACL.

Earlier on Sunday, Henrik Harlaut won X Games gold in the freeski slopestyle contest. It was his second gold of the weekend, as the Swede also won the big air event on Saturday.

Norway’s Oystein Braaten and Switzerland’s Andri Ragettli rounded out the ski slopestyle podium. The top Americans were Gus Kenworthy in sixth and Nick Goepper in seventh. (Full results here.)

In a tie, Wendy Holdener puts to rest a remarkable stat in Alpine skiing

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Swiss Wendy Holdener ended one of the most remarkable victory droughts in sports by tying for the win with Swede Anna Swenn Larsson in a World Cup slalom in Killington, Vermont, on Sunday.

Holdener, after 15 second-place finishes and 15 third-place finishes in her career, stood on the top step of a World Cup slalom podium for the first time. She shared it with Swenn Larsson, who had six World Cup slalom podiums before Sunday and also earned her first win.

They beat Austrian Katharina Truppe by .22 of a second combining times from two runs.

ALPINE SKIING: Full Results | Broadcast Schedule

Holdener, 29, previously won three World Cups in other disciplines, plus two world championships in the combined and Olympic and world titles in the team event.

“To be tied first when I came into the finish was such a relief,” Holdener said while shoulder to shoulder with Swenn Larsson. “On the end, it’s perfect, because now we can share our first win together.”

Mikaela Shiffrin had the best first-run time but lost her lead midway through the second run and finished fifth. Shiffrin, who won the first two slaloms this season last weekend, was bidding for a 50th World Cup slalom victory and a sixth win in six slaloms in Killington.

“I fought. I think some spots I got a little bit off my timing, but I was pushing, and that’s slalom,” she said before turning her attention to Holdener and Swenn Larsson. “It’s a pretty special day, actually.”

The women’s Alpine skiing World Cup moves next weekend to Lake Louise, Alberta, with two downhills and a super-G.

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Injured Ilia Malinin wins Grand Prix Finland, qualifies for Grand Prix Final

Ilia Malinin
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Ilia Malinin, competing “a little bit injured” this week, still won Grand Prix Finland and goes into the Grand Prix Final in two weeks as the world’s top-ranked male singles skater.

Malinin, who was second after Friday’s short program, landed four clean quadruple jumps in Saturday’s free skate to overtake Frenchman Kevin Aymoz.

Malinin, who landed a quad flip in competition for the first time, according to SkatingScores.com, also attempted a quad Axel to open his program, but spun out of the landing and put his hand down on the ice.

Malinin also won his previous two starts this season in come-from-behind fashion. The 17-year-old world junior champion became the first skater to land a clean, fully rotated quad Axel in September, then did it again in October at Skate America, where he posted the world’s top overall score this season.

Next, Malinin can become the second-youngest man to win the Grand Prix Final after Russian Yevgeny Plushenko. His biggest competition is likely to be world champion Shoma Uno of Japan, who like Malinin won both of his Grand Prix starts this fall. Malinin and Uno have not gone head-to-head this season.

Grand Prix Finland highlights air on NBC, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app on Sunday at 3:30 p.m. ET.

FIGURE SKATING: Results | Broadcast Schedule

Earlier, Japan’s Mai Mihara overtook world silver medalist Loena Hendrickx of Belgium to become the only woman to win both of her Grand Prix starts this season. Mihara prevailed by .23 of a point. The top three women this season by best total score are Japanese, led by a junior skater, 14-year-old Mao Shimada, who isn’t Olympic age-eligible until 2030.

Mihara and Hendrickx qualified for the Grand Prix Final, joining world champion Kaori Sakamoto and Rinka Watanabe, both of Japan, South Korean Yelim Kim and American Isabeau Levito, the world junior champion.

Italians Rebecca Ghilardi and Filippo Ambrosini won both pairs’ programs and qualified for their first Grand Prix Final.

Japan’s Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara and Americans Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier headline the Final. Both pairs won each of their Grand Prix starts earlier this fall. The Japanese have the world’s two best scores this season. The Americans are reigning world champions.

At least one Russian or Chinese pair made every Grand Prix Final podium — usually pairs from both countries — but neither nation competed in pairs this Grand Prix season. All Russian skaters are banned due to the war in Ukraine. China’s lone entry on the Grand Prix across all disciplines was an ice dance couple.

Canadians Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier improved on their world-leading score for this season in winning the ice dance by 17.03 points over Americans Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker. Both couples qualified for the Grand Prix Final in the absence of all three Olympic medalists this fall.

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