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Hannah Teter, after just missing Olympics, gets back on snowboard

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NEW YORK — It just might be the hardest U.S. Winter Olympic team to make.

A year ago, a bevy of accomplished riders went out for the U.S. Olympic women’s halfpipe team of four. Chloe Kim, the teenager expanding the sport with back-to-back 1080s, was all but a lock. Kelly Clark, perhaps the greatest snowboarder of all time, made it, too. As did Arielle Gold, a world champion at age 16. And Maddie Mastro, 17 and the most improved rider of the Olympic cycle.

That meant an Olympic gold and silver medalist, 31-year-old Hannah Teter, had to watch the Winter Games on TV for the first time since 2002.

“Last year was so heavy,” said Teter, who finished fifth in the U.S. Olympic qualifying standings, one spot ahead of fellow multiple Olympian and the 2017 X Games winner, Elena Hight. “I was bummed, but not really, because all my friends were going, and I knew they were going to win.”

Kim took gold in PyeongChang as part of arguably the greatest season in halfpipe history, becoming the first rider of either gender to sweep X Games, the Olympics and the Burton U.S. Open in one winter. Gold added a bronze. Clark was fourth in perhaps her last Olympics. Mastro qualified fourth into the final and ended up 12th.

Teter said she didn’t ride much in the summer, taking one of the longest breaks from snowboarding of a 15-year career of top-level competition. She is on the entry list for next week’s Dew Tour but said on Monday that she was still deciding whether to compete.

That’s in part because Teter is devoting more time to other pursuits. She was in Manhattan this week for a Muscular Dystrophy Association gala and to promote the Special Olympics World Games in March in Abu Dhabi.

Many Olympic legends have been involved in the World Games, from Michael Phelps to Nadia Comaneci to Michelle Kwan to Apolo Ohno. Teter said she attended the last three. In fact, she helped bridge the Special Olympics and the X Games, introducing a dual slalom event in 2015 that pairs one Special Olympics athlete with one X Games athlete.

Last season, Teter skipped the traditional X Games halfpipe (after missing the Olympic team and falling hard in training) but did compete in the dual slalom with partner Daina Shilts. This season, she is committing to the dual slalom but iffy on halfpipe.

Teter could not remember the last time she missed the X Games halfpipe in a non-Olympic year. Her X Games biography says 2001, days after she turned 14.

Which leads one to wonder if Teter is interested in another Olympic run. In 2022, she will turn 35, older than any previous U.S. Olympic halfpipe rider. She says it’s possible.

“Especially if I just stay in the mix,” said Teter, who last won a top-level contest in January 2009 and must work to keep up with the increasing flips and spins brought by Kim, Gold and Mastro. “It’s [intimidating] because, oh, I’ve got to do that to win? S—. But it is motivating, too, because it’s possible. They’re doing it. They’re landing it. It shows it can be done.”

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MORE: Shaun White takes his longest break from snowboarding

Sam Mikulak to retire from gymnastics after Tokyo Olympics

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Sam Mikulak, the U.S.’ top male gymnast, said he will retire after the Tokyo Olympics, citing a wrist injury and emotional health revelations during a forced break from the sport due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“It does sound like some pretty crazy news, but there’s a lot of factors that go into it,” Mikulak said in a YouTube video published Sunday night. “I’ve had a lot of time to think about it during quarantine.”

The 27-year-old is a two-time Olympian, six-time U.S. all-around champion and the only active U.S. male gymnast with Olympic experience.

Mikulak said he noticed significant wrist inflammation last year that was temporarily healed by a November cortisone shot. But during quarantine, the wrist worsened even though he wasn’t doing gymnastics. He took a month off from working out, but the wrist didn’t heal.

He thought for a time that he might not return to gymnastics at all. A doctor told him he would need cortisone shots for the rest of his career.

“At that point, it was really made for me that this has to be my final year of gymnastics because I don’t want to ruin myself beyond this sport,” Mikulak said.

Mikulak also noted realizations from the forced time out of the gym. He learned that he’s much less stressed while not doing gymnastics, a sport he began at age 2. Mikulak’s parents were gymnasts at Cal.

“For so long, I’ve been sacrificing, and I’m sick of it,” he said. “I’m really looking forward to being able to be free from gymnastics and being able to do all these things that I’ve been putting off in my life for so long.”

Mikulak realized a career goal in 2018 when he earned his first individual world championships medal, a bronze on high bar. He wants to cap his career with a first Olympic medal in Tokyo, then, perhaps, become a coach or open his own gym.

Mikulak recently got engaged to Mia Atkins, and they got another puppy, Barney.

“Everything I’ve done in gymnastics is enough for me right now,” said Mikulak, who plans to document the next year on YouTube. “I was actually somewhat happy that I was able to come to that type of decision because for so long I felt like gymnastics really wasn’t going to be fulfilling until I’ve gotten my Olympic medal. And during quarantine, I had this whole revelation where, you know what, I am happier than I’ve ever been in my entire life, and I’m not doing gymnastics, so even if I don’t accomplish these goals, I am still going to be so damn happy.”

MORE: Simone Biles’ closest rival chases comeback

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April Ross, Alix Klineman complete perfect, abbreviated AVP season

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April Ross and Alix Klineman consolidated their position as the U.S.’ top beach volleyball team, completing a sweep of the three-tournament AVP Champions Cup on Sunday.

Ross, a two-time Olympic medalist, and Klineman won the finale, the Porsche Cup. They won all 12 matches over the last three weekends, including the last 14 sets in a row, capped with a 21-18, 21-17 win over Kelly Claes and Sarah Sponcil in Sunday’s final.

“It feels like we’re midseason in a normal year,” Ross said on Amazon Prime. “I can’t believe it’s over.”

The AVP Champions Cup marked the first three top-level beach volleyball tournaments since March, and a replacement for a typical AVP season due to the coronavirus pandemic. The setting: on the Long Beach Convention and Entertainment Center parking lot without fans and with many health and safety measures.

AVP is not part of Olympic qualifying. It’s unknown when those top-level international tournaments will resume, but Ross and Klineman, ranked No. 2 in the world, are just about assured of one of the two U.S. Olympic spots.

According to BVBinfo.com, they’re 10-0 combined against the other top U.S. teams — Claes and Sponcil and triple Olympic champion Kerri Walsh Jennings and Brooke Sweat, who are likely battling for the last U.S. Olympic spot.

Walsh Jennings and Sweat, who do not play on the AVP tour, have a lead for the last spot more than halfway through qualifying, which runs into June.

Earlier in the men’s final, Tri Bourne and Trevor Crabb kept 2008 Olympic champion Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena from sweeping the Champions Cup. Bourne and Crabb prevailed 21-17, 15-21, 15-12 for their first AVP title since teaming in 2018.

Bourne, who went nearly two years between tournaments from 2016-18 due to an autoimmune disease, and Crabb redeemed after straight-set losses to Dalhausser and Lucena the previous two weekends. Crabb guaranteed a title on Instagram days before the tournament.

“Those guys are the best in the world, and they make you look bad at times, but we’re relentless,” Bourne said on Amazon Prime. “You’re going to have to play the best volleyball in the world to beat us every time.”

Bourne and Crabb, Dalhausser and Lucena and Jake Gibb and Taylor Crabb (Trevor’s younger brother) are battling for two available U.S. Olympic spots in Tokyo.

MORE: Team Slaes looks to end Kerri Walsh Jennings’ Olympic career

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