U.S. Olympic champions defeated in Copper Mountain ski halfpipe

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Six Olympic ski halfpipe medalists, including every gold medalist, competed in the Copper Mountain Grand Prix finals on Friday. None won.

Instead, an American who placed seventh in PyeongChang and a 16-year-old Estonian forced to sit out the Olympics prevailed as the freeskiing season began in earnest in Colorado.

Aaron Blunck rebounded from missing the Olympic podium with a 96.25-point run for his first top-level victory since his 2017 World title. Blunck’s tricks included a double cork 1440, according to NBC Sports’ Luke Van Valin. Two-time Olympic champion David Wise placed third with 90.5, while PyeongChang silver medalist Alex Ferreira was eighth.

“I’ve been working on that run now for pretty much all summer,” Blunck said on NBCSN. “After last year in Korea, I was like, that’s the run I want to do.

“Last year was so stressful. I felt like I didn’t really have fun at all.”

COPPER RESULTS: Men | Women

Kelly Sildaru, the PyeongChang Olympic ski slopestyle favorite until suffering a season-ending knee injury in September 2017, captured the women’s title with multiple 900s in each of her first two runs, according to Van Valin, and a top score of 93 points.

In her five International Ski Federation events since coming back, Sildaru earned world junior titles in halfpipe and slopestyle, plus a silver in big air in the summer in New Zealand. She then beat all of the PyeongChang slopestyle medalists at a World Cup last month before topping both Olympic halfpipe champions on Friday (American Maddie Bowman and Canadian Cassie Sharpe).

Sildaru, who was born during the 2002 Salt Lake City Games, won the 2016 and 2017 Winter X Games ski slopestyle titles. Her first, at age 13, made her the youngest Winter X Games champion in any event.

By age 12, Sildaru was already in an Estonian yogurt commercial with one of the nation’s pop stars. A video of her skiing from when she was 8 and 9 years old has more than 250,000 YouTube views.

All of Estonia’s seven Winter Olympic medals came in cross-country skiing.

The Copper Mountain Grand Prix concludes with snowboard halfpipe finals, featuring Chloe Kim, on Saturday at 1 p.m. ET on NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app.

MORE: Gus Kenworthy: I think I would be too old for 2022 Olympics

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U.S. beats Japan in Olympic baseball qualifier, may still need help

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The U.S. handed Japan its first loss in the Premier12 global Olympic baseball qualifier, at the Tokyo Dome no less, but now the Americans must root for the host nation.

The Americans, with a roster mostly of Double-A and Triple-A players, won 4-3 over a Japanese team that includes some of its domestic league’s biggest stars like two-time Central League MVP Yoshihiro Maru and veteran shortstop Hayato Sakamoto.

Outfielder Jo Adell, MLB Pipeline’s top-ranked prospect on the U.S. team, starred by reaching base four times with a home run.

Japan is already qualified for baseball’s Olympic return as the host nation.

The U.S., meanwhile, has a sense of urgency at Premier12, the first of a possible three tournaments in which it could clinch an Olympic spot.

At Premier12, the top-ranked nation from North and South America qualifies for the Olympics. The tournament is at the super-round stage of the final six teams, and two are from the Americas: the U.S. and Mexico.

The top four nations after each has played five games advance to gold- and bronze-medal games.

Mexico already beat the U.S. and ran its super-round record to 3-0 on Tuesday, clinching a spot in the medal round.

The U.S. moved to 1-2 in the super round on Tuesday and must at least get into the same medal-round game as Mexico to keep its hope of finishing as the top team from the Americas.

Japan could help, since it plays Mexico on Wednesday. If Mexico beats Japan, the Mexicans clinch a spot in the gold-medal game, which would put more pressure on the U.S. to win its last two games (vs. Australia on Wednesday and Chinese Taipei on Friday). Even then, South Korea would get into the gold-medal game if it wins out.

If the U.S. is not the top team from the Americas at Premier12, it can still earn an Olympic berth in March. But then it faces trying to come up with a roster at the end of MLB’s spring training rather than during the offseason. MLB teams may be less inclined to release minor leaguers.

“That’ll be a delicate dance,” U.S. general manager Eric Campbell said before Premier12.

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MORE: AL MVP nixes unretirement for Olympic baseball qualifying

College gymnast dies after practice accident

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HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — An accomplished gymnast at Southern Connecticut State University has died following a serious spinal cord injury suffered in a training accident.

Melanie Coleman, 20, of Milford, Connecticut, was training Friday at New Era Gymnastics in Hamden when she was injured, said her mother, Susan Coleman.

She was taken to Yale-New Haven Hospital and died Sunday.

Coleman was a former All State gymnast at Jonathan Law High School in Milford and was captain of the school’s gymnastics team. She was named a Women’s Collegiate Gymnastics Association Scholastic All-American this year.

Her former club coach, Tom Alberti, said she attained a level 10, the highest level in the USA Junior Olympics Program.

She was a junior studying nursing, following in the footsteps of her two older sisters, her mother said.

“She’s from a very large, loving family; there’s seven of us, we were the Coleman seven,” Susan Coleman said. “We spent every day together for the past 20 years.”

She volunteered at the gym where her accident occurred.

Her coaches and professors described her as a special young woman who excelled in both the classroom and gym, college President Joe Berolino said in a written statement.

“Our deepest sympathies are extended to her family and friends on this tragic loss,” he said.

People the family has met by traveling to gymnastics events around the country are giving support that is “holding us up,” Coleman’s mother said.

She described her children, which also include two sons older than Melanie, as “inseparable.”

“We’re going to leave an empty space in our photos for her” from now on, Susan Coleman said.