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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Snowboarding pioneer Jake Burton Carpenter passes away

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Jake Burton Carpenter, the pioneer who brought snowboarding to the masses and helped turn the sport into a billion-dollar business and Olympic showpiece, has died at 65.

He died Wednesday night in Burlington, Vermont, according to an email sent to the staff of the company he founded. Carpenter had emailed his staff this month saying, “You will not believe this, but my cancer has come back.” He had been diagnosed with testicular cancer in 2011 but after several months of therapy had been given a clean bill of health.

Carpenter quit his job in New York in 1977 to form the company now known simply as Burton. His goal was to advance the rudimentary snowboard, then called a “Snurfer,” which had been invented by Sherman Poppen a dozen years earlier.

It worked, and more than four decades later, snowboarding is a major fixture at the Winter Games and snowboards are as common as skis at resorts across the globe.

“He was our founder, the soul of snowboarding, the one who gave us the sport we all love so much,” Burton co-CEO John Lacy said in his email to the staff.

Grieving Mikaela Shiffrin returns to World Cup Alpine action with fourth reindeer at stake

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The traditional World Cup Alpine skiing season opener last month in Soelden, Austria, was an emotional one for Mikaela Shiffrin.

Shiffrin’s grandmother, Pauline Condron, was in declining health in the days leading up to the race, making Shiffrin wonder if she should head home instead of staying in Soelden. Condron was especially close to Shiffrin, helping to take care of her soon after birth.

Condron passed away Oct. 22, four days before the Soelden giant slalom, at age 98.

“Polly loved sports,” Condron’s obituary said. “She was an avid bowler in her younger years and enjoyed playing tennis and skiing. Few people know that she excelled at ping pong, had a killer serve, gave up very few games and played into her 90s.”

Condron was able to see Shiffrin in person at World Cup races in Killington, Vt. The World Cup will return next weekend to Killington, which has just passed its FIS inspection.

Shiffrin finished second in Soelden’s giant slalom to an upstart rival, 17-year-old New Zealander Alice Robinson. Shiffrin is the reigning Olympic and World Cup champion in the giant slalom, but she hasn’t won in Soelden since 2014.

In the slalom, Shiffrin is more dominant. She won eight of nine World Cup races last year, losing only to Slovakia’s Petra Vlhova, and won her fourth straight world championship despite battling illness. The last time Shiffrin finished worse than second in the technical discipline was in the 2018 Olympics, when she uncharacteristically faltered and finished fourth.

Saturday’s race in Levi, Finland, is a slalom. Shiffrin has won three of the last five races in Levi, which means she also has three reindeer  Rudolph, Sven and Mr. Gru. She can win a fourth on Saturday.

The men also have a slalom this weekend in Levi, racing Sunday.

Both runs for each event stream live on NBC Sports Gold at 4:15 and 7 a.m. ET, with the Olympic Channel also carrying the second runs each day.

MORE: Alpine skiing TV schedule

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