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Gus Kenworthy switches from U.S. to Great Britain to honor his mom

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Freestyle skier Gus Kenworthy will compete for Great Britain for what he says is his last Olympic cycle culminating with the 2022 Beijing Winter Games.

Kenworthy, a 2014 Olympic ski slopestyle silver medalist, finalized his switch from the U.S. to his birth nation, announcing the move in Great Britain on Tuesday. The process has been in the works for months and was approved by U.S. Ski & Snowboard.

His reasoning: first to honor his mom, who is British, and to take “a path of less resistance” to qualifying for the Olympics.

“I feel like these are going to be my last Olympic Games for sure. I just wanted to do it for my mom,” he said. “She’s held up the American flag for me for two Games now, and I would love to be able to hold up the British flag for her for one.

“This gives me an advantage in terms of qualifying and having less to worry about, less people I’m up against, just being able to focus on the tricks that I want to be working on, the runs that I want to do, put me in the best position to hopefully get another medal and not have to kill my body trying to qualify in multiple disciplines right before the Games against the U.S. guys.”

Kenworthy, part of a U.S. slopestyle medals sweep in Sochi, is a dual citizen, born in Chelmsford, about 30 miles northeast of London. He moved to the U.S. at age 2 but, as he grew up, made yearly trips across the Atlantic to see his mom’s extended family.

For his last Olympics, Kenworthy hopes to qualify in three events — ski slopestyle, halfpipe and the new Olympic event of big air. In past Olympic cycles, qualifying for the U.S. teams in slope and pipe meant competing at five contests per discipline in the two months before the Winter Games.

Kenworthy noted that in 2014, he was passed over for the fourth and final Olympic spot in halfpipe for the injured Torin Yater-Wallace (chosen by committee) despite finishing fourth in qualifying. In 2018, he was sixth in qualifying for halfpipe, crashing hard at the last selection event.

Kenworthy will put more focus on halfpipe as he returns to competition in full this winter, highlighted by a Winter X Games Aspen appearance in late January.

He has competed just once since the PyeongChang Olympics. He was 12th in the 12-man final in South Korea, skiing with a broken thumb and after having six vials of blood drained from his hip.

“I thought maybe I was going to be done after this last Olympics,” said Kenworthy, who come 2022 will be 30, two years older than any previous Olympic male slopestyle skier. “Was predicted to get a medal and was favored for a medal and thought that I was going to get a medal, and it just didn’t work out for me. I think I got in my own head and kind of had a lot of the pressure internalized and expectations from people. I was also battling injuries, this huge hematoma in my hip, and just didn’t ski the way I wanted to ski in the final, and it made it really hard to walk away — not even like not getting a medal. Had I left it all out there and felt like I had done my best, I think I could have walked away with my head held high. I did do my best, but it was not my best performance.”

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MORE: ‘Snow Pass’ to live stream winter sports events on NBC Sports Gold

Coco Gauff eliminated from Australian Open by Sofia Kenin

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Coco Gauff‘s run at the Australian Open ended in the round of 16, foiled by fellow American Sofia Kenin on Sunday.

Kenin ousted the 15-year-old phenom 6-7 (5), 6-3, 6-0 to reach her first Grand Slam quarterfinal. Gauff, too, was bidding for her first major quarterfinal after a sterling seven months ignited by her march to the Wimbledon fourth round.

Gauff, ranked No. 684 this time last year, will near the top 50 after the Australian Open. She beat Venus Williams in the first round at Wimbledon and the Australian Open and took out defending Australian Open champion Naomi Osaka in the third round on Friday.

Gauff’s play catapulted her to fifth in U.S. Olympic singles qualifying, but she has half the points as fourth-place Madison Keys, and a country can’t qualify more than four players in singles. The Olympic field will be determined by the WTA rankings after the French Open in June.

The 14th seed Kenin, who beat Serena Williams in the 2019 French Open third round, ranks second behind Williams in U.S. Olympic qualifying. She will face No. 27 Wang Qiang or Ons Jabeur in the quarterfinals.

Kenin and Alison Riske are the two remaining U.S. women in the draw.

AUSTRALIAN OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women

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Jessica Calalang, Brian Johnson produce the pairs’ moment of figure skating nationals

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GREENSBORO, N.C. – This fall season, Jessica Calalang and Brian Johnson ranked fifth among American pairs but finished with silver medals at the U.S. Championships on Saturday night.

After a fifth-place nationals finish last year, their goal was just to be on the podium in Greensboro.

In their second year together, Calalang and Johnson won the free skate with 146.01 points for a total score of 213.57. It was good enough for second place, as the eventual winners, Alexa Knierim and Chris Knierim, held a 10-point lead over their training partners from the short program.

“While Brian and Chris are working on cars, Jess and I are having lattes petting cats,” Alexa said in a press conference. “We have a great dynamic and I couldn’t be prouder of them for the way they skated. I watched them backstage just because I genuinely care for them.”

Calalang and Johnson vaulted to second from fourth place after short, when Johnson fell on the side-by-side triple Salchows.

In the free skate, however, they received positive grades of execution on every element. The crowd inside the Greensboro Coliseum was on their feet before the music (“You are the Reason” by Calum Scott and Leona Lewis) even finished.

“I don’t think either of us have had that kind of performance at a U.S. Championships,” Calalang said.

“I definitely haven’t,” Johnson added. “The amount of audience support that I felt at the very end of that program was overwhelming. It was the most amazing thing I’ve felt on the ice. I don’t have words to describe it.”

Now, they could join the Knierims at the world championships in March. The U.S. has two berths to worlds, up from one last year. U.S. Figure Skating chooses the teams, not necessarily (but usually) following nationals standings.

Calalang and Johnson have no world championships experience, either together or with former partners, although they have had plenty of experience this season.

They kicked it off with a sixth-place finish at a lower-level event, followed by their Grand Prix debut at Skate America. They finished just off the podium in fourth. The following week, they were sixth at Skate Canada. They handily won the Warsaw Cup, another lower-level event this fall.

“Repetition always helps,” Johnson said. “The more experience you can get, hopefully the better you’re gonna be doing. It was great doing the Grand Prixes because we had an amazing audience at Skate America and Skate Canada. The whole place was sold-out. I think that really resembles here as well with everybody loving what you’re doing and the whole support base.”

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NATIONALS: TV/Live Stream Schedule | Full Results

As a reminder, you can watch the events from the 2019-20 figure skating season live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. Go to NBCsports.com/gold/figure-skating to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season. NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.