Shaun White ends 3-year break from snowboard competition

Shaun White
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Shaun White returned to snowboarding competition on Thursday for the first time since winning his third Olympic title in 2018.

White had the second-highest score in halfpipe qualifying at the U.S. Grand Prix in Aspen, Colorado, the first in a series of 2022 Olympic qualifying events that, after Sunday’s finals, will pick back up next season. The finals air live on Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA and Peacock Premium (full stream schedule here).

No Americans can clinch an Olympic spot in Aspen. No riders will be eliminated from Olympic contention, either, but it’s an opportunity for the 34-year-old White to size himself up against the competition.

In his first run, White landed a double McTwist 1260, a cab double cork 1080 and a frontside 1080, according to U.S. Ski and Snowboard, for 91.50 points. He said the run came together perfectly.

“A little nervous. Obviously it’s been a minute,” said White, who took by far his biggest break from snowboarding competition while briefly bidding to make the Tokyo Olympic team in skateboarding. “I’m like, I know how to do this, but I’m just kind of shaking off the cobwebs of it all. ”

He did not attempt a double cork 1440 in his first run back. White landed back-to-back versions of the trick to win the PyeongChang Olympics, attempting the combination at a contest for the first time in his life on his third and final run to overtake Japan’s Ayumu Hirano.

Japan’s Yuto Totsuka had the highest score in Thursday’s qualifying — 94.25 points — and has landed double cork 1440s this season. Totsuka emerged in the last two seasons as the clear Olympic favorite, winning the three biggest titles in snowboarding aside from the Olympics — the Burton U.S. Open, X Games and world championships.

Domestically, White is bidding to become the oldest U.S. Olympic halfpipe rider in history. No Americans stepped up to challenge Totsuka and Australian Scotty James in White’s absence the last three years. No American man made the podium at X Games in 2020 or 2021 after doing so the previous 23 editions of the event in the U.S.

Earlier Thursday, Chloe Kim led women’s halfpipe qualifying with a 93.25-point run.

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World champion skier Kyle Smaine dies in avalanche at age 31

Kyle Smaine
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Kyle Smaine, a retired world champion halfpipe skier, died in an avalanche in Japan on Sunday, according to NBC News, citing Smaine’s father. He was 31.

Smaine, a 2015 World champion in ski halfpipe, had been doing ski filming in Japan, sharing videos on his Instagram account over the past week.

The native of South Lake Tahoe, California, finished ninth in ski halfpipe at the 2016 Winter X Games in Aspen, Colorado.

In 2018, Smaine won the fifth and final U.S. Olympic qualifying series event in ski halfpipe but did not make the four-man team for PyeongChang. His last sanctioned international competition was in February 2018.

Late Sunday, two-time Olympic champion David Wise won the X Games men’s ski halfpipe and dedicated it to Smaine.

“We all did this for Kyle tonight,” Wise said on the broadcast. “It’s a little bit of an emotional day for us. We lost a friend.”

Ilia Malinin wins U.S. Figure Skating Championships despite quadruple Axel miss

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One year ago, Ilia Malinin came to the U.S. Championships as, largely, a 17-year-old unknown. He finished second to Nathan Chen in 2022 and was left off the three-man Olympic team due to his inexperience, a committee decision that lit a fire in him.

After the biggest year of change in U.S. figure skating in three decades, Malinin came to this week’s nationals in San Jose, California, as the headliner across all disciplines.

Though he fell on his quadruple Axel and doubled two other planned quads in Sunday’s free skate (the most ambitious program in history), he succeeded the absent Chen as national champion.

Malinin, the world’s second-ranked male singles skater, still landed two clean quads in Friday’s short program and three more Sunday. He totaled 287.74 points and prevailed by 10.43 over two-time Olympian Jason Brown, a bridge between the Chen and Malinin eras.

“This wasn’t the skate that I wanted,” said Malinin, who was bidding to become the second man to land six quads in one program after Chen. The Virginia chalked up the flaws at least partially to putting more recent practice time into his short program, which he skated clean on Friday after errors in previous competitions.

FIGURE SKATING NATIONALS: Full Results

Brown, a 28-year-old competing for the first time since placing sixth at the Olympics, became the oldest male singles skater to finish in the top three at nationals since Jeremy Abbott won the last of his four titles in 2014. As usual, he didn’t attempt a quad but had the highest artistic score by 9.41 points.

Brown’s seven total top-three finishes at nationals tie him with Chen, Michael WeissBrian Boitano, David Jenkins and Dick Button for the second-most in men’s singles since World War II, trailing only Todd Eldredge‘s and Hayes Jenkins‘ eight.

“I’m not saying it’s super old, but I can’t train the way I used to,” Brown said after Friday’s short program. “What Ilia is doing and the way he is pushing the sport is outstanding and incredible to watch. I cannot keep up.”

Andrew Torgashev took bronze, winning the free skate with one quad and all clean jumps. Torgashev, who competed at nationals for the first time since placing fifth in 2020 at age 18, will likely round out the three-man world team.

Japan’s Shoma Uno will likely be the favorite at worlds. He won last year’s world title, when Malinin admittedly cracked under pressure in the free skate after a fourth-place short program and ended up ninth.

That was before Malinin became the first person to land a quad Axel in competition. That was before Malinin became the story of the figure skating world this fall. That was before Malinin took over the American throne from Chen, who is studying at Yale and not expected to return to competition.

Malinin’s next step is to grab another label that Chen long held: best in the world. To do that, he must be better than he was on Sunday.

“You always learn from your experiences, and there’s always still the rest of the season to come,” he said. “I just have to be prepared and prepare a little bit extra so that doesn’t happen again.”

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