Alex Ferreira clinches Olympic ski halfpipe spot; gold medalist still on bubble

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Alex Ferreira, the 2018 Olympic silver medalist in ski halfpipe, is going back to the Games. Will two-time gold medalist David Wise join him in Beijing?

Ferreira wrapped up his Olympic spot by placing second in the fourth of six qualifying events on Thursday in Calgary. Canadian Brendan Mackay won.

Ferreira now has two wins and a runner-up among the four qualifiers. The only other American man with a first- or second-place finish is Aaron Blunck, who didn’t compete Thursday and didn’t enter Saturday’s fifth qualifier (broadcast schedule here), either, mathematically ensuring Ferreira’s spot on the Olympic team.

The top two American men in next week’s world rankings update, provided they are top six in the world, will also get in (this is prioritized over the pathway of best podium results in qualifying events). Blunck is currently No. 1. Other Americans in contention for that pathway are No. 4 Birk Irving, No. 7 Wise, No. 8 Ferreira and No. 9 Lyman Currier.

That’s five Americans ranked in the top nine in the world. But no more than four can go to the Olympics.

MORE: U.S. athletes qualified for Olympic team

Wise, who won the first two Olympic men’s ski halfpipe titles in 2014 and 2018, did himself no favors Thursday, finishing eighth. In the four qualifiers, his best finish is fourth.

Irving has a pair of fourth-place finishes. Currier, a 2014 Olympian, notched his best finish of the qualifying events on Thursday with a fifth.

It’s likely that one or two men will be added to the team via discretionary selection later in January (likely two if Blunck and Ferreira get in via world rankings, and no other American gets a podium finish in qualifiers).

In 2018, Ferreira had three of the top four runs in the Olympic final. But he was relegated to silver when Wise posted the best score in his final run. After that, Ferreira won X Games Aspen in 2019 and 2020, before dropping to seventh last year. His world ranking does not reflect his status as an Olympic medal favorite.

On the women’s side, 17-year-old American Hanna Faulhaber earned her second podium in selection events, finishing second to Olympic super favorite Eileen Gu of China on Thursday.

Olympic bronze medalist Brita Sigourney is the other American with a podium finish among the qualifiers.

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Kendall Gretsch wins six gold medals at Para Nordic Ski Worlds

Kendall Gretsch
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Kendall Gretsch, who won Paralympic titles at the last Summer and Winter Games, added another six gold medals at the World Para Nordic Skiing Championships in Sweden last week.

Gretsch, 30, earned seven total medals in seven days between biathlon and cross-country skiing.

Gretsch won gold medals in three different sports across the last three Paralympics: biathlon and cross-country skiing in 2018 (two years after taking up the sports), triathlon in 2021 and biathlon in 2022.

She plans to shift her focus back to triathlon after this winter for 2024 Paris Games qualification.

Gretsch, born with spina bifida, was the 2014 USA Triathlon Female Para Triathlete of the Year. Though triathlon was added to the Paralympics for the 2016 Rio Games, her classification was not added until Tokyo.

Also at last week’s worlds, six-time Paralympian Aaron Pike earned his first Paralympic or world championships gold medal in his decade-plus career, winning a 12.5km biathlon event.

Oksana Masters, who won seven medals in seven events at last year’s Paralympics to break the career U.S. Winter Paralympics medals record, missed worlds due to hand surgery.

The U.S. also picked up five medals at last week’s World Para Alpine Skiing Championships in Spain — three silvers for five-time Paralympian Laurie Stephens and two bronzes for 17-year-old Saylor O’Brien.

Stephens now has 18 career medals from world championships, plus seven at the Paralympics.

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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.”