Shaun White opts out of last Olympic qualifier after COVID, still looks good to make team

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MAMMOTH MOUNTAIN, Calif. — Shaun White arrived at Mammoth Mountain hoping to lock in a spot on his fifth Olympic team.

The snowboarding superstar left it with his ankle hurting, a coach said, and work still left to do.

White put together a solid run during qualifying at the U.S. Grand Prix on Saturday night but aggravated a lingering ankle issue in the process, and he opted not to participate in the finals, U.S. head coach Mike Jankowski said.

A person familiar with White’s decision told The Associated Press that White’s ankle was not an issue, and it was COVID-19 symptoms that led him to call it a night. White’s withdrawal came after he experienced lingering COVID-19 symptoms, including fatigue and shortness of breath.

The person familiar with White’s decision said it does not impact White’s plans to compete in Beijing next month. The person requested anonymity because White has not publicly disclosed the reason for his withdrawal.

It led to the strange site of a portion of the 2022 U.S. Olympic snowboarding and freestyle team being announced later Saturday night without the 35-year-old who has redefined the sport.

MORE: U.S. athletes qualified for 2022 Winter Olympics

“If you’re off a bit and you’re not feeling your ‘A’ game, at this level, at night in the icy white, it’s risky as you know so he decided to take a break,” Jankowski said.

The setback was the latest in a series of them for White since he returned to the sport following a three-year sabbatical after his dramatic final-run triumph in Korea in 2018.

He finished eighth and seventh in separate events last month and said last week that he contracted COVID-19 in late December, describing his symptoms as a serious cold.

White arrived in California this week as the third-ranked American in a discipline that’s become dominated by the Japanese (Olympic favorite Ayumu Hirano and Ruka Hirano went one-two in Saturday’s final).

White stressed the importance of wanting to generate some momentum heading to China, Now he finds himself in fourth behind a group led by 2014 Olympian Taylor Gold, though White is still likely in good position provided he’s healthy. The team does not have to be finalized until Jan. 21.

“(White) just wants to train and keep working hard and keep getting better,” Jankowski said. “He’s hoping the spot where he’s at now holds solid and that he’s able to get the nomination to the team.”

While White’s status is still unclear, six more snowboarders or freeskiers clinched Olympic spots at Mammoth in the last opportunity to do so objectively. The rest of the team will be filled out by coaches’ picks.

The most prominent qualifier Saturday was two-time Olympic ski halfpipe gold medalist David Wise, who finished second behind New Zealand’s Nico Porteous in Mammoth.

Wise, 31, landed back-to-back double cork 1260s to cap his first of two runs for 95.25 points. He joined the previously qualified Alex Ferreira and Aaron Blunck on the men’s ski halfpipe team.

Wise was likely ticketed for an Olympic spot regardless of his result in Mammoth. U.S. coaches can add a fourth man to the team via their discretion. That spot could now go to Birk Irving, who was third at both X Games and the world championships last season, and then fourth on Saturday.

In women’s ski halfpipe, China’s Eileen Gu remained undefeated this season with her fifth win, recording the two highest scores (94.75 and 97.50). Gu, an 18-year-old born in San Francisco to an American father and Chinese mother, could sweep the three freeski golds in Beijing — pipe, slopestyle and the new Olympic event of big air.

Brita Sigourney, the bronze medalist in 2018, finished third and clinched a spot on the Olympic team. The 17-year-old Hanna Faulhaber previously qualified. Coaches can add up to two more women to the team.

PyeongChang Olympians Hailey Langland and Chris Corning earned berths in slopestyle and big air, joining defending slopestyle gold medalists Jamie Anderson and Red Gerard, who previously qualified and then won at Mammoth. Dusty Henricksen also previously made the men’s team.

On Sunday, Alex Hall and Maggie Voisin clinched spots in ski slopestyle and big air. Hall swiped a spot from two-time Olympic medalist Nick Goepper on the last run of the competition, but Goepper is likely to be named to the team with a discretionary pick.

No Americans were in Saturday’s women’s halfpipe final. The 2018 gold medalist Chloe Kim and fellow Olympic medal contender Maddie Mastro previously qualified for Beijing. Two more women can be named.

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Japanese pair edges Americans for historic Grand Prix Final figure skating title

Riku Miura, Ryuichi Kihara
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Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara won the biggest title ever for a Japanese figure skating pair, taking the Grand Prix Final and consolidating their status as the world’s top active team.

Miura and Kihara, last season’s world silver medalists, barely outscored world champions Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier in Turin, Italy, in both Thursday’s short program and Friday’s free skate to win the six-pair event that is a preview of March’s worlds.

The Japanese totaled 214.58 points, distancing the Americans by a mere 1.3 points after Frazier erred on both of their side-by-side jumping passes in the free skate. Italians Sara Conti and Niccolo Macii took bronze.

“We had a very late start to our season than initially planned, so as we have been performing at each event, I see us getting stronger, improving things,” said Frazier, who with Knierim had their best short program and free skate scores of the autumn.

Knierim and Frazier didn’t decide to continue competing together this season until July.

“I feel a little personally disappointed tonight just for myself for my jumps,” Frazier continued. “I was a little all over the place and, normally, I can execute better, so I feel a little bad, but I’m very proud of us overall. We’ve done a great job of improving each competition and looking forward to the second half of the season where we can start tapping into our best skating.”

GRAND PRIX FINAL: Results | Broadcast Schedule

Miura and Kihara, who partnered in June 2019 and train in Ontario, both waited with trepidation for their final score to be posted, worried that each’s separate mistake on jumps might cost them the title. When they learned they won, both burst into tears.

“This was the first time in eight years that I made a mistake with a Salchow, so I thought we might not get a good score, and it would be my fault,” Kihara said.

Miura and Kihara entered the competition ranked No. 1 in the world by best scores this season ahead of Knierim and Frazier, who in March became the first U.S. pair to win a world title since 1979.

Last season, Miura and Kihara became the second Japanese pair to make a Grand Prix podium and to earn a world championships medal. Their ascension helped Japan win its first Olympic figure skating team event medal in February (a bronze that could be upgraded to gold pending the Kamila Valiyeva case).

In Grand Prix Final history, Japan had won 11 gold medals and 40 total medals, all in singles, before this breakthrough.

Knierim and Frazier, already the first U.S. pair to compete in the Grand Prix Final since 2015, became the first U.S. pair to win a Grand Prix Final medal. The Final has been held annually since 1996, though it was canceled the last two seasons due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Miura and Kihara and Knierim and Frazier ascended to the top of the sport while the top five teams from the Olympics from Russia and China have not competed internationally since the Winter Games.

All Russian skaters are ineligible for international competition due to the war in Ukraine. China’s pairs, including Olympic champions Sui Wenjing and Han Cong, didn’t enter last March’s worlds and did not compete in the fall Grand Prix Series.

Later Friday, world champion Kaori Sakamoto of Japan led the women’s short program with 75.86 points, 1.28 ahead of countrywoman Mai Mihara. American Isabeau Levito, the 15-year-old world junior champion, was fifth of six skaters in her Grand Prix Final debut.

Canadians Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier topped the rhythm dance with 85.93 points, edging Americans Madison Chock and Evan Bates by .44. Both couples are bidding for the biggest international title of their careers. None of the Olympic medalists competed internationally this fall.

The Grand Prix Final ends Saturday with the men’s and women’s free skates and free dance, all live on Peacock.

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A Winter Olympic medal still being decided, 10 months later

Fanny Smith, Daniela Maier
It's still unknown whether Fanny Smith (green) or Daniela Maier (blue) is the Olympic ski cross bronze medalist. (Getty)
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There is a second Winter Olympic medal result still in question, 10 months after the Games.

While the figure skating team event results are still unknown due to the Kamila Valiyeva case, the bronze medal in women’s ski cross is also in dispute.

Originally, Swiss Fanny Smith crossed the finish line in third place in the four-woman final at the Winter Games in February. Upon review by the International Ski Federation (FIS) jury, she was minutes later demoted to fourth place after making contact with German Daniela Maier near the end of the course. Maier, who originally was fourth, was upgraded to bronze.

“I tried to be OK with the fourth place. I was very disappointed, I have to say, [then] the jury was like this,” Maier said then. “I am really sorry for Fanny that it’s like this right now. … The jury decided like this, so accept it and be happy with the medal.”

Smith and the Swiss ski federation appealed. FIS reinstated Smith as the bronze medalist nine days after the race and six days after the Closing Ceremony. A FIS appeals commission met four times and reviewed video and written documentation for several hours before deciding that “the close proximity of the racers at that moment resulted in action that was neither intentional or avoidable.”

But that wasn’t the end. The case ended up reportedly going to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), whose rulings are usually accepted as final. The CAS process is ongoing, European media reported this week.

CAS has not responded to a request for comment. A FIS contact said Friday, “There is currently no update to provide in regards to the bronze medal in ski cross. Should there be any update, we will inform you.”

Smith said there should be news soon regarding the case, according to Blick.

Maier still has the bronze medal at her home and enjoys looking at it, according to German media, which also reported that the German ski federation expects Maier to win the case and keep the medal. Smith and Maier spoke extensively about it in recent training sessions and cleared things up. Maier said the best outcome would be bronze medals for both of them, according to the report.

For now, FIS lists Smith as the bronze medalist. The IOC lists Maier as the bronze medalist.

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