McRae Williams

Gus Kenworthy qualifies for Olympic ski slopestyle team

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Two nights after taking a massive slam in the halfpipe, Gus Kenworthy bounced back to earn a spot on his second U.S. Olympic slopestyle team.

Kenworthy placed second at the final Olympic qualifier for freeski slopestyle, which was held Sunday at Mammoth Mountain. That result, combined with a victory at a selection event last weekend, qualified him for the Olympic team.

It wasn’t the smoothest week for Kenworthy, who had been trying to make the U.S. team in both halfpipe and slopestyle.

During Friday night’s final qualifier for the ski halfpipe team, Kenworthy struggled to land a run and then had a hard crash on his final attempt.

On Saturday, he placed 58th out of 63 skiers in the preliminary round of a slopestyle selection event.

It was a different story on Sunday though.

By making the slopestyle team, Kenworthy will have another shot at an Olympic medal. He won a silver medal at the last Winter Olympics in Sochi, where slopestyle made its debut, and was part of a podium sweep alongside Joss Christensen and Nick Goepper.

Earlier in the day, Goepper became the first skier to make the men’s slopestyle Olympic team. Because of weather delays throughout the week, Mammoth ended up hosting a pair of Olympic qualifiers on Sunday.

Goepper and Kenworthy were the only skiers to earn automatic nominations onto the men’s slopestyle Olympic team during the qualifying period. Two more skiers can still be added to the team as discretionary selections.

McRae Williams, the 2017 X Games silver medalist, has a strong case for one of those two spots. He finished sixth and fifth at Sunday’s two slopestyle qualifiers.

The other spot on the team looks a little more uncertain. Among the riders likely in consideration is Alex Hall, who was fourth at the final qualifier and is the next ranked skier in terms of qualifying points. It’s also possible that reigning Olympic gold medalist Joss Christensen, who just returned to competition last week after rehabbing from a torn ACL, could be in the discussion.

While Kenworthy is now assured a spot on the slopestyle team, he’s likely on the outside looking in for halfpipe. The three automatic spots have already been allocated to David Wise, Alex Ferreira and Torin Yater-Wallace, and the discretionary spot appears likely to go to Aaron Blunck.

Discretionary picks for both slopestyle and halfpipe are expected to be announced in the next few days.

U.S. Olympic Qualifying Standings

Men’s Freeski Slopestyle
After 5 of 5 Events:

1. Gus Kenworthy, 180** (QUALIFIED)
2. Nick Goepper, 160** (QUALIFIED)
3. McRae Williams, 95
4. Alex Hall, 95
5. Quinn Wolferman, 79
6. Bobby Brown, 68
7. Noah Wallace, 60
8. Joss Christensen, 60

**Has met qualifying minimum of two top-three finishes.

Elena Hight wins her first X Games gold medal

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Elena Hight has been a mainstay on the Winter X Games circuit, collecting three silver medals and two bronze medals since making her debut at just 13 years old in 2003.

14 years later, she finally won her first gold medal in the women’s snowboard halfpipe final Saturday night in Aspen, Colo.

“I don’t even know what to say,” Hight said, shaking her head.

China’s Xeutong Cai finished second, followed by American Chloe Kim.

Kim entered as the pre-race favorite, having not lost on the halfpipe in over a year. But the 16-year-old fell early in her first run, just moments after competition was interrupted for about 10 minutes when half of the course’s floodlights shut off. Television commentators described her second and final run as “probably the tamest run we have ever seen from Chloe in an X Games.”

It was the first time that Kim, who was too young to compete at the 2014 Winter Olympics, failed to win a gold medal in her four X Games starts.

Earlier on Saturday, 19-year-old American Julia Marino claimed the women’s snowboard slopestyle gold medal. She became the first X Games rookie since 2000 to win two medals, after earning the snowboard big air bronze medal on Thursday.

“I don’t think I could ask for a better contest,” Marino said.

Marino bested fellow American Jamie Anderson, the 2014 Olympic champion and most decorated rider in X Games slopestyle history with 12 medals. Great Britain’s Katie Ormerod finished third.

Americans swept the men’s ski slopestyle podium at the Sochi Games, where the event was making its Olympic debut. But it was McRae Williams, after not even making the 2014 U.S. Olympic team, who stood on the podium in Aspen.

Williams earned the silver medal, behind Norway’s Oystein Braaten and ahead of Canada’s Alex Beaulieu-Marchand.

Braaten wiped out on his first run, scoring 8.66 points, the lowest of the 12 skiers in the finals. But the winner was determined based on a skier’s best score in either of the two final runs, and Braaten responded with a score of 94.33 points on his second run.

“I was so scared after my first run because I messed up a trick I’ve been landing all week,” Braaten admitted.

2014 Olympic champion Joss Christensen finished sixth, while 2014 Olympic silver medalist Gus Kenworthy was 10th and 2014 Olympic bronze medalist Nick Goepper was 11th. Goepper, who won gold at every X Games from 2013-2015, is the only skier with multiple wins in the event at the last 14 X Games.

Kenworthy was competing less than 15 hours after finishing 10th in the ski halfpipe final.

MORE: Aaron Blunck wins surprise gold in crash-filled ski halfpipe