Greg Bretz

Halfpipe preview: Can anyone challenge Shaun White?

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With injuries and shaky training runs in mind, Shaun White has at least looked fallible in men’s halfpipe … but let’s face it, when it comes to this event, it’s White and everyone else.

Speaking of everyone else, the natural question for many is: who has a chance to keep White from becoming the first Winter Olympian to take gold in the same event three times in a row? NBCOlympics.com presents some of the best nominees here.

Here’s a very abbreviated rundown of some other snowboarders to watch, but again, the detailed account is here.

Iouri Podladtchikov – After originally competing for Russia, “I-Pod” now competes for Switzerland, hopes to finally close the gap behind White. He’s pushing White thanks in part to what he calls the “Yolo flip,” described by the AP as “a double-cork 1440 — four full twists packed inside of two flips,” which is a half-twist more than White’s biggest trick from the last Olympics.

One might say he “lives” to push White, who reportedly is working on more elaborate tricks to combat Podladtchikov’s invention.

Greg Bretz – The U.S. snowboarder holds the rare distinction of actually beating White, as he did at the Dew Tour back in December. It’s tough to top that confidence-booster.

Danny Davis – Consider him the “wild card” of the halfpipe. While he doesn’t seem as technically focused as many other snowboarders, his more flowing approach could very well make him a threat. There’s a little bit of skateboarding icon Tony Alva’s spirit in Davis’ approach.

MORE: Bretz spurred by father’s support

Ayumu Hirano – At 15, Hirano might just be snowboarding’s next wunderkind. He’s the the youngest rider ever to win an FIS Snowboard World Cup and while his time might not necessarily be now, his future seems incredibly bright.

 

Shaun White clinches Olympic halfpipe spot

Shaun White
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Shaun White is officially qualified for two events at the Sochi Olympics.

White wrapped up his spot on the U.S. Olympic Team in halfpipe by winning the final selection event in Mammoth Mountain, Calif., on Sunday. The two-time Olympic champion won with a first-run score of 96.6 points and erred in his second run.

White joins the already qualified Taylor Gold as well as Greg Bretz, who was off the podium Sunday but made it via strong results in the first two selection events in December.

(Update: Danny Davis earned the fourth and final Olympic berth as a discretionary selection announced a half-hour after competition ended.)

White, 27, capped a tumultuous month of Olympic qualifying. He crashed in the first Olympic selection event in halfpipe, injuring an ankle, and was not able to qualify for the Olympic Team in either slopestyle or halfpipe until this final weekend. Weather postponements did not help.

“It was a long [week], but I made the team,” White said on NBC. “I’m pretty happy. It’s everything I could have hoped for.

“I’m one of the only guys doing both [halfpipe and slopestyle]. Juggling the two has been out of hand. It’s really demanding to switch gears and do both, but I’m doing it. I’m making my way.”

White is favored to win Olympic gold in halfpipe and could become the first American man to win the same Winter Olympic event three times.

He might not compete again before the Olympic slopestyle competition that begins Feb. 6, one day before the Opening Ceremony. White has said he is likely to skip this week’s Winter X Games, which would be his first absence from the event this millennium.

It sounds like White could use the rest. His band, Bad Things, releases its debut album Tuesday.

“I’m pretty worked still,” White said. “I would be lying to say I’m all good. I knew I had one really good run in me. That’s kind of my Achilles. I get lazy on the second run if I post a really good score [in the first run].”

His top Olympic threats may not be Americans — Swiss Iouri Podladtchikov and Japanese Ayumu Hirano could also win. White performed a trick in a victory Friday that was first done in competition by Podladtchikov last year — a double cork 1440.

“To put my run down with the new trick I’ve got going, it’s really pulling its weight,” White said. “They’re definitely up to my expectation. I’ve been waiting to pull these new tricks out.”

Gold qualified for the Olympic Team before White on Friday. He is the older brother of Arielle Gold, who qualified for the women’s team earlier Sunday.

Bretz beat White in the first Olympic selection event in December. He finished 12th at the 2010 Olympics.

Davis would have made the 2010 Olympic Team if not for a drunken ATV ride that left him with a broken back four years ago.

Two 2010 Olympians — bronze medalist Scotty Lago and Louie Vito — did not make the 2014 Olympic Team.

Skier with Lyme disease makes Olympic Team

Shaun White lands new trick to win Mammoth halfpipe; Olympic picture crowded

Shaun White
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Shaun White moved closer to clinching his spot on the U.S. Olympic Team in halfpipe with his two best runs this season, including an unprecedented one, in Mammoth Mountain, Calif., on Friday.

White, the two-time Olympic halfpipe champion, captured the fourth of five Olympic selection events with the two best scores — 97 in his first run followed by 98.6, which included a cab double cork 1440. It marked the first time he landed the trick in competition.

“I treated it like an Olympic event, like it is,” White said on NBCSN, after saying before the second run he was going to ride like it was practice. “I wanted to up my score. I wanted to do something under pressure.”

White beat 2010 Olympic bronze medalist Scotty Lago by 3.8. Taylor Gold was third and became the first man to clinch a spot on the U.S. Olympic Team in snowboard halfpipe.

On Thursday, White crashed in a slopestyle event and then clinched his spot in slopestyle in a later event. He skipped the first of two halfpipe events Friday.

“I just woke up in a world of hurt,” White said on NBCSN after going through physical therapy to heal a sore back and neck. “I just knew if I wanted to make a good showing today, it was quality over quantity.”

Lago took second place to join the race for an Olympic berth. He scored 94.8 for his first top-four result of the Olympic selection event series.

“It was do or die,” Lago said on NCBSN. “I had to get on the podium, or else I didn’t have a shot at the Olympics.”

White joined Greg Bretz and Gold with 1,800 points to lead Olympic selection event standings. Gold clinched a berth thanks to strong results in all four selection events so far. Two more will clinch at the conclusion of the fifth and final selection event Sunday in Mammoth Mountain.

Even if White does not clinch an automatic spot, he can be placed on the U.S. Olympic Team as a discretionary selection.

“It’s nice coming back to pipe, obviously, just because this is the one event I feel like I’ve got a little bit of a lead from the season before,” White said on NBCSN. “At least I’m up to par with the other riders. Slopestyle, I’ve been doing catching up with the tricks and learning about my competitors.”

Kelly Clark, the 2002 Olympic champion, stayed perfect by winning a fourth straight women’s event. She scored 94.8 points, beating Chloe Kim, who would have clinched her Olympic berth Friday if she wasn’t too young for the Olympics at 13.

“I had a disappointing fall on my first run,” Clark said on NBCSN. “Right now, everything for me is practice. To be able to come out, second run, under that kind of pressure and put down a run, if I have to do that in Russia, I’m ready.”

2006 Olympic champion Hannah Teter was third, her second straight top-four finish Friday to move into third place in the Olympic selection standings behind Clark and Arielle Gold.

There are two automatic Olympic women’s berths still available after Clark. Gold is extremely close to wrapping one up. Teter, Gretchen Bleiler and Kaitlyn Farrington are contenders, too.

It is likely a fourth woman will be chosen as a discretionary selection.

Here are the Olympic selection standings in snowboard halfpipe:

Men’s Snowboard Halfpipe — Three automatic Olympic spots
1. Taylor Gold — 1,800 (clinched Olympic berth)
1. Greg Bretz — 1,800
1. Shaun White — 1,800
4. Danny Davis — 1,450
5. Scotty Lago — 1,250
6. Ben Ferguson — 1,050
7. Matt Ladley — 1,000
7. Louie Vito — 1,000

Women’s Snowboard Halfpipe – Three automatic Olympic spots
1. Kelly Clark — 2,000 (clinched Olympic berth)
2. Arielle Gold — 1,400
3. Hannah Teter — 1,200
4. Gretchen Bleiler — 1,050
5. Kaitlyn Farrington — 1,000

Reigning world champ must hope for discretionary pick to Olympics