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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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Shaun White recovers from Covid before last Olympic snowboarding qualifier

Dew Tour Copper Mountain 2021 - Day 2
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Shaun White tested positive for the coronavirus after his last snowboarding contest before Christmas, experienced symptoms over the holiday and most recently tested negative to compete at the last U.S. Olympic snowboarding qualifier this weekend, NBCSports.com confirmed.

“I’m bouncing back from it, and it’s not been a fun experience,” White said, according to Olympics.com, which first reported the news. “I had asthma as a kid and I have a heart condition. So you know, anything to do with lungs and respiratory is not so great, and it’s just been like this lingering cold.”

White was born with a heart defect called Tetralogy of Fallot and had two major surgeries before his first birthday.

He’s slated to compete at the U.S. Grand Prix at Mammoth Mountain, California, the last significant halfpipe contest before the Olympic team is named. Qualifying is Friday. The final is Saturday, live on Peacock.

White has been among the top three U.S. male halfpipe riders over the last year, since he returned from the longest snowboarding competition break of his career (three years). U.S. Ski and Snowboard is expected to choose four men for the Olympic team, with at least one spot being a coaches’ selection.

White, with his three Olympic gold medals, is in great shape to make the team either objectively (likely if he makes the podium on Saturday) or through the discretionary route.

White said last month that he believes this will be his last Olympic run. He then hinted at his last contest that it will be his last season as a competitive snowboarder, saying it was his last appearance at that particular event.

The other two top U.S. riders — Taylor Gold and Chase Josey — are not entered at Mammoth. Neither are the top U.S. female halfpipe riders, Chloe Kim and Maddie Mastro, who previously clinched Olympic spots.

The Olympic men’s halfpipe favorites are Japanese Ayumu Hirano, Ruka Hirano and Yuto Totsuka and Australian Scotty James.

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U.S. Ski and Snowboard Grand Prix Broadcast Schedule

Day Time (ET) Event Platform
Friday 10 p.m. Ski Halfpipe Peacock | STREAM LINK
Saturday 12 p.m.* Ski Halfpipe CNBC
12:30 p.m. Snowboard Slopestyle Peacock | STREAM LINK
4 p.m. Ski Slopestyle Peacock | STREAM LINK
9:30 p.m. Snowboard Halfpipe Peacock | STREAM LINK
Sunday 9:30 a.m.* Snowboard Slopestyle CNBC
11 a.m.* Ski Slopestyle CNBC
1 p.m.* Snowboard Halfpipe CNBC

Chloe Kim wins Dew Tour after Maddie Mastro crashes hard; Ayumu Hirano lands triple cork

Chloe Kim
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Chloe Kim won her first event of the Olympic season, while Ayumu Hirano landed the first triple cork in halfpipe competition at Dew Tour on Sunday.

Kim landed a pair of 1080s on the last run of the women’s event at Copper Mountain, Colorado, to overtake Spain’s Queralt Castellet on her third and final run.

Kim scored 96 points after falling on her second 1080 attempt on each of her first two runs.

“I’m never putting myself in that situation again. That was horrible,” she said in a finish area interview.

Kim has won all five of her starts since returning from a 19-month break between riding a snowboard last season.

She is set to qualify for the U.S. Olympic team later this week, when the first riders clinch spots via world rankings.

Maddie Mastro, the other American Olympic medal contender, crashed hard on her first run, banging her helmet-protected head on the lip of the halfpipe. She did not take her second and third runs.

She was bleeding below her left eye and taken off the mountain by sled. Contest officials said she suffered an ankle injury.

Mastro, the last woman to beat Kim at the March 2019 Burton U.S. Open, had the highest score in qualifying.

DEW TOUR: Full Results

Later Sunday, the two-time Olympic silver medalist Hirano became the first halfpipe rider to land a triple cork in competition. Hirano did a frontside triple cork 1440 on his last run, though he crashed out on his next trick and finished fifth overall.

Shaun White finished seventh. White, after taking a three-year competition break after winning his third Olympic title in 2018, has finished fourth, eighth and seventh in three competitions.

It marks the first time he has missed the podium in three straight halfpipe contests in nearly 20 years, according to his federation profile results histories.

White said after his last run that it was his last time competing at Dew Tour. White, 35, previously said that he believes Beijing will be his last Olympics but has not said specifically when he plans to retire.

White said before this season that learning the triple cork was necessary to do well at the Olympics. White’s coach, J.J. Thomas, said that he saw several riders land triple corks at a preseason training camp in Switzerland, including some of Japan’s biggest stars like Hirano. White tried and failed to learn a triple cork in 2012 and 2013, then shelved it. He has never attempted one in competition.

Another Japanese Olympic medal favorite, Yuto Tostuka, won Dew Tour without attempting a triple cork.

American Taylor Gold, a 2014 Olympian who sat out the 2018 Olympic season due to injuries, finished second. White, Gold and Chase Josey are favorites to make the U.S. Olympic team of up to four men, which will be finalized in January.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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