Ski Halfpipe

Maddie Bowman, first Olympic ski halfpipe champion, ends competitive career

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Maddie Bowman knows she has been very fortunate. She just turned 26 years old and has already accomplished everything she wanted in her sport, halfpipe skiing.

Bowman, who won the event’s Olympic debut in Sochi in 2014, recently decided to retire from competition.

“I’ve really given the sport everything I could that was positive, and I knew the sport would be in great hands when I walked away,” she said. “So I decided it was my time to be done.

“I just felt like I couldn’t give anything else to the sport because I was a little bit afraid [of injury], but also it’s mentally exhausting. It drained my mental health for sure, but I loved doing it, and I still love skiing. Competition just isn’t for me anymore.”

The decision weighed on the South Lake Tahoe native last season. She competed at the Winter X Games for the last time, taking fifth place. She earned medals each of the previous seven years, including five golds, despite undergoing two major knee surgeries in that span.

“I was thinking [last year] that this is really hard, and I don’t know if I want to keep doing this,” she said. “It was really hard for me to get into the right mental state again. It’s painful. My knees hurt, but I was torn. I was torn between wanting to walk away and the love I had for the people I was around, people I competed against and just the lifestyle. I worked really hard on opening up other doors for myself besides skiing, which is making my transition a lot smoother.”

Those opportunities include activism, spreading awareness around climate change for Protect Our Winters. Bowman wants to finish her college degree and teach high school biology and health. She aims to continue public speaking regarding motivational talks and mental health.

Bowman struggled with depression between the Sochi and PyeongChang Olympics. She is equally proud of her second Olympic performance — finishing 11th in South Korea — as her landmark gold medal in Russia. While in PyeongChang, she believed it would likely be her last Olympics.

“I had doubts if I would even make it to PyeongChang, and making it there was one of my huge accomplishments,” Bowman said. “It was such a special event. Even though I only got 11th, I skied my freakin’ heart out. I gave it everything I had.”

Bowman, the daughter of two former professional skiers, took gold in Sochi as the youngest finalist. She landed back-to-back 900s for the first time in her career (by accident after having to improvise her opening run). She did so in front of family that included 78-year-old Lorna Perpall, who wore a T-shirt that read “badass grandma.”

Afterward, Bowman spoke about friend Sarah Burke, the Canadian ski halfpipe pioneer who died after a training accident in 2012.

“It means so much for us to be able to show the world what our sport is,” Bowman said that night in Russia. “She’s here with us.

“I sure hope I, and everyone else, made her proud because we would not be here without her.”

Bowman has her own place in history. No matter how long ski halfpipe is in the Olympics, she will always be the first woman to earn gold.

“I know as our sport gets more solidified into the Olympic Games, it can become pretty national, cutthroat and competitive,” she said. “I would love to see it stay this free-spirited work of art, something beautiful like that.”

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Gus Kenworthy switches from U.S. to Great Britain to honor his mom

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Freestyle skier Gus Kenworthy will compete for Great Britain for what he says is his last Olympic cycle culminating with the 2022 Beijing Winter Games.

Kenworthy, a 2014 Olympic ski slopestyle silver medalist, finalized his switch from the U.S. to his birth nation, announcing the move in Great Britain on Tuesday. The process has been in the works for months and was approved by U.S. Ski & Snowboard.

His reasoning: first to honor his mom, who is British, and to take “a path of less resistance” to qualifying for the Olympics.

“I feel like these are going to be my last Olympic Games for sure. I just wanted to do it for my mom,” he said. “She’s held up the American flag for me for two Games now, and I would love to be able to hold up the British flag for her for one.

“This gives me an advantage in terms of qualifying and having less to worry about, less people I’m up against, just being able to focus on the tricks that I want to be working on, the runs that I want to do, put me in the best position to hopefully get another medal and not have to kill my body trying to qualify in multiple disciplines right before the Games against the U.S. guys.”

Kenworthy, part of a U.S. slopestyle medals sweep in Sochi, is a dual citizen, born in Chelmsford, about 30 miles northeast of London. He moved to the U.S. at age 2 but, as he grew up, made yearly trips across the Atlantic to see his mom’s extended family.

For his last Olympics, Kenworthy hopes to qualify in three events — ski slopestyle, halfpipe and the new Olympic event of big air. In past Olympic cycles, qualifying for the U.S. teams in slope and pipe meant competing at five contests per discipline in the two months before the Winter Games.

Kenworthy noted that in 2014, he was passed over for the fourth and final Olympic spot in halfpipe for the injured Torin Yater-Wallace (chosen by committee) despite finishing fourth in qualifying. In 2018, he was sixth in qualifying for halfpipe, crashing hard at the last selection event.

Kenworthy will put more focus on halfpipe as he returns to competition in full this winter, highlighted by a Winter X Games Aspen appearance in late January.

He has competed just once since the PyeongChang Olympics. He was 12th in the 12-man final in South Korea, skiing with a broken thumb and after having six vials of blood drained from his hip.

“I thought maybe I was going to be done after this last Olympics,” said Kenworthy, who come 2022 will be 30, two years older than any previous Olympic male slopestyle skier. “Was predicted to get a medal and was favored for a medal and thought that I was going to get a medal, and it just didn’t work out for me. I think I got in my own head and kind of had a lot of the pressure internalized and expectations from people. I was also battling injuries, this huge hematoma in my hip, and just didn’t ski the way I wanted to ski in the final, and it made it really hard to walk away — not even like not getting a medal. Had I left it all out there and felt like I had done my best, I think I could have walked away with my head held high. I did do my best, but it was not my best performance.”

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Gus Kenworthy open to switching from U.S. to Great Britain

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Freestyle skier Gus Kenworthy is considering switching his nationality from the U.S. to his birth nation of Great Britain, should it be his preferred route toward the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics, his agent said.

U.S. Ski & Snowboard and GB Snowsport spokespersons also recently said Kenworthy took steps toward a possible move. Nothing has been made official by the International Ski Federation (FIS), which still lists Kenworthy as American.

Kenworthy, the 2014 Olympic ski slopestyle silver medalist, was born in Chelmsford, about 30 miles northeast of London. He moved to the U.S. at age 2 but, as he grew up, made yearly trips back across the Atlantic to see his mom’s extended family.

Before Kenworthy’s events — halfpipe and slopestyle — were added to the Olympics in 2014, he considered representing Great Britain, which would have been an easier team to make.

“But then I was like, I don’t want to go to the Olympics just to go to the Olympics,” he said before taking slopestyle silver in Sochi as part of a U.S. podium sweep. “I want to go to the Olympics to win. If you’re going to try and win, it doesn’t really matter what country you’re competing for. … I love the UK, but I’m from the U.S. and of course I want to represent the country I love and the country that I’m from.”

Kenworthy, 28, has competed once since the PyeongChang Olympics, at the Winter X Games in January. He since took on a TV acting role on “American Horror Story: 1984” and a guest spot on the final season of NBC’s “Will & Grace.”

Last fall, Kenworthy said he thought he would be too old to go for a third Olympics in 2022, according to Variety.

“I was one of the older guys at this Olympics,” Kenworthy said, according to the magazine. “There’s still a career that exists around skiing that doesn’t necessarily revolve around the Olympics.”

But he is still open to competing, perhaps through 2022, when he will be two years older than any male slopestyle skier from the event’s first two Olympics in Sochi and PyeongChang. Kenworthy finished 12th in the 12-man final in PyeongChang.

He wasn’t 100 percent in South Korea, competing with a broken thumb and after having six vials of blood drained from a hematoma on his hip.

Kenworthy said in post-Olympic interviews that he planned to continue competing in the short term but was unsure of 2022.

“I feel like I’m at a sort of weird crossroads in my life,” Kenworthy said last year, according to Variety. “I kind of had planned to be done competing at this last Olympics. And then I got hurt in practice. I didn’t ski the way that I wanted to. They say you’re only as good as your last performance. My last performance was not what I had hoped for. It’s made it really hard to walk away.”

NBC Olympic Research contributed to this report.

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