Colby Stevenson, his life saved in 2016, leads first U.S. Olympic freestyle skiing qualifiers

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The first set of freestyle skiers to meet U.S. Winter Olympic team qualifying criteria includes one of the incredible comeback stories in sports today.

Colby Stevenson, left fighting for his life five years ago after a skull-shattering car crash, became the first American slopestyle skier to meet Olympic qualifying criteria via his No. 2 world ranking in a list published Tuesday.

Also meeting Olympic qualifying criteria this week via world rankings: fellow slopestyle skier Mac Forehand, aerials skiers Megan Nick, Winter Vinecki (an all-continents marathoner set to become the first Winter Olympian named “Winter”), Chris Lillis and Justin Schoenefeld and moguls skiers Jaelin Kauf and Hannah Soar.

LIST: Team USA athletes qualified for 2022 Winter Olympics

Stevenson earned his place with accolades including a 2020 X Games Aspen title and 2021 World Championships silver medal.

But none of that seemed possible after what happened on Mother’s Day 2016.

Stevenson fell asleep at the wheel while driving a friend’s truck, it rolled over several times, the roof collapsed, and he suffered a traumatic brain injury. Stevenson shattered his skull in 30 places, his neck was “crushed like an accordion,” along with a broken eye socket and ribs. He was placed in a medically-induced coma for three days.

“I’m in the one percent of people that have this type of skull fracture and no brain damage,” Stevenson said in a My New Favorite Olympian podcast episode to be published just before the Olympics start in February. “My brain swelled eight millimeters, and at nine millimeters is when brain damage starts.”

He spent two weeks in a hospital, then another month bedridden at home, living “painkiller to painkiller” every four hours. His mom fed him a side of oatmeal with the 4 a.m. dose. Memory loss and decision-making problems persisted. He said earlier this year that he’s still not as sharp as he once was and feels lingering neck pain.

“It was not looking good for me, but I never once thought in my head that there was another option for my life,” than skiing, he said. “I didn’t have a back-up plan other than to be a professional skier.”

Five months after the crash, Stevenson returned to training in a preseason camp in New Zealand. He did his favorite trick on the first day, a double cork 1080 grabbing the tails of his skis.

“When I landed that, I knew I was going to come back,” he said.

Stevenson won in his first World Cup event post-crash, but his 2018 Olympic dreams were dashed by a torn rotator cuff in late 2017.

Stevenson, who grew up in the 2002 Olympic skiing venue of Park City, Utah, came back to win the biggest annual prize in the sport — the X Games — in 2020. Then in a 15-day stretch last March, he all but secured a 2022 Olympic berth by placing second at the world championships and winning a pair of World Cups.

Any doubt was erased this week. U.S. Ski and Snowboard criteria states that its top two freestyle skiers per gender in a number of disciplines in world rankings as of Dec. 22, provided they are top six overall, will be nominated to the Olympic team.

The International Ski Federation updates its rankings in most disciplines every two weeks or so — this week and then again the first week of January. Therefore, the list published earlier this week will still be in place on Dec. 22 for aerials, moguls and slopestyle.

Slopestyle skiers can also compete in the new Olympic event of ski big air.

U.S. Ski and Snowboard will not name its full teams until next month. Athletes must be approved by the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee.

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American Olivia Giaccio ends Perrine Laffont’s moguls win streak

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Olympic champion Perrine Laffont‘s moguls win streak dating to 2019 was snapped in unlikely fashion.

Laffont didn’t even make the podium in the World Cup season opener in Ruka, Finland. Instead, American Olivia Giaccio earned her first World Cup victory, scoring 78.51 points in the super final, while the Frenchwoman ended up fourth.

Another American, 17-year-old Kai Owens, earned her first World Cup moguls podium in third.

Laffont won all nine World Cups between the 2019-20 and 2020-21 seasons, plus last season’s world championships. Saturday marked her first time off the podium since January 2018, a month before she became the youngest Olympic freestyle skiing champion ever at 19.

Giaccio, now 21, was the highest-ranked U.S. woman who didn’t make the 2018 Olympic team. In limited World Cup action the last two seasons, her best finish was 14th. She also missed time after January 2020 surgery to repair a left ACL tear.

“I have had a lot of struggles and have grown in a lot of different ways mentally, physically, emotionally,” Giaccio said, according to U.S. Ski and Snowboard. “It’s a very crucial moment for my career.”

The moguls World Cup continues next Saturday in Idre, Sweden.

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U.S. Ski & Snowboard names its first female CEO, Sophie Goldschmidt

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Sophie Goldschmidt was named U.S. Ski & Snowboard’s incoming president and CEO this week, making her the first woman to lead the national governing body that has existed under various names since 1905.

She replaces two-time Olympian Tiger Shaw, who held the position since March 2014. Shaw will transition to U.S. Ski & Snowboard Foundation Board trustee.

Though she counts herself as an avid skier, Goldschmidt is the first non-athlete to serve in the role in at least 25 years. Bill Marolt, Shaw’s longtime successor, is also an Olympic alpine skier.

Goldschmidt has a breadth of leadership and marketing experience at a handful of sports and entertainment properties including Adidas, WTA, NBA and England Rugby, though this is her first time with a U.S. Olympic organization.

Most recently, she served as CEO of the World Surf League from July 2017-February 2020. Goldschmidt will relocate from Los Angeles to the Park City, Utah, area where U.S. Ski & Snowboard’s headquarters and world-class Center of Excellence training facility are located.

When she starts on Oct. 18, Goldschmidt will have less than four months to get up to speed in time for the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics to start on Feb. 4.

“I am thrilled to be the next leader of U.S. Ski & Snowboard,” Goldschmidt said in a statement. “My priority is to build on the organization’s strong foundations. To take the levels of performance to new heights, to grow the number of participants and fans we engage with, in addition to creatively unlocking new value and investment. I see significant opportunities to further develop the profiles of the sports and of the athletes, who are inspirational role models.”

U.S. Ski & Snowboard oversees athletes – from grassroots to the elite level – for just over half of the Olympic Winter Games program.

In PyeongChang four years ago, 50 of the 102 events fell under the six skiing and snowboarding sport disciplines; in Beijing, that number has increased to 55 of 109.

The NGB has developed a recent tradition of excellence, accounting for 60.2% of the U.S.’ medals at the past three Games, which Goldschmidt will look to continue in Beijing and beyond.

Kikkan Randall, a five-time Olympian and 2018 gold medalist in cross-country skiing, was co-chair of the search committee that appointed Goldschmidt.

“I am particularly excited about Sophie’s experience working directly with world-class athletes across a myriad of sports; she really understands how to put athletes at the forefront,” Randall said.

Goldschmidt will be the 10th woman to currently head a U.S. Olympic or Paralympic sport, and the only one on the winter side.

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