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Chloe Kim, David Wise among X Games headliners

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The X Games return to Aspen, Colorado, this week at Buttermilk Mountain. A marquee event on the yearly snowboarding and freeskiing calendar, the X Games will feature a handful of Olympic gold medalists and notable names in action sports. Below are a few storylines to watch for this week:

Nearly full field of Olympic gold medalists will compete in Aspen

All four freestyle skiing gold medalists in X Games events (halfpipe, slopestyle) and five of six Olympic snowboarding champions (slopestyle, halfpipe, big air) are expected to compete in Aspen. Among them is Chloe Kim, who has not lost a contest since the Olympics. She finished last season with a win at the US Open, and has three victories already this season, including at the Dew Tour in December. Since the Olympics, Kim’s star has only grown: she’s thrown out the first pitch at a Dodgers game and become an awards show regular, but her ability to crush her competition on the pipe remains unchanged.

In addition to Kim, the three other U.S. gold medalists from 2018 should all contend: in men’s ski halfpipe, two-time defending Olympic gold medalist David Wise has continued to impress this season, but as in previous years, he’ll be challenged by his teammates, Aaron Blunck and Aspen native Alex Ferreira, who would skip school as a kid to watch the X Games in person. Snowboard slopestyle gold medalists Red Gerard and Jamie Anderson are both podium threats as well.

After missing Olympics, can Sildaru sweep in Aspen?

Three years ago, a quiet and unassuming Kelly Sildaru won her first X Games title at 13, becoming the youngest ever winner in a winter event. Pegged early as a star for the PyeongChang Games in both slopestyle and halfpipe, the Estonian teenager missed the Olympics with a torn left ACL. Sildaru, who hails from a country with no mountains, will attempt a rare triple in Aspen: she’ll compete in slopestyle, halfpipe, and big air. No winter sports athlete has ever won three gold medals at the same X Games contest. Sildaru missed last year’s event due to her knee injury and has looked sharp so far this season: she won the U.S. Grand Prix in halfpipe and the Dew Tour in slopestyle. Sildaru has four X Games medals in total: two in slopestyle and two in big air.

White’s protégé awaits his big moment

Toby Miller learned from the best: the 18-year-old was mentored by three-time Olympic gold medalist Shaun White, who brought Miller to PyeongChang as his guest. White hasn’t competed since the Olympics, focusing instead on skateboarding, while Miller is having a notable season of his own: he finished third at the Dew Tour and second at the U.S. Grand Prix. The U.S. halfpipe contingent remains deep: Olympians Jake Pates, Ben Ferguson and Chase Josey are all contenders on any given day, though PyeongChang bronze medalist Scotty James will likely be the favorite.

Big tricks

The X Games are often a staging point for new tricks: in 2017, Norway’s Marcus Kleveland became the first to land a quad in competition, only to be topped by Canadian Max Parrot, who won the event with a quad of his own. Chloe Kim and PyeongChang big air gold medalist Anna Gasser have been at the forefront of innovative tricks this season. Kim, a four-time X Games winner, is still far ahead of the field with back-to-back 1080s, which she used last weekend at a World Cup event in Laax. In October 2018, she became the first woman to land a frontside double cork 1080, though she has yet to execute it in competition. Kim can win easily with the arsenal of tricks she already has – but she’d make a bit of history if she decides to go for it.

In November, Gasser became the first woman to land a cab triple underflip, though like Kim, she has not done so in competition. Known for her progressive approach to the sport and impressive arsenal of difficult tricks, Gasser could attempt the triple at the X Games.

‘I go skiing’: Ledecka chooses Alpine over snowboard worlds

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CORTINA D’AMPEZZO, Italy — After months of agonizing over a decision she would have preferred not to have to make, skier-snowboarder Ester Ledecka has finally chosen to compete in the Alpine skiing world championships next month instead of the snowboard worlds.

The Czech athlete who won golds in skiing and snowboarding at the Pyeongchang Olympics last year had to make the choice since the parallel giant slalom at the freestyle ski and snowboard world championships in Utah is scheduled for Feb. 4 — the same day that downhill training opens at the skiing worlds in Are, Sweden, and a day before the super-G race there.

“I go skiing,” Ledecka said on Thursday following a World Cup downhill training session.

“I would like to go (to) both but I had to make a choice and I made it and I’m looking forward to it. … The way I have the schedule right now it makes more sense for me.

“The decision had to be made and this is the life.”

At the Pyeongchang Olympics, Ledecka followed her super-G victory in Alpine skiing by winning the parallel GS in snowboarding — becoming the first athlete to win two golds at the same Winter Games using two different types of equipment.

Ledecka won a snowboard race in Cortina a month ago on the course in Faloria. With downhill races scheduled on Friday and Saturday followed by a super-G on Sunday, she’ll now be competing on the other side of the valley on the Olympia delle Tofane course.

“It’s weird because I really think about the speed in different ways when I have a snowboard and when I have skis,” Ledecka said. “When I have a snowboard and I ride faster you feel it more, you feel more fast. … And here you should get really fast to feel like, ‘OK, now it’s running.’”

Ledecka fell in the second downhill training session but got back up uninjured and continued her run.

Having already won two world titles in snowboarding, Ledecka considered an attempt to duplicate that success at the Alpine worlds was attractive.

“I would like to try to have some nice results on skis as well, and to try Are because it’s a nice hill and I really liked it there,’” said Ledecka, who finished 11th in the downhill at World Cup finals in Are last March — after placing second in downhill training. “It’s a good decision.”

Ledecka said she will compete in the super-G, downhill “and maybe super-combined” in Are: “I already made three runs on slalom skis so I will be quite well prepared.”

After the Alpine worlds, Ledecka will return to the snowboard World Cup.

Ledecka appealed to the International Ski Federation (FIS) to change competition schedules to make it possible for her to compete in both worlds, and the governing body said it tried to help.

FIS secretary general Sarah Lewis told The Associated Press: “Whatever had been possible would have been done but unfortunately with the logistics involved in the whole setup it wasn’t possible. It wasn’t without significant efforts.”

The worlds in Utah involve four different ski areas.

“It’s a very, very complex setup there. There are 28 events on the program. It’s a huge event. With morning and evening events and logistics,” Lewis said. “Crossing over from one championship to another, it’s obviously unique and never happened before.”

Lewis added that the next snowboard worlds will be in China in March 2021, a month after the Alpine championships in Cortina.

“Then there will probably be a new problem that it will clash with the World Cup,” Lewis said.

Added Ledecka, “It will happen again. I’m afraid so. But I will fight.”

Shaun White’s old coach heads China snowboarding toward Beijing Olympics

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Bud Keene, who coached Shaun White at three Olympics, now leads Chinese snowboarders en route to the 2022 Beijing Winter Games.

“I signed a contract with China to win a medal in 2022. So, that’s the goal,” Keene said Thursday before a World Cup big air event inside the Bird’s Nest Olympic Stadium in Beijing, according to Xinhua News Agency.

While Keene helped White to two of his three Olympic halfpipe golds, the Vermont native is in charge of big air and slopestyle teams for China.

The Chinese are best known for their halfpipe riders, including Liu Jiayu, who took silver behind American Chloe Kim in PyeongChang for China’s first Olympic snowboarding medal. Five other Chinese finished in the top 10 in men’s and women’s halfpipe since 2010, but China has yet to enter a rider in an Olympic slopestyle or big air contest.

“We have a mountain to climb,” Keene said, according to Xinhua. “There’s no question about that. But we’re gonna climb it one step once a time.”

Keene and White both said they parted amicably after White’s disappointing fourth-place finish at the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

Keene said in 2016 that they accomplished all they could together, and the coach wanted to invest more time in grass-roots snowboarding and instructing. He guided New Zealand freeskiers and snowboarders in PyeongChang, where that nation earned its second and third Winter Olympic medals (in ski halfpipe and snowboard big air).

China, which has rivaled the U.S. in Summer Olympic medals, earned between eight and 11 medals at the last six Winter Olympics, challenging some traditional European powers. More than half of its Winter Games medals came in short track speed skating, including 10 of its 13 golds.

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