X Games: Mark McMorris breaks Shaun White record on quest for first Olympic gold

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Canadian Mark McMorris won a record-breaking sixth Winter X Games snowboard slopestyle title, moving one ahead of Shaun White‘s tally, but there is still one gaping hole in his resume: an Olympic gold medal.

“Of course it’s something that I really want to get, and it’s something I know I can get,” McMorris, who won his 21st career X Games medal, said before the event. “But it’s not going to make or break me.”

On Saturday, he landed a switch backside triple cork 1620 stalefish, frontside triple cork 1440 Weddle and a backside triple cork 1620 Indy on his fourth run in Aspen, Colorado. Athletes are ranked on overall impression of their best run over the course of a jam session for the entire field rather than scoring individual runs.

He beat a field that included the world’s top two ranked slopestyle riders — 2018 Olympic champion Red Gerard (fourth place Saturday) and Norwegian Marcus Kleveland (second place). Kleveland came back to win snowboard big air later Saturday with a backside quad cork 1800 Indy and a Cab 1800 Weddle.

At 28, McMorris is headed to his third Olympics. The greatest slopestyle rider in history took bronze in 2014 and in 2018, coming back from major injury obstacles.

Ahead of Sochi, he suffered a broken rib at X Games 12 days before slopestyle’s Olympic debut, earning him the nickname “McRib.”

Ten months before PyeongChang, he crashed into a tree while backcountry riding and suffered a fractured jaw, fractured left arm, ruptured spleen, stable pelvic fracture, rib fractures and a collapsed left lung.

After missing last year’s X Games due to COVID-19, McMorris was thankful simply to be in Aspen. Next up: Beijing.

Earlier, Jamie Anderson kept pace with McMorris with her 21st X Games medal across all sites, a silver in snowboard big air. Anderson also took silver in slopestyle on Friday behind the same gold medalist, New Zealand’s Zoi Sadowski-Synnott, who hit a frontside double cork 1080 melon and a backside 1260.

Anderson, the two-time Olympic slopestyle champion, goes into Beijing with medal chances in both events. But Sadowski-Synnott is ranked No. 1 in the world in slopestyle, Anderson’s better event, and looking to become her nation’s first Winter Olympic champion.

Japan’s Sena Tomita won a women’s snowboard halfpipe contest that lacked Olympic champion Chloe Kim, who is focusing on Beijing prep.

The event shaped up as a showdown between Spain’s Queralt Castellet and American Maddie Mastro, who has been working on the double cork 1080 — a trick with two off-axis flips that some believe gives her an outside chance to beat Kim in China.

But Mastro couldn’t land either of her double cork attempts Saturday night. She came in nursing an ankle injury from earlier this season. The falls shook her up, and when her last chance came around, she passed. She finished fifth.

Americans Alex Hall and Mac Forehand went one-two in ski big air, boosting their hopes of earning medals at the event’s Olympic debut in Beijing. Hall’s tricks included a 1980 and a 2160. Swiss Andri Ragettli, last year’s X Games champ known for his social media videos, was seventh.

France’s Tess Ledeux earned her second title in as many days, taking the women’s ski slopestyle to add to her big air crown. She landed a switch leftside 1080 Japan, switch rightside bio 900 safety and a left double 1260 Weddle grab.

Both fields lacked China’s Eileen Gu, who could sweep the three freeski golds at the Olympics, including ski halfpipe, too.

X Games finishes Sunday with men’s ski slopestyle and ski halfpipe.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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X Games: Scotty James beats Ayumu Hirano’s triple cork for halfpipe title

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ASPEN, Colo. — Ayumu Hirano landed the triple cork. Scotty James rode away with the win.

The calculus on the halfpipe remained hazy as ever Friday night when James notched his fourth career victory at the Winter X Games even though he didn’t attempt snowboarding’s most-difficult trick.

The question heading into the Olympics is whether it’s even worth it.

Less than five weeks after becoming the first to do it in competition, Hirano again landed a triple-flipping jump on his first trick. But, as was the case the first time, Hirano could not land the next jump. Riders usually need to land at least five to complete a run, and nobody has yet made a triple cork part of a full run in competition.

It left Hirano, the two-time Olympic silver medalist, with a silver medal in Aspen, as well. And James, who took bronze in PyeongChang four years ago, earned another gold.

“The triple is so difficult,” Hirano said through a translator. “And then, it’s also tough to link the next trick.”

So far, James’ best has featured the switchback double cork 1260 — a daunting, near-blind trick that involves two head-over-heels flips after riding backward up the wall, then spinning toward the top of the pipe.

He executed it on his first three runs, and the judges placed him ahead of Hirano after the second run. (No scores are given at the X Games, and judges simply rank the riders based on the overall impression of their runs.) Hirano’s younger brother, Kaishu, finished third.

“Switch backside still has a lot of clout, which you still don’t see that much of,” James said. “And I think it played a key part for me tonight against Ayumu.”

After Hirano fell on his final run, James, who was last on the start list, simply went for straight airs on a victory lap. This was James’ first contest in America this season, and he has been playing it coy about the triple cork.

“I’ll leave it as a mystery,” he said.

The next chance to find out what, exactly, he’s been working on in a secret setting in Europe will come Feb. 11 in the halfpipe finals in the mountains outside Beijing.

Also in the mix there, but absent from Aspen, will be three-time Olympic champion Shaun White and last year’s Winter X champion, Yuto Totsuka. Totsuka crashed hard at the last Olympics but has been dominating this sport through most of the last 24 months.

Earlier, Jamie Anderson tied Mark McMorris‘ record with her 20th career X Games medal across all sites, a snowboard slopestyle silver behind New Zealand’s Zoi Sadowski-Synnott. (Anderson has more X Games Aspen medals than McMorris, though.)

Sadowski-Synnott, who has traded X Games titles with Anderson in this Olympic cycle, landed back-to-back double cork 1080s on Friday, according to the broadcast.

France’s Tess Ledeux won a women’s ski big air event that lacked fellow Olympic medal contenders Eileen Gu of China and Kelly Sildaru of Estonia. Ledeux became the first woman to land a double cork 1620 in competition, according to organizers. Ski big air makes its Olympic debut in Beijing.

Then Sildaru won the ski halfpipe for her 10th X Games medal before turning 20, landing back-to-back 900s. Americans Brita Sigourney and Hanna Faulhaber earned silver and bronze. The absent Gu remains the Olympic favorite.

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Shaun White makes Olympic snowboarding team as oldest U.S. halfpipe rider ever

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Shaun White was named to his fifth and likely final Olympic team, as expected, and will become the oldest U.S. halfpipe rider in Winter Games history.

The full snowboard roster was announced Friday.

White, a three-time gold medalist, leads a men’s halfpipe team of underdogs for medals in China. White made one podium in five contests since returning from a three-year break last year. Riders from Japan and Australia are the favorites.

White, 35, will break the retired Kelly Clark‘s record as the oldest U.S. Olympic halfpipe rider. He is also older than any previous male halfpipe rider from any nation in Olympic history, according to Olympedia.org.

The rest of the men’s halfpipe team: 2014 Olympian Taylor Gold, 2018 Olympian Chase Josey and first-timer Lucas Foster.

MORE: U.S. athletes qualified for 2022 Winter Olympics

Defending Olympic champion Chloe Kim and fellow medal threat Maddie Mastro previously qualified in women’s halfpipe. Coaches announced two more riders Friday — first-time Olympians Zoe Kalapos and Tessa Maud.

The snowboard cross team includes the oldest athlete on the entire U.S. Olympic team — 40-year-old Nick Baumgartner — and now-five-time Olympian Lindsey Jacobellis. Both previously qualified, as did Hagen Kearney and Faye Gulini. The new additions announced Friday: 2019 World champion Mick Dierdorff, 2014 Olympic bronze medalist Alex Deibold, Stacy Gaskill and Meghan Tierney.

The U.S. earned two spots in parallel giant slalom, both men, and filled them with Cody Winters and Robby Burns.

In slopestyle, defending gold medalists Jamie Anderson and Red Gerard previously qualified. As did returning Olympians Hailey Langland and Chris Corning and first-time Olympian Dusty Henricksen.

The final riders were Julia Marino, Courtney Rummel and Sean FitzSimons, who won a competition in Switzerland last week and beat out Brock Crouch for the last spot. That’s notable given Crouch survived life-altering injuries after being buried for several minutes in an avalanche four years ago.

In freestyle skiing, the last Olympic roster spots were also announced Friday:

Aerials: Eric Loughran, Ashley Caldwell, Kaila Kuhn
Halfpipe: Birk Irving, Devin Logan, Carly Margulies
Moguls: Kai Owens, Cole McDonald, Nick Page, Dylan Walczyk, Bradley Wilson
Ski Cross: Tyler Wallasch
Slopestyle/Big Air: Nick Goepper, Caroline Claire, Marin Hamill, Darian Stevens

Many Olympic medal contenders previously qualified, including two-time Olympic halfpipe champion David Wise.

A notable is Margulies, who last competed in an International Ski Federation event in December 2019 and was cleared to return to skiing last week, one month after surgery for a torn medial meniscus in her left knee. Margulies has had at least six knee surgeries, according to U.S. Ski and Snowboard.

“I was told by doctors that the tear was so significant that surgery was a non negotiable and i was looking at a 6 to 9 month recovery,” was posted on her social media last month. “i was basically told my olympic dreams were crushed and in that moment i decided i could never go through something like this again therefore my competitive career was over.

“Fast forward to a few days later, i received good news that there was a chance this meniscus would not be repairable resulting in a snip of the damaged area and only a 4 to 6 week recovery!”

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