Freeskiing: Utahns shine in halfpipe
Snowboarder Sage Kotsenburg of Park City clinched a spot at the 2014 Sochi Olympics on Saturday, along with freeskier Angeli VanLaanen of Salt Lake City whose inclusion means the entire women's ski halfpipe team could be composed of Utah residents.
Both athletes won the final qualifying events for their sports, which will be contested in Sochi for the first time in Olympics history.
"It's been since I was 10 years old since I won something," the 20-year-old Kotsenburg said. "I'm so stoked. It's crazy."
Kotsenburg won the qualifying event for snowboard slopestyle at Mammoth Mountain, Calif., while VanLaanen won the qualifier for ski halfpipe at the U.S. Freeskiing Grand Prix stop at the Park City Mountain Resort.
The 28-year-old will be one of the most inspiring stories of the Olympics, having taken three years away from her sport to treat Lyme disease, which had gone undiagnosed for an astonishing 14 years and subtly sabotaged her ski career.
"I feel really excited about where my skiing is at right now," she said. "It's really amazing to see my potential as an athlete. I feel like I'm finally reaching that."
VanLaanen joins Salt Lake City's Maddie Bowman and Park City's Brita Sigourney Â Westminster College students, both Â as automatic qualifiers for the women's ski halfpipe team. The U.S. Freestyle team can add one more woman as a discretionary pick next week, and that could be Park City's Devin Logan, the two-time AFP overall champion who finished third Saturday and already has clinched a spot on the ski slopestyle team.
Keri Herman clinched the last automatic spot on the women's ski slopestyle team by finishing second behind Julia Krass in the Park City qualifier. Two more women could be added to that team, which could include Salt Lake City's Grete Eliassen, a University of Utah graduate and reigning world bronze medalist.
Park City's Joss Christensen won the men's ski slopestyle qualifier in his hometown, but didn't automatically qualify for the Olympic team because he did not reach the podium enough in other qualifying events. Gus Kenworthy finished second to clinch a spot in Sochi alongside Nick Goepper and Bobby Brown, who already had qualified for the team.
Either Salt Lake City's Tom Wallisch, the reigning world champion, or Park City's Alex Schlopy, the 2011 world champ, figure to join the men's slopestyle team as the final discretionary pick, though Christensen also is in the running.
In men's ski halfpipe, Lyman Currier and Aaron Blunck qualified for Olympic team by finishing first and second in the final qualifier Saturday night, and they join previously qualified David Wise Â the reigning X Games and world champion who's a gold medal favorite in Sochi.