In sophmore year of high school, I totally won a silver globe for correctly naming the most countries on a map in my geography class. And sure, like most people (hopefully), I can easily pick out the huge country of Russia. But when it was released that the 2014 Winter Olympics would be in Sochi, Russia, I vaguely remember saying, “So-where?” Not to come off ditzy or anything, but Sochi was definitely not one of the few Russian cities I on my radar. Needless to say though, with just a year to go, Sochi is the only place that any winter athlete can talk about these days. Skiers and snowboarders are no exception. And while there is still the remainder of the season to go, signs of Sochi preparation are creeping in.
The 2013 Grand Prix at Copper Mountain proved, like the Dew Tour stop, to be yet another stepping stone towards that final goal of the Olympics — except this time the riders actually made the first step towards qualifying. It also marked the first time that snowboard slopestyle riders got an opportunity to secure Olympic qualifying points through the World Cup system. In order to be eligible for the Olympics, each athlete has to post at least one top-30 result. Coupled with trying to become eligible, athletes also have the added pressure that the number of start spots each nation is given in Sochi will also be determined through this year’s World Cup circuit, meaning there are team goals as well. This week’s Grand Prix is also one of the last major contests before X Games Aspen, which takes place later this month. Needless to say, Copper Mountain was a pretty big deal.
Fans were treated to a very competitive women’s halfpipe competition. Like always, Kelly Clark was featured on the podium, but in a semi-unfamiliar second spot. She’s a beast but was bested this time by 2010 Olympic Gold Medalist, Torah Bright. Bright definitely has seemed to return to form to get her first win of the season. Queralt Castellet rounded out the top three, but all three ladies were definitely pumped because they gained valuable qualifying points towards the greater goal at hand.
The men’s halfpipe competition also featured an Aussie as a top dog. Nathan Johnstone nailed his second run with some massive hang time, and some quality hits down the pipe, including a double cork front 1080. Luke Mitrani placed into the runner-up slot with a strong run that included a front 1080 tail, and cab double 1080. And don’t worry you Louie Vito fans, he placed in third, still securing those all important qualifying points.
Pretty sure the only thing I have to say about women’s slopestyle snowboarding is that Jamie Anderson is a force to be reckoned with. After a disappointing practice session, it is safe to say she rebounded pretty well, managing to land her backside 540 mute-grab and beating the back once again.
Fellow American, Chas Guldemond also took the top spot on the podium. Finnish rippers Roope Tonteri and Peetu Piiroinen completed men’s podium.
Despite snow and wind, and overall some rough conditions on Friday, Maddie Bowman displayed great athleticism with her left and right 900’s that landed her in first at the Visa U.S. Freeskiing Grand Prix. Needless to say she also took the top of the podium beating out Brita Sigourney and Roz Groenwoud.
After just squeaking into the finals in the qualification round, Canada’s Mike Riddle dominated the men’s competition in the conditions scoring 90.2 and 91.2 in the best-of-two run format. 16 year-old U.S. Rookie team member Aaron Blunck beat tough competition and weather to take second in the men’s competition at his third FIS World Cup appearance. (Side note: Huge Congrats to a fellow Crested Butte resident on his invite to Winter X-Games!) U.S. teammate David Wise rode pretty conservatively in the treacherous conditions and still managed a very respectable 3rd place finish.
Keri Herman’s back-to-back switch tricks and clean landings sealed the deal for the Breckenridge, Colo. resident’s second straight World Cup ski slopestyle win. Canadian Dara Howell took second and Australia’s Anna Segal third for the women’s podium.
Behind 1st place James Woods from Great Britain, Australia’s Russell Henshaw took second and Canadian Alex Beauliu-Marchand third. America’s Bobby Brown was knocked just off the podium but don’t feel bad, Americans took four of the top eight spots including Brown in fourth, Nick Goepper (Lawrenceburg, Ind.) fifth, Alex Schlopy (Park City, Utah) seventh and Sammy Carlson (Hood River, Ore.) eighth.
The event also doubled as the U.S. Slopestyle Championship with Brown and Herman taking titles as top Americans. Athletes gained valuable FIS Olympic qualifying points in addition to AFP Platinum level points.
While competing at Copper Mountain was one way to take steps towards Sochi, Shaun White also made headlines towards his game plan about returning to the Olympics. Think White is just about getting drunk, vandalism, and his red hair this year? Well, this week he proved that he too will be buckling down in his quest for another gold medal. While watching SportsCenter, I saw something about Shaun White on the bottom of the screen. And of course it was moving ever so slowly, so all I read was “No skateboarding for Shaun White…” Immediately, I was thought a couple things: A) Not that Pierre-Luc Gagnon needs the help, but I’m sure he’d be somewhat relieved to no longer see the tomato on the vert ramp and cramping the podium. B) Is this a joke? C) Does this mean we will see him try to take over surfing? And then the scroll kept on going and it said “… in 2013.” Sorry PLG, White will be back soon enough. Like many winter athletes, White is showing a steady focus towards Sochi.
And I’m sure you’ll be hearing of stories like that with any skier or snowboarder this season. Okay, well maybe not exactly like that because let’s get real, White’s success as a duel season athlete is unparalleled, but you get what I mean. Podium wins become more important. Injuries become a bigger deal. And although you probably won’t hear them admit it, the pressure is on. With this being the last full winter season before the Olympics, every competition counts towards the road to Sochi. People always peg X-games as being a big deal for these athletes, and it is. But the Olympics are a big deal for anybody. So what exactly does this mean as a fan? Expect some really amazing tricks and more massive air. And with that being said, prepare yourselves for an amazing rest of the season!
(Photo Credit: Morgan Ryan; Twitter: jjthomas_ ; Instagram trennonpaynter, shay_will)