Words, Photos, and Captions: T. Bird

Let it be known that in the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympic Games, the Aussies are for real. But, before we get to that, I feel the need to inform you that the first Olympic qualifier of the year is said and done. It's all over in Copper and what a show it was, with the marquee pipe event unfolding today about a hundred feet above the main lodge. What went down was some insane halfpipe riding and a few upsets, namely the first place spots in men's and women's pipe not featuring an American. This leads one to believe that after three Olympic Games that all favored the U.S. contingent, times are a changin', and a new era may have started this morning.

First, the women's field was narrowed to eight females battling it out in the tube with heavy hitters Torah Bright, Kelly Clark, Ellery Hollingsworth, Elena Hight, and Kaitlyn Farrington squaring off against newcomer Arielle Gold, Spanish threat Queralt Castellet, and Japanese newbie Haruna Matsumoto. The girls were going huge as Ellery, Kaitlyn, Haruna, Arielle, and Elena all unfortunately failed to put down a clean enough run to get them on the podium. It's still early though, and their top thirty finish qualifies them for next winter's Grand Prix series so they can continue their drive to Sochi. However, the three podium placers in the women's field are more than primed up for a run at the world's biggest stage. Queralt went arguably the biggest of all the girls today, but ultimately landed in third behind Kelly Clark and her air assault. But, it was Torah Bright's technicality that won over the judges this morning. With air-to-fakies, switch backside spins, and double overhead methods, Torah was hands-down the best to drop in today and she deservedly won the women's pipe event.

As for the men, there was a last-minute mix-up on the podium. With names like Zack Black, Scotty Lago, Luke Mitrani, Arthur Longo, Banji Farrow, Markus Malin, Louie Vito, Greg Bretz and other halfpipe veterans in the line-up, there was little reason to believe that one of the aforementioned names wouldn't ultimately end up in the top three. However, going into the second and final run, with Luke in the lead, Louie close behind, and Arthur Longo in third, a young Australian named Nathan Johnstone dropped into the pipe and proceeded to boost the biggest airs and spins of the day, bumping Luke to second, Louie to third, and Longo out of the running. Unlike many pipe runs today, Nathan's showing didn't rely on double corks and 1260s, but instead his tricks were overshadowed by the fact that he was going absolutely massive. In today's day and age where the more you spin and flip, the higher your score will be, it was nice to see someone going so big and being rewarded so nicely.

So, like I said, the Aussies are for real, and they have their eyes set squarely on Olympic gold. While Torah already has some hardware hanging around her neck from Vancouver, she seems to have stoked the flame in the younger generation of riders like Johnstone, who showed up today ready to win, and win he did. Congratulations to all the competitors. They all rode very well and they'll be seeing much more of each other as February, 2014 creeps closer.

Check out the coverage of Friday’s US Grand Prix Slopestyle.