words: T. Bird
photos: jdpfreesport.com

The snowboard world was shocked last night when gold medal favorite Shaun White was missing from the podium for the first time in the last three Olympic Games and no Americans were in medal contention in an event that we have dominated for over a decade. Shaun finished in fourth, while Iouri Podladtchikov took the gold medal for Switzerland while Japanese riders Ayumu Hirano and Taku Hiraoka took silver and bronze, respectively. Social media was abuzz at the fact that Shaun had pulled out of slopestyle citing a rather intimidating course and causing many to believe that a.) He thought the setup was not up-to-par and he wanted to focus his efforts to the halfpipe or b.) He truly thought that he couldn't win. Either way, it seemed to backfire.

But the big concern going into both the men's and women's pipe events was the feature itself, with many riders telling the media that it simply wasn't a world class pipe. I for one agree, and after witnessing more falls in that halfpipe contest than I've seen in a long time, my fear was that the women would be overshadowed by the poor conditions and lack of preparation taken by the IOC and the FIS going into Sochi, because, after all, this is the Olympics, and it's our one chance every four years to show a broad audience what competitive pipe riding is all about. Truth is, it's far too late to fix the pipe and the girls would have to do the best with what they were given, and I was simply hoping for a good show and I'll be damned if I got it.

The field featured the last three women's halfpipe gold medalists from 2002 till the present. Kelly Clark took the top spot in Salt Lake City (2002), Hannah Teter won in Torino (2006) and Torah Bright won the last Olympics (Vancouver), so it's safe to say that all eyes were on these three girls as they were all considered favorites. Torah's run is technical and stylish while Kelly's run is highlighted with massive frontside airs and a 1080, and Hannah is the sleeper, sneaking up on the field to eek out a win with surprising, clutch performances. However, there were other girls to worry about, like Spain's Queralt Castellet, a girl who is very little in stature but goes huge in the pipe. And Ursina Haller, who's coming off a huge win at the 2014 Burton European Open, and taking quite a bit of momentum into Sochi. Then there's Arielle Gold, a newcomer that is set to take the reins from Kelly as the next dominant American female in the pipe, as well as fellow US teammate Kaitlyn Farrington, whose pipe runs are just as technical as Torah's and some of my favorite to watch. Lastly, there's Australia's Holly Crawford who is known to pull out all the stops and go for broke when it matters most. So the field was surely stacked, and my hope was that all this sub-par pipe chatter wouldn't override what these women have accomplished and worked so hard for in the last four years.

Qualification kicked off at 2:00pm MSK and heat one was: Sophie Rodriguez (France), Kelly Clark (USA), Ursina Haller (Switzerland), Shuang Li (China), Holly Crawford (Australia), Zhifeng Sun (China), Queralt Castellet (Spain), Rebecca Sinclair (New Zealand), Sarka Pancochova (Czech Republic), Stephanie Magiros (Australia), Hannah Trigger (Australia), Alex Duckworth (Canada), Nadja Purtschert (Switzerland), and Morena Makar (Croatia). Heat two was Arielle Gold (USA), Ella Suitiala (Finland), Rana Okada (Japan), Mirabelle Thovex (France), Clémence Grimal (France), Xuetong Cai (China), Kaitlyn Farrington (USA), Jiayu Liu (China), Joanna Zajac (Poland), Katie Tsuyuki (Canada), Verena Rohrer (Switzerland), Mercedes Nicoll (Canada), Hannah Teter (USA), and Torah Bright (Australia).

Of the fourteen riders in qualification, the top three would automatically advance to the finals while the remaining six from each heat would move on to semifinals to battle it out for a spot in the big show.

The results were:

Automatically advancing to finals from heat one:

Kelly Clark: 95.00
Queralt Castellet: 93.25
Sophie Rodriguez: 78.50

Automatically advancing to finals from heat two:
Torah Bright: 93.00
Hannah Teter: 92.00
Xuetong Cai: 88.00

Moving on to semifinals from heat one:
Shuang Li: 77.75
Ursina Haller: 74.75
Zhifeng Sun: 70.00
Alex Duckworth: 69.75
Sarka Pancochova: 66.25
Stephanie Magiros: 57.25

Moving on to semifinals from heat two:
Kaitlyn Farrington: 87.00
Jiayu Liu: 83.50
Mirabelle Thovex: 71.75
Rana Okada: 69.75
Clélemce Grimal: 66.50
Katie Tsuyuki: 54.25

It became quite clear early on that this was Kelly Clark's contest to lose. While Torah, Hannah, and Arielle were riding incredible, Kelly is hands-down the most dominant pipe rider (regardless of gender) who has ever lived, but she was missing a huge contender in Arielle Gold, who took a slam during practice and was not able to compete, and I'm sure with that fall the talk of pipe safety will continue regardless of what the girls do, but in the qualifiers they seemed to be riding damn well given the conditions. Regardless, semifinals went down around 7:00pm MSK and the top qualifiers moving on were:

Kaitlyn Farrington: 87.50
Jiayu Liu: 81.25
Shuang Li: 80.00
Ursina Haller: 74.50
Mirabelle Thovex: 70.75
Rana Okada: 70.00

So the finals were set and the big story was focused around Hannah, Kelly, and Torah and with Kelly qualifying first with the highest score, she would be the last to drop tonight. The podium could be any of those three in random order but there were outliers gunning for gold. The question remained: Would the pipe hold up enough to host a fair final?

Kaitlyn Farrington jumped out to an early lead with an amazing first run that scored her an 85.75 followed closely by Sophie Rodriguez, but the heavy hitters in the field was yet to drop. Queralt Castellet unfortunately fell, and then immediately after, Hannah Teter put down an insane first run highlighted by a frontside 900 that gave her a 90.50 to put her in first place. But Torah Bright and Kelly Clark were still set to drop back-to-back, giving legitimacy to the storyline that had played out prior to the finals.

On her first foray through the pipe, Torah had a run going but went down on her fourth hit, forcing her to look toward her second and final run to medal. This left Kelly Clark to drop as the last rider of heat one but Kelly would go down hard after stomping her signature frontside 1080, leaving the three medal spots to Hannah Teter, Kaitlyn Farrington, and Xuetong Cai. There's no doubt that with Arielle injuring herself in practice, Torah falling, and Kelly decking out that the sub-par pipe chatter would soon overshadow the riding itself.

The second of two runs in the finals got started after a fifteen minute break and the story of the night was the fact that Kelly Clark and defending gold medalist Torah Bright went down on their first runs, but there was still a lot of halfpipe riding to go down up at Rosa Khutor.

With Kelly set to drop last and Torah one rider before her, the stage was set for a final of epic proportions. China's Jiayu Liu tried her hand with a run that consisted of a 900, a 540, and a 720 but that was only good for seventh. Kaitlyn Farrington was the next to drop and she landed an insanely technical run that included an air-to-fakie, which personally stoked me out. The judges rewarded her with a 91.75, putting her in first place.

Sophie Rodriguez followed up Kaitlyn's run with an air-to-fakie of her own but it wasn't enough to better her first run score or get her in the top three. China's Xuetong Cai dropped next but fell on her second hit frontside 900, leaving her in fourth place. Hannah Teter, sitting in second place, pointed it into the pipe and had recently been bumped out of first by Kaitlyn Farrington and on her second hit, she fell and was forced to sit in second place as Queralt Castellet, Torah Bright, and Kelly Clark got ready to take their second and final runs.

Queralt scrubbed, and the spotlight shined directly on Torah and Kelly to take gold. Torah's run was incredible. She started things off with a McTwist, into an air-to-fakie, a Cab 720, a front 540, a frontside alley-oop, and an alley-oop backside rodeo to finish. Her score came in at a 91.50, good for second. Torah's two-peat would not happen tonight. Kelly Clark was the last rider to drop with Kaitlyn Farrington in first place. Kelly has always been a clutch performer and on the world's stage, this was her final chance to show the world that she is indeed the most dominant pipe rider of all-time.

Kelly's put down a frontside air, a backside five, a front ten, a Cab seven, and a front five. Ultimately, it wasn't enough to take gold and Kelly ended up in third place. Torah Bright got the silver, and Kaitlyn Farrington won the gold medal. It seems that the pipe held up for the women, and at the end of the night, Kaitlyn Farrington won the biggest contest of her career, and rightly so. The underdog finally had her day, and we couldn't be more stoked for Kaitlyn. Congratulations, and good luck with the whirlwind media tour in the coming months.

That's all from Sochi for SNOWBOARDER Magazine. It was a hell of a week, and we're Olympic’d out. Thanks for tuning in and keep checking back for non-Sochi related stuff.

1. Kaitlyn Farrington (USA)
2. Torah Bright (AUS)
3. Kelly Clark (USA)