words: Pat Bridges
photos: Ryan “Huggy” Hughes and Peter Morning
Not unlike yesterday’s pair of Grand Prix Olympic Slopestyle Qualifiers, the events that transpired on Friday January 17th, 2014 between the exaggerated walls of Mammoth's 22-foot superpipe provided few of America's Sochi Olympic Halfpipe Team contenders with a guaranteed spot in the Games. Yet despite this continuing drama, which will be carried into Sunday's fifth and final Olympic Qualifying Pipe contest, perhaps the most important observation culled from Friday's showdown was the possible beginnings of a correction of course in what tricks and/or style is rewarded at competitions of this stature.
Two finals in one day made for an early morning start for the abridged field of America's top halfpipe practitioners. The ladies started the show with a handful of contestants taking full advantage of the steep, 18-degree pitch of Mammoth's halfpipe venue. It was this ample momentum that carried two-time Olympic Medalist Hannah Teter higher than most of her peers and ultimately earned her two thirds on the day, which despite being her first podium appearances of this season, quickly put her in Sochi team contention. Also mirroring her performance in both finals was Mammoth Lakes’ own 13-year-old pipe prodigy Chloe Kim. Between boosting on her first backside hits and being the only girl to chuck overhead McTwists in her runs, Kim showed not only a maturity in her riding, but an enthusiastic exuberance to prove that even at this level, a rider can put the stress aside and just have fun. Unfortunately Kim is too young to be eligible to compete in Russia but in four years, when she is finally old enough to get her license, she'll likely be finding herself in the drivers seat on the road to the Korean Olympics.
Though she was amongst the handful of riders on the Mammoth roster who had already earned a spot to Sochi, Mount Snow, Vermont's Kelly Clark held nothing back as she swept the women's side of the two-event schedule. The winningest rider in women's competitive snowboarding history took advantage of the stacked format to distance herself that much more from her colleagues with no tricks less than overhead, including her first hit 1080's which were arguably the biggest airs seen all day from the females.
Unlike the ladies, whose placings were duplicated from morning to afternoon, the men's side of the draw saw mostly unique podium performances in each finals. In the first competition Steamboat Springs, Colorado's Matt Ladley made his presence known early by exhaustively taking advantage of the FIS' recent removal of the mandatory straight air requirement with too many corks and spins to keep track of, including an elusive frontside 1260. While Ladley emerged as a contender with his third place result, fellow Coloradan Taylor Gold took second in the first round. Gold's consistency over the course of this series, which includes a win, a second, and counting today’s afternoon event, two third place finishes, has been more than enough to earn him the first announced position on America's Sochi Olympic Halfpipe Team.
Though Shaun White sat out today’s AM showdown after yesterday’s challenging slopestyle, Detroit, Michigan's Danny Davis once again channeled that mojo that brought him to victory on these same Mammoth transitions in an eerily similar scenario four years ago. While always a crowd favorite, Davis has had difficulty this year finding favor with the judges or landing key runs when it counts. These recent struggles appeared to have been vanquished for Davis on this day as he threw down a diplomatic mix of high scoring judge friendly tricks like frontside 1080 and 900 doublecorks alongside more legit freestyle fare including chicken wing McTwists, switch backside alley-oops, double-overhead switch methods, and switch backside 720's. "It's always good to peak," Davis said of his redemptive result. "It has been a long road and it is nice to put a run together with tricks that I want to do and not just try to play the spin game the whole way down." With this win, the most charismatic luminary on the halfpipe circuit takes a giant leap towards securing an opportunity to represent his country in Russia.
In the afternoon, the men mixed it up somewhat with only Gold making a repeat appearance at the top of the results in third. This provided Seabrook, New Hampshire's Scotty Lago the ideal opportunity to follow Danny Davis' lead by taking advantage of the enlightened panel of judges to plant his own flag on the podium with a second place result. Like Davis, Lago placated the spin to win sect with a cab 1080 doublecork and a frontside 1260 truck driver while still keeping it real with moves like his signature torqued frontside 540 corkscrew, backside 900 mute late tweak, and frontside 900 double nose grab. Lago was noticeably pleased with his second place finish revealing that "it was do or die for me. I literally needed a second or better today and somehow I pulled it off."
While Shaun White spent all morning recouping from his slopestyle wounds, and in turn may have provided Davis with the opportunity for a much needed win, the two-time Olympic Gold Medalist rallied in "crack of noon club" fashion to make Friday's later finals. Having earned a field-leading first run score, White stepped it up on his last go by unveiling his "yolo flip" which is best described as a cab 1440 double backside rodeo. Those who say it is impossible to spin cab and backside at the same time would have a point. What White does with the Yolo is he starts the stunt with a switch fs 180 or half cab and then follows thru with his backside 1260 double cork all on the same attempt. Either way it is a dizzying maneuver that is sure to become a separator for him in several events to come including the Olympics.
"I'm just happy to be riding this well after the crash," White said. "I think skipping the first event was the best call. I woke up and I could barely move all of my muscles. Everything was locked up." When asked about how it felt achieving a much-needed victory to go with his second place from last month at the Dew Tour Shaun was undeniably satisfied, "I'm happy. I dropped the Yolo today, which was pretty killer. And I did a double into it which I've never done before."
Late in the day on Friday, the United States Ski and Snowboard Association announced that Taylor Gold would be joining Kelly Clark as an officially named member of the US Olympic Halfpipe Team. Today's podiums when combined with December’s two events in Colorado still leave much to be determined on Sunday, when the fifth and final Grand Prix Olympic Qualifier takes place. With the best two finishes of five events being considered, this leaves Arielle Gold, Hannah Teter, Gretchen Bleiler, Kaitlyn Farrington, Elena Hight, Madeline Shaffrick and four other American ladies in contention for the remaining three women's spots. For the men, Greg Bretz and Shaun White are seemingly set for Sochi though not officially named alongside Taylor Gold. As for the fourth ticket to represent the US, Danny Davis, Scotty Lago, Ben Ferguson, Matt Ladley, Louie Vito, and Benji Ritchie all have a shot. Stay tuned to snowboardermag.com for more Olympic Qualifying updates.
Men’s Halfpipe Finals 1
first – Danny Davis
second – Taylor Gold
third – Matt Ladley
Women’s Halfpipe Finals 1
first – Kelly Clark
second – Chloe Kim
third – Hannah Teter
Men’s Halfpipe Finals 2
first – Shaun White
second – Scotty Lago
third – Taylor Gold
Women’s Halfpipe Finals 2
first – Kelly Clark
second – Chloe Kim
third – Hannah Teter
Men’s US Olympic Halfpipe Team Standings
Women’s US Olympic Halfpipe Team Standings