The morning started with a low whine, at least from the assembled media. No, we weren’t complaining about the early start, or the gentlemen who run FIS, or the varied talent in the field of athletes that a World Cup event in the lead up to the Olympics draws. In fact the field that took to the HAM freestyle stadium at Rosa Khutor resort, where the halfpipe, aerials and moguls (get it? H.A.M.!?!?) will be contested during next year’s Olympic winter games, was impressively well rounded and fearless. No, it was the weather—a drenching rain, that turned to monstrous silver dollar sized flakes of snow, with banks of fog rolling through clearly illustrating that the humidity in Russia was giving 110 percent—that had us all grumbling.
The day ended with a bang from the meteor who is Torin Yater-Wallace. Again, there are conditions, namely that Yater-Wallace wasn’t the only one turning heads above the halfpipe during this FIS World Cup and test event for next year’s big show. There was David Wise putting down a run of three double flipping tricks—switch left 1080, right 1260 and left 1260—even if the judges left him in fifth because of some small bobbles and a 90 degree landing on his final run. And Byron Wells put perfection into a fourth place run with huge amplitude that only lacked the latest, most technical tricks.
The podium started with Mike Riddle in third. His first, scoring run started with a double 1260, right 900, left 900 japan grab, alley oop 360 bow ‘n arrow grab, switch left 900, finishing with a switch right 900 opp mute. Clean and technical, the judges awarded him an 88.2. In second was Gus Kenworthy, with a 90 for his second of two runs. The big trick in his run was a down the pipe double cork 1080, which he barely missed in his first run as he ran out of pipe thanks to a slightly off landing on his second hit switch double. For his final run, pressure on, Kenworthy did a switch 7 instead of the double, but rode away clean, switch into second place.
Atop the podium was Yater-bomb Wallace. Throughout training and qualifications his energy, amplitude and technical tricks only grew. I’m not sure what to call it, probably cockiness, but as he rode the t-bar to the top each run, he was belting out the rap lyrics that played in his headphones like he was alone in the world, and his 93.8 point score seemed a just manifestation of the hunger and talent. And his alley oop double 900 is a thing of beauty and the down the pipe dub flat to close things out was, well, awesome.
The Wise vs Wallace showdown is building like the epic battles between Simon Dumont (who wasn’t here thanks to cancelled flights and lost bags) and Tanner Hall (who is off shredding powder somewhere) of years back. Wise certainly seemed carefree with the camera on him, but the disappointment was clear when the judges dropped the most technically difficult run of the night off the podium.
The third pillar of today’s rivalry in men’s halfpipe skiing was left out of the finals. Arguably France has the deepest team in the sport, but Mother Nature was not on their side today during the qualifying round. Heavy snow and thick fog peaked right when Kevin Rolland, Toto Krief, Joffery Pollet-Villard and Nicolas Bijasson had to drop. There will undoubtedly be debate about the course holds and timing, but at least the guys from the Alps were taking it in stride. It’s unfortunate, but that’s skiing. Certainly I wasn’t the only observer bummed to miss out on a showdown including Rolland and the showcase of Pollet-Villard trying to jump over the lights during the finale.
I could go on and on about the qualifiers, and I’ll put some observations in the photo captions, however allow me to digress from the action for a second. The conditions today were not ideal. There’s nothing like a contest to break a spell of dry weather, and break it did. The people complaining (on the internet) about Sochi, without being here, are looking at weather reports for the Black Sea town may not realize that Sochi proper is over 1,000 feet below the base area of Rosa Khutor. And the resort has lifts that reach 5,700 feet above the base area. Today we were right at the snowline, but maybe next year it will snow to the valley as it has in years past.
The other point to be made is that the event organizers—from FIS race director Konrad Rotermund to the judging panel to local Russian freeskiers painting and slipping the pipe—all are dedicating their heart and souls to putting on the best event possible. Whether you want FIS involved or think the Olympics should be here, the people involved are dedicated, committed and busting their asses. So here’s a salute to all involved for the hard work.
Back to the skiing. The women of halfpipe (it’s not a calendar, yet, although, if you all want to make one, I think we could sell a few million copies) had the worse of the evening conditions, with fog rolling through during both runs. That was reflected in the scores: in the morning session the top five scores were higher than the winning run of finals. There is some variation in scoring from heat to heat and event-to-event, however the ladies put together the best runs the conditions left on offer. Maddie Bowman and Ayana Onozuka, first and third respectively in the AFP halfpipe standings, finished in eleventh and seventh with Bowman unable to land a tough inverted 900.
Faivre was atop the podium thanks to perfectly executed 540s and a flowing run. Roz Groenewoud, who officially won a spot on the Canadian team for 2014 with her finish, put together a run including a 900, two 540s, a 720 and a switch 540. Keltie Hansen threw a 900, back to back flairs and a left 720. Those second and third place runs, like David Wise’s, may have been more difficult but lacked the perfect execution necessary to gain the full appreciation of the judges.
So there you have it, as best as my memory and 18 hour day brain can put together. With the anticipation of an early flight to Moscow tomorrow, I bid you all прощание.