Tonight, amid clear skies, and with cool temps providing for fast, desirable halfpipe skiing conditions, 23 female competitors took to the superpipe here at Rosa Khutor. Their task: to close out freeskiing’s Olympic debut with a big exclamation point—and that they did.
On the 11th, we saw Canadian Dara Howell earn slopestyle gold. Two days later, Joss Christensen led the U.S. to a historic sweep of the podium. Fast forward to the 18th and Reno, Nevada’s David Wise earned gold in this very halfpipe, and tonight, it was Maddie Bowman’s turn.
Bowman (20), of South Lake Tahoe, California, skied her way to an 89.00 on her second run of the finals, topping the field, thereby adding yet another gold medal to the United States’ impressive 2014 collection. Finishing second behind Bowman was Marie Martinod of France, and placing third was Japan’s Ayana Onozuka.
Maddie Bowman celebrates her gold medal victory. Photo: Nate Abbott.
We begin with the highs and lows of the afternoon’s qualifying round.
We saw all four of the U.S. women advance to the final: Bowman, Brita Sigourney, Annalisa Drew and Angeli VanLaanen. Bowman skied conservatively, looking simply to secure a spot in the final. Her tactical efforts were rewarded. Sigourney’s best scoring run of the qualifier was marked by a lofty 900 on her second hit; spectators near the finish corral all nodded in appreciation. Drew went down on run one, but managed to keep it together on her second go-round; she too opted for a safer route, skipping the 1080. VanLaanen put a safety run down, as well.
After banking a respectable score on her first run of the qualifier, France’s Anais Caradeux took a nasty tumble; a face plant left her with cuts and bruises on her nose, cheeks and chin. Despite posting a score that earned her a spot in the final, she was forced to withdraw.
Rosalind Groenewoud impressed us with a run that included 900s in both directions; Onozuka’s cheering squad was out in full force, as Japanese flags absolutely dominated one small segment of the grand stand; and Martinod put down a smooth, stylish second run that earned an 88.40, which proved to be the top qualifying score.
Advancing to the final, in order: Marie Martinod (FRA), Brita Sigourney (USA), Maddie Bowman (USA), Ayana Onozuka (JPN), Angeli VanLaanen (USA), Rosalind Groenewoud (CAN), Virginie Faivre (SUI), Janina Kuzma (NZL), Anais Caradeux (FRA), Mirjam Jaeger (SUI), Annalisa Drew (USA), Amy Sheehan (AUS).
Given the pleasant conditions that prevailed this evening, the spectator turnout—and media turnout, too—was greater than it was for that of the men’s final, which—as you may recall—was hampered by rain, snow and fog. The lively atmosphere coupled with a fantastic showing from the finalists provided for an exciting contest.
Among the highlights from finals:
Drew put down a solid run, featuring both the 900 and 1080, though she was likely docked for wrapping things up with room to spare; Groenewoud went down on her first hit of run one—a left 900; VanLaanen took a page out of Caradeux’s book, suffering a gruesome face plant; Bowman took the lead after her first run, but left room for improvement as she wasn’t quite perfect on her first two hits; Sigourney went down hard on her final hit of run one, a 720, after a sketchy landing on her rightside 540 (setup for the 7) put her into the backseat; and Martinod banked an 84.80, and jumped into second.
Amid the second runs, Drew went down on an attempted 1260; the classic flair maneuver, thrown by Faivre and Kuzma, among others, received wild applause from the grand stand; Groenewoud opted to change up her run, but wouldn’t finish better than 7th; VanLaanen went down again—a shame, given her knack for massive air, coupled with technical tricks and smooth skiing through the transitions; Onozuka, too, skied with speed and grace, earning an 83.2, good enough for third; Bowman upped her score to an 89.00; Sigourney butt-checked on her rightside 540—another bummer moment for the U.S. contingent, as a clean run would have likely landed her a medal; and Martinod, the last to drop, increased her score slightly, but would remain in the second spot.
Marie Martinod and her oh-so-stylish cork 540. Photo: Nate Abbott.
In regards to the top three:
For those who have followed Bowman throughout the past few seasons, this win comes as no surprise. The back-to-back defending X Games champion posted outstanding results in the various Olympic qualifiers—thanks to an impressive bag of tricks and unmatched consistency—and quite frankly, heading into Sochi, was the one to beat.
Tonight, Bowman’s winning run consisted of a straight air Japan; right 9; left 5 mute; straight air mute; left cork 9; right 7; and switch 7 to close.
Following the contest, Bowman told us, “There was so much pressure. Being someone who’s been on the top a little bit, with X Games, and rolling into [Sochi], I just focused on my skiing and on what I had to do. I wanted to land a run, and I landed two. I couldn’t believe it, I was in tears, I was confused; I worked so hard, I just wanted to ski my best and I amazed myself in the halfpipe tonight. I amazed myself.”
Listen: Bowman speaks with Freeskier re: her Olympic gold.
Speaking to the rigors of this trying Olympic season (in December and January, competitors juggled five major contests in a span of six weeks), Maddie said, “I think we’ve just tried to take things one event and one day at a time. It seems to have worked out. You have to look at the little things instead of looking at the big picture.”
And here, having finally arrived on this grand stage, Bowman admits she was nervous.
“I felt like I was going to barf on my first run,” she said. “It’s a big stage, but I felt the same at X Games, so I knew I could probably handle it. After getting the first run [to my feet], it takes a lot of the pressure off and then you can really just go for it.”
While Bowman certainly has much to credit herself for, she was also quick to give thanks to her teammates, and to the U.S. Freeskiing coaching staff.
“The girls I’ve been riding with have been awesome,” she said. “We’re so close. We travel together, we live together, we’ve just grown so close… it’s fun, every time we get to watch each other in the pipe, we want each other to land our runs as best we can.”
As for the coaching staff, Bowman said, “They have been so awesome. I can honestly say I would not be here without [halfpipe coach] Ben Verge. They’ve just been so helpful; Andy [Woods] has been great, all of the staff… everything you could need, and they’re just the funnest people to hang out with.”
Bowman, mid-900. Photo: Nate Abbott.
For silver medalist Marie Martinod, the road to Sochi was a long one, too. In her case, the trials extend well beyond the recent Olympic qualifying events, and date back to the halfpipe some seven years ago.
After winning X Games bronze in 2006, Martinod retired from competitive skiing, with sights set on starting a family in her hometown of La Plagne, France. Enter: Meli Rose (now four years old). Martinod was happy in her new role as a mother, yet, the lure of competing in the Olympic Winter Games—a dream stirred into her head by the late Sarah Burke—drove her back into the halfpipe.
It was as though she never left. One year ago, here in Sochi, Martinod finished fourth in pipe at the Olympic test event. Last spring, she took gold at X Games Tignes. And this season, she posted podium finishes at Grand Prix events held at Copper Mountain, CO and Park City Mountain Resort, UT.
Tonight, her run consisted of a straight air tail; left 5; right 5; cork 5; alley-oop mute; and a 900 to cap things off.
“I was trying all day not to think about the podium or the medal, just focus on my skiing,” Martinod said. Meli Rose was there to cheer on her mother, and Martinod says, to have her family in attendance is always a powerful motivator.
“Meli Rose, she’s my everything. I keep training and charging and doing what I love because I want her to see how great it is to achieve goals, and to reach the point you wanted to reach.” And ever since receiving a bump from Burke, for Martinod, that goal was to compete in the Games.
“I’m thinking of Sarah every day,” Martinod said. “I think I didn’t say goodbye to Sarah, and I still have to do it, and now I feel like I’m able to do it, ’cause I did what she asked me to do when I last saw her, three years ago… I’ve kept in my mind this sentence she was [always] pressing: ‘There will be the Olympics, Marie, you have to come back, you have to come back,’ and at the time I was just laughing, like, ‘Sarah I love you, but it’s not possible, I quit skiing.’ But, here I am. I think I’m just able to say goodbye now.”
Bowman, too, commented on Burke’s influence.
“Sarah has inspired us on and off snow,” she explained. “And I think she would have been very proud of how all the girls rode tonight, [at least] I sure hope that I and all the girls made her proud, we would not be here without her.”
Burke’s parents and husband, Rory Bushfield, all made the journey to Sochi to witness this evening’s halfpipe contest. Burke, of course, was instrumental in both securing freeskiing’s spot on the Olympic roster, and also in pushing the level of women’s skiing to new heights.
“The level of riding tonight was crazy,” said Bowman. “All the girls were going huge, first of all, second, there were great tricks being thrown. Anna going for the 12, so awesome… I think we really showed the world what we can do.”
Martinod, too, a veteran, shared her unique perspective on the state of the women’s riding.
“It’s huge,” she said. “When I used to ski, like seven years ago, before I quit, girls were only spinning one [direction], they wouldn’t get upside down in the pipe. [Now], so many can spin both ways, and [with] the new style of pipe [the 22 foot superpipe], it’s much higher than what we used to ride, you have to push yourself very much. I feel so proud of the women that are charging a lot. It’s funny how you can fight in the game and be friends on the side, it’s awesome.”
Martinod competed with painted snowflakes on her fingernails, a small show of gratitude for Burke. And surely each of the competitors tonight paid tribute in their own way, as well.
“The slippers followed the contest with a heart for Sarah. It was a touching and fitting end to the evening.” – Nate Abbott (photo).
Onozuka, whose English isn’t as strong as the women with whom she shared the podium, expressed her emotions simply.
“I can’t believe that I have got a third place [finish],” she said. “It’s like a dream to be in the Winter Olympics and to finish in third. I was nervous the whole day and I couldn’t concentrate, but I tried not to worry about it… during my runs I just tried to concentrate on gaining height.”
And if there’s one thing Onozuka’s good at, it’s going big. Onozuka skis fast—faster than all of the other competitors. Her speed, paired with her incredible skill riding through the transitions results in consistent amplitude from start to finish. While her tricks may lack in technicality (she doesn’t spin over 540 in her run), her ability to push the limits of speed and height are well received by the judges.
Following the contest this evening, we spoke with Ben Verge, U.S. Freeskiing halfpipe coach. Verge said:
“I’m so proud of Maddie. I’m proud of all of our girls, for how they skied today. A couple came really close, they all made it to finals… For Maddie, she put in so much work, she’s worked so hard, she’s wanted it more than anybody and it paid off, I’m so happy for her.”
“[The women’s team], it’s been like this for a while, they’re really good friends and they honestly, genuinely like each other, and enjoy spending time with each other and that’s the reason they all got this far. They want each other to do well, and that positive energy is a big reason that they’re here tonight.”
“It’s unbelievable to see where women’s pipe skiing has come in the last five years, it’s amazing. The girls should be so proud, and they should keep pushing it and hopefully this makes more and more girls want to be involved and keeps bring the level up and up.”
We also spoke with Michael Jaquet, chief marketing officer for the United States Skiing Association. He noted:
“Overall, for the U.S. in regards to action sports [at the Games], we won every gold medal except for two, men’s snowboard pipe and women’s ski slope, and if you would have told me we wouldn’t win [the men’s snowboard pipe], that’s crazy. As far as freeskiing goes, it just shows the wonderful depth that we had. The Olympic qualification and team selection process was very hard, and it all goes to show that we had the right people here, and we got the right results. We missed some [medals], too, we could have had a better Games, but I think it’s more important that we have a lot of really great performances from around the world—this isn’t just an American sport or North American sport—it’s good for the sport overall, so I’m happy with every contest as it went.
“The ratings have all been great on NBC and we’ve gotten some great segments because we’ve had the results, and NBC shows the winners. The guys are going on Letterman tonight as a trio, the slope guys… We just had a great run of results and great press, in return. It’ll be big for American skiing, for sure, and the ski industry in general, and that’s really important. There was some hesitation from people about putting these sports in the Olympics, and there’s absolutely no hesitation now, so there’s a good and secure future for the sport.”
“There’s a tremendous amount of organization that goes into this whole thing, and it’s been impressive to me and I had no idea… I’ve only been on the job 21 months, I had no idea what went into it. People think it’s just like another contest, like coming to Olympics is just like X Games or Dew Tour or a Grand Prix, but it’s nothing like that. The amount of media and attention that people want, and all the venues being new, and the experience being so foreign, I’m really proud of the administrative staff and especially the coaches for doing their best to make the athletes feel like it is just another contest, and making them all feel at home. The coaches got all the training in, prepared well, and made so many great decisions along the way.”
2014 Olympic Winter Games, men’s halfpipe results:
1. Maddie Bowman (USA) 89.00
2. Marie Martinod (FRA) 85.40
3. Ayana Onozuka (JPN) 83.20
4. Virginie Faivre (SUI) 78.00
5. Janina Kuzma (NZL) 77.00
6. Brita Sigourney (USA) 76.00
7. Rosalind Groenewoud (CAN) 74.20
8. Mirjam Jaeger (SUI) 71.20
9. Annalisa Drew (USA) 66.40
10. Amy Sheehan (AUS) 40.60
11. Angeli VanLaanen (USA) 29.60
12. Anais Caradeux (FRA) DNS
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