The halfpipe team of U.S. Snowboarding ruled this season’s third halfpipe contest of the 2014 FIS Snowboard World Cup tour with podium sweeps in both the ladies’ and men’s competition Saturday at Copper Mountain, Colo.
Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation Gold Team rider Kaitlyn Farrington, 24, of Salt Lake City finished fifth in Saturday’s women’s final. And Gold Teamer Chase Josey, 18, settled for 15th in the final after qualifying fourth.
On the women’s side, superstar Kelly Clark (98.00) celebrated her eighth career win and made it a World Cup threepeat this season.
She became the first U.S. freestyle snowboarder to secure her ticket to Sochi. Clark qualified for her fourth Winter Olympics.
Top qualifier Clark, 30, from Vermont, stayed on top of her game despite stomach problems. She was the 2002 Olympic halfpipe gold medalist who also won four X Games superpipe gold medals.
Clark sealed the contest with her first run score of 95.5 but dropped into her second ‘victory’ run and laid down an aggressive series of tricks, including a 1080, which scored her a 98.0.
She said, “I love the Olympics. I love the opportunity to get to go every four years. For me, it really is about the tricks. It really is about my riding and pushing myself.”
Saturday at Copper was a day when the U.S. team raised the bar in high-class finals facing a tough race for the national Olympic spots.
American women swept the podium in the FIS World Cup, which doubled as a U.S. Olympic qualification event, despite slow and difficult conditions in Main Vein pipe.
Reigning world champ Arielle Gold of Steamboat Springs, Colo. took second (91.25) in the Sprint U.S. Grand Prix halfpipe finals with Gretchen Bleiler, 32, of Aspen, Colo. rounding out the podium as third (86.00).
Olympic silver medalist Bleiler put down a clean run with a strong series of tricks and showed that she is ready for her third games.
Saturday’s results also moved 17-year-old Arielle Gold up to second in the qualification standings after her fourth-place finish at Dew Tour Breckenridge last weekend.
Farrington and 24-year-old Elena Hight of South Lake Tahoe, Ca. finished fifth and eighth in the finals.
With the rest of the U.S. women still in contention for the Olympic team, the competition will be fierce when the Sprint U.S. Grand Prix goes to Breckenridge Jan. 8-11.
The next FIS halfpipe contest and final Olympic qualifier is set for Jan. 16-18 at Stoneham, Canada. The U.S. Olympic team will be formally nominated Jan. 19, following the fifth and final qualifying event.
Selection to the Olympic snowboarding team will be made from athletes who have a top-four finish against the entire field in selection events. Those athletes will be ranked with their best two of five qualifying events using World Cup scoring (1,000 point scale) comparing only USA athletes.
In the official qualification standings after the Copper Mountain racing, Clark leads the way with 2,000 points, Gold has 1,400, Bleiler 1,000, Farrington 950 and Hight 850.
Men’s Olympic race remains tight
All spots on the men’s Olympic team are still up for grabs, according to U.S. Snowboarding, and the competition will be at an all-time high when the Sprint U.S. Grand Prix goes to Breckenridge Jan. 8-11.
Saturday’s men’s winner was 20-year-old Taylor Gold. He had just sneaked in the finals as 16th of the qualifiers claiming the last spot of the finals, but he sealed the contest with 90.25.
It was a first career victory for the rising rookie talent from Steamboat Springs who was making only his seventh World Cup start. Gold’s winning run featured backside 540, frontside 1260, double michalchuk, front double 1080 and cab 1080.
Teammate Gregory Bretz, 23, of Mammoth Lakes, Ca. finished second (87.75) and thus joined Clark leading the World Cup tour. Ben Ferguson, 18, of Bend, Ore. jumped on the third spot of the podium (87.00).
The best non-U.S. riders on the day were Sophie Rodriguez (85.00) for the women and Arthur Longo (86.75) for the men. The two French athletes missed out the podium finishing fourth each.
Despite the lead by Bretz and Gold, all spots on the men’s Olympic team are still up for grabs. Bretz has 1,800 qualification points after Copper Mountain and Taylor Gold has 1,600. Ferguson follows with 1,000 and Louie Vito has 900. Sun Valley’s Josey stands in 10th place with 520 qualification points.