While many other countries have their team favorites in halfpipe, slopestyle and big air headed into the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, other countries who don't necessarily have the superstar components on their team are still hedging their bets on individual snowboarders to pick off a medal here and there throughout the Games. Let's face it, snowboarding is an individual sport that doles out individual accolades, and at these Winter Olympics, it's anyone's game out there, so these are a few riders to look out for come February, even though they may not have a superpower roster standing by their side.
The entire Swiss halfpipe team of Iouri Podladtchikov, Christian Haller, Pat Burgener, David Habluetzel and Jan Scherrer. We were going to give team Switzerland their own team write-up, but we decided to place them in The Outliers because, aside from Iouri Podladtchikov who is the defending Olympic gold medalist in halfpipe, we wouldn't necessarily consider them favorites for the gold so much as potential podium candidates. With Christian Haller, Swiss Dave, Pat Burgener and Jan Scherrer, Team Switzerland has the explosiveness and consistency to scatter themselves throughout the top fifteen, but with such a stacked field in pipe across the board, we would give Iouri the nod as the frontrunner and acknowledge that he's got a damn good team behind him to back him up in the finals.
Yiwei Zhang is far and away the favorite for Team China, although by the looks of their summer training on Mt. Hood as of recent, they could have some young up-and-comers that we've never even heard of. Rumors of Team China pulling kids from their gymnastics squad and teaching them to snowboard in order to give them a competitive edge for a medal have been swirling about for years, and it's obvious that they want to walk away from South Korea with their first-ever freestyle gold, however, there's something to be said for the other countries that have organically allowed their freestyle team to come of age. Yiwei, however, is a damn talent and he's no doubt working toward becoming the first pipe rider ever to land a triple cork in competition in the pipe, and if he can, that gold might just be within grasp for China.
Slopestyle and Big Air
Sven Thorgren is one of the most dominant slopestyle and big air riders alive, and hailing from Sweden, he is their best hope of capturing a medal in Korea. Known more for spinning flat and utilizing unorthodox grabs, how the judges are rewarding one's approach is going to be a huge factor in Sven's final standing. However, at this juncture, we would consider him one of the odds-on favorites to hang some hardware from his neck in either slope or big air.
Anna Gasser is a top three contender in the women's field, specifically in big air. Hot on the heels of Jamie Anderson in slopestyle and leading the pack in big air, Anna is fresh off one of the best seasons of her life in which she was awarded an ESPY recently for female action sports athlete of the year. The big piece of Anna's puzzle will lie in the consistency of her double corks in both arenas. If she can stomp one in big air, it's going to be between her and the US's Hailey Langland at this point and if she can link two together in slopestyle, the gold medal might just be hers for the taking. Either way, Anna is a true talent and she's progressing at a rapid-fire rate.
Sebbe De Buck and Seppe Smits are the two frontrunners for the hill-less and snow-less country of Belgium and it's the age-old classic storyline of the rookie and the veteran. Sebbe's been at this for quite some time and he's garnered accolades at every level of pro snowboarding while Sebbe is the new face of the Belgium freestyle scene. While Seppe's trick selection and riding style is a bit more conservative, it's also a bit more consistent, but if Sebbe's more explosive and spontaneous approach works out for him like it has in the past, he could easily best his fellow countryman and put Belgium on the world stage in the snowboard world.
Clemens Schattschneider is a familiar face on the Air & Style circuit and his showings in Innsbruck and Beijing last winter were impressive, but he has a lot of off-season work to do in order to take the final step to the Mark McMorris/Marcus Kleveland level. However, he's not far off and if he adds a few tricks to his bag early this winter and qualifies for Team Austria, he very well might surprise a lot of onlookers in Korea.
Nicola Dioli is Italy's best hope in big air or slopestyle for a medal, although it's a bit of a longshot. But in freestyle snowboarding, the tide can shift in a matter of a few months and if Nicola is training hard and progressing rapidly, he very well could pull off an upset and finish in the top ten. We saw him at the Air & Style in Innsbruck this winter and while the fundamentals are there, his riding needs a bit of fine-tuning and consistency in order to make him a favorite and that simply comes with time. Regardles, we're excited to watch Nicola drop in in Pyeongchang because the kid's got nothing to lose and sometimes, that's when people ride their best.