Words: Mary Walsh
Photos: Mark Clavin
While a myriad of countries were represented by pipe phenoms in PyeongChang, the American women came in hot to Korea this year, boasting a depth of talent seen in few other Olympic events across the board. Five-time Olympian and winningest snowboarder of all time, Kelly Clark; two-time Olympian Arielle Gold, who was sidelined in Sochi due to injury and eager for her second attempt at The Games; rising halfpipe wunder-rider, Maddie Mastro; and of course, reigning pipe royalty, Chloe Kim, looking to add the only missing metal to her ever-growing collection. While these four were perhaps the strongest contenders for a scounty-sweep since Powers, Kass, and Thomas took top three in Salt Lake in 2002, formidable riders, including Spain's Queralt Castellet and China's Cai Xuetong and Liu Jiang prepared to offfers both high airs and lofty spins to the pipe proceedings. Snowboarding legend, Todd Richards was on hand narrate the event for NBC providing a venerable voice of reason as he explained snowboarding to the better part of North America (also a nod to Craig McMorris who provided the commentary for the CBC) as one of the most highly anticipated and most-viewed events at the Olympics.
Watch Chloe’s Winning Run Here:
The ladies of halfpipe surely didn't disappoint. From the very beginning of finals, the resounding message from every rider that dropped was that women's halfpipe riding is in a very good place. 900's were de riguer. Backside and frontside airs towered high overhead the deck. The 1080, a trick first landed in women's competition by Kelly Clark in 2011 and first done back-to-back by Chloe Kim in 2016, was landed or attempted by nearly every rider. The tide continues to rise and while today's Olympic event was a banner day for women's halfpipe, the collective crew of riders involved showed the world that they're only interested in going higher.
Four years ago, as her fellow competitors and pipe peers headed to Russia, Chloe Kim remained at home. She was technically the top qualifier to the 2014 games, but at only 13-years-old, she was just shy of being old enough to compete per Olympic regulation. Since then, Chloe's abilities have only increased and as her riding has become progressively more explosive, the hype surrounding the SoCal-born boarder has simultaneously snowballed. But while many things fall short of the hype around them (Star Wars Episodes 1-3, staying out for one more drink, anything involving a Kardashian, etc.), Chloe Kim continually exceeds expectations and her first Olympic showing was, of course, no exception. Dropping into run one, Chloe was as fluid and collected as ever, sending it sky high above the coping for a massive method, and setting the bar with a clean frontside ten, followed by back-to-back nines. She jumped nearly ten points ahead of the next best score with a 93.75 and wouldn't look back the remainder of the event.
Kelly Clark, whose storied contest career has garnered her a gold medal in the 2002 Olympics and two bronzes, in 2010 and 2014, ended the day just below the podium in fourth place. True to form, each run she provided stratosphere-level airs and effortlessly-landed tricks. Savant from Spain, Queralt Castellet, came out firing, not only with some of the most picturesque first-hit methods, but in her final run, massive back-to-back nines and an attempt at a 1080, though she wasn't able to ride it out. Maddie Mastro, whose rise into the upper ranks of the competition circuit has been explosive of late, landed in last place for the day, but her unwillingness to settle for a safety run, coming out of the gates and dropping fast into enormous 1080 attempts, was a confident foreshadowing of her lofty future in the four years to come.
Arielle Gold, coming off a silver at X Games Aspen in January, was the last individual to qualify for today's finals and kicked off the competition in South Korea with the first drop. It wasn't until her third run that Arielle moved into top three contention, building upon the momentum from her second attempt with a 1080 to 720 at the top of the pipe and a front nine to Michalchuk at the bottom. She was awarded an 85.75 from the judges and a definitive shot at her first podium at the Winter Games. Standing at the bottom of the pipe through the rest of the contest, with just two riders to go the Steamboat Springs local was assured her first Olympics hardware, a well-deserved bronze.
Earning Pyeongchang silver was China's Liu Jiayu. Her second run was her best, including a big backside air on her first hit that was followed up by a 720 to a 900. During her third run, she attempted to better her score of 89.75 with a ten of her own, but was unable to put down the landing gear, riding away with a respectable second place and leaving the walls open for Chloe Kim's victory lap. For Chloe, this victory lap could have been easy airs and kicked-out methods–the crowd still would have cheered, her family still would have been proud, and the golden medal still would have been placed around her neck. But instead, true-to-form for the SoCal native and further underlining the progressive current state of women's halfpipe competition, Chloe dropped in and sent a front ten and followed by a cab ten, adding to her existing run and bettering her score by almost five points and earning a 98.25. Congratulations to all of the women who competed in the PyeongChang pipe finals, and to Chloe, Liu, and Arielle for their new Olympic medals.
Gold – Chloe Kim, USA - 98.25
Silver – Liu Jiayu, China - 89.75
Bronze – Arielle Gold, USA - 85.75