Ladies showcase the state of women's snowboarding at Sochi Olympic slopestyle qualifiers
Women's slopestyle riding took to the world stage at the Sochi Winter Olympics Thursday afternoon as 23 riders stepped up to the massive course. While there were "women's tee" takeoffs on the side of the each of the jumps, almost all of the ladies opted to send it off the main jumps, just the same as the guys. That choice was a testament to how far women's slope riding has come. Well, on the jumps at least. The rails were more a barrage of 50-50s and boardslides but the jumps, those were legit. What better platform to showcase women's riding than the debut of Olympic slopestyle?
At first tough, it all seemed like just another contest to Canada's Spencer O'Brien. "But once I strapped in and I could see the stands at the bottom and the flags, I was like 'Oh, shit,'" Spencer says. "It really set in, what was happening. With all the other events in snowboarding, you get them every year and there's no long-term goal. With Sochi it's been three years of hard work just to get here so to drop in for my first run was pretty cool."
The Olympics also differ from other snowboard contests in that a rider isn't just trying to win for themselves, but also for their country. "At X Games it's just me," Spencer says. "If I land, that's great but it's still just for me. Here I have the whole country on my back and I'm wearing my flag. It's really cool to be a part of something bigger than myself."
What better incentive for the ladies to throw down? Switzerland's Isabel Derungs did just that when she took the top qualifying spot in Heat 1 with a second run score of 87.50 for a line that included a massive backside 720 to backside rodeo 540. Picking up the second spot was Australia's Torah Bright, who made her first slopestyle appearance in a long time. Torah approached the slope course with the same smooth style she displays in the pipe, landing a Cab 540, backside 360, and frontside 360 on the jump line. Spencer qualified third with her first run, which included a switch backside 540, frontside 360, and backside 540. On her second run she mixed it up and added a frontside 720 but didn't land as cleanly overall.
Like Finland's Enni Rukajarvi, who also qualified in this heat, Isabel, Spencer, and Torah's ranking advances them straight to finals. The top four riders are also taken from Heat 2, for a total of eight riders who move right to the medal round. On Sunday, those who didn't make it will have one more chance in semifinals to get the last four start positions in finals.
In Heat 2 Austria's Anna Gasser edged out US rider Jamie Anderson for the top spot with a jump line that included a Cab underflip, frontside 720, and backside 360. Anna is one of the few ladies who can do a Cab double underflip, and she has one her mind for the finals on Sunday.
Jamie qualified second for this heat by sending it deep into the landings of the jumps and powering through the compression on a switch backside 540, backside 540, and Cab 540. Jamie took a heavy bail in practice so after locking in a spot for finals with that first run she skipped her second in order to save herself for Sunday. Overall though, Jamie thought the level of women's riding was impressive, especially for qualifiers.
On the subject of injuries, US rider Ty Walker bruised her heel in practice but rode a throw-away lap beside the jumps in order to advance her to semifinals in case her heel feels better by then. No athlete can be eliminated from competition before the Olympics start, and that isn't until the opening ceremonies take place on Friday, so all Ty had to do was start the course to make it semis.
Qualified Riders From Heat 1 Advancing To Finals
Isabel Derungs (SUI)
Torah Bright (AUS)
Spencer O’Brien (CAN)
Ennu Rukajarvu (FIN)
Qualified Riders From Heat 2 Advancing To Finals
Anna Gasser (AUT)
Jamie Anderson (USA)
Elena Koenz (SUI)
Karly Shorr (USA)