Let’s set the scene here. We’re in an Olympic stadium in Beijing, down the street from the bird’s nest stadium-it’s the old Olympic stadium. Loud, really loud Euro beats are relentlessly pulsing over top of the announcer. There’s a mountain made of scaffolding, lights, cameras, and action. A lot of Chinese army guys milling around, and about a quarter of the stadium is filled with fans waving glow sticks and wearing devil horns.
A lot of work has gone into this scene--at least a year’s worth of planning, government meetings, greased palms, paperwork, and you can only imagine what else to make this event a reality. The Austrian-based Air & Style event crew oversaw the building of the scaffolding and were responsible for charting out every detail of the competition right down to the ten-second light show before the awards--nothing is left to chance. The TTR crew is here, Oakley’s got a big presence, and Shaun White’s rolling deep. And everyone is breathing a big sigh of relief that they’ve overcome so many obstacles to make this event a reality, and really it’s pretty damn cool even if some of the biggest cheers are for Halldor’s laid out backflip, or a rider just throwing up a rooster tail to slow down on the landing. The crowd is stoked.
There are a handful of shredders in China--the nearest snowboard park to the city is Nanshan, where the Nanshan Open is held every year. A crew of Chinese riders from there kicked off the contest with a legit demo for the hometown crowd. And then it was go time. Eighteen riders started off the head to head eliminations. The brackets were randomly chosen in the rider’s draw earlier in the week and there were a couple narrowly-decided nail biters-like Marcu Grilc’s switch backside 10 double cork versus Mikkel’s switch backside 1260-both perfect and decided by .03 points in Mikkel’s favor. Fair judging for sure by the likes of Ingemar Backman and Devun Walsh, but difficult. The night in general was a series of BS 10 double corks--a boned out one put German rider Elias Elhardt in third, Belgian rider Seppe Smits was blasting his huge signature backside 1260 to seal the deal for second, while Seb Toutant was perfectly consistent throughout the whole contest only to have the worst wreck of the entire night losing his edge on the takeoff and flinging through the air, and then coming back with a perfect Cab 12 double cork to win the Air & Style and 50,000 dollars (not to mention redemption on his cracked ankle from last year’s Innsbruck Air & Style).
Some other highlights from the night were Lago’s switch double Rodeo attempt, Kazu’s Rodeo Japan, Mikkel’s backside 1440 attempt at the end which landed him in fourth, and the four riders who took a note from the US Open and barged the jump en masse toward the end--nice double cork Mark McMorris, yeah we saw that.
Many of you may be wondering what Shaun White’s roll in this whole thing was other than event branding. He participated as a snowboarding ambassador fielding up to twenty interviews a day, and introducing people to snowboarding. An interview with Shaun will be posted shortly, so hold off judgment ’til then.
The Air & Style event producers are committed to a five-year plan in Beijing, so this is just the beginning.
Oakley Shaun White Air & Style Podium
1. Seb Toutant
2. Seppe Smits
3. Elias Elhardt
4. Mikkel Bang