PyeongChang 2018 OWG preview: Halfpipe
The penultimate Freestyle Skiing competition slated to take centre stage at the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Winter Games, the ladies’ and men’s halfpipe skiing events should once again be two of the must-watch contests when they drop in on Phoenix Park’s perfect superpipe in just under two weeks time.
The first halfpipe training session will get underway on February 16, with ladies qualifications and finals taking place on Feb 19 and 20, respectively, followed by men’s qualifications after ladies’ finals on the 20th, and men’s finals two days later, on Feb 22. Ladies’ finals on the 20th with begin at 10:30 local time in Korea, while men’s finals on the 22nd start at 11:30.
24 ladies and 30 men will compete for PyeongChang 2018 gold, with finals for both competitions featuring a three-run, best-of format.
Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games halfpipe results
Gold - Maddie Bowman (USA)
Silver - Marie Martinod (FRA)
Bronze - Ayana Onozuka (JPN)
Gold - David Wise (USA)
Silver - Mike Riddle (CAN)
Bronze - Kevin Rolland (FRA)
With all six of the Sochi 2014 medallists still sitting at or near the top of the halfpipe rankings and set to represent their respective nations once again at PyeongChang 2018, there’s a high likelihood we’ll see someone walking away from halfpipe skiing’s second go-around at the Games as a two-for-two medallist this year.
That being said, there’s an incredibly deep field of pipe skiers ready to challenge the reigning medalists, and the level of progression and consistency achieved in the last four years by the top 8-10 athletes in the ladies’ field and perhaps the top 15 in the men’s field means that there are no clear-cut favourites ahead of the upcoming Olympic competitions.
Sigourney and Bowman lead strong US team, but Sharpe looking dangerous
The current World Cup leader on the ladies’ side is the USA’s Brita Sigourney, a 28-year-old veteran of nine World Cup seasons who is having a resurgent 2017/18 campaign following some less lofty years after taking top spot overall in 2010/11 and 2011/12. With a win at Mammoth Mountain in the final World Cup competition before the Games and a runner-up result two weekends ago at the X Games, Sigourney is skiing as well as she ever has, just in time for her second Games.
Duelling hard with Sigourney over the past few weeks has been her US teammate and reigning Olympic gold medalist Maddie Bowman, who finished second to Sigourney in Mammoth before stepping up to top spot at the X Games - her fourth X Games gold and eighth overall podium result at the annual competition. Bowman has the trick arsenal and the steely nerves needed of a champion, and it would surprise no one to see her once again on top of the podium in PyeongChang.
But then there’s skiers like Sochi bronze medallist Ayana Onozuka of Japan, who won back-to-back crystal globes in 2014/15 and 2015/16 and last season became halfpipe world champion with an inspired performance at the Sierra Nevada 2017 competition. Though she has struggled somewhat this season, there was a period from January 2014 to February 2017 where she finished no lower than fourth through 12 World Cup, making her perhaps the most consistent of any athlete in the ladies’ field.
Despite being one of the oldest competitors in the pipe, Sochi silver medalist Marie Martinod is coming off her second career crystal globe winning season - 13 years after her first. A string of eight straight World Cup podium performances came to an end at her last contest in January, but she’s still very much on track to be in the medal hunt again in Korea.
And then there’s Canada’s Cassie Sharpe, perhaps the most explosive halfpipe skier in the world right now. Consistently putting down runs with the highest amplitude of any ladies in the field, Sharpe has also honed her run in the past couple of seasons, with her newly-added corked 1080 likely the best trick held by any of the female skiers.
US team looking to dominate men's halfpipe
On the men’s side, the US Olympic halfpipe squad is looking absolutely fearsome ahead of PyeongChang 2018 competition, with Alex Ferreira, David Wise, and Aaron Blunck sitting 1-2-3 on the World Cup rankings and fourth member Torin Yater-Wallace holding the trump card of being the winner at the Olympic test event at the Phoenix Park venue in 2016/17.
With Blunck the reigning world champion, Wise the reigning gold medalist, a two-time crystal globe winner and the leader of a 2018 US X Games sweep (with Ferreira and Yater-Wallace finishing second and third, respectively), Ferriera riding a wave of four podiums in his last five World Cup starts, and Yater-Wallace’s Phoenix Park win last season, the US men have the pedigree, the momentum, and the confidence to dominate the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic podium.
Nation-wise, it’s something of a three horse race in the men’s category of Olympic halfpipe competition, with Canada and France fielding the strongest challengers to the potentially dominant US team.
On the Canadian side, it’s Sochi 2014 silver medalist and Mike Riddle leading a veteran squad way, with him, current World Cup fourth-overall Simon D’Artois and technical wizard Noah Bowman all consistent podium threats throughout the past couple of seasons. With a pair of third-place podiums this season, D’Artois appears to be the best Canadian hope, but Riddle has long shown his ability to rise to the occasion at big events, and could very well find himself in the mix as well.
As for the French, they took a big hit when perennial top contender Benoit Valentin went down with a knee injury earlier this season. However, with reigning two-time reigning crystal globe winner and three time world championship medalist Kevin Rolland in the mix, they also have the best shot at stealing gold from one of the US skiers. Many consider Rolland to be the best halfpipe skier in the world, and come time for action at Phoenix Park you can count on the hyper-competitive Frenchman giving everything he has to prove those believers right.
- Full PyeongChang 2018 halfpipe competition programme
- Past Olympic medalists
- PyeongChang 2018 Freestyle Skiing competition webpage
- Halfpipe World Cup competition photos (credit FIS Freestyle)