Lassila and Qi battle to victory in snowy Deer Valley
Deer Valley Resort, USA - Round two of the big Deer Valley Visa Freestyle International World Cup weekend took to the resort’s White Owl aerials venue on Friday evening, where Lydia Lassila (AUS) and Qi Guangpu (CHN) were able to battle through the heavy snow and rise above their competitors to take World Cup aerials wins.
Lassila, the Vancouver 2010 Olympic gold medalist and the Sochi 2014 Olympic bronze medalist, retired from competition following that bronze medal-winning perfmance in Sochi to focus on her family. Now however, at the age of 35, she is back on the World Cup circuit and looking as strong as she ever has, taking a World Cup win in just her second event back after three years off the World Cup circuit.
Qualifying in sixth, Lassila stepped it up in the semifinal, throwing down an essentially perfect full-full to put herself into the big final in top spot, followed closely by the USA’s Kiley McKinnon and China’s Xu Mengtao.
In the big final Lassila would watch as first Xu, and then McKinnon stomped their final jumps solidly in the driving snow, with McKinnon’s final jump score of 95.17 coming in as the highest ladies’ score of the night in any round - up to that point.
Dropping last after McKinnon, Lassila was able to up the ante just enough, skiing away cleanly from a full, double-full, that would earn her score of 95.52 - just enough to nudge the US skier into second place and give Lassila her first World Cup win since January of 2014.
“It’s been a couple of years (since my last victory),” Lassila said, smiling from the finish area, “But this is why I came back to competition, this feeling. Under the lights, in these tough conditions, and I can still do it! It’s amazing.”
McKinnon’s runner-up podium was the first of the season for the 2014/15 aerials crystal globe winner, while Xu’s podium was her third in three competitions this season and has her now sitting just 42 points back of aerials World Cup leader Danielle Scott (AUS) in the 2016/17 rankings, with 240 points to Scott’s 282.
Scott finished the night in 12th after falling in her semifinal attempt.
Qi back on tour and back on top
On the men’s side, Qi Guangpu returned to competition after missing the last World Cup event in Lake Placid and got right back into the form that gave him a win and a runner-up at the first two competitions of the season in Beida Lake (CHN).
Qi was simply untouchable in Deer Valley on Friday night, leading after every stage and taking the eventual win with a score more than 14 points better than his nearest competitor, locking in a final jump double-full, full, full, for a score of 128.96.
“It’s a beautiful night for me,” said Qi of his win, “So much snow, tough conditions, but I’m very happy to win.”
Qi's win vaulted him over Anton Kushnir (BLR) and back into top spot on the World Cup leaderboard.
Second place at Deer Valley went to Belarus’ Stanislau Hladchenko, whose full, double-full, full, earned him a score of 114.60 and the first podium of his World Cup career. Third place went to Stanislav Nikitin of Russia, who just edged US favourite off of what would have been a home-field win.
With Deer Valley in the books, next stop on the aerials World Cup tour is next weekend in Korea’s Bokwang Phoenix Park for the Olympic test event, where the athletes will get their first taste of the venue they’ll be competing in at next year’s PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Winter Games.