Xin Zhang prevails in stacked superfinal at the Beijing Bird's Nest
BEIJING, CHN – The first day of one of the biggest events FIS Freestyle has ever put on took place today in Beijing, China's Bird's Nest stadium, as Audi World Cup aerials action took to the sky in one of the most iconic arenas in the world.
The Beijing National Stadium – better known as the Bird's Nest – was built to house the opening and closing ceremonies of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games, along with a full roster of Summer Olympic competition.
This week, however, FIS Freestyle has taken it over, building a massive, Olympic regulation-sized aerials venue at centre field out of a complex network of scaffolding and truckloads of snow. Offset by an impressive Audi awards stage and lit by a light show good enough for an arena rock band, the spectacle on display in Beijing is nothing short of extraordinary.
But, of course, all of the above would be for nought, were there not the creme-de-la-creme of the aerials World Cup on hand to put it all to good use.
China is the reigning aerials world powerhouse, and on Saturday that was well on display.
It was the first event where the Olympic format was used in competition, wherein the top six advance immediately from the first round of jumps. Another round for the remaining competitors decides the next six who advance, and a top 12 is made. From this top 12, the competition proceeds in a knock-out format where the field is whittled down to eight and then finally four competitors who face-off in a super final. As none of the scores are carried over, this makes a truly exciting format.
By the time things got to the super final, the field had been narrowed down to three Chinese jumpers and an Aussie, with Nina Li, Mengtao Xu and Xin Zhang standing tall for China, and only the resurgent Lydia Lassila on hand to represent the visiting nations.
Lassila went into the super final in first position, followed by Xu, Zhang, and Li. At the outset, it appeared it would be a competition between the Australian and Xu for the victory at the historic event, with both ladies saving their best for last, with their triple flipping jumps stacked up against the less difficult doubles of Li and Zhang.
Degree of difficulty only counts for so much, however. Xu's back lay, double full, full (the most difficult jump attempted in the competition), and Lassila's back full, full, full both had problems, leaving the door open for the last two competitors. When Zhang laid down a perfect back full, full, and Li made a mistake on her identical jump, it was Zhang who took the competition in front of the huge Chinese crowd.
Lassila, who returned to competition last season after taking nearly three years off following her Olympic gold medal performance in Vancouver 2010, settled for 2nd, with Xu in 3rd and three-time world champion Li rounding out the superfinal in 4th.
Beating out two world champions and the reigning Olympic gold medallist – not a bad way to get your third World Cup victory, if you are Xin Xhang.
With a musical performance, the unveiling of the new Audi SQ5, and the top level aerials on display, the first phase of the Beijing World Cup weekend was a show to remember.
Men's competition will be held on Sunday, December 22, beginning with qualifications at 15:15 local time, followed by finals at 18:30.
Full results can be found HERE