Japan's Otsuka takes JWC big air gold
Cardrona (NZL) - It didn’t come easy, but when the first competition of the 2018 FIS Junior Freestyle Ski & Snowboard World Championships finally went down at the Audi quattro Winter Games NZ it did not disappoint, as a heavy-hitting men’s big air competition opened the festivities in hugely entertaining fashion on Sunday, with Japan’s Takeru Otsuka claiming the gold medal.
Heavy winds at Cardrona Mountain Resort had shut down the big air operation during its scheduled slot on Saturday, forcing it to be rescheduled to Sunday morning. However, on Sunday morning the wind persisted forcing several delays, and come noontime the competition was looking to be in danger of cancellation.
But at the 11th hour the winds abated and, under sunny skies on the perfectly-shaped Cardrona big air kicker, the Junior men were able to get back to work at the venue that had yielded such an impressive qualification round two days previous.
From the outset it was clear that it would be tough to match Otsuka despite the high-caliber of the field, after the 17-year-old posted a score of 96.0 for his best jump in Friday’s qualifiers.
And on Sunday Otsuka picked up right where he left off in qualies, stomping a frontside triple cork 1440 on his first run before coming back in his second run and putting down a cab triple cork 1440 mute that earned a 96.4 to make it the best jump of the competition. Otsuka's two-run combined score of 188.20 would be more than enough to give him the gold medal.
Second place on Sunday went to the USA’s Luke Winkelmann, who admitted after a putting down a simple 360 in his final run that the standard set by Otsuka was too much to chase down.
Still, 17-year-old Winkelmann would walk away from his day at Cardrona with his head held high after landing a one-two punch of a frontside triple cork 1440 tail grab and a switch backside triple 1260 mute, earning himself a score of 182.40 and the 2018 JWC big air silver medal.
“The wind stopped out there and it got perfect and I just went at it,” said Winkelmann, “I stomped my first two runs and I was super hyped with that and now I’m just stoked. I hadn’t landed my switch back 12 all day, didn’t land a single one in practice, so it’s crazy that I landed that in competition. And then I just cruised on my third run.”
Third place and the bronze medal went to 16 year old William Buffey of Canada, who in his second run landed a trick he had never even attempted before - a cab 1260 mute - and then followed that up with picture-perfect frontside 1080 mute in his final hit to flatspin his way to the the Junior World Championships podium.
“I’m super excited about how everything turned out,” Buffey said from the finish area, “I learnt a new trick on the second run that I’ve never tried and I’m super hyped. I just looked at the level of riding out there and thought, ‘If there’s any time to try (the cab 1260), it’s now,’ and I just went for it.”
The ladies’ Junior big air World Championships, which will take place on the final jump of the Big Buck slopestyle course and not on the big air jump, are slated to take place later in the week after the wind also wiped out their programme on Saturday. That competition is tentatively scheduled to take place on Wednesday morning.