PyeongChang 2018 OWG preview: Halfpipe
The halfpipe competitions will bring the third and fourth snowboard medal decisions of the 2018 PyeongChang Olympic Winter Games taking place on 13 and 14 February.
But before it's time to grab that bling, riders have to grab on of the 12 final spots in the qualifiers wit ladies going first on Monday, 12 February and men following one day later right after the women's finals.
Unfortunately, one of the sports biggest stars has already been ruled out of the competition: Iouri Podladtchikov, the defending champion form Sochi 2014 had announced to skip the competition after the first training session due to health reasons.
While the Swiss rider and first to land the yolo in the pipe is therefore out of the medal battle, the arguably deepest field ever in the Olympic history promises a superb showdown in an halfpipe shaped on point, which will once again be one of the most televised medal events of the Olympic Winter Games.
Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games slopestyle results
Gold – Kaytlin Farrington (USA)
Silver – Torah Brigh (AUS)
Bronze – Kelly Clark (USA)
Gold – Iouri Podladtchikov (SUI)
Silver – Ayumu Hirano (JPN)
Bronze – Taku Hiraoka (JPN)
Looking on the World Cup season so far, it seems like halfpipe sensation Chloe Kim is the one to beat. Only 17 years of age, the rider from Mammoth Mountain is finally where she belongs: on the sports biggest stage.
Four years ago, Kim was already in shape to mix it in the top but too young to compete in Sochi. This time, the 2018 X Games Gold medallist enters her first ever Olympics as odds-on favourite.
Two wins and one runner-up finish in three events on the tour speak for themselves. In addition, Kim is the only female athlete so far who has landed back-to-back 1080s in competition and has therefore always one trick combo in the bag she can throw in the superpipe when needed.
But guess what, le grand dame of halfpipe snowboarding is also back going for a fourth medal in her fifth Olympic Winter Games.
Kelly Clark (USA) who had been the youngest snowboarder ever (18 years back in 2002) to win an Olympic snowboard Gold until her teammate Red Gerard grabbed the slopestyle title on 11 February, only missed out the 2006 Torino podium as fourth while placing third in 2010 and 2014.
In addition, she can enter this US international battle of generations with confidence being the winner of last year's official test event in the Bokwang Phoenix Park when Kim had to settle for fourth behind of Chinese top duo Jiayu Liu and Xuetong Cai.
The latter of both might be the 2015 and 2017 World Champion but Liu has had some better showing in the lead up to this year's season's highlight.
In fact the fourth ranked rider of the Vancouver Winter Games came out successful of the LAAX OPEN last January, the final Olympic qualifying World Cup event which the US team had skipped for their national qualifiers.
And that's where one other girl underlined that she most certainly could take over the role of the when two people quarrel, a third rejoices role: Maddie Mastro came in third after locking in top-3 results on the World Cup in Cardrona, Copper and Mammoth whilst also grabbing bronze at the last X Games.
While it seems that the podium will be owned by either US or Asian riders with a slight chance of the second ever Olympic snowboard podium sweep for Team USA, riders from Europe have still a fighting chance in the three run final.
Watch out for Queralt Castellet (ESP) and Mirabelle Thovex (FRA) who could give the inner circle of title aspirants some hard times.
Over in the men's event, Europa has already lost his biggest ace with Podladtchikov but Patrick Burgener (SUI) who missed out the last two Olympics due to injuries in the lead up to the major event has a bagful tricks and creative style to cause his rivals some headaches.
However, the musical talent didn't make it in the top-3 of favourites.
Especially with the dramatic last weeks prior to PyeongChang in mind, it's a battle of superstar Shaun White (USA), reigning World Champion Scotty James (AUS) and Ayumu Hirano (JPN).
The latter one was only 15 years old when he grabbed Silver in Sochi and now, four years later, he is back for even more having shocked the world's elite with flawless back-to-back 1440's in his final run at X Games which earned him the Gold ahead of James, who therefore was beaten again by inches only weeks after White was awarded a 100 at the Snowmass World Cup stop.
A score which James didn't really understand; but maybe it was a result which made him angry enough to step up his game even more.
If James is able to clean up his super technical run with has this massive, jaw dropping and new ground breaking switch back 1260 double at the end it will be hard to beat this year's flag bearer of Team Australia.
But White has proven that he can go as big as in the past years and that he has overcome his heavy fall during his preparations for the Olympics. Nevertheless, it was James who beat the world's best at the test World Cup in South Korea last year.
However, as the focus will be on those three athletes, there might be a chance for one of the other highly talented riders to jump in the spot light, too.
Over the course of the whole winter, Ben Ferguson has impressed with an unique and very creative trick choice while several Japanese athletes have boosted up the spin to win approach with some big air time, too.