A huge day of competition at the Visa Big Air World Cup presented by Toyota at Steamboat Resort saw the freeskiers come in after the snowboarders and shut down an incredible week of action in incredible fashion, with both Eileen Gu (CHN) and Matej Svancer (AUT) landing never-been-done-in-competition tricks on their way to claiming the respective women’s and men’s victories.
The perfect weather we saw in Steamboat all week leading up to Saturday’s competition continued into the afternoon’s freeski showdown, with spring-like temperatures softening up the jump’s landing and encouraging the athletes to push things to new levels throughout the the three run final.
Gu stomps double cork 1440 for women’s first
It seems that every time Eileen Gu drops in on one of our competitions she’s writing a new page in the history books, and Saturday’s competition was no exception.
While the 18-year-old has a big air World Championships bronze medal to her name from last season in Aspen (as well as an X Games bronze from the same venue), Saturday was her first big air World Cup competition, and she made it count in a big way.
Gu came out strong on Saturday with a left double 1080 safety to Japan grab with her first run, and leapt into the lead on her second run with a right double 1260 safety grab. When the women’s startlist was reordered from lowest-to-highest scores for run three, Gu was granted the final run of the women’s competition, and when none of the other women was able to bump her from top spot she was left with the last drop and victory lap to do whatever trick she wanted.
However, instead of throwing a mellow crowd pleaser for the fans, Gu elected to take things up a notch, putting down a right double cork 1440 to become the first woman ever to land the trick in any freeski competition. Combined with her left 1080, her two-jump combined score was 184.25 out of a possible 200.
“I made that decision (to do the double cork 1440) probably after I landed my second run,” said Gu from the finish area, “I felt like I had done the best of my ability for the dub 1260 and I really wanted to push it. I had a super good early season camp out in Europe where I learned the 1440, did the world’s first, and I had landed it enough that I felt comfortable to do it today. The boys were so inspiring out here throwing absolutely insane tricks, so I really wanted to represent the women as well and kind of step it up to the next level.”
Now with major international wins in all three freeski events - big air, slopestyle and halfpipe - Gu will be carrying some big expectations into her home soil Olympics when we roll into Beijing in two months time.
Second behind Gu was Tess Ledeux (FRA), as the winner of the season opening big air in Chur tried to make some history of her own by going for a last-hit left double 1620 safety in an attempt to knock Gu from top spot. While Ledeux was able to get her skis underneath her, she couldn’t ride out clean, and instead had to settle for a score of 177.50 on the strength of her left double cork 1260 mute and right bio 1080 tail grab.
Still, expect to be hearing about Ledeux making some history of her own with the 1620 in the very near future.
Just back of Ledeux to round out the women’s podium at Steamboat was Johanna Killi of Norway, as the 24-year-old landed a switch right double 1080 Japan and a switch left 1080 tail grab for a score of 177.00. It was her second-straight podium after she also finished in third at the Stubai slopestyle World Cup two weeks ago.
Svancer blows minds with unheard-of combo
Over on the men’s side of things it was Matej Svancer bringing some spice to the table, stomping two tricks that few others in the world would even consider attempting - especially in a men’s competition that saw of level of skiing that once again set a new benchmark.
Svancer lead things off with a switch left triple cork 1440 Tokyo drift - meaning that he purposely landed sideways into a bit of a tailbutter before popping out to complete the rotation.
After that, in run two, he proceeded to launch into a left nosebutter triple cork 1980 safety, throwing an extra half rotation on the trick that had won him the Chur big air World Cup back in October. The two jumps would give him a combined score of 188.50 and his second-straight big air World Cup win.
The fact that he had never even tried the nosebutter 1980 before he stomped it in competition at Steamboat just seemed to be par for the course for the explosive 17-year-old.
“I’m kinda having fun out there,” Svancer said before awards, “It was kind of sketchy to try it today because I didn’t know if I was going to stick it or not, so I was nervous, but I had fun. I don’t really think about winning too much. I’m mostly just thinking about the trick I want to stomp.”
Second place behind Svancer was the USA’s own Alex Hall, who also busted out a new trick when he put down a massive, clean, left double 1980 with his signature Buick grab - like Svancer adding an extra half rotation to a trick that he previously had in the arsenal. Along with his first-run switch left double 1800 Buick, Hall would finish with a score of 185.75 and his seventh career World Cup podium.
Finally, third place for the men went to France’s Antoine Adelisse, who put down his own signature trick on the first run - a pre-nose grab switch triple 1440 - and a right side triple cork 1620 on his second run for a score of 180.00 and his fifth World Cup podium in his 40th start.
With Steamboat wrapped up, the FIS Freeski World Cup will stay on in Colorado for halfpipe action at Copper Mountain, with qualifications going down on December 8th and finals on the 10th.