Sierra Nevada, SPA - The penultimate event of the Sierra Nevada 2017 Freestyle Ski & Snowboard World Championships went down on Saturday night under the lights of the Spanish resort, where Ayana Onozuka (JPN) and Aaron Blunck (USA) took gold medals in the halfpipe competition.
Competition was delayed by 30 minutes as crews went all-out to clean out a pipe that changed rapidly as temperatures dropped just before competition, but once they did get things in order the stage was set for what turned out to be hugely entertaining contest.
Ladies’ gold medallist Onozuka was on fire all night, stomping all three of her runs and earning scores in both runs two and three that would have been enough to earn her the world championship title.
At the end of the day though it was run two that would do it for her, putting down a line that was highlighted by a first-hit left 900 and a switch right 720 safety, earning her a score of 89.80. Big, clean, and stylish from run to run and trick to trick, there was no doubt that Onozuka deserved the Sierra Nevada 2017 world championship title.
“I still can’t believe it,” Onzuka said after awards, gold medal adorned, “It’s my first win of the season, in the last competition of the season, and I just can’t find the words to describe this feeling. Before dropping in tonight I was very nervous, but I was able to land my runs and for that I’m so happy. Especially about my 900, which has been my new trick this season.”
Onozuka was followed up by halfpipe veteran Marie Martinod (FRA), the 2016/17 World Cup halfpipe crystal globe winner who qualified first and was the last lady to drop in on the evening.
Martinod changed her run up completely for her third run in a go-for-broke push for the gold medal, launching a well-grabbed final hit 1080 that, had she landed it, would very likely have had her on top of the podium.
However, she came up a little short on the final rotation, and as a result her first run score of 87.00 would be the one to stick, and she would have to settle for the silver.
Bronze went to Devin Logan (USA), last season’s Freestyle overall crystal globe winner. After a decent first run some and problems in run two, Logan was able to put it all together in run three to earn a score of 84.20 and her piece of the Sierra Nevada 2017 halfpipe podium.
Blunck sets early benchmark that can’t be beat
Over on the men’s side, Aaron Blunck dropped in with the second run of the evening and proceeded to stomp a benchmark score that could not be met by a finals field stocked with the great majority of the best halfpipe skiers in the world.
Blunck squeaked into finals in the 9th spot, but once there he made no mistake in his first go, with a run bookended by a first-hit left double cork japan and a last-hit double cork 1260 mute, and with three hits of near-perfection in between.
“I could not be more stoked,” said Blunck from the finish, “This is the best season I’ve ever had and it’s been like a dream come true for me. I’ve just wanted to have as much fun as possible and this season it feels like that’s all it’s been.
“I was super excited to land that first run. As the night went on it got faster and icier and scarier in there, so to get that first one down was big. But the crews here in Sierra Nevada did a great job to get the pipe to the condition it was in tonight.”
Just behind Blunck in second place was top qualifier and long-time halfpipe ruler Mike Riddle (CAN). After missing much of last season due to injuries and struggling somewhat in 2016/17, Riddle was able to put it down when it mattered most this season, landing a second run in Sierra Nevada that was highlighted by a silky smooth left double cork 1260 to earn a score of 89.60 and the silver medal.
Third place and the bronze medal went to France’s Kevin Rolland. Like Blunck, Rolland went all-out on his first run to earn a score of 88.40. However, knowing he had Blunck’s mark to catch, he pushed it even harder on his second run only to suffer the most spectacular crash of the evening.
While he would be mostly unharmed from the wreck, he wouldn’t be able to put down a clean run three, and the 2016/17 halfpipe crystal globe winner would have to settle for the third step on the podium.
LADIES TRICK LISTS
Onozuka (GOLD) - left 900, right 540 safety, left 720, switch right 720 safety, left 540
Martinod (SILVER) - left 540 safety, right 540 safety, left flare safety, right flare, left 900 safety
Logan (BRONZE) - right 540 japan, left 540 tail, left alley-oop safety, left 720 safety, switch left alley-oop flat 540
MEN TRICK LIST
Blunck (GOLD) - switch left double cork 900 japan, switch right double cork 1080 japan, left 900 tail, right double cork 1260 tail
Riddle (SILVER) - left double cork 1260 mute, right 1080 tail, switch left 720 double japan, right 900 tail, left double cork 900 safety
Rolland (BRONZE) - switch left double cork 1080 safety, right 900 tail, left double cork 1260 mute to japan, right double cork 1260 mute