It was a monumental day in snowboard history at the Bakuriani 2023 FIS Freestyle Ski, Snowboard and Freeski World Championships on Monday, where Snowboard Park & Pipe action got underway with a groundbreaking slopestyle final that saw Mia Brookes (GBR) making all kinds of history and Marcus Kleveland (NOR) going back-to-back on his way to gold.
BROOKES STOMPS STUNNER FOR HISTORIC SLOPESTYLE GOLD
Mia Brookes’ Bakuriani 2023 slopestyle performance deserves all the ink that is going to be spent on it in the coming days, as the just-turned-16-year-old came through with a second and final run that will go down in snowboarding history.
On Monday Brookes became the first women to land a 1440 in competition (and possibly the first woman to land a 1440, full stop), while besting two-time reigning slopestyle World Champion and Olympic gold medallist Zoi Sadowski-Synnott (NZL) to become the youngest FIS Snowboard World Champion in history.
Brookes had already showed us she was capable of breaking boundaries without warning when she become the first woman to land a flat-spinning 1260 at the Kreischberg big air World Cup in January, but on Monday she take things one step - and 180 degrees - further, in the middle of her slopestyle run at Bakuriani’s Didveli Resort.
Known as a wizard on the rails long before she made her World Cup debut last season, Brookes opened her run with some trademark technicality, with a half-cab on to 360 out on the first rail, into a backside 360 to 50-50 on the second rail.
On the first jump she then went frontside 720 Indy, into a backside 900 Indy on jump two.
Jump three was where Brookes shocked the world, launching into an unannounced switch frontside 1440 melon - which she actually double grabbed over the course of the rotation before stomping clean - that will go down in history as a landmark moment for the sport. The fact that she stomped her never-been-done trick it in the middle of a slopestyle run and not as a one-off in a big air competition makes it all the more staggering.
Brookes run wasn’t over after the 1440, however, as she followed that up with a switch boardslide 270 tail grab out on the canon rail, before going with a half-cab into the wallride, to alley-oop 50-50 to 180 out on the big blue tube, and finally finishing things off with another mind-melter - a 50-50 to frontside 270 to frontside boardslide to regular that could have scored in the 8’s if she was being judged the men’s competition.
Add it all up and you’ve got a score of 91.38 and the youngest World Champion in FIS Snowboard history.
“I honestly feel like I’m going to cry,” an elated Brookes said from the finish area, “I have never been so happy in my life. I can’t even speak I’m that happy.”
“I was at the top of the course and my coach said, ‘If you want to win this just try the 1440.’ I tried the 1260 in practice, I came around and almost went 1440, so I knew it was possible on this jump. I tried it [the 1440] once before in Absolute Park but this is the first time I’ve stomped it so I am super happy.”
While top qualifier Sadowski-Synnott would drop in just after Brookes in the final run of the women’s competition, the 21-year-old wasn’t able to summon the kind of magic that she did at the Beijing 2022 Olympic Winter Games, were she dropped in the same position and stomped a remarkable final run to claim Olympic gold.
Instead, Sadowski-Synnott would lose control in the landing of jump three and ride out of the course, skipping the final two features and reverting to her 88.78-scoring first run for the silver medal.
“Winning a medal here means a lot to me since it’s my last slopestyle competition of the season,” said Sadowski-Synnott, “And it’s sick to land my run. Of course I wanted to try and back up the World Champion title, but I did everything I could and I am so stoked for Mia. Mia is leading snowboarding competition at the moment, especially on the jumps, and pushing all of us girls to ride our best.”
Sadwoski-Synnott's Bakuriani 2023 silver was the fifth medal of her World Championships career, putting her into a tie with Seppe Smits (BEL) for the most ever by a snowboard Park & Pipe competitor.
Bronze would go to the woman that Brookes displaced as the youngest World Champion in FIS Snowboard history, as 24-year-old Miyabi Onitsuka of Japan - winner of the Kreischberg 2015 World Championships just over eight years ago, also at the age of 16 but two months older than Brookes is now - returned to the World Championships podium for the fourth time in her career after earning a score of 83.05 for her first run.
KLEVELAND’S GUTSY SECOND RUN SECURES BACK-TO-BACK GOLDS
Over on the men’s side of things it was Marcus Kleveland of Norway showing his incredible poise under pressure and unmatched trick arsenal on his way to becoming the first man in FIS Snowboard World Championships history to earn back-to-back slopestyle gold medals.
After falling on his triple cork 1440 on the second jump in his first run, Kleveland found himself well behind the eight-ball heading into run two, with the likes of Japan’s Ryoma Kimata (JPN), Chris Corning of the USA, and Kleveland’s Norwegian countryman Mons Roisland stomping some podium-worthy runs.
Kleveland, however, will go down as one of the greatest to ever do it, and the truly great athletes in any sport are the ones that thrive when the stakes are the highest. Kleveland on Monday proved yet again that he is one of those individuals.
Leading off his gold medal run with a switch 270 on to 270 off on the first rail into a backside 360 to 50-50 to popped backside 180 off on the big tube, Kleveland then went switch frontside 1260 stalefish on jump one, before cleaning things up and stomping to bolts the frontside triple cork 1440 weddle on jump two that had tripped him up in his first run.
From there the 23-year-old kicked it up notch higher, sending a huge backside double cork 1800 melon to the bottom of the landing on the third kicker, and then going with a boardslide to underflip 630 on the canon rail, to a frontside 180 50-50 to switch backside 180 out on the big blue tube, and finally a nollie backside lipslide 270 out on the final down rail.
Riding out to a score of 87.23 and the lead, Kleveland would be forced wait nervously as 12 other riders dropped after him. However, while there were some scares, no one else would be able to touch the score of 87.23 that Kleveland racked up for his effort, and for the first time we would see a repeat men’s slopestyle World Champion.
“It’s always pretty nerve-wracking just standing there basically having the whole finals dropping in after you,” Kleveland smiled after weathering the storm, “It’s the worst. But we ended up on top and I could not be more happy. This is insane. This course is really challenging. There’s a lot going on and you’ve got to be really focused when you ride. I had to kind of go into my mind on the last one and it all ended really good.”
After holding the lead through the first run, Ryoma Kimata would be forced to settle for second when he was unable to put down a clean second run. With a frontside triple cork 1440 to backside double cork 1620 melon combo through jumps two and three, Kimata wasn’t far off Kleveland’s heavy pace, but a lower overall score also set him back, and the 20-year-old would finish with a mark of 83.45 and the silver medal in the first World Championships start of his career.
Rounding out the podium in third was one of the most decorated riders in FIS Snowboard history, as Chris Corning put down a storming first run that included the only other stomped 1800 of the day. While he would fall just short in his bid to return to the top of the slopestyle World Championships as he did at Park City in 2019, with his score of 82.18 the 23-year-old Corning would earn the fourth World Championships podium of his ever-impressive career.