Bleiler rules Grand Prix pipe qualifying
COPPER MOUNTAIN, Colo. – The Copper halfpipe was stacked with big air and beauty Thursday as the best women in the sport hit up the 22-foot walls for qualification runs at the U.S. Snowboarding Grand Prix. And, to no one’s surprise, 2006 Olympic medalists Gretchen Bleiler of Aspen, Colo., and Kelly Clark of Mt. Snow, Vt., were the first- and second-place qualifiers of the day.
The sky in Summit County, was clear and blue as the women crippled, grabbed and spun their names into Saturday’s Grand Prix finals, and X Games gold medalist Bleiler was beaming after some high-quality riding.
“I had a really good run today. I’m feeling confident; I had a lot of fun and I am excited for finals on Saturda,” said Bleiler, whose top run scored 47.10.
There were a number of top riders in the 48-competitor field who didn’t qualify for Saturday’s eight-rider finals. Torah Bright of Australia finished 11th, Tahoe Paradise’s Jamie Anderson was 12th (37.70) and South Lake Tahoe’s Elena Hight came in 18th (36.30) and defending Olympic champion Hannah Teter of Meyers didn’t compete because of a shoulder injury.
Japan’s Soko Yamaoka was third, but the story of the day was young Madeline Schaffrick of Steamboat Springs, Colo., who busted out a third-place finish in her heat to land fourth on the overall list of competitors.
The rookie prodigy was all smiles as she looked on to the scoreboard for her final standings.
“I’m really excited. I’m practically speechless,” the 15-year-old said. “This has been a really fun beginning of the winter and I can’t wait to continue it.”
Clark, the 2002 Olympic gold medalist, was happy for the day’s bluebird conditions and to be one step closer to making her bid at a third Olympic team.
“It was great to come out this morning and have qualifiers. The weather cooperated and it got a little bit warmer for us,” said Clark, whose run netted a score of 45.70. “To come out and land my first run of the season at the first event is a great way to start my year and I am looking forward to finals on Saturday.”
While she might call it “sneaking in,” Ellery Hollingsworth of Stratton, Vt., landed two truly solid and stylish runs to stamp her name on the list of female athletes making it into Saturday’s finals.
“I snuck in there and I qualified third. I’m pretty happy because we got the first one of the season over and now we’re into finals,” said Hollingsworth, who finished sixth overall among the qualifiers.
All nerves aside, the crisp and sunny Thursday of halfpipe riding was merely foreshadowing for a competition where the win could truly be open for anyone to grab.
2010 U.S. SNOWBOARDING GRAND PRIX
At Copper Mountain, Colo.
Thursday’s Women’s Halfpipe Qualifications
1. Gretchen Bleiler, Aspen, Colo., 47.10
2. Kelly Clark, Mt. Snow, Vt., 45.70
3. Soko Yamaoka, Japan, 43.50
4. Maddy Schaffrick, Steamboat Springs, Colo., 43.20
5. Quera Castellet, Spain, 43.00
6. Ellery Hollingsworth, Stratton, Vt., 41.40
7. Holly Crawford, Australia, 41.10
8. Clair Bidez, Minturn, Colo., 41.70
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