Halfpipe crew seeks final Olympic passes in Park City
PARK CITY, Utah – It all comes down to this: Two night halfpipe competitons, 27 athletes and a chance to go to the world’s largest athletic stage – the Olympics.
The final two events of the Sprint U.S. Snowboarding Grand Prix are about to touch down at Park City Mountain Resort on Friday and Saturday, marking the final shot for U.S. halfpipe athletes to make the 2010 Olympic Team.
The site of the fabled 2002 Olympic halfpipe competition will once again host Olympians, past, present, and future, for two full-field night competitions in a 22-foot megapipe made for vast amounts of amplitude and style.
After she won the gold in 2002, Kelly Clark of Mount Snow, Vt., has continued to lead the way for female halfpipers. Although she locked down her Vancouver credential when she stomped her second Grand Prix win in Mammoth a week ago, Clark is looking forward to getting back to the pipe where she made history and trying out some new things.
Of course, the second Olympic spot already secured was grabbed by none other than halfpipe heavyweight Shaun White of Carlsbad, Calif., who also has an Olympic gold medal to his name. But the big question in everyone’s mind is whether or not he’ll have the double cork McTwist 1260 locked into his repertoire after he tried to throw it, albeit somewhat unsuccessfully, at Mammoth Mountain.
“Since Shaun locked up his spot at the Mammoth Grand Prix, his attention has definitely shifted. He’s working on some new tricks to bring, not only to the Grand Prix but also to Vancouver,” said U.S. Snowboarding halfpipe coach Bud Keene. “We’ll see how the pipe is and how the day goes, but Shaun’s definitely feeling the pressure off of his shoulders and he’s looking at the Park City Grand Prix as an opportunity to throw down some harder runs without the pressure to make the team.”
The rest, however, is uncertain. At the top of the contenders list for women are Gretchen Bleiler of Aspen, Colo., who has a win and a second on the tour; South Lake Tahoe’s Hannah Teter has a second and a third; and South Lake Tahoe’s Elena Hight has a third-place podium. Standing strong for the men are Louie Vito of Sandy Utah who has two seconds; Zack Black of Breckenridge, Colo., a rookie with two third-place finishes; and Scotty Lago of Seabrook, N.H., and JJ Thomas of Golden, Colo., who each have a third-place finish.
“It comes as no surprise to us that it’s coming down to the last two events to name the Olympic team. With the level of riding that’s been going on and the intensity that’s increasing, the competition is tight,” U.S. Snowboarding halfpipe head coach Mike Jankowski said. “It’s nice to see everyone from people who have been in the game a long time like JJ and Kelly, as well as new guys like Zack and Louie, who are coming on strong.”
The action kicks off Friday with qualifying in the morning and the first of two night finals at 5:30 p.m. Saturday’s night finals will also be at 5:30 p.m.
The full U.S. Olympic Team for snowboarding will be announced Jan. 25.