Flawless Finnish freestylers finish first at Heavenly
There was a Finnish line at the finish line below Heavenly’s Gunbarrel bumps course, as Finland finished 1-2-3 in Saturday’s Sprint Freestyle Grand National.
Janne Lahtela led a Finnish sweep of the top three places in Saturday’s World Cup bumps race at Heavenly Ski Resort, overshadowing a strong American showing that included four Americans – and two Tahoe bumpers – in the top 12. Lahtela had the second-highest points total – a 28.23 – in World Cup history, leading teammates Lauri Lassila and Sami Mustonen into the top three, in a performance reminiscent of the Austrian men’s dominance in Alpine skiing.
“I think they’re getting to know now,” Lahtela said of his team’s dominance – the Finns occupy the top four spots in the World Cup standings. “It’d be nice. I don’t really think about it. The world knows our team. I don’t care. I just take every competition and try to have fun.”
The Finns had plenty of fun on Saturday, with Lassila posting the fourth-highest total in World Cup history, and one more bumper, Mikko Ronkainen, 10th. The Canadians and Americans weren’t far behind: Canada’s three bumpers all finished among the top seven. Alex Wilson, last year’s champ at Heavenly, led four Americans in the final round with a fifth-place finish.
South Lake Tahoe’s Travis Ramos was the second American among the finalists, finishing eighth. Ramos pulled a double twister spread on the top jump and followed it with an iron cross double twister spread on the bottom, boosting his total score to 26.53 with a 6.70 on his jumps – the highest air score of the finals.
“When I came across the line, I was mostly really impressed I put down a run with pretty minimal mistakes,” said Ramos, who improved on his last finish, a 13th on Jan. 15 at Mont Tremblant, Quebec, by five places. “Mostly, I was just glad to see the crowd that came out to Heavenly – all my friends, and the blue sky, and the blue lake – it was just nice.”
The most dramatic run of the day, though, belonged to another South Lake Tahoe skier and Sierra-at-Tahoe product, Travis Cabral. The 16-year-old mogul prodigy finished 11th with a 25.52 total, but seemed ready to pull another stunner after winning the 1999 National Championships. Cabral was third behind Lahtela and Canadian Stephane Rochon after the first run.
“It’s a big rush for sure, but I can handle it,” Cabral said of his standing after the first round. He threw a triple twister off the first jump before coming a little loose heading onto the second kicker, but recovered to throw a double twister spread. Despite the slip-up, he recovered to finish in the top 10 in just his second World Cup start and earn a trip to Japan for the next World Cup event, a single and double moguls event Jan. 29-30 at Iizuna Kogen, near Nagano.
“That’s what it’s all about, just having fun,” Cabral said.
Evan Dybvig, a sixth-year U.S. Freestyle team veteran from Tunbridge, Vt., rounded out America’s finalists, coming in 12th with a 24.86 score. Katsuya Nakamoto of Japan was the lone finalist not to represent Finland, Canada or America. Nakamoto was ninth, with a 26.13.
American Garth Hager of Bothell, Wash., was the last skier to miss the cut, and teammate Ryan Riley of Steamboat Springs, Colo., was close behind, standing 15th after qualifying.
Americans Luke Westerlund of Breckenridge, Colo. (18th place), South Lake Tahoe’s Chris Hernandez (21st), Toby Dawson of Vail, Colo. (40th) and Jeremy Bloom of Loveland, Colo. (47th) all missed the cut in the 49-skier field. There was a 15-minute pause after Bloom’s run. He ran 32nd, and ski patrollers carried him off the hill on a stretcher after a dramatic crash off the first kicker.
The World Cup continues at Iizuna Kogen in a week with the Finns on top. Lahtela has finished on top of the podium three out of four times, and can throw his worst result of the four – a second Jan. 27 at Tanddalen, Sweden – out.
“It never gets too familiar,” Lahtela said of being on top of the podium. “After the competition, it feels comfortable, but every competition, it feels the same. You always have the same excitement about the competition, and I think that’s what makes you keep going.”
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