Do I really even need to tell you who won today? Didn’t most of us hedge our bets before this season even started? Yes, Shaun won, but more on that in a minute.
Greybird skies, bitter cold temps and light flurries crept back into Copper for Saturday’s finals, which contributed to many riders not being able to land their runs today.
Once in a while this kind of thing happens. A qualification day like Friday’s Grand Prix’s qualifications will have a higher level of riding then the day of finals. You almost have to feel sorry for the 1,000 or so spectators that braved Colorado’s Interstate 70 to come watch the best riders in the world. If only they knew what they missed the day before. The field of riders yesterday just trying to make it into finals was so stacked that everyone had to give it their all. Just making it to today’s finals was a victory- some of the favored to podium today’s event didn’t even make it in, including Kevin Pearce, Luke Mitrani, Torah Bright and Mason Aguirre.
When the pressure of the importance of these finals (due to them being an Olympic Qualifier and all) and the less than ideal weather sunk in first thing this morning, those thousand or so live spectators were treated to some pretty early-on carnage. Hit after hit, run after run, riders were bailing on their landings. It took standing up an entire run, consistency, and perseverance to make it to the top today. Luckily there weren’t too many major injuries.
Let’s get back to who won and why. On the men’s side of things all eyes were on Shaun, as they almost always are, to take the win. Each rider had two chances to impress the judges. Most riders play it safe on their first run to get a solid score, and then go all out on their second run, but not Shaun. By the time Shaun finished his first run (with his infamous back-to-back double cork 1080′s) he had won the entire event with a score of 47.00.
That didn’t stop anyone from trying to beat him though. It only got more exciting during second run as every rider threw out their best to beat unstoppable White. Louie Vito, who was nipping at White’s heels during qualifications yesterday, stood almost 5 points behind White after first run. Vito was the last rider before White to drop, and with no one else coming close to White’s first run score, Vito knew he needed something cleaner and bigger for his second run.
And that is exactly what he did. Vito’s second run was close to flawless, highly technical, and consistently huge.
You could have heard a pin drop as the judges tallied Vito’s second run score. Vito and Shaun (and quite possibly everyone in the crowd) held their breath. Shaun stood strapped into his board at the top of the pipe to drop in for his second and final run, waiting to find out if his first run score was enough to take the win.
Vito’s second run score was announced as a 45.60, confirming that White had clinched it by a mere 1.40 points. It was one of those “crowd went wild” moments, although it was hard to tell if the crowd was going wild for White winning, or for Vito barely losing to the red-headed wonder.
And with that, White dropped in for a victory run, and he went absolutely huge.
It’s hard to get noticed with names like Shaun White and Louie Vito taking center stage, but the underdog story of the day goes to third place finisher and local boy Zach Black. With top riders like White, Vito, Scotty Lago, Jack Mitrani and Danny Davis all in the finals and scrambling to get in the 2010 Winter Olympics, being an underdog and finishing third is quite possibly the biggest feat of the day- maybe even more so than back-to-back doubles. The 19 year old Black earned some street cred today by doing two things the judges love to see, keeping it consistent and maximizing altitude, and that earned him a score of 44.10. (He also did a flawless Switch BS 1080, which definitely helped his score.)
With a showing out of Black like today, it’s safe to say yet another name has been added to the mix of Olympic Hopefuls for Vancouver.
On the girls side of things it wasn’t so clear cut going into the day who was the favored to win. As always though, the major battle was between American’s Gretchen Bleiler and Kelly Clark. Bleiler won thursday’s finals but it was Clark who stepped it up for the big win today, narrowly knocking Bleiler into second place with a two point lead. For the third place finish it was Japan’s Soko Yamaoka who has shown us year after year not to count her out as a threat.
Having a win or a top finish at this first of five Grand Prix’s is important for the United States Olympic Halfpipe hopefuls since the Grand Prix series is the major deciding factor for which athletes will represent the U.S.A. in Vancouver this February. There are still four more chances in the series though, so it was not crucial to place high today. Riders like Danny Kass who didn’t make it to the Copper Mountain event, or like Scotty Lago, Luke Mitrani and Danny Davis, who didn’t even place top 10 here, will all have more time the season to prove their worth and make it onto the exclusive team.
Stay tuned to GrindTV.com and the 2010 U.S. Snowboarding Grand Prix Series. With so many talented American riders in the mix this season, these competitions deciding who will be named to the U.S.A. Snowboard Halfpipe Team may be more exciting to follow than the Olympics itself.
Results from the 2009/2010 U.S. Snowboard Copper Grand Prix:
1. Shaun White, Carlsbad, CA, 47.00
2. Louie Vito, Sandy, UT, 45.60
3. Zack Black, Breckenridge, CO, 44.10
4. Fredrik Austbo, Norway, 41.20
5. JJ Thomas, Golden, CO, 41.10
6. Greg Bretz, Mammoth Lakes, CA, 40.00
7. Steve Fisher, Breckenridge, CO, 39.40
8. Tore-V Holvik, Norway, 34.80
9. Ryo Aono, Japan, 34.00
10. Jack Mitrani, Mammoth, CA, 28.80
11. Elijah Teter, USA, 22.1
12. Charles Reid, Canada, 18.8
13. Danny Davis, USA, 18.8
14. Scotty Lago, USA, 16.0
15. Dustin Craven, Canada, 9.0
16. Nathaniel Johnstone, 8.6
1. Kelly Clark, Mt. Snow, VT, 44.50
2. Gretchen Bleiler, Aspen, CO, 42.60
3. Soko Yamaoka, Japan, 40.20
4. Quera Castellet, Spain, 30.50
5. Ellery Hollingsworth, Stratton, VT, 35.80
6. Madeline Schaffrick, Steamboat Springs, Co, 35.50
7. Holly Crawford, Australia, 24.00
8. Clair Bidez, Minturn, CO, 13.60