The 22-foot walls of the Olympic halfpipe in Sochi claimed many a victim Tuesday night, owing to deteriorating snow conditions that stole speed and landings from the 11 riders who advanced from the afternoon qualifier to ride the semifinal round. American rookie Taylor Gold was one of the unlucky, losing all of his momentum partway through his first run and then unexpectedly sitting down on the last hit of his second chance, eliminating himself from a shot at his first Olympic gold medal.
Gold's sister, Arielle, will have her chance to redeem the family name Wednesday as women's snowboard halfpipe qualifiers begin at 2 p.m. Sochi time.
The halfpipe maintenance crew had their work cut out for them in both the qualifying and semifinal events, as warming weather furthered the breakdown of a pipe many riders had strenuously criticized in practice the day before. A combination of salting, treatment with chemical agent PDX, and lots of good old-fashioned slipping slapped the pipe into decent shape, but the more it was ridden, the more its imperfections played a role in performance.
NBC on-air snowboarding announcer Todd Richards tweeted some gallows humor before things got started this morning:
<blockquote class=”twitter-tweet” lang=”en”><p>Up here at the pipe in Sochi. The temps are in the mid 40's. Slushy soup all around, hope they salted this thing like popcorn at the movies</p>— toddrichards (@btoddrichards) <a href=”https://twitter.com/btoddrichards/statuses/433147397300957184″>February 11, 2014</a></blockquote>
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Swiss national Iouri Podladtchikov was not polished enough to make it straight to the finals from qualifiers, but he and American Greg Bretz held steadily enough in their first run of the semis to secure their place on the 12-man final roster. Both men had "full pulls," meaning that they avoided falling on any of their tricks, and scored well enough on those initial drops that they could relax on their second. Strategic, conservative decision-making was the right call for these two, who will join the usual suspects—Shaun White, Danny Davis, et al—at 9:30 p.m. Sochi time Tuesday night.
Of surprising note was the fifth-place finish of Chinese rider Wancheng Shi; while he boosted high above the lip and didn't bobble his landings, he did commit a style faux pas that will surely have the snowboard community scratching their heads. Shi grabbed tindy—halfway between a tail grab and an Indy grab—during at least one of his tricks, yet the judges didn't appear to dock him for this misstep. Expect them to be a little more discerning when Shi goes head to head with style masters like Danny Davis in the upcoming final.
MEN'S SNOWBOARD HALFPIPE FINAL START LIST
Tim-Kevin Ravnjak (SLO)
Wancheng Shi (CHN)
Yiwei Zhang (CHN)
Kent Callister (AUS)
Gregory Bretz (USA)
Iouri Podladtchikov (SUI)
David Habluetzel (SUI)
Danny Davis (USA)
Christian Haller (SUI)
Taku Hiraoka (JPN)
Ayumu Hirano (JPN)
Shaun White (USA)
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