Park City Grand Prix Halfpipe #4: Olympic Team Spots Still Up For Grabs

The superpipe at Park City, Utah, the final stop of the U.S. Snowboarding Grand Prix Olympic Qualifiers, has some serious Mo-Jo leftover from the 2002 Olympics when the American’s swept the podium and brought halfpipe into the spotlight. Thousands of spectators added to the good Mo-jo when they came out to watch tonight’s qualifier, but no one left the pipe any closer to knowing exactly who will represent the U.S. in Vancouver. They are going to have to come back tomorrow night to find that out.

The only two riders keeping things steady and predictable have already been named to the team. Shaun White and Kelly Clark both took first place under the lights tonight for the men and women, assuring that their spots on the Olympic team are justified- not that anybody ever questioned either of them. As for the other three spots on the four-man and four-woman teams? Your guess is as good as mine, but lets take a look at tonight’s results and see how the rankings are stacking up.

Remember, the top two finishes out of the five qualifiers are counted in the rankings for the Olympic qualifying series. A rider that wins two of the qualifiers gets an automatic spot on the Olympic team.

The same four women have been battling for the three spots since Clark was named to the team after winning the first two qualifiers in a row. Gretchen Bleiler still leads the rankings with a first and a second place, and there was determination radiating from her eyes as she dropped into tonight’s event. She wants one more win to assure herself a spot on the team, but fate had something else in mind for Bleiler tonight, and she left the pipe in blatant frustration with a disappointing fourth place. This left room for the other three girls to crank up their chances for making the team.

The battle between Ellery Hollingsworth, Elena Hight, and Hannah Teter intensified as each tried to nab the second and third place finishes. It was Teter who pulled it together for second place and Hollingsworth in third. Hight finished just after Bleiler in fifth. With a second place finish at the first Mammoth Mountain qualifier, Teter now sits neck and neck with Bleiler in the rankings, meaning both of them are in pretty good contention for the team. Hollingsworth and Hight will most likely be trying to usurp one another tomorrow night for the coveted fourth spot on the Olympic team.

Now, it’s not so simple for the men, which is making it that much more exciting to follow.

The depth of talent runs deep on the men’s side. After four of the five Grand Prix’s there are six men all sitting in good contention for the three spots on the Vancouver team. While White has won three of the four qualifiers, the rest of the podium finishes have had more changes than a Lady Gaga concert.

Tonight’s qualifier put Frend’s Crew member and fan-favorite Scotty Lago back into prime contention when he stole the show in his first run with one of his best runs of the season. Greg Bretz, a young newcomer and previous dark-horse landed himself in third, putting himself back in contention as well. Before tonight’s event both Bretz and Lago sat on the further end of the bubble in the rankings.

Louie Vito still has the best chances of making the team with two second place finishes, even with his lackluster sixth place finish tonight. Lago, Bretz, J.J. Thomas, Luke Mitrani and Zack Black are all pretty much neck and neck with high finishes in the four qualifiers, which means there is no safe bet on which of them will make the cut. Only what happens at tomorrow’s qualifier will seal the deal, and all five men have as much of a chance as the other.

“This year the competition has been crazy. Just the level of progression is so intense.” Lago explains, “I mean, everybody’s got their tricks and they have them dialed in you know? All the double corks and what not.”

Third place finisher Gretz backed up Lago’s statement, “[Competition has] just been so crazy with the Olympics and all. Everyone is riding so well, but it’s been really fun.”

The naming of the U.S. halfpipe teams will come down to the wire in tomorrow nights final qualifier. Same place, same time, but if things keep going the way they have been, then it will be a whole ‘nother story than what went down under the lights at Park City tonight. Check back tomorrow to find out who makes the U.S. Olympic halfpipe team.