Asahikawa (Japan). With another great day the 13th stop of the 2000/2001 Nokia Snowboard FIS World Cup at Asahikawa was concluded today. Tommy Czeschin and Gretchen Bleiler brought the US team a double win in the Halfpipe contest.
The day had started with beautiful sunshine but clouds appeared around noon with heavy snowfall afterwards. Fortunately it cleared up a bit again when the finals for the season’s eighth Halfpipe were held and 2,500 people obviously had fun when the riders were going big in Santa Present Park, 20 minutes drive from downtown Asahikawa.
US rider Tommy Czeschin put in a great first run and took the lead of the ten male finalists and none of the others could catch up with him so he claimed the win. “I got third here two years ago,” he said, “so Japan has always been good, especially for the last couple of weeks. Riding was really good today because the pipe shape was just awesome, the best one yet on the tour. The changing weather didn’t hurt since the pipe was great. We had training here for four days – that helped a lot and made it a really exciting contest today.”
Magnus Sterner from Sweden had been in fifth place after the first run but then was going really big and finally made it up to second place. “At the start for the second run I knew I needed to grab my board on the backside hit,” he said, “that’s what I missed in the first run and I worked it out. The pipe was much better than last week although I liked that one also – we just didn’t have enough training there. Here it was a lot of fun, a really good competition and the level was so much higher since we all had those days of training.”
Sterner’s teammate Markus Jonsson has been in seventh place after the first run but seemed to be standing up in the air in the second to finally finish third. “I had massed up on the first hit in the first run,” he said, “and almost did the same thing in the second run but I managed to stay on my toes, get the speed and all was set. I had to go everything or nothing because you can’t plan anything in a competition like this, the riding was so good – so you have to push the limits and I think everyone thought like this today. This has been a really good pipe – the best we had so far plus we had a couple of days for training. I don’t think you can get a much better pipe than this. I there was anyone complaining about this pipe they should start thinking about to do something else…”
Sterner took the World Cup lead and sent Karlsson to second place ahead of Jan Michaelis from Germany who missed the finals and finished 16th today.
Gretchen Bleiler from the USA claimed the win in the womens’ contest, the first ever in her career. She had been in second place after the first run but then pulled it together in the second and beat French rider Dorian Vidal by 0.4 points. “I’m stoked,” she said, overwhelmed, “I really had a fun day today which I didn’t have in the last competition so I went out there, tried the best I could and it worked out. I wanted to give the crowd a good show and especially in the second run I did, so I’m happy.”
Vidal went in second place and looked a bit disappointed after having lost it to Bleiler. “After my first run I was quite happy when I saw that none of the others took the lead away from me,” she said, “but then the judges got her up because she was going bigger. I was a bit disappointed but I was happy with my riding so second place is fine. This pipe was much easier than the one we had last week and you could really have fun riding it.”
Last week’s winner Kelly Clark from the USA pulled third this time. “I just wanted to make it clean in the second run after I had sketched it a bit in the first and I felt kind of bumped because I didn’t get to do the McTwist. This pipe was a whole lot smoother than last week’s and I liked this one much more, I just didn’t have a good day as I had in Sapporo.”
Germany’s Sabine Wehr-Hasler missed to make it to the finals and went in seventh place finally but still keeps the lead in the standings ahead of Stine Brun Kjeldaas from Norway who was not competing today and British rider Lesley McKenna who turned 11th.
The World Cup heads on to Park City, Utah (USA) now, where the final rehearsal for the 2002 Olympic Winter Games will be held next week.