The promising U.S. men's halfpipe squad will be at half-strength entering Tuesday's inaugural Olympic final, losing two of its four skiers to a tricky Sochi pipe. Battling snow, then rain, then snow again, Americans David Wise and Aaron Blunck were two of the 12 riders to make it through to the final, relying on strong first runs to push them through.
Wise gave us what we expected in the first round, putting a massive run to his feet right off the bat. He didn't take top honors, but the American is set up nicely for a podium push and will try to up his amplitude in the final rounds.
Blunck didn't make it look quite as easy, grinding out the last qualifying position despite landing both of his runs. Crested Butte, Colorado's golden boy was the first to ski his second run, and after landing directly on the bubble, and had to watch 27 skiers try for his position. None could grab it, and though the 17-year-old may have aged five years watching the last competitors, his impressive streak continues on into the Olympic finals.
Missing out for the Americans was Lyman Currier and former medal favorite Torin Yater-Wallace. Currier's Cinderella run came to a screeching halt after an ugly fall on his second run had the 19-year-old clutching his knee in the flats. The Colorado native's impressive path to the Games echoed the dream run of his father, David, a former Olympian alpine racer who made his debut as a 20-year-old in Sapporo, Japan.
For Yater-Wallace, it was a frustrating end to a once-promising journey. The 18-year-old phenom has had a rough couple of months, battling two separate collapsed-lung incidents just to get back for the Olympics. Yater-Wallace nearly had enough to qualify on his last run, but slid out after landing his final hit. The judges elected to count the stumble in the scoring, and the early favorite for a Sochi medal had to settle for an uncharacteristic 26th place.
But the Americans weren't the only skiers battling the temperamental weather on Tuesday night. Canada, France, and surprise contender New Zealand each saw three skiers through to the final, with Finland's Anti-Jussi Kemppainen rounding out the field. Canadian Justin Dorey highlighted qualifying action with a couple of massive double cork 1260s (three and a half spins and two flips), while Kevin Rolland (FRA) landed a strong first run to remind the field he's a definite medal contender. However, the Kiwis may have won the day early on, vaulting two Wells brothers (Jossi and Beau-James) into the medal round along with countryman Lyndon Sheehan for a chance at New Zealand's first ski podium finish at the Olympic Games.
Competitors will hope for better conditions in the final, with action kicking off at 9:30 p.m. local time live on nbcolympics.com.
WHO ADVANCED TO SKI HALFPIPE FINALS
1. Justin Dorey (CAN)
2. David Wise (USA)
3. Benoit Valentin (FRA)
4. Kevin Rolland (FRA)
5. Josiah Wells (NZL)
6. Mike Riddle (CAN)
7. Noah Bowman (CAN)
8. Lyndon Sheehan (NZL)
9. Antti-Jussi Kemppainen (FIN)
10. Beau-James Wells (NZL)
11. Thomas Krief (FRA)
12. Aaron Blunck (USA)
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