The women competing in the Olympic debut of skiing halfpipe have a leg up on their male counterparts: They’ll have had two days to study and learn from the men's experience on the course in the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park. In all, 24 women will compete on the 22-foot-high, 700-foot-long course in an attempt to bring home first-ever Olympic honors. Judged on technical execution, amplitude, variety, use of the pipe, and difficulty, a two-run qualifying round will narrow the field to 12 athletes advancing to the best-of-two-run final. Following are a few favorites to keep your eyes on when the women take to the halfpipe on Thurs., Feb. 20:
Rosalind Groenewoud (CAN): The high school champion pole vaulter has suffered a broken collarbone and three concussions in her halfpipe career, and most recently injured the lateral meniscus in both knees this past December. But she recovered in time to compete at the 2014 Winter X Games, where she garnered the silver medal, and is taking her wealth of experience full throttle into Sochi. In all, she has four X Games medals under her belt—including gold in 2012—as well as a second-place showing in the 2011 FIS World Championships and overall silvers in the last three World Cup rankings. Plus, she has a long-standing philanthropic side whose karma might help her in the pipe: Roz G., as she’s affectionately known, works as an ambassador for Canada's Right to Play, a group teaching disadvantaged children the importance of sport and play.
Anaïs Caradeux (FRA): Despite growing up on the decidedly un-skier-friendly Caribbean island of Guadeloupe and not even starting skiing until she moved to France at age 14, Anaïs Caradeux, like fellow countryman Kevin Rolland—who just took bronze in the men’s halfpipe event—is a favorite in this year's Olympic halfpipe competition, largely because she excels in events across the pond. Making her mark early, she won the FIS World Cup in 2005-06 and took second overall two years later in 2008-09. Caradeux won the silver in 2013 at X Games Tignes in the French Alps; she also took the silver medal at the FIS World Championships in Voss, Norway, and then, this season, finished sixth at the World Cup at Copper Mountain, Colorado. Who's to say someone from Guadeloupe won't be able to bring home a gold?
Maddie Bowman (USA): With both of her parents racers, and a solid background in gates herself, Sierra-at-Tahoe, California’s Maddie Bowman brings speed and finesse to her high-flying antics in the halfpipe. Following a breakout season in 2012-13, featuring podiums at nearly every major event she entered—including Rev Tour and Dew Tour wins as well as a victory at the AFP World Championship—she's continued her winning ways, with three total X Games medals on her mantle. The most precious of these came in 2013 with a gold, followed by her first overall AFP halfpipe title. Look for her to throw her trademark 900 on the Sochi course, a move she mastered last season.
Angeli Vanlaanen (USA): Lyme disease isn't getting Washington native Angeli Vanlaanen down. In fact, it's incentive for her to fly higher than ever in the halfpipe. Diagnosed in 2009, she earned a slew of podiums at The North Face Open Series in 2012 and 2013 before taking sixth in the 2013 FIS World Championships. Leading up to Sochi, Vanlaanen flew to second place at the first U.S. Olympic qualifier in Breckenridge, Colorado, giving her much-needed momentum for the women's halfpipe debut in the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park. With a good shot at the podium, her time in the Sochi limelight won't overshadow her time volunteering for LymeLight, her campaign to spread awareness about Lyme disease, which includes a film component.
Brita Sigourney (USA): A former water polo player for UC Davis, Brita Sigourney is even stronger in the air than she is in the water. In her first full competition year, the Tahoe, California-raised skier took home the Junior World Championship title and a silver medal at the U.S. Championships. The hot streak continued into 2011, when she earned the silver in her X Games debut and won the last stop of the Dew Tour. Hitting her stride in 2012, she took bronze in the X Games and notched two wins at the VISA U.S. Grand Prix in Copper Mountain, Colorado, and Mammoth Mountain, California. While a knee injury sidelined her briefly halfway through 2012, she bounced back by winning the Dew Tour that December and taking third at the U.S. Freeskiing Grand Prix. And she has a monkey to get off her back in Sochi: At last year's test event World Cup on the Olympic venue, she broke her collarbone. But she's since healed and is raring to soar to a podium finish.
Women's ski halfpipe qualifiers begin at 6:30 p.m. Sochi time on Thursday, with the medal event directly following. Access the viewer's guide at NBCOlympics.com.
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