Men’s freestyle skiing: Style kings reign supreme at Rosa Khutor
With two new events – slopestyle and halfpipe – added to the freestyle ski programme for Sochi 2014 there was no shortage of excitement on offer at Rosa Khutor. Canada’s Alex Bilodeau bossed the moguls yet again, there were clean sweeps for USA in the slopestyle and for France in the ski cross, while Anton Kushnir underlined Belarus mastery of the aerials, and David Wise showed why he is the halfpipe king.
10 February 2014: Bilodeau reigns supreme to retain men’s moguls crown
Canada’s Alex Bilodeau retained the men’s moguls title with a remarkable display under the Rosa Khutor floodlights. The 26-year-old was awarded a near unmatchable score of 26.31, a full 1.6 points ahead of his compatriot Mikael Kingsbury, who took silver.
There was also satisfaction for hosts Russia, with Alexander Smyshlyaev’s scoring 24.34 to edge out Marc-Antoine Gagnon for bronze and prevent a Canadian clean sweep.
Bilodeau became the first moguls skier to defend an Olympic title after an almost flawless final run in which he fended off the challenge of reigning world champion Kingsbury. It was a devastating performance from Bilodeau, who saved his best until last after qualifying in third place for the final run of six competitors, landing superbly after each of a series of complex jumps.
"I’m delighted with the way I finished,” said the Canadian who had revealed thiss season would be his last. “I’m going to be going out in the best way possible.”
Bilodeau then paid tribute to his older brother, Frederic, who suffers from cerebral palsy, and warmly embraced him after his victory. “My brother is a daily source of inspiration for me,” he said. “Like I often say, if he had been able to live my life, he would have become a triple Olympic champion.”
He also had warm words for his fellow Quebec native, Kingsbury, predicting a glittering future for his 21-year-old team-mate. "Canadian freestyle has a bright future,” he predicted. “There are lots of young skiers who are making their mark and I’m happy to share the podium with one of them. This guy is going to win everything out there when I go.”
Smyshlyaev’s second run included some eye-catching turns, securing a deserved medal for the 26-year-old, who finished tenth in Vancouver four years ago.
13 February 2014: Christensen takes slopestyle gold as USA complete podium lock-out
Joss Christensen produced a scintillating display to claim gold in the inaugural men's Olympic slopestyle skiing event. He led a clean sweep for the USA, as Gus Kenworthy took silver and Nicholas Goepper claimed bronze. Christensen was the last athlete to make the cut for the US half-pipe team for Sochi 2014, but at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park he demonstrated he is very much a big-time performer.
Just as he had done in the morning heats, the 22-year-old produced the best two runs of the final with scores of 95.80 and 93.80 to outshine 19-year old favourite Goepper and the other 10 finalists. “It was definitely an honour to make the team,” said Christensen, who showcased his technical prowess by conjuring up a massive triple-cork jump in his second run. “I am stoked to be up here with my friends. America, we did it! I just wanted to show everyone they'd made a good choice and hopefully prove myself. I didn't try to put any more pressure on myself, I just tried to ski a normal contest and just do my best and have fun with it. I thought it worked out.”
Meanwhile, his US team-mate Kenworthy was absolutely thrilled to take silver, and paid tribute to his fellow Americans on the podium. “I am so stoked about an American 1-2-3.” he said. “Nick is always the guy to kind of beat in a contest, he is so consistent and so incredible; and Joss is really killing it right now. He is one of my best friends and I am stoked for him.”
17 February 2014: Kushnir flies high for aerials gold to complete gilt-edged double for Belarus
Anton Kushnir won the men’s aerials gold to complete unique double for Belarus following Anna Tsuper’s victory in the women’s event. Australia’s David Morris sprung a surprise to take silver, while Jia Zongyang of China took bronze to edge his compatriot and reigning world champion Qi Guangpu off the podium. Kushnir’s compatriot Alexei Grishin, the Vancouver 2010 champion, was eliminated in the heats.
Competing at his third Winter Games and chasing his first ever medal, Kushnir managed a staggering score of 134.50, thanks to a successful double-full-full-double-full jump, involving three flips and five twists. Meanwhile, his two main Chinese rivals botched their landings after attempting complicated jumps in the super final, and recorded sub-100 scores.
“I was just lucky today to be honest,” said a modest Kushnir. “I like to jump when my competitors are at a high level, it stimulates me. “Unfortunately, the Chinese athletes made mistakes. I thought it would be close and decided on small technical issues but they made mistakes,” he added.
Meanwhile, Morris, who posted a relatively modest score of 110.41 points, could not disguise his surprise at finding himself on an Olympic podium. “To be honest, I'd never been to a super final before so I thought: ‘I've got as far as I can possibly get, I'd be happy with a fourth’,” he said. “I don't expect to beat some of these guys with their huge jumps, so I didn't feel I was under pressure to win,” he added.
Jia said he had no regrets about trying such a tough jump in the super final. “If I didn't try this jump maybe it would have been a safer plan but I would have regretted it,” he said. The Chinese pair had dominated the previous three rounds, with either Jia or Qi recording the top score, but neither could reproduce their best at the crucial moment.
18 February 2014: Wise tops ski halfpipe podium packed with champions
World champion David Wise (USA) added Olympic gold to his burgeoning trophy collection with an impressive victory in the men's ski halfpipe. Wise scored 92.00 points to head up a podium made up entirely of world champions. Canada’s Mike Riddle (90.60), the man Wise deposed as world champion, took silver, with the man who had held the title before that, Kevin Rolland (88.60) of France earning the bronze.
Wise said that he had modified his programme to suit the snowy conditions. “I had all these crazy amazing runs that I wanted to do here… I had to change my run,” he explained. “The run I competed was like plan C or D even but that's just the way it goes, you've got to adjust and do the best you can.”
Wise threw down the most eye-catching tricks of the final, opening with a 720-degree spin, and finding heights off the sides of the pipe that his rivals struggled to match. The American had been second behind Canadian Justin Dorey in qualifying and had to endure a nervous last few moments after his second run in the final, waiting for the last man to come down. He had led after his first run, which he capped with a right double cork 1260 mute, but knew that Dorey could still have his say. Ultimately, a mistake cost the Canadian dearly, and he ended up finishing last of the 12 finalists.
“That was really nerve racking,” admitted Wise. “I knew the right-side double cork was something that was definitely there and he had it to boost the score up.”
Riddle may have missed out on gold but he was nonetheless delighted with his performance, not least because he threw down a combination of tricks that he had never previously managed. “It's unbelievable. I put down a good run in what were difficult conditions. I knew I had a chance,” he said. “I’ve never done that combination before, back to back dub (double cork) 1260s, but I decided it was a good time to do it for the first time. It has taken lots of work and a lifetime dedicated to skiing to get here.”
20 February 2014: Joy for France as Chapuis spearheads ski cross sweep
Jean Frédéric Chapuis led home a French clean sweep to take gold in the men's ski cross final. His compatriots Arnaud Bovolenta and Jonathan Midol took silver and bronze. It was a landmark moment for France, which had never before achieved a 1-2-3 at the Winter Games.
“We’re living the dream!” said the new Olympic champion. “The three of us are great friends. So this really is a dream come true for us. It’s not really sunk in yet. We’re just so happy”.
The French trio dominated during the earlier rounds to make it to the four-man final, showing an impressive mastery of the contoured 1,250m course at Rosa Khutor, as their main challengers were picked off one by one. The only person capable of halting a French sweep was Canada's Brady Leman but he fell just before the penultimate jump as he tried to claw his way back from the back of the field.
“At the start we didn’t say anything to each other,” explained Bovolenta. “We didn’t look at each other. It was just a case of ‘high-fives all round and then off we went.”
Chapuis wasted no time in establishing the lead right from the start, but Bolaventa pushed him all the way. “I was always confident I could do it,” explained the gold medal winner. “But I needed to work hard to maintain my position. I had a good lead from the start, but then all of a sudden I saw a flurry of activity next to me. It was Arnaud! I dropped back onto his shoulder to catch my breath. Then he made a small slip and I went clean past him. On the last jump, I was ahead and I could allow myself a moment to enjoy it. As I looked round, I could see the other French guys and I said to myself: ‘What’s going on?’ I don’t think we could have dreamed of a better finish.”
The Frenchmen – all born within a year of one another – held the red, blue and white tricolore of France aloft, savouring the moment. “We knew right from the start of the competition that the triple was a possibility,” said Midol. “We knew we had a great team, and we knew that we were capable of all making the final. But this is an incredible achievement!”