Slopestylers kickstart the action in Sochi
All eyes were on the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park on Thursday morning, as the snowboard slopestyle competition - a new addition to the Olympic programme - got underway, with both the men and women in action in the qualifiers. Each gender was drawn into two heats, with each athlete completing two runs to determine their overall score. The top four athletes from each heat moved directly into Saturday’s final, with the rest of the field left to battle it out in the semi-finals for the remaining places.
First to throw down their moves were the men, with Maxence Parrot (CAN), who was drawn in the second heat, top scoring with an impressive 97.50 points (out of a maximum 100). Joining him from that heat in the final will be Finland’s Roope Tonteri (95.75), the current world champion, Sweden’s Sven Horgren (94.25) and Norway’s Gjermund Braaten (91.25).
The first heat had been dominated by Braaten’s compatriot Staale Sandbech (94.50), followed by Finn Peetu Piiroinen (90.75), Canada’s Sebastien Toutant (87.25) and Great Britain’s Jamie Nicholls (86.75).
These top eight riders will now go straight into the final, which takes place on Saturday at 12h00 local time. The other 21 competitors must navigate the semi-finals, where they will battle it out for just four remaining places.
Canada’s Mark McMorris, regarded as hot favourite in the absence of Shaun White (USA), finished seventh in the second heat, but is confident he can impress the judges in the semi-final:“ I'm happy with the way I rode and I'll try to figure something else out for Saturday’s semi," he said.
Meanwhile, Team GB’s Billy Morgan, who was the first rider out of the gate at 10h00 local time, was able to claim the special honour of being the very first athlete to see competitive action at the XXII Olympic Winter Games.
“It's absolutely awesome,” declared the British rider. “I didn't think about it until I was at the top and about to go and [Norwegian snowboarder] Torstein [Horgmo] said ‘you're the first one to do this in the Olympics ever’. I'm thrilled.”
Bright start for Torah
In the women’s qualifiers, reigning Olympic half-pipe champion, Torah Bright (AUS) got off to an ideal start as she launched her incredible bid to win gold in all three snowboard disciplines: half-pipe, slopestyle and cross).
The Australian finished second in the first heat, thanks to a terrific second run which earned her 82.25, and was good enough to see her move directly into Sunday’s final. "To make it straight to the finals is great,” said a delighted Bright. “I have taken on a unique journey, I don't know the future but I want to show the world the sport of snowboarding.”
Switzerland’s Isabel Derungs topped the first heat rankings with her score of 87.50, and was followed into the final by Canadian Spencer O’Brien (82.72) and Finnish rider Enni Rukarjarvi (79.00). “I’m really pleased with my two runs,” said the talented athlete, who previously played for the Switzerland women’s U19 team. “I’m now starting to think about a medal.”
In the second heat, Austria’s Anna Gasser did most to impress the judges, notching a superb 95.50 for her second attempt. Also securing direct passage to the final in the second heat were the US pair Jamie Anderson (93.50) and Karly Shorr (84.75) and Switzerland’s Elena Könz (86.25).
As in the men’s competition, the other 14 competitors will now contest the semi-finals on Sunday, with four further places in the final up for grabs. The women’s final will take place later the same day.