While snowboarding remains a question mark, the U.S. freeskiing Olympic team picture got a little clearer Sunday with the conclusion of the U.S. Grand Prix at Breckenridge. Halfpipe skiers David Wise (Reno, Nev.) and Maddie Bowman (Lake Tahoe, Calif.) both punched their tickets to February’s winter games in Sochi, Russia, after claiming top honors in the men’s and women’s superpipe finals.
Weather was a factor all weekend as all other halfpipe and slopestyle finals were canceled. A jury of Grand Prix organizers decided to nullify snowboarding competition results altogether, while freesking slopestyle qualifiers were used as finals, based on International Ski Federation (FIS) rule. No rule exists for snowboarding, making a jury decision necessary.
“I’m so happy we got the event off,” Wise said. “It’s never a good thing to turn a qualifier into a final, which was potentially going to happen.”
As for the Olympics, he said, “I have a spot clinched, I’m going. It feels really good. The pressure’s off. I don’t have to worry about any more podiums. I can just focus on my skiing and improving it.”
For Bowman, it hadn’t quite registered yet.
“I think I’m Sochi bou ...” she said as U.S. team spokeswoman Haley Caruso confirmed. “... Yeah, I’m going to Sochi.”
When asked how she felt, Bowman said laughing, “I don’t know; it hasn’t really sunken in yet.”
The two joined slopestyle freeskier Nick Goepper and three-time Olympic snowboarder Kelly Clark as the only athletes to have locked spots on the freeskiing and snowboarding Olympic teams, headed into the final two qualifying events. All four have two podium appearances as the highest American finishers, making them unbeatable in points standings. The U.S. Ski and Snowboarding selection committee will look at competitors’ top two results from the five U.S. selection events. A number of contenders remain in the running in each sport’s two disciplines, including Crested Butte freeskier Aaron Blunck, dual slopestyle and halfpipe threats Gus Kenworthy of Telluride and women’s freeskier Devin Logan, two-time snowboarding gold medalist Shaun White, X-Games star freeskier Simon Dumont and past Olympic snowboarders Louie Vito, Gretchen Bleiler and Greg Bretz.
Taylor and Arielle Gold — the brother-sister duo from Steamboat Springs — are also top contenders for snowboard halfpipe. Both are currently the No. 2 ranked Americans in the snowboard halfpipe, each with podium appearances at the Dew Tour and the Grand Prix at Copper.
Blunck was bumped from the top spot in skier halfpipe this weekend by Wise, but he remains the No. 2 contender after podium appearances at the Breckenridge Dew Tour (second) and Copper Grand Prix (first).
Blunck failed to make the finals at Breckenridge after crashing during qualifiers and separating his shoulder. But he said Sunday he is cleared to compete in Park City.
“I feel like I could ski right now, but the doctors want me to take it easy until I get to Park City,” he said.
Shaun White — who also hopes to compete in both slopestyle and halfpipe — is close to qualifying, but like the others will need another podium spot in one of the two remaining competitions to lock his position in each event.
Breckenridge locals Keri Herman and Bobby Brown kept themselves in skier slopestyle contention when their first place finishes in qualifiers became final results Friday.
Both remaining Olympic team selection events for skiing and snowboarding are U.S.-only competitions. So while a podium position in one of the events will help, a top finish may be necessary.
Snowboarders head to Mammoth, Calif., for back-to-back competitions Jan. 14-19. Freeskiers will close the selection process in Park City, Utah, also with back-to-back events, Jan. 17-18.
Note: The U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association announced late Sunday that it has plans to replace the Grand Prix snowboard finals that were canceled over the weekend with with a U.S. only make-up qualifier at Mammoth Mountain in addition to the scheduled competitions.