With the Olympics less than a month away, the stage is almost set for the U.S. freeskiing and snowboarding teams.
Only a few spots remain with the final team-qualifying events wrapping up this weekend in Park City, Utah, and Mammoth, Calif. While not all spots are filled — and for some it will come down to the final event — when the winter games open in Sochi, Russia, two Breckenridge locals will be among the athletes ready to represent the U.S. in the first Olympic slopestyle competition. Freeskiers Bobby Brown and Keri Herman locked up their spots on the U.S. team over the weekend in the final two U.S. team qualifiers.
For Brown — who assured his position Friday — it was a relief following a tough month of qualifying competition.
“The pressure is intense and there is so much on the line,” Brown said after placing second in the fourth U.S. qualifying event. “Even though you say you want to cruise and have fun, it’s just gnarly.”
Brown credited his parents for their support and is looking forward to next month’s games.
“It’s an amazing opportunity,” he said. “I’m honored to go represent the U.S.A. and do the thing I love.”
Herman claimed her spot by finishing second in the last slopestyle qualifier on Saturday in Park City.
“I just want to be able to ski the best I can ski,” Herman said of her effort going forward, “and if I do my personal best — no matter where I end up — I’m going to be happy.”
The two will be joined by fellow Coloradan Gus Kenworthy, of Telluride, and Indiana native Nick Goepper, who had already qualified after the Grand Prix at Copper Mountain. Kenworthy earned his spot on the team Saturday with a second-place finish in slopestyle behind Park City native Joss Christiansen. Having already qualified, Brown still competed in the final event and took third.
“Even though I didn’t have to compete, I did because I wanted to go skiing,” Brown said. “It was perfect weather out and I would have been bummed if I was just watching at the bottom, so I just decided to go out to have a good time.”
With the news that Kenworthy will be joining him in Sochi, Brown said, “It will be so nice to travel to Sochi with someone that I’ve known my whole entire life. I’m looking forward to hanging out with Gus in Russia.”
Kenworthy is also in the running to make the U.S. team in skier halfpipe. The final halfpipe event was Saturday night — results were unavailable at press time.
Fellow dual-threat freeskier Devin Logan is also attempting to qualify in both disciplines. She locked up slopestyle with a first-place finish Friday. Women’s halfpipe skier Brita Sigourney earned her place on the Olympic team Friday, joining Maddie Bowman, who claimed a spot following the Grand Prix at Breckenridge last weekend.
On the snowboarding side, U.S. team rookie Taylor Gold of Steamboat Springs also claimed an Olympic spot with a third-place finish in the halfpipe at the U.S. Grand Prix in Mammoth Friday. Shaun White all but locked up his return to defend his Olympic gold in halfpipe, finishing first in Friday’s qualifier after taking a hard fall in Thursday’s slopestyle competition.
White was able to clinch an Olympic berth by finishing first in slopestyle in Thursday’s competition. He only needs a solid third result in Sunday’s final halfpipe qualifier to ensure his place in both disciplines.
Three-time Olympian Kelly Clark already owns a team spot in the halfpipe, following strong performances at the Dew Tour in Breckenridge and Grand Prix at Copper. Gold’s sister Arielle remains in the running headed into the final qualifier. Fellow former Olympian Gretchen Bleiler of Aspen also needs a strong finish Sunday if she hopes to return to the Olympics.
The full U.S. freeskiing team was to be announced Saturday night — after press time — at the conclusion of skier halfpipe in Park City, Utah. The snowboarding team will be announced after its final halfpipe competition Sunday at Mammoth Mountain, Calif. Both teams will announce only the members who have achieved the minimum criteria for each sport. Additional selections may be made later in the week based on coaches’ discretion. Both teams share a limited number of spots with other disciplines under the freestyle umbrella.