With Breckenridge local Eric Willett set to close out the 2013 Dew Tour iON Mountain Championships as the last to drop in on the snowboard slopestyle course, the scene was set for a storybook ending to a big weekend of competition. But with a couple flawed landings, it wasn’t meant to be. He’ll get another chance next week when the U.S. Olympic team qualifiers roll west on I-70 for the Sprint USSA Grand Prix at Copper Mountain. Willett — who came into the finals after qualifying second behind Shaun White — struggled in both of his final runs, finishing ninth.
Even if he had managed to clean up his run, Canada’s Mark McMorris would have been hard to top, chalking up a 95.00 in his first run and following it up with a 97.80 courtesy of a triple corked 14 on the final jump in his second run.
“Everything was going really good in the run and I was coming up to the last jump and figured I had nothing to loose. So I tried it,” McMorris said after of the decision. “There was a lot of people to drop after me and I wasn’t safe until it was over.”
It was McMorris’ first competition since bruising both heals. “I haven’t done a backside triple in six or seven months. This is my first event back.”
Sweden’s Sven Thorgren came in second, breaking up an all-Canadian podium. McMorris’ fellow countrymen Max Parrot and Sebastien Toutant rounded out the top four.
“That’s pretty insane,” McMorris said of the strong Canadian showing. “It just shows Canada’s in it to win it.”
Noticeably absent from Sunday’s competition was one Shaun White, whose ankle may be on the verge of becoming as famous as Lindsey Vonn’s knee. White dropped out of the slopestyle finals after reportedly spraining his ankle in Saturday’s superpipe competition.
White confirmed the report on Twitter Sunday during snowboard slopestyle: “#RoadtoCouchi had to pull out of Dew Tour slopestyle finals because of ankle sprain from superpipe.”
Chas Guldemond, Sage Kotsenburg, Brandon Davis and Spencer Link were the top U.S. finishers, putting them in the driver’s seat for the four potential U.S. Olympic spots in snowboard slope. Willet finished fifth among Americans, with White still lurking in eighth. White is expected to return to competition next week at Copper. He’s hoping to add to his medal collection by competing in both superpipe and slopestyle at the Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.
Beyond White’s ankle, wind became a big major storyline in Sunday’s freeski and snowboard slopestyle finals.
“It was a huge factor, it was really gusty,” Australian freeskier Russ Henshaw said. After having a rough go of things in his morning practice session, Henshaw fell on his first run in the finals — crediting a wind gust for getting him off line. He was among three of the top four qualifiers who fell in their first run. Only eventual winner Nick Goepper was able to have a clean run of the four.
Skiing without poles again because of a hand injury, his first round 93.00 was enough to hold on to the lead. But he had to wait for the entire field of 16 finalists to know for sure.
“I was pretty dang nervous,” Goepper said of sitting through round two, “there’s a ton of talent out here, it was nerve-racking.”
With the win, the 19-year-old is in the drivers seat for the first U.S. Olympic freeski team.
“It feels pretty amazing,” the U.S. and team iON skier said after. “I did what I set out to do. So I’m pretty stoked for the rest of the year.”
Skier slopestyle, half-pipe and snowboard slopestyle will all be new events when the Winter Olympics open in Sochi in February.
With a strong second run Henshaw was able to claim third on the podium behind Alex Beaulieu-Marchand of Canada.
“There’s no better feeling than putting a run down under pressure like that,” Henshaw said after scoring a 90.00 in his second run. “It was a really nerve-racking day.”
With two internationals on the podium, Breckenridge’s Bobby Brown and Tom Walliscch of Pittsburgh were the next two American finishers, earning top U.S. Olympic qualifying points in the process. The U.K.’s James Woods — who has made Breckenridge his adopted home — rounded out the top six.
The road to Sochi heats up next week with the second of five U.S. qualifying competitions. The four-event Sprint USSA Grand Prix gets underway with its first stop at Copper Mountain. Competition starts Wednesday with the first qualifiers and runs through the weekend.