Two-time Olympic gold medalist Shaun White did what he had to Thursday, fighting adverse conditions to put down a run good enough to qualify for Friday’s Sprint U.S. Grand Prix slopestyle finals at Breckenridge Ski Resort.
“I had a rough go of it today. I didn’t hit the jumps until my run,” White said, explaining that he didn’t get a complete practice run in before competing due to the heavy snow and high winds that troubled snowboard slopestyle and freeski halfpipe competitors throughout the day.
“I was on the wrong lap pattern or something. Every time I got to the course it was just blowing,” he said of his morning practice effort. “The weather turned into a blizzard, but you can’t really do anything about nature. I was happy to just get in and make a clean run and make it to finals.”
White’s first-run score of 77.2 was enough to move on to today’s final round. He also qualified for Saturday’s halfpipe finals, putting him on pace to make the U.S. Olympic team in both disciplines. Having opted out of a previous U.S. team qualifier in each discipline — slopestyle finals at the Dew Tour because of injury and halfpipe at the Grand Prix at Copper to focus on slope — White still needs strong finishes in both events in the remaining three team-selection competitions.
“This is the chance for me to lock up some spots and take the pressure off,” he said.
He won’t be the only one looking to take some pressure off heading into the final rounds.
As the third of five team-selection events for ski and snowboard slopestyle and halfpipe, competition in this weekend’s finals is expected to be fierce.
Only slopestyle freeskier Nick Goepper and three-time Olympic snowboarder Kelly Clark have locked up positions on the U.S. team headed to Sochi, Russia, in February.
After this weekend, snowboarders will head to Mammoth, Calif., for their final two events. The freeskiing Grand Prix moves to Park City, Utah, to close its series.
White won’t be the only one doing double duty this weekend. Telluride’s Gus Kenworthy and women’s dual-threat freeskier Devin Logan each qualified for the freeskiing slopestyle and halfpipe finals. Both are in the running to make the inaugural U.S. Olympic freeskiing team. Freeski halfpipe and slopestyle will join snowboarding slopestyle as new Olympic events when the winter games open.
Breckenridge locals Bobby Brown and Keri Herman also qualified for the skier slopestyle finals. Brown is currently second behind Goepper in the U.S. team standings. Herman is sitting in fourth place behind Maggie Voisin, Darian Stevens and Devin Logan. Both Stevens and Voisin failed to qualify for the finals. Brown would likely be in good shape with another podium finish. Herman may need two big finishes to solidify her chances.
Vail’s Broby leads also qualified for Thursday’s finals in men’s skier halfpipe. American skier halfpipe leader Aaron Blunck of Crested Butte opted out of a second qualifying run after falling in his first. He will likely remain as a top American Olympic contender even after missing the Breckenridge Grand Prix final. Taylor and Arielle Gold — the snowboard halfpipe brother-and-sister combo from Steamboat Springs — also qualified for finals.
Both are currently top contenders for Sochi.
Slopestyle finals for both skiing and snowboarding kick off today. Snowboard halfpipe finals are scheduled for Saturday, followed by skier pipe on Sunday.
In addition to a talented U.S. field, the Grand Prix also features a number of international competitors expected to compete for their countries in Sochi.
Spectators can take in the action all along both courses, either by chairlift or on foot from the Peak 8 base area.
“Every time I got to the course it was just blowing. The weather turned into a blizzard, but you can’t really do anything about nature. I was happy to just get in and make a clean run and make it to finals.”