Red Gerard wins silver at Aspen Grand Prix to lead Americans in first Olympic slopestyle qualifier
The Aspen Times
ASPEN — Reigning Olympic gold medalist Red Gerard is that much closer to getting the chance to defend his title.
The Summit County rider was the top American finisher on Saturday in the men’s snowboard slopestyle final at the U.S. Grand Prix and World Cup at Buttermilk Ski Area in Aspen, which served as the first official U.S. team qualifier ahead of the 2022 Winter Olympic Games in China.
“Trying to not get my head that far ahead,” Gerard said. “Just take it contest by contest and look at the bright sides and all that. It is cool, though.”
Along with this Grand Prix silver, Gerard, 20, has won X Games bronze and slopestyle gold at both Dew Tour and the Burton US Open since winning his breakthrough slopestyle gold at the 2018 Olympics. Less than twelve months from his second Olympics, Gerard looks like a surefire contender going forward as the selection process ramps up.
Gerard finished one off the slopestyle podium last week at the world championships in Aspen, but his Grand Prix podium puts him in the driver’s set for the 2022 U.S. Olympic team, which has a heavy emphasis on making podiums in the four or five qualifiers leading up to the Games.
“With everything that’s been going on this season, just to get a few contests in is unreal and the weather we had, the two days of this contest, was really pretty insane,” Gerard said. “It’s really fun when we get to do a contest and we don’t have to deal with snow and all these different variables.”
While the wind did play a small factor in Saturday’s contest, the weather was otherwise ideal, just as it was during Friday’s qualifier. Gerard scored 82.16 on the first of his three runs in finals — the only legit score he posted — to finish second behind Marcus Kleveland. The Norwegian scored 87.58 on his first run, enough to hold off Gerard and Canada’s Mark McMorris, who finished third with 81.990 scored on his first run.
“The qualification process is easily the most stressed out part. You have 60 riders cut down to six in each heat, and once you make finals it’s a little bit of a stress reliever,” Gerard said. “Marcus Kleveland has officially blown my mind with how good he is at snowboarding, and Mark McMorris is a very close second in my mind being blown. To share a podium with those two is unreal.”
The 21-year-old Kleveland has arguably established himself as the world’s best this winter, winning the Grand Prix only barely a week after also winning the world championship in slopestyle. He’s also a four-time X Games medalist, including his win in January’s epic big air contest at Buttermilk. He was only fifth in slopestyle at X Games this year, an event he won in both 2017 and 2018 before sitting out 2019 with injury.
Photos: Men’s Snowboard Slopestyle Final
Finishing fourth on Saturday was Canada’s Max Parrot, who scored 81.18 on his first run. Parrot won silver and McMorris bronze behind Gerard’s slopestyle gold at the 2018 Winter Olympics, while Kleveland finished sixth that year.
Just off the podium in fifth on Saturday was California’s breakout star in Dusty Henricksen (79.80), who has certainly put himself into contention for that U.S. Olympic team. Finland’s Rene Rinnekangas was sixth (78.08), Canada’s Liam Brearley was seventh (77.98) and Russia’s Vlad Khadarin was eighth (70.28).
In ninth was California’s Judd Henkes (64.80), putting him third among the Americans. The 19-year-old took quite the tumble on the final jump of his final run and took out a few feet of netting at the bottom of the course, but was able to walk away relatively unscathed.
Rounding out Saturday’s contest was Japan’s Hiroaki Kunitake (10th, 52.06) and Switzerland’s Mortiz Thoenen (11th, 47.81). Norway’s Markus Olimstad was the 12th qualifier but did not start the final.
“The wind was definitely playing a factor, but luckily the light was amazing and the course shapers did a great job of keeping the lips in good conditions,” McMorris said.
This story is from AspenTimes.com
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