Colorado Olympians Kenworthy and Blunck shine in Grand Prix qualifiers |

Colorado Olympians Kenworthy and Blunck shine in Grand Prix qualifiers

Sochi bronze medalist Kevin Rolland (FRA) get's high above the halfpipe at Copper Mountain Wednesday during U.S. Grand Prix qualifiers. Rolland earned the top spot with an 87.4 headed into Friday's finals. He'll face a deep field that includes three other winter games medalists. They U.S. team's Gus Kenworthy(Telluride), Aaron Blunck(Crested Butte), Torin Yater-Wallace (Aspen) and gold medalist David Wise(Reno, Nevada) all advanced.
Sebastian Foltz / |

Telluride’s Gus Kenworthy and Crested Butte’s Aaron Blunck showed why they were Olympians Wednesday at Copper Mountain, fighting through injuries to earn spots in Friday’s U.S. Grand Prix freeski final. The pair will be joined in the finals by a competitive field of fellow Olympians, including all three Sochi halfpipe medalists.

U.S. gold medalist David Wise, silver medalist Mike Riddle of Canada and French bronze medalist Kevin Rolland each laid claim to one of 10 spots after Wednesday’s qualifying heats. Blunck and Kenworthy’s U.S. Olympic teammate Torin Yater-Wallace of Aspen also made the cut.

Kenworthy needed just run to advance. The Olympic slopestyle silver medalist opted out of his first run after suffering a back spasm while attempting a trick during practice earlier in the day.

He said it was an injury lingering from earlier in the week. While it might have made for an uncomfortable run, Kenworthy said the team physical therapist had told him it was not a long-term concern.

“It wasn’t the best run, but I’m in,” Kenworthy said after finishing, but his 82.8 score earned third place in his heat and fourth overall. He said he was looking forward to having a day off before the finals and is still planning on competing in both halfpipe and slopestyle at the Dew Tour in Breckenridge next week.

For his part, Blunck is coming off an ankle injury from this summer and is dealing with a bulging disc in his back.

Whatever pain he may have had didn’t hold him back from scoring and 80.4 in his second qualifying run.

“I was super stressed up top,” he said, after failing to land his first run. “I normally don’t land my first run, which always kind of sucks because I get stressed going into the next run.”

Opting for a slightly more conservative second run, he was able to qualify and move on.

“It was the run I wanted to do in qualifiers,” he said, adding that he’s got something more complex in mind for the final round.

Both athletes said it was nice to be back in competition after taking it easy following the Olympics.

Bowman and Sigourney drop

Wednesday’s women’s halfpipe qualifier was without two Sochi vets. U.S. gold medalist Maddie Bowman and teammate Brita Sigourney dropped out of the competition prior to the start. Both practiced Wednesday but decided they had not had enough time in the halfpipe and were opting to take it easy this week leading up to next week’s Dew Tour.

Copper’s halfpipe opened last weekend and most athletes only had Monday and Tuesday to train in it. And since Copper’s was the first halfpipe to open in North America, for most athletes it was the first chance at training in months.

“We felt like saving ourselves for Dew Tour,” Bowman said while watching the men’s competition. She’s also returning to competition from knee surgery last spring.

“I’m just trying to take it slow, which is hard for me,” she said of getting back into a rhythm. Bowman expects to be 100 percent for the Dew Tour and said her knee was in good shape.

Bowman and Sigourney’s Sochi teammates, slopestyle silver medalist Devin Logan and Annalisa Drew, were able to advance to Friday’s finals. French silver medalist Marie Martinod and bronze medalist Ayana Onozuka of Japan also qualified. Martinod fell during her second qualifying run, however, and was assisted by ski patrol. It’s unclear if she will compete Friday.

Snowboarding season starts Thursday

Grand Prix snowboard qualifiers get underway Thursday morning with two men’s heats and one women’s grouping.

Four-time Olympian and three-time medalist Kelly Clark will headline the women’s competition. The decorated X Gamer and Dew Tour veteran is coming off a bronze-medal performance and said she might be riding even better than she was at the start of last season.

U.S. gold medalist Kaitlyn Farrington was expected to attend but had yet to arrive at Copper as of Tuesday evening.

Olympian Greg Bretz and 2010 Olympian Louie Vito should be contenders on the men’s side.

The Steamboat Springs brother-sister combo of Taylor and Arielle Gold will also be in the mix. Both made February’s Olympic team, but failed to medal.

Snowboard finals will be on Saturday.

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