Jitters depart, scores skyrocket
BRECKENRIDGE – Forget everything that the riders reported on Friday, nothing said “the jitters are gone” better than the results sheet.In the second men’s U.S. Snowboard Grand Prix qualifier in less than a week, scores jumped as high as the world-class talent on the fast-improving Freeway superpipe conditions. Whereas the lowest finals-qualifying score on Tuesday was a 31.6 (on a 50-point scale), Friday that number jumped a whopping 5.6 points, to 37.2.The faster, more inviting pipe helped make that possible, as did getting past the always nerve-racking season opener. “Pressure’s still on, but I think everyone’s nerves are a little bit more calm,” Switzerland’s Gian Simmen said, a sentiment expressed by many a rider Friday.Shaun White, the 19-year-old from Carlsbad, Calif., looked every bit as invincible as he has all week, qualifying No. 1 for the second straight competition. He posted the day’s two highest scores, but it was his first-run 44.6 that made him the top finisher among the 24 riders who advanced to today’s final.
Another teenager, 18-year-old Minnesotan Mason Aguirre, jumped into second place with a 43-point score in the day’s fourth and final heat. His first run would’ve been plenty to secure him a favorable start spot in today’s final, but he went for more on the second trip down the pipe, even throwing a 1080 at the bottom.He said later he was seeking extra momentum to carry into today’s high-stakes event.”Definitely, qualifying in a high spot gives you good confidence on finals day,” he said.Last year’s Breck Grand Prix champ, Tommy Czeschin, finished third Friday, followed by fellow Californian Danny Kass and Vermont’s Ross Powers, the defending Olympic gold medalist.Keir Dillon, Danny Davis and Andy Finch followed Powers in that order, while local favorite Steve Fisher enjoyed a breakthrough day to qualify ninth. The breakthrough wasn’t so much due to his score (40.3), as it was due to his confidence.”I’m still kind of getting the first-contest jitters out,” said Fisher, whose most recent competition before this week was last spring’s U.S. Open. “But I felt a lot better than I did earlier in the week.”
Fisher, like the majority of the elite riders here for the Grand Prix, chose a more reserved lineup of tricks for the qualifying round, one devoid of his go-to 1080.”I make it a point not to throw 10’s in qualifiers,” he said, though he quickly added, “Gonna have to tomorrow.”Another Breckenridge rider, veteran Chad Otterstrom, made it three straight days of solid performances and qualified in a tie for 11th with Germany’s Vinzenz Lueps.”As far as winning or something like that, I’m definitely gonna have to pull something out,” Otterstrom said, “but yeah, I feel good with how I’m riding.”Otterstrom finished sixth in Wednesday’s final, and said he’s hoping to move into the top five today.The surprise of the day had to be up-and-coming Minturn rider Dylan Bidez, who cracked his first Grand Prix final. He didn’t squeak in, either, finishing 18th, ahead of, among others, the 1998 Olympic gold medalist Simmen.
Simmen, wearing the No. 98 bib, qualified 22nd.Other notables included Golden’s J.J. Thomas (15th), who won bronze at the 2002 Olympics and does much of his training at Breckenridge; and the young Vermonter Luke Mitrani (21st). U.S. Snowboard Team member Scott Lago, who finished third on Wednesday, fell on both of his runs and ended up 89th.In all, Americans claimed 16 of the 24 spots in today’s final, which starts at noon in conjunction with the women’s final. Twenty-three of those 24 will be chasing White, who won Wednesday’s event and would clinch an Olympic berth by repeating today.Asked what it will take to beat White, Dillon laughed. “A lot,” he said.Devon O’Neil can be contacted at (970) 668-3998, ext. 13630, or at email@example.com.
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