Marie Martinod, Aaron Blunck win ski pipe titles under X Games lights
and Joel Reichenberger
The Aspen Times and Steamboat Pilot
ASPEN — Four-time X Games champ Maddie Bowman was featured in a video ahead of the women’s skier superpipe event Friday night, moments before she began an effort to win her fifth gold in the event.
“One of the goals I have in my career is to get more women involved in skiing, and also to help us push our skiing,” she said, her voice booming out over the X Games crowd.
She may have helped facilitate that Friday night, but not in the way the way she was hoping.
Marie Martinod, a 32-year old French freestyle skier, laid down a high-flying, fast-spinning first run to score an 89.33. That held on to win, and for the first time since 2012, someone other than Bowman walked away with X Games gold in the women’s skier superpipe.
Japan’s Ayana Onozuka was second at 87.00, and Bowman ended up third at 86.00.
Bowman, 23 years old and from South Lake Tahoe, California, has dominated the sport since she burst onto the scene as an 18-year-old in 2012. She won silver that year, but has been golden since, winning all four X Games and the 2014 Winter Olympics.
Neither Martinod nor Onozuka have ever been far behind, however. Both joined Bowman on the podium at the Olympics and both have multiple other X Games podiums. Onozuka’s second-place showing was her third in as many years.
She was happy after the competition to have landed her first-hit 900 in both her runs. The second she landed high enough to allow for a strong run.
Though she’d have rather it been her on top, Onozuka didn’t mind seeing the shakeup in front of her. Asked if she thought someone besides Bowman winning was good for the sport, she first recognized Bowman’s talent, then agreed, through a translator, with a simple, “Yes.”
For Martinod, the difference was both the style and the amplitude she managed on her first run. She soared through back-to-back 540s early in the run, went inverted with back-to-back flairs in the middle of the run, then capped it with her biggest trick of all, a soaring 900.
She knew it was special as soon as she landed, shooting her arms out in celebration as she skidded to a stop while the Buttermilk crowd roared.
Bowman staged a respectable attempt to answer, skiing a more technical run built around back-to-back 900s in the middle. She landed both runs, but couldn’t match Martinod.
The difference was most obvious on that last hit. Bowman struggled to rise out of the pipe. Martinod soared out of it.
Bowman waited for her score at the bottom after her final run, grinning and hanging on to her skis. That smile wavered and she dropped her skis when the announcement came, but she was smiling again moments later as she offered Martinod a hug.
It was the end of a streak, but maybe a step for the sport.
Blunck takes men’s title
Last week, Crested Butte’s Aaron Blunck called Aspen his home away from home. Best friends with local stars Torin Yater-Wallace and Alex Ferreira, he’s spent a lot of time in the area.
Like his friends, Blunck is an X Games Aspen veteran competing in the ski superpipe. Unlike his friends, he’s never found success in competition. In fact, he had never executed a complete run before Friday’s finals at Buttermilk.
“I’ve dreamed of this as a little kid and I cannot be more stoked,” the 20-year-old Blunck said. “To win here is unbelievable. I’m so stoked right now. I cannot actually believe it. It’s always been a dream to me, but to actually do it is unbelievable.”
In a fast pipe that caused everyone trouble, Blunck put together a spectacular second run of 84.66 to win X Games gold, an absolute Cinderella in a competition that included three-time gold medalists Kevin Rolland and David Wise.
Blunck’s previous best finish in Aspen had been seventh place.
“It was icy and it was really fast. With that, everybody was going so big, which makes them get a little bit closer to the deck,” Blunck said. “Second run, I knew what I had to do and I jumped in, and right before I dropped in I kind of got in the zone and I was just feeling so good.”
Blunck wasn’t a factor after the first run. A 71.00 from Canada’s Noah Bowman was the best anyone could muster in the icy superpipe, France’s Benoit Valentin’s 58.00 being second best and Yater-Wallace’s 36.66 a surprising third.
But, midway through the second and final round, New Zealand’s Miguel Porteous laid down what was then the best run of the night, his 81.00 vaulting him into first place. Only a run later, Blunck surpassed him with his 84.66.
“I can’t believe it. I’m still shaking,” the 17-year-old Porteous said. “I’m unbelievably humbled to come back and to come away with the second, I can’t even fathom it. I’m so stoked.”
It was Porteous’ first career X Games podium. Bowman took bronze.
Yater-Wallace, who had two promising runs that each ended with late crashes, finished sixth. Ferreira was a late scratch from the competition.
“Coming into the last few X Games I felt a lot of stress,” Blunck said. “I’m also just skiing and realizing it’s all just for fun. It’s not just about the competition or the money anymore. I ski because I love it, and that’s what has really changed for me.”
Rolland, last year’s gold medalist, took eighth.
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