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Snowboard superstars hit Cardona’s Olympic halfpipe today as 100% Pure New Zealand Winter Games continued in extremely variable weather. At stake was a place in tomorrow’s LG Snowboard FIS World Cup Halfpipe final, the first event of the season.
The world’s best riders did not disappoint an expectant crowd, defying the conditions with some outstanding performances.
In the women’s heat, the triple challenge of whiteout, snow and wind tested riders’ concentration and technique to the limit. World number one, Liu Jiayu from China led the way with a magnificent display in her first run which included 5-to-5 and 7-to-7 combos. A score of 45.0 reflected huge amplitude and incredibly smooth riding.
“She jumps as big as the guys with great control. Everything was good,” said Head Judge Ola Sundequist.
Five other women go straight into tomorrow’s final. They are 2006 Olympic silver medallist Gretchen Bleiler (USA) who finished second with a best score of 40.0, world number three Soko Yamaoka of Japan, reigning Japanese national champion Rana Okada, Kelly Clark (USA) – winner of the 2009 Burton NZ Open Halfpipe at Cardrona – and Spanish number one Queralt Castellet.
Twelve more riders face a tough semi-final in the morning to grab the final six places. These include top ranked TTR rider Jamie Anderson (USA) and Wanaka-based athletes Juliane Bray and Kendall Brown. Bray, an FIS Ambassador and the only Kiwi to win a World Cup event, qualified with her second run scoring 31.1 with six tricks.
“This is the best field I have been up against in any event including X-Games,” she said. “It was equivalent to the Winter Olympics and it’s great to see that in New Zealand. The course was fantastic and rode well despite the fresh snow. Hopefully it’ll be clear tomorrow. I’m aiming for a top ten finish in what will be a massive event.”
Conditions stayed poor as the male riders completed their first run. Pre-event favourite Shaun White lived up to his billing with a smooth run through the snow including a switch frontside 10 and super-big amplitude. No one could touch White’s class even as blue skies returned and the flame-haired American’s chose not to appear for his second run.
Joining him in the final are Kazuhiro Kokubo and Ryoh Aono from Japan, and Mason Aguirre (USA) who took out the second heat ahead of Janne Korpi of Finland and Norwegian Tore Holvik.
Twelve other men will contest the morning semi for the remaining six final places. These include current world number two Nathan Johnstone from Australia, Finn Antii Autti with six World Cup victories under his belt and Kohhei Kudoh who won the World Cup halfpipe at Cardrona last year.
Reflecting on today’s World Cup qualification sessions and the recent Burton NZ Open, judge Ste’en Webster said, “There's been more progression in the sport in the last two weeks than the last two years thanks to two world-class competitions and Cardrona’s world-class pipe. There's this Olympic drive pushing everyone on but it couldn't have happened without events like the Winter Games.”
100% Pure New Zealand Winter Games continues tomorrow (August 26) with the final of the LG Snowboard FIS World Cup Halfpipe at Cardrona, the rescheduled Super G at Coronet Peak and curling at Naseby.