The appearance of internationally renowned Olympic medallists Kelly Clark of USA and Iouri “iPod” Podladtchikov of Switzerland has raised the bar even higher in the FIS Snowboard World Cup Halfpipe competition at Audi quattro Winter Games 2015 and promises even more spectacular action in the Snowboard Big Air closing event.
Clark is a trailblazer in her sport and billed as the most successful snowboarder ever – male or female – winning the 2002 Winter Olympic halfpipe gold medal and bronze medals in 2010 and 2014 along with five Winter X Games halfpipe wins. After claiming her fifth World Snowboarding Tour title earlier this year she returns to defend her Winter Games NZ 2013 halfpipe gold at Cardrona Alpine Resort.
Russian-born Podladtchikov now represents Switzerland and is a force to be reckoned with, after clocking a string of impressive titles since his first competition in 2007, capped off with the coveted halfpipe gold medal at the Sochi Winter Olympics in 2014.
Other big names signed up for next month’s Audi quattro Winter Games NZ in the women’s halfpipe are Hikaru Oe of Japan, French star Mirabelle Thovex and Australia’s Holly Crawford. Two 2013 medallists, Taku Hiraoka of Japan and Christian Haller of Switzerland who took silver and bronze respectively will be in the hunt in the men’s field again this year, along with Slovenian Tim-Kevin Ravnjak who placed third at the 2015 FIS Snowboard World Championships in Austria.
The FIS Snowboard World Cup Slopestyle has attracted Austria’s Anna Gasser who is currently second on the World Snowboard Tour and Enni Rukajarvi of Finland who won silver at the Sochi Olympics and is ranked third on the Tour. New Zealand Sochi Olympic representative Christy Prior will be a key competitor in slopestyle after recording impressive 2015 results with a first place at the Burton European Open and third place at X Games.
Top ranked men include slopestyle specialist and number two on the World Snowboard Tour, Yuki Kadono of Japan, Canada’s Michael Ciccarelli winner of his home FIS World Cup Slopestyle at Stoneham last February and Lucien Koch of Switzerland who won the FIS World Cup Slopestyle in the Czech Republic in March.
Talented eighteen-year-old Carlos Garcia-Knight, New Zealand’s highest ranked freestyle snowboarder and silver medal winner in slopestyle at the World Junior Championships 2015 in China, will lead the Kiwi men’s charge competing in slopestyle and Big Air.
Audi quattro Winter Games NZ Sports Manager Iona Bentley said the Big Air has been sanctioned by the World Snowboard Tour (WST) at national level and it is exciting for the Games to be working with the Ticket to Ride (TTR) and WST team.
“The Snowboard Big Air which is scheduled for the final day of the Games is particularly relevant for both athletes and spectators because the event has recently been added to the Winter Olympics programme and will feature for the first time at PyeongChang in 2018.”
Due to the prominent Mile High slopestyle event being held in Australia, just a week apart from the Winter Games NZ Big Air, some athletes will be invited straight to the semi-finals without having to take part in qualifying rounds.
“The clash of dates was unforeseen and we have worked with Mile High organisers to mitigate things as much as possible,” said Ms Bentley. “In order to give athletes who are attending Mile High the best opportunity to take part in our Big Air we are offering invited spots direct to the semis.”
Snow Sports NZ Head Coach Park and Pipe, Tom Willmott said the New Zealand Snowboard team welcomes the chance to compete at home at the first Big Air since the event was added to the Winter Olympics programme.
“One of the best things about the event is the world-class purpose built Big Air jump at Cardrona which doubles as a fantastic training venue for the team after the competition is complete.”
The Audi quattro Winter Games NZ are New Zealand’s biggest recurring sports event. The fourth biennial Games take place from 21 to 30 August in Queenstown, Lake Wanaka and Naseby. All sports and festival events are free to watch for spectators (ski pass required to access lifts) and will be broadcast free-to-air on TV3 with live streaming on the Games website.