The first men’s snowboard final of Audi quattro Winter Games NZ 2015 today saw dramatic changes of fortune in a very tight contest that wasn’t decided until the very last trick.
Chris Corning of the USA made the very last qualifying spot for the FIS Snowboard World Cup Slopestyle, but came out of nowhere to displace the favourites and win the finals at Cardrona Alpine Resort. This was only Corning’s third FIS World Cup event.
The 15 year-old American nailed top position in the first heat, which saw the highest placed qualifiers well down the list. From then on it was everyone playing catch-up, laying down successively impressive tricks under a beautiful blue sky.
New Zealand local hope Carlos Garcia Knight was having the contest of his life, briefly leading the pack in the second heat before Canada’s Michael Ciccarelli squeezed past him with a nice and consistently controlled run where it was plain he was having fun.
Pushed down to third, Corning ramped up the ante on his last run and reclaimed the top spot from Ciccarelli scoring 87.55 with a backside Miller flip, backside 270 to boardslide, a front 180 on, switch front bluntside 270 out, a switch backside bluntside 450 mute out, a frontside 10 mute, a backside 12, backside grab, and a cab 12 tail.
But as last-placed qualifiers ride first, he had to wait for the whole of the rest of the field to run, each one keen to topple him with something special.
Garcia Knight, from Christchurch, came up with his best run of the day, lying third with only two riders to go. Canada’s Max Eberhardt’s last run didn’t provide the fireworks he needed, leaving only Japanese favourite Yuki Kadono to contest the leaders.
He’d failed to fire in the first two heats, but he stunned the crowds with a spectacular last run, pulling off the highest-scoring trick of the day on the final kicker – a triple 1440 mute gaining him a 9.75 out of 10, the only triple of the day.
After a breathless wait for the judges to tot up the final scores, a clearly disappointed Kadono ended up a close second behind the young American, scoring 85.81.
Corning put part of his win down to spending time at Cardrona before the event, and landing a new move for the first time in competition.
“I’ve been here a while and ridden the course a bit. It gave me the chance to learn some new tricks like that cab 12 I put down in my run, so it’s awesome. I’m super stoked. It was super fun and I guess I was riding well today and it all worked out.”
In the women’s event, US favourite Jaime Anderson asserted her dominance from her first run. Second placed qualifier, Canadian Laurie Blouin, scooped the silver medal on her second run although she was driven hard by the USA’s Hailey Langland who finished in bronze medal position.
Langland had started as fifth-placed qualifier, but a very strong first run put her in second behind Anderson, and an even better last run kept her in third in just her first FIS World Cup.
“I’m really stoked to even be out here, with this beautiful weather and the great jumps,” she said. “I just had a ton of fun which is all that matters and I’m just happy I made it from top to bottom. The course is probably the best course I’ve ever ridden. I’ve never liked jumps this much.”
Blouin was equally stoked with second. “I’ve been working really hard to get solid runs, with the hope of pushing the progression of women’s snowboarding, and this course is perfect. The jumps are really nice and the rail section is by far the best of any World Cup I’ve done.”
With Anderson being more than ten points ahead of the field, there was no pressure to perform on her last run, but she went all out on her victory lap landing a new trick in competition for the first time and improving her score to 87.88.
“Doing my backside rodeo 5 was also awesome. The course is really fun and even better than during qualifiers since we got to go earlier in the day. I’m stoked to win and to be back visiting New Zealand, which is one of my favourite countries.”
Head judge Ola Sundekvist summed up the day. “Everything came together. We had incredible weather and the riding was insane. We weren’t expecting to see triples today and Jamie’s back rodeo 5 was great. We had really good finals so we’re stoked.”
Audi quattro Winter Games NZ 2015 continues tomorrow morning (Sunday) with the FIS Freestyle Skiing World Cup Halfpipe finals at Cardrona near Wanaka. Start lists and results are available on the event website www.wintergamesnz.kiwi. There is also Junior Interfields racing at The Remarkables near Queenstown. The two downtown Games Villages in Queenstown and Wanaka are open daily from 3pm with live music and DJs, medal ceremonies, the Adventure Film Festival presented by GoPro and aprÃ©s ski hospitality.
Image caption: Chris Corning (USA) on his way to gold in today’s FIS Snowboard World Cup Slopestyle at Audi quattro Winter Games NZ (Getty Images)