The story of Saturday's fifth and final Grand Prix halfpipe contest was about two people. The thing is, before the contest started, it was tough to know which two.
With three of the four Olympic team spots already secured by Shaun White, Louie Vito and Scotty Lago for the men and Kelly Clark, Gretchen Bleiler and Hannah Teter for the women, Saturday night's contest was the final chance for the athletes sitting on the bubble to step up and lock down their spots on the team.
Ellery Hollingsworth, who had two third-place finishes, needed to finish second to jump Elena Hight, who finished second and fourth this season, in the standings. Jack Mitrani, Luke Mitrani, Greg Bretz and JJ Thomas were all within spitting distance of that fourth spot.
A crowd favorite from her first 900, Hollingsworth crashed on both of her runs and finished sixth. Based on points, that handed the fourth spot, unofficially, to Elena Hight, who finished fifth Saturday night. "I'm so happy to be part of this team," said Hight. "And I'm happy the qualifiers are over. These contests were up and down for me, so I'm just glad to be on my way."
With the addition of Hight to the team (unofficially, of course), consider the 2010 Olympics a reunion tour for the 2006 women's team. At those Games, Teter took first, Bleiler second, Clark fourth and Hight sixth. Hight was 16 at the time. This year, she's calling for a sweep. "America has the best snowboarders in the world," she says. "Both of our teams are good enough to sweep." Hight also says she already feels better prepared than she did last time. "When I got to Torino, I had no idea what to expect," she says. "I didn't know what I was getting myself into. Now I know what to expect and I feel ready for it. I will appreciate the experience more this time."
At Saturday night's final-final, Clark won her fourth of five stops with one of the best runs ever landed by a female snowboarder. She had as much amplitude on her frontside 900 and frontside seven as many of the men. "As I was going for my method, I could hear the crowd over my headphones," Clark says. "That's loud."
Hannah Teter, who donated her winnings from the weekend to relief efforts in Haiti, finished second, and Kaitlyn Farrington had her best finish of the season: third. Gretchen Bleiler fell in practice and hit her head on the pipe hard enough to crack her helmet. She took her first run, fell, and scratched her second run. "After my first run, I wasn't feeling 100 percent," Bleiler says. "No need to chance it." With the X Games less than a week away in her hometown of Aspen, Colo., Bleiler and her peers can now focus on competing without the pressure of Olympic qualifying hanging over her head. "That feels good," Clark says. "For me, everything now is just practice.
While Hight is an unofficial-official lock, the men's spot is still fuzzier than Scotty Lago's "playoff beard." Thomas, Luke Mitrani and Bretz all have a third, a fourth and a fifth-place finish. If that three-way tie is broken by each rider's fourth finish, Greg Bretz can book his ticket to Vancouver. If the spot becomes a discretionary pick, it's anyone's game. At press time, Bretz was the unofficial word on the street.
In the final, White landed his run from Friday night with even more air between him and the pipe on every hit, including the double McTwist 1260. Both White and Clark already have runs that could take gold in Vancouver. Now they work on perfecting and adding to them. "I want to push the judges to their boundaries," White says. "I know they haven't handed out a perfect score yet. But I'll get it."
Scotty Lago, who is riding with explosiveness and confidence right now, took second for the second night. Luke Mitrani took third, Bretz fourth and Thomas fifth.
The fourth spot for the men and women will not be announced until Monday, when the full 18-member U.S snowboard team, which includes the halfpipe, snowboardcross and GS riders, will be announced in an afternoon press conference.
2010 Sprint U.S. Snowboarding Grand Prix
Park City, UT -- Jan. 23, 2010
1. Shaun White, Carlsbad, CA, 49.50
2. Scotty Lago, Seabrook, NH, 48.00
3. Luke Mitrani, Mammoth Lakes, CA, 45.30
4. Gregory Bretz, Mammoth Lakes, CA, 44.80
5. JJ Thomas, Golden, CO, 44.20
6. Jack Mitrani, Mammoth Lakes, CA, 42.30
7. Dylan Bidez, Minturn, CO, 41.30
8. Steve Fisher, Breckenridge, CO, 40.60
9. Zack Black, Breckenridge, CO, 38.50
10. Broc Waring, Edwards, CO, 38.20
1. Kelly Clark, Mt. Snow, VT, 47.40
2. Hannah Teter, Belmont, VT, 43.90
3. Kaitlyn Farrington, Sun Valley, ID, 41.00
4. Maddy Schaffrick, Steamboat Springs, CO, 36.50
5. Elena Hight, South Lake Tahoe, CA, 36.20
6. Ellery Hollingsworth, Stratton, VT, 25.40
7. Gretchen Bleiler, Aspen, CO, 15.50
8. Kelly Marren, Hillsborough, CA, 12.60
DNS - Clair Bidez, Minturn, CO
Final Sprint U.S. Snowboarding Grand Prix Standings
1. Shaun White, Carlsbad, CA, 1000
2. Scotty Lago, Seabrook, NH, 800
3. Louie Vito, Sandy, UT, 800
4. Danny Davis, Detroit, MI, 645
5. Greg Bretz, Mammoth Lakes, CA, 550
6. JJ Thomas, Golden, CO, 550
7. Luke Mitrani, Mammoth Lakes, CA, 550
8. Zack Black, Breckenridge, CO, 525
9. Elijah Teter, South Lake Tahoe, CA, 475
10. Steve Fisher, Breckenridge, CO, 400
1. Kelly Clark, Mt. Snow, VT, 1000
2. Gretchen Bleiler, Aspen, CO, 900
3. Hannah Teter, Belmont, VT, 800
4. Elena Hight, South Lake Tahoe, CA, 650
5. Ellery Hollingsworth, Stratton, VT, 600
6. Kaitlyn Farrington, Sun Valley, ID, 500
7. Maddy Schaffrick, Steamboat Springs, CO, 500
8. Clair Bidez, Minturn, CO, 425
9. Kelly Marren, Hillsborough, CA, 320