The World Snowboarding Championships in Oslo, Norway more than lived up to the hype tonight, as Kelly Clark and Iouri Podladtchikov were confirmed as snowboarding's newest World Champions after an epic halfpipe final. Both had started the event as narrow favrites, but were pushed all the way to the end by some familiar names and a few of snowboarding's fast-rising up-and-comers.
All the riders were helped by a perfect pipe and misty, rainy weather conditions that made the thing ride fast and loose. Among the early standouts in the women's event were Cilka Sadar from Slovenia. Sadar's first run may not have been as technical or high as some of the other riders, but she showcased arguably the best style of the day with a smooth first run that included frontside 7, Cab 7 and a silky backside alley-oop. She was soon eclipsed by Gretchen Bleiler and her trademark Crippler, however, and Spain's Queralt Castellet, who was arguably the biggest dark horse of the entire event.
Castellet's first run included a backside 9 and frontside 9, and put her in second place, just ahead of Bleiler. It still wasn't enough to stop Clark from taking an early lead she never relinquished: Her first run included a lofty frontside 10, a cab 7 and backside 5 to set the pace.
As the final went into the second and third runs, the crowd got the first proper chance to see the event's innovative judging system in action. Judging contests is a perennially difficult thing -- how do you adequately represent the difficulty of the riding on display (and keep the riders happy) without basically blinding the spectators with trick science? It's early days for the Snowboarding Livescoring System used at this event, but the signs are there that it could turn out to be the most successful system yet.
Riders are judged on individual tricks (with a possible 15 points per trick, with a maximum trick score of 60) before a flowscore (basically, how stylish the run was overall) worth 40 points is added to get a score out of 100. Each rider gets three runs, with the best run counting.
Where it got interesting was during the final run, which saw leader Kelly Clark drop first, before the remaining nine riders dropped in reverse order, with them and the crowd knowing exactly what score they'd need to beat to defeat Clark and take the win. As a way of making the judging system transparent and injecting some tension into the event (two problems that have dogged competitive snowboarding for years) it worked brilliantly tonight.
In the event, Clark's top-scoring run and that ace-up-the-sleeve 10 meant she was too strong, but she was pushed close by the exciting riding of Castellet, who took second ahead of Bleiler, and a barnstorming final run by fourth-place Rebecca Sinclair.
"It's an incredible feeling to win against the best girls in the world," said Clark as she savored her new status as world champion. The top three women put down the best runs I have seen in a contest. We are progressing and it's a privilege to be on the forefront of that."
She was soon joined at the top of the podium by Iouri 'I-Pod' Podladtchikov, who narrowly won a close men's event later in the evening.
"My family surprised me by coming to the event tonight," said the Russian. "I was nervous, but it's been a breathtaking night." I-Pod later described his winning run as "as much spinning as I can do." (Try backside 12 double cork, frontside double 10, cab 10 double cork and frontside 10 tailgrab for size.) Like Clark, he took the lead with a first run that scored 90.8, which kept him on top throughout the event.
Sitting in second place after Run 1 was the impressive Taku Hiraoka, whose 86.3 took the best flow score and included super smooth front and back 9s and a front 10 double. The other notable story from Run 1 (after Louie Vito and Peetu Piiroinen sketched theirs) was Matt Ladley, who has been standing out in practice all week. Ladley's run -- a massive front 12, back 9 and front 10 -- looked set to take the top score until he inexplicably butt-checked on his final huge Haakonflip. Still, he'd laid a marker down -- no mean feat, given that he'd supposedly separated his shoulder during last night's quarterpipe final.
Run 2 saw Vito showcase his legs of steel and climb up the leader board with a stomped, smooth run that pushed close to I-Pod. But Ladley nailed his second run, making the leaderboard at the end of Run 2 looked like many had predicted, with Podladtchikov on top, followed by Ladley and Vito.
As leader, I-Pod dropped first in the final round and immediately ratcheted up the tension by taking slam, leaving a simple target for the rest of the field: Beat I-Pod's first run score of 90.8 and the World Champion crown is yours.
Australian Nathan Jonhstone made a late surge with a sick run to push up into fifth, but neither Vito nor Ladley could improve upon their previous best runs, leaving the way for Podladtchikov to claim the title and take his place alongside Clark as snowboarding's first WSC halfpipe champions.