Men's Snowboard Slopestyle Final
Wednesday night, after the 1-2 finish of Frenchmen Kevin Rolland and Xavier Bertoni in Ski SuperPipe, Tignes was berserk. In the chaos that ensued, someone waltzed into the entry way of the Hotel Diva and swiped a snowboard that happened to belong to 22-year-old Breckenridge rider Eric Willett. It was the board he used to qualify in second position for Thursday's Slopestyle final, which left him practicing before the event on his backup board.
"It was my worst practice of the season," said Willett, as he waited for his third run of the final. "I didn't land a single run, and I didn't even practice the run that I just threw."
The run he referred to -- Cab 5-0 backside 180, Cab 9, back 7, front double cork 10, back rodeo, switch back 900, 50-50 to double back rodeo -- earned him a 91 and put him nine points ahead of Stephan Maurer in second place. Considering the only double Maurer threw was a laid-out double backflip on the last kicker, it was fair to wonder if anyone could catch Willett at that point.
"I don't think you can," admitted Sage Kotsenburg, sitting in third before his third run. "I'm going to try a little front 10 action and hopefully crack the top two."
Kotsenburg nailed that front 10 -- adding it to a run that included a gap Cab 270, Cab 9, back 7, front 9, switch back 9, and a 5-0 to double cork back 10 -- on the second to last kicker and was rewarded with an 85.33, which put him in second with four riders to go.
It's not that there weren't plenty of riders in the field with the doubles to top Willett's run -- Travis Rice and Chas Guldemond were here, after all. It's just that, between the speed issues many competitors faced and the endurance issues created by such a long course, finding a place to stick them was a calculated risk few of them were willing to take.
Even with first-place qualifier Guldemond still to go, Willett coasted on his final run, losing both of the doubles. Guldemond failed to capitalize, crashing on the fourth jump and handing Willet his first-ever X event gold medal.
"This was my first year competing in any X Games and I got second in Aspen and first here," Willett said afterward. "This was the year I needed to step it up and put it down."
Willett put it down today, and he did it on a backup board. Then again, that just happened to be the board he used to take silver in Aspen, so maybe he should put it at the front of his quiver heading to the U.S. Open next week.
Women's Snowboard SuperPipe Final
Had you asked any finalist in Thursday's Women's SuperPipe field what it was going to take to beat Torah Bright at the beginning of this evening's competition, you may have heard some similar sentiments:
"It's impossible, unfortunately. Maybe I will try my 1080, but I never land it," said bronze medalist Sophie Rodriguez.
"I can learn s--- ..." said Kjersti Oestgaard Buaas, who finished sixth, but came in hot with a large and proper McTwist on every run.
But at the end of the day, it wasn't Kelly Clark's huge-ocity or Gretchen Bleiler's one-upmanship (both ladies were no-shows in France) that did Bright in. It was 20-year-old Kaitlyn Farrington.
The Gnu girl from Sun Valley, Idaho, might not have the competitive pedigree of her American counterparts, but if she continues linking bangers like she did today (in no particular order: back 9, inverted frontside 7, Cab 7, alley oop 5), the Torah/Kelly/Gretchen/Hannah show could soon be renamed to something even more convoluted.
Despite the absence of the le trio Américain, the fact there was still an engaging contest in Tignes is good news for women's pipe riding.
"Every contest I've been moving up. It feels really good to be improving this season," said Farrington, who had never been on a podium until this season.
Granted, Bright's run was no trifling matter, and she led the pack after her first run. But Farrington's second run score of 97.00 busted the doors off Bright's 95.00, and the Olympic gold medalist couldn't top it. "I came here exhausted, I'll leave exhausted, and I just want to lay down a safe run. I'm so stoked for Kaitlyn. That back 9 is awesome. Good for her," she said.
For Farrington, the pressure was off from the get-go. "I'm just glad to be here. For me, this is like vacation. I squeaked into the finals and now I can't even believe it. This is my first medal at the X Games. I couldn't be happier."
Men's Snowboard SuperPipe Eliminations
The several thousand people gathered for the women's SuperPipe final didn't seem to mind that the event following it was simply an elimination round. They stayed in droves, and were rewarded by the emergence of a new challenger for pipe supremacy.
Finland's Markus Malin has never competed at an X event, but that didn't keep him from qualifying in first with a run that included the biggest straight air of the day, followed by a back 9, front double cork 10, Cab 7, front 5, back 10. It was his second run, and it bumped Olympic silver medalist Iouri Podladtchikov -- who came out of the gates with a Cab double cork 10, front inverted 5, back 9, front 10, Cab 7 -- to second place.
The rest of the field includes X event rookies Switzerland's Christian Haller and France's Aluan Ricciardi, Tignes dancer Louie Vito (who Le Buzz thinks got robbed considering he threw back-to-back doubles), cagey veterans J.J. Thomas and Mathieu Crepel, and Frend Luke Mitrani.
The consensus was that everyone held back considerably, making Friday's final must-see Internet. Keep it tuned to Le Buzz.