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It's the stuff that dreams are made of. Six years after winning the first Red Bull PlayStreets event, Charles Gagnier once again stood on top of the podium in Bad Gastein, Austria, tonight. It was a milestone achievement for the 27-year-old Canadian freeskier, whose wife and newborn daughter were in attendance to cheer him on. As if that wasn't enough, Gagnier also got to share the podium with his younger brother Vincent, who took third. Gus Kenworthy picked up second place to complete the podium.
"As I get older, it's getting harder to win," said Gagnier. "It's been a while since I've won a competition, so it's amazing to be on top again."
Gagnier bested a field of 22 top freeskiers in the unconventional slopestyle event, which features a course running straight through the resort town of Bad Gastein. Thousands of spectators crowded the streets to watch the competitors careen through the narrow course, which featured a hip jump, a medium-sized kicker, a step-down jump and a fun box across the roof of a restaurant. The urban setting presents an unusual challenge for the skiers and a one-of-a-kind spectacle for the crowd.
"PlayStreets is really unique," said competitor Jesper Tjäder of Sweden. "There's no other slopestyle event like this."
|Charles Gagnier (first) and Elias Ambühl (fourth) take it all in after playing hard in the streets.|
Qualifications this afternoon narrowed the field of 22 down to eight finalists. Several of the favored competitors, including Americans Nick Goepper and Bobby Brown, were unable to fight their way into the finals. Up-and-coming Austrian rider Luca Triboneau locked down the top qualifying spot, with Charles Gagnier and Markus Eder hot on his heels.
The final rounds featured a head-to-head format. Kenworthy knocked out Finland's Antti Olilla with a clean run including one of the only switch 900s of the night, while Charles Gagnier eliminated Tobi Tritscher. Vincent Gagnier advanced past Triboneau, who was unable to stick his double cork 1080, and Swiss heavyweight Elias Ambühl narrowly defeated Eder.
In the quarterfinals, Charles Gagnier topped Ambühl, who struggled to land a flatspin 720 on the hip jump, while Kenworthy slipped past Vincent Gagnier with a huge cork 900 tail on the hip and a switch 900 on the step-down.
In the final match-up, Kenworthy led after the first run when Charles Gagnier came up short on a 540. But on his final run of the night, Gagnier nailed a right-side cork 900 reverse mute grab on the hip, a left-side 540 tail on the kicker, a switch backflip 180 on the step-down and an incredible one-footed 270 on, surface swap, 270 out of the box to become the first two-time PlayStreets champion.
In a competition scene now dominated by double-cork rotations, PlayStreets was a breath of fresh air for spectators as well as competitors, who were challenged to ski creatively rather than rely on their biggest tricks. "Some slopestyles can get a little boring with everybody hucking doubles," said Juho Kilkki of the Finnish Skifi crew. "But here you can do some different stuff. I like to ski creatively, and this event makes it possible to do that."