Russia, Switzerland strong in snowboarding parallel giant slalom qualifying
The Alpine portion of Olympic snowboarding kicked off on Wednesday with the qualifying runs for men's and women's parallel giant slalom.
Giant slalom has been around since snowboarding was introduced to the Olympics in 1998 and has been contested as a parallel (rather than individual) event since 2002.
The format for qualifying went like this: each rider took two runs - one on the blue course, one on the red course. Their times from each run were then combined, and the top 16 advanced to the head-to-head finals coming up later today.
On the women's side, Patrizia Kummer of Switzerland is in the midst of a strong season on the World Cup circuit and entered the day as the gold medal favorite. She didn't disappoint, qualifying with the second-fastest combined time of the day. She also set the fastest time on the red course at 52.63 seconds. Kummer's Swiss teammate Julie Zogg qualified just behind her in third. A third Swiss rider, Ladina Jenny, also made the women's field for finals.
Qualifying first for the women was Japan's Tomoka Takeuchi, who set the fastest time on the blue course.
Other notable women to qualify for the finals include Dutch snowboarder Nicolien Sauerbreij, who is attempting to defend her gold medal from the 2010 Vancouver Games, and Russian Alena Zavarzina, a hometown favorite who also happens to be the wife of Vic Wild - the second-best qualifier for the men.
Russia led the way in men's qualifiers. Just ahead of Wild, teammate Andrey Sobolev earned the top time in qualifying. Sobolev had the best time on the blue course, while Wild had the best time on the red course.
In total, Russia will have 5 snowboarders competing in finals today - two men (Sobolev and Wild) and three women.
Switzerland was strong as well across the board. Not only did they have two riders in the top-three of women's qualifying, seven of their eight riders competing today made it into finals - three women and all four men. In particular, brothers Philipp and Simon Schoch - the gold and silver medalists, respectively, at the 2006 Torino Games - will both be ones to watch out for in the finals in Sochi.
The defending gold medalist for the men, Jasey-Jay Anderson of Canada, is also in the field for finals. Now 38, Anderson is the oldest competitor in the field and also the only snowboarder to line up at every Olympics since the event was introduced in 1998.
The country with the highest expectations for the men's event entering Sochi was Austria, but they disappointed in qualifying. 2010 silver medalist Benjamin Karl was the only rider to qualify inside the top-15. Andreas Prommegger qualified 16th, barely making the cut for finals, while Lukas Mathies was disqualified on his first run, and Anton Unterkofler failed to advance as well.
Austria will also have two racers in the women's final, but 2010 bronze medalist Marion Kreiner wont be among them. She finished 20th in qualifying and failed to advance.
The lone American in the field for the either event, Justin Reiter, failed to make it out of men's qualifying. He still has another event coming up on Saturday - parallel slalom, which is his stronger of the two disciplines.
Women's parallel giant slalom qualifiers
1. Tomoka Takeuchi (JPN)
2. Patrizia Kummer (SUI)
3. Julie Zogg (SUI)
4. Nicolien Sauerbreij (NED)
5. Marianne Leeson (CAN)
6. Alena Zavarzina (RUS)
7. Claudia Riegler (AUT)
8. Carolina Calve (CAN)
9. Ekaterina Ilyukhina (RUS)
10. Ester Ledecka (CZE)
11. Selina Joerg (GER)
12. Ladina Jenny (SUI)
13. Ina Meschik (AUT)
14. Ariane Lavigne (CAN)
15. Ekaterina Tudegesheva (RUS
Men's parallel giant slalom qualifiers
1. Andrey Sobolev (RUS)
2. Vic Wild (RUS)
3. Patrick Bussler (GER)
4. Rok Marguc (SLO)
5. Benjamin Karl (AUT)
6. Rok Flander (SLO)
7. Kaspar Fluetsch (SUI)
8. Zan Kosir (SLO)
9. Philipp Schoch (SUI)
10. Simon Schoch (SUI)
11. Alexander Bergmann (GER)
12. Nevin Galmarini (SUI)
13. Jasey-Jay Anderson (CAN)
14. Matthew Morison (CAN)
15. Sylvain Dufour (FRA)
16. Andreas Prommegger (AUT)
Best of Sochi