Snowboard, freeski roads to Sochi begin at Breckenridge
The U.S. Olympic qualifying season is underway and snowboarders and freeskiers will be in the spotlight as they attempt to earn a spot on Team USA, culminating in a quest for gold at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. The first event to earn a spot is at the iON Mountain Championships in Breckenridge, Colo., taking place Dec. 12-15.
This will mark the first time that the Breckenridge event, which has become known for having a world-class halfpipe and the “best [slopestyle] course ever,” will serve as a U.S. Olympic selection event and it will be the first of five selection events prior to the 2014 Winter Games.
Qualification will be based on each athlete's best two finishes in the five-event series and the final rosters for the U.S. Olympic snowboard and freeski team will be announced on Jan. 22, 2014.
The 2013 iON Mountain Championships will be filled with dramatic storylines that should carry over into all of the qualifying events. Strap in and get ready to be in awe of these gravity-defying athletes.
Embedded owg_slideshow: Top storylines to watch: Snowboarding
Just another contest?
With the added importance attached to this year’s event -- and with the addition of freeski slopestyle, halfpipe and snowboard slopestyle to the Olympics -- you’d expect U.S. Olympic hopefuls, especially those who have never been to the Olympics, to be in a different mindset. Amazingly, this is not the case.
“I’m just taking it day by day and Dew Tour is like any other year,” says freeskier Devin Logan, who’s looking to earn a spot on both the slopestyle and halfpipe teams. “I just try to think of [skiing in competitions] as just another day on the mountain with my friends and have some fun with it.”
What will Shaun White do?
After spending time in Australia on yet another private course, Shaun White will make his first foray into competition and the question on everyone’s mind is: Will he throw a triple cork? Better yet, at 27, and with a younger crop of superstars owning the podium, the question is begged: How long can White remain on top of his competition?
White will also begin his quest to make both the U.S. halfpipe and slopestyle teams. The two-time gold medalist will go head-to-head with Switzerland’s Iouri Podladtchikov, aka Ipod, in the halfpipe, and Canada’s two-headed dragon of Mark McMorris and Sebastien Toutant, aka Seb Toots, in slopestyle.
“[Breckenridge] will be a bit of a coming out for me in the slopestyle, to show what I’ve been working on and see what everyone else is working on,” says White. “Definitely trying to put down some triple [corks] because that is kind of what eluded me last season.”
Embedded video_content_type: Shaun White: Past, present and future
Team Canada looking to dominate
Team Canada is locked in, and you can expect McMorris to remain an authority on the slopestyle course along with teammate Seb Toots. When the women snowboarders storm the course, look for fellow Canadian Spencer O’Brien to go board-to-board with American Jamie Anderson in an attempt to unseat her from the top of the podium.
“It’s natural,” says the competitive O’Brien. “If you’re an athlete at the Olympics you want to bring home that medal so definitely it adds motivation and fuel to the fire to do better and just be one step ahead of the game come Sochi.”
Let's not forget about Rosalind Groenewoud, aka Roz G, who at five-feet ten-inches with signature red lipstick, purple hair bands and gold jacket, along with her podium level talent, is not to be missed in the halfpipe.
Two is the magic number
White and Logan aren’t the only athletes wanting to win double gold in Sochi. Gus Kenworthy and Australia’s Torah Bright (who’s actually attempting to qualify for a third discipline -- boarder cross) are among the freeskiers and snowboarders looking to do double duty in Breckenridge.
Will the Fantastic Four remain intact?
For the past two Olympics, the same four women represented the U.S. in the halfpipe -- Kelly Clark, Hannah Teter, Gretchen Bleiler and Elena Hight. Will 2014 be the year we see a chink in their armor? Will Elena Hight finally reach an Olympic podium with the addition of her double backside alley-oop rodeo? Or, will Kaitlyn Farrington, who won the Dew Tour in 2012, and Ellery Hollingsworth act as threats to qualify and knock off one of their elder stateswomen?
“We all train together and ride together so if someone learns something new we’re generally around to see it going on,” says Hight when asked about training with the U.S. team. “It’s good. It adds fuel to the fire to improve your run.”
Future Phenoms of Pipe
Another woman to have on the radar, 17-year-old Arielle Gold, is looking like a shoe-in to make the team and take out one of the renowned women to represent the U.S. in Sochi. She won gold in halfpipe at the FIS Snowboarding World Championships 2013.
On the men’s side of the pipe, Japan’s Ayumu Hirano is only 15, but he airs higher and pulls more technical tricks than anyone and is a real threat to Shaun White. Ayumu has already captured five podium finishes in 2013 and is currently ranked number one overall in FIS after becoming the youngest rider to win a World Cup gold at 14 years old this past August.
Another up-and-comer in the pipe is freeskier Torin Yater-Wallace. He may be only 18, but Yater-Wallace has long been riding like a full-grown man when it comes to freeski halfpipe competitions. Yater-Wallace landed himself on the podium at all four of the marquee contests he entered during the 2012-2013 season.
Embedded video_content_type: Top of his class: Torin Yater-Wallace
Apart from the up-and-comers to watch there is also a comeback story for the ages. Angeli VanLaanen is making her return to freeski pipe competitions following a career-halting battle with Lyme disease. After a standout year for VanLaanen in 2009 where she took a World Cup win while finding herself in the final events at Dew Tour and X Games, VanLaanen learned that she had been living with her body under constant attack due to advanced, untreated Lyme disease. After a nearly three-year hiatus, VanLaanen returned to compete at Dew Tour in 2012 and has since been giving her all to her training with hopes to represent her country and sport in it’s debut at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.
“Everyone is feeling that extra motivation to do their best this year because of the Olympics coming up,” VanLaanen says. “Having the Dew Tour be a qualifying event for us girls from the U.S., it’s going to be a really exciting and progressive year.”
How to Watch
The Dew Tour iON Mountain Championships will be available on NBC, NBC Sports Network, Dew Tour Live on DewTour.com, NBC Sports Live Extra and the NBC Sports Live Extra App -- the NBC Sports Group’s live streaming product for desktops, mobile devices, and tablets.
Dew Tour Live -- Dew Tour’s dedicated digital platform -- will stream every competition live, bringing more Dew Tour action, interviews and behind-the-scenes access than ever before.
Embedded owg_slideshow: Top storylines to watch: Freestyle Skiing