White, Clark lead Dew Tour qualifiers
Two familiar faces led a deep field of snowboarders after the first three days of U.S. Olympic team qualifying at the Dew Tour's iON Mountain Championships in Breckenridge, Colo. Olympic gold medalists Shaun White and Kelly Clark top the list of qualifiers heading into this weekend's final rounds of competition.
White qualified first in Men's Snowboard Superpipe on Thursday then backed it up with a first-place qualification in Men's Snowboard Slopestyle on Friday. White is the only men's snowboarding competitor attempting to make the U.S. Olympic team in both halfpipe and slopestyle. Slopestyle makes its Olympic debut in Sochi in February. Clark was Wednesday's top qualifier in Women's Snowboard Superpipe.
"I'm excited. It's the first event of the season and I'm feeling good," White, the reigning men's snowboard halfpipe Olympic gold medalist, said after his first of two Superpipe runs on Thursday.
White appeared to be riding casually during Thursday's initial Superpipe run, with a playful skate-style tail tap on his final hit, but his score of 91.40 stood up, beating out Christian Haller and Ben Ferguson. Danny Davis, a halfpipe favorite heading into the 2010 Olympics before a back injury sidelined him, finished in fourth place, ahead of Greg Bretz, Ayumu Hirano, Louie Vito, Taku Hiraoka, Taylor Gold, Scotty James, Kent Callister, Zach Black, Scotty Lago, Spencer Shaw, Benji Farrow and Iouri Podladtchikov, who just made the top-16 cut for Saturday's final.
White's 93.40 on his first Slopestyle run on Friday held up through the rest of the afternoon, eclipsing fellow Team U.S.A. rider Eric Willet by six points.
"Just felt great. I haven't done a [slopestyle competition] since X Games [Aspen 2013], so to do really well today was really important to me to kick off my season," White said on Friday.
Another Slopestyle favorite, Canadian Mark McMorris, struggled to qualify but grabbed the 11th spot out of 16 on his second run after a fall on his first attempt turned up the pressure.
Clark, a dominant force in the pipe over the past four years, won the women's qualifier on Wednesday, beating out Chloe Kim and Arielle Gold for the top spot. Kim, 14, is a member of the U.S. Snowboarding rookie team but is too young to be eligible for the Sochi Winter Olympics.
"We're seeing some of the best riding we've seen in the semis," Clark said, in an interview from the side of the pipe during the men's competition, suggesting that there will be even bigger surprises this weekend. "I'm looking forward to the women's final and looking to step it up a bit."
Jamie Anderson led all qualifiers in Women's Snowboard Slopestyle with a 93.00, a score high enough she chose not to take her second run. Enni Rukajärvi and Silje Norendal rounded out the top three.
The competition in Breckenridge continues through the weekend, and Team USA will announce its team for Sochi on Jan. 19, based on results from the Dew Tour and upcoming U.S. Grand Prix events.