Halfpipe final wins at the U.S. Grand Prix in Breckenridge, Colo., on Sunday gave U.S. Freeskiing teammates Maddie Bowman and David Wise a mathematical lock on Team USA spots for the Olympic debut of freeskiing next month in Sochi, Russia.
"I've been saying all along that just qualifying for this super strong American team is almost the harder challenge than actually competing in the Olympics is going to be, so this is a tremendous relief," said Wise, after beating out Mike Riddle and French skier Kevin Rolland for the top spot. "Just to get it out of the way and lock in the spot feels amazing. Now the pressure's off and I don't have to send it as much, so I can focus on just having fun and figuring out the run I want to bring to Russia."
Before all that, though, he has another big objective on his mind: an X Games three-peat.
"I'll be at X Games for sure," he said. "Our sport wouldn't be what it is without the X Games, so Olympics or not I'll be there."
Bowman, the X Games Aspen 2013 gold medalist, says she'll also be looking for a repeat. "It's my favorite event and it's going to be the perfect place to perfect everything before Sochi," Bowman said, after coming out ahead of Japanese skier Ayana Onozuka and Australian skier Amy Sheehan.
"I've just been taking each contest one by one and trying not to get overwhelmed by all this Olympics hype, and I'm going to stick with that plan, have fun, and stay positive, because there are so many great girls out there and everyone's been pushing it. The battle for those remaining spots for Sochi is going to get interesting next week in Park City."
Mike Jankowski, head coach of the U.S. Freeskiing and U.S. Snowboarding teams, said that the U.S. team selection will be based on each rider's top two finishes, among other criteria.
"Having two podiums from the five selection events is one of the objective criteria, and having two wins is going to lock you in," he explained, noting that U.S. Freeskiing plans to bring four male and four female competitors each for the halfpipe and slopestyle events in Sochi. "Maddie and David could still be tied, but they can't be passed."
Heavy snow in Breckenridge, Colo., forced the cancellation of the U.S. Grand Prix Freeskiing Slopestyle finals on Friday, leaving top qualifiers Bobby Brown and Keri Herman atop the Slopestyle podiums, per FIS rules.
"It's frustrating -- I would have rather won a legit final than to win it this way -- but I can't complain," Brown said after the decision to cancel was made. He beat out Swedish skier Jasper Tjader and Swiss skier Kai Mahler based on results from qualifiers on Wednesday.
"It's really getting to where you have to bring your A game even to qualify at these events, especially knowing that the qualifiers could end up as finals when the weather works against you," Brown said. "But I can't complain about that either: Breck is killing it with snow this week and now I get to go enjoy some powder."
Brown's win puts him in contention to make the U.S. Olympic team for Sochi, but he'll have to prove himself at the two upcoming U.S. Grand Prix events in Park City, Utah. Nick Goepper, who won the slopestyle events at the Dew Tour and the U.S. Grand Prix at Copper Mountain, is the only U.S. Freeskiing slopestyle athlete who has already secured a guaranteed berth to Sochi.
"It's been a gnarly season so far, with contest after contest after contest and two more still to come before X Games and the Olympics," Brown told XGames.com. "You'e exhausted every single day because you're skiing so much, trying to stay consistent for all these contests. It's all you can do to keep doing your thing through this process and try to enjoy it."
In the women's slopestyle field, Keri Herman, another Breckenridge local, beat out Swedish skier Emma Dahlstrom and her U.S. Freeskiing teammate Devin Logan in qualifiers on Wednesday, bringing both U.S. athletes closer to their Olympic dreams.
"This week's results don't seal anything up for Sochi -- we still have to keep working hard with two more contests coming up -- but it definitely helps," Herman told XGames.com. "I think we really made a good decision to cancel: you always want to come out and do the contest and have finals in front of a crowd, but when the weather's like this and you can't see 10 feet in front of you I think it's the safe move. It's really good that we have the option to take that safe route where in the past we haven't been able to and people have gotten seriously injured. This way we all get to ski the next contest happy and healthy."