In the first FIS World Cup ski halfpipe contest held in Sochi, Russia -- the site of the 2014 Winter Olympics -- Switzerland's Virginie Faivre and American Torin Yater-Wallace walked away victorious Saturday.
Exactly one year from now, ski slopestyle and ski halfpipe will debut on the Olympic stage at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. It will be a moment a lot of people have worked hard for in the past decade. On Saturday, halfpipe skiers were given an early glimpse of what that big moment could look like in the FIS World Cup halfpipe contest. An Olympic test event -- a dress rehearsal of sorts -- took place this week at Russia's Krasnaya Polyana, the resort that will host the slopestyle and halfpipe venues in 2014.
"It was really warm out today and the conditions were challenging, but, nonetheless, the pipe tonight was sick," said Yater-Wallace, whose winning run included a double 1260, a leftside 1080, a switch 720, an alley-oop double 900 and a double Michael Chuck. "It is great to get a feel of where I might be in a year's time, and this is a good start to it. It has been a strange event since the resort has been shut down -- it is just us up here and athletes from other sports."
American Gus Kenworthy and Canadian Mike Riddle took second and third, respectively, in the men's finals.
Faivre won the women's finals with a straight air Japan, an alley-oop critical, back-to-back 540s safety, an air to fakie high mute nose and a switch 540 safety. "It felt special for me and most of these other athletes," Faivre said. "It was the first time for us in Russia. It was really exciting to discover this place because this is all we have been thinking about for the last few years with the Olympics coming. Now we have seen it, and I like the pipe a lot."
Canadian Roz Groenewoud, who qualified in the top spot, took second place in the women's finals, followed by her Canadian teammate Keltie Hansen.
Because of warm temperatures and a lack of snow, FIS canceled the slopestyle portion of the World Cup, but it was able to proceed with the halfpipe contest. During the halfpipe qualifiers and finals Saturday, the weather got worse: Heavy rain in the village literally flooded brick walking areas, and a heavy snow and thick fog descended on the halfpipe, causing event organizers to put a hold on the contest until judges and athletes could regain visibility. Eventually, the rain began to slow and the contest was able to continue.
"I was very hesitant coming here when slope was canceled," Kenworthy said. "Then, when we got here, the pipe was in poor shape and the weather was bad, even earlier today. Then, just before the comp, the snow slowed down and the pipe was actually very good. It is crazy to think this is where a few of us may be skiing next year, but with thousands of people in the stands and millions watching worldwide, it makes me nervous thinking about how important this season will be."
Despite the less-than-ideal snow conditions in the halfpipe (New Zealand's Beau-James Wells called it "surprisingly slow and a wee bit sticky"), most of the skiers in attendance seemed just happy to be on site in Sochi and to get an idea of what the place will look like one year from now.
"The venue is quite impressive," said American pipe skier Jen Hudak. "The mogul course, aerial site and halfpipe all share one finish area, and it makes for a really fun time watching training and events. The pipe is long and quite steep. It has the potential to be worthy of Olympic recognition -- it's all dependent on snow and weather conditions. This year was probably about as warm as it gets and they are pulling it off, though conditions aren't ideal for peak performance."
There's still a long way to go until the venue is ready for the Olympics, and a lot to be completed over the course of one year. "Sochi will be as ready as it can be for the Olympics," Hudak said. "I don't think that any city is ever really ready to host an Olympic Games, and, often times, things come together right at the last minute. The biggest issue will be snow management and venue preparation and maintenance, as it's quite warm here."
FIS World Cup Ski Halfpipe, Sochi, Russia, Feb. 16, 2013: Women's Results
FIS World Cup Ski Halfpipe, Sochi, Russia, Feb. 16, 2013: Men's Results