KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia -- Before about 3 p.m. local time in Sochi, U.S. snowboarder Karly Shorr had never competed in a major international event. She'd never been to X Games. And she'd certainly never dropped into a slopestyle course the size of the one at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park in Sochi's mountain region. But after two runs during Thursday's qualifier, she was one of only eight riders to qualify directly into Saturday's finals, with a fourth-place score of 84.75 in her second run of Heat 2.
"Before my second run, I was nervous dropping in, but I said positive things and blocked all the negativity out and I told myself I was going to have fun," Shorr said. "And I did."
After falling on her first run, Shorr rode her second with speed and confidence, landing a switch backside 540, a backside 360 Japan and a frontside 360 in the jump section. "I basically blacked out during the run, but afterward it felt so good," she said. "It stacks on top of itself. I started out strong on the rails, landed my first jump and once you get to that last jump, there is no way you're not going to stomp it."
Before her heat, Shorr walked to the bottom of the course to watch the women who were competing in the first heat and get a feel for the speed of the jumps. But she said doing so did more than give her a tactical advantage. It energized her mindset before her first Olympic run.
"Everyone was trying to push women's snowboarding," she said. "In the first heat, girls were throwing their best tricks. A lot of times girls will play it safe, but not here. With this format, no one was holding anything back. Seeing those girls kill it gave me confidence. In practice before my heat, I sent it."
And despite competing on the same course several of the men had issues with earlier in the week, Shorr said the jumps provided the kind of challenge she expected at the Olympics.
"Inspection of the course on the first day was definitely intimidating. It's the biggest course I've ever hit. But any course is difficult on the first day. And I like a challenge. If you're going to work your butt off all season to make it to the Olympics, you should get here and it should be a challenge."
American rider Jamie Anderson, who qualified second behind Austrian Anna Gasser in Heat 2 with the second-highest score of the day, chose not to take her second run and instead preserve her body for Saturday's final. "I had a pretty bad crash yesterday on the bottom jump and I was sore," Anderson said. "I only took a few practice runs and wanted to land my first run so I could rest and chill. I would have liked to put down a more challenging run and qualify first, but that was my ego. I had to get away from that, listen to myself and do what was going to serve me best."
In Saturday's final, Anderson says she'd love to land something new, but her runs will be a game-day decision. "These jumps are insane," she says. "I'd love to do a cab 900. I'd love to do a cab double 9. But if I can link together two 7s and a 5 in this course, I'd be super stoked."
A look at the competition format
Qualifiers (Thursday): Two qualification heats; the top four qualify directly to the final. The remaining riders qualify to the semifinal.
Riders who qualified directly to final:
1. Torah Bright, Australia
2. Spencer O'Brien, Canada
3. Isabel Derungs, Switzerland
4. Enni Rukajarvi, Finland
1. Anna Gasser, Austria
3. Jamie Anderson, USA
4. Elena Koenz, Switzerland
4. Karly Shorr, USA
- Semifinals (Saturday): The top four qualify to final.
- Final (Saturday): 12 riders, best of two runs.