And they're off!
Despite rough conditions at the Burton U.S. Open of Snowboarding -- snow, wind and icy rain caused contest delays all day -- performances in the men's halfpipe semifinals showed that there is sure to be a showdown on Saturday between Iouri Podlatchikov, who qualified in the top spot with a nearly perfect score of 98.00, and second-place qualifier Kazuhiro Kokubo, who won the U.S. Open halfpipe last year.
"I'm pretty motivated this week because I was really sad at X Games to fall on my shoulder in my first practice run," Podlatchikov said. "Now everything's healed up, and I'm good to go, trying to redeem this season. I'm usually not the kind of guy who, in these conditions, keeps his nerve together, but there's so much hype and so much build up to the U.S. Open that it just has a different kind of energy. You know? People remember what happened at the Open."
Indeed. People who remember what happened at the Open last year will recall a neck-and-neck podium finish with Kokubo edging out Louie Vito and Podlatchikov for the win in the finals. Vito's been on a tear this year, winning the Winter Dew Tour's Dew Cup and the Grand Prix overall title as well as making the podium at Winter X. With all three heading to the finals this week, there is sure to be an epic rematch.
"I think the U.S. Open is the best contest for snowboarders," Kokubo said. "The judges really look for style here, and you get a lot of the best riders because this is the one event everyone wants to be at."
Three other Japanese riders -- Ryo Aono, Kohei Kudo and Eiju Hirano -- made the top-10 cut for the finals. If any rider exemplifies the spirit of the Burton Open series competitions, it is Kudo, who came out of nowhere at the Burton Canadian Open in February, made it all the way through the open qualifier heats, through the semis to take the title at the main event. He's here at the U.S. Open to prove his win in Canada was no fluke. Twelve-year-old Ayumu Hirano just missed the cut, disappointing fans who love to see unknown underdogs shaking things up at the Open.
"It was good today to see so many Japanese riders, and so many young riders," Kokubo said. "It makes me feel good about the future of snowboarding."
On the other side of the spectrum, the biggest disappointments of the day came when Danny Davis, on a comeback from his back injury last season, and 2009-2011 TTR champ Peetu Piiroinen missed the cut in both pipe and slope.
"I've had a good year so I can't complain," says Piiroinen, whose total points on the Swatch TTR World Tour left him invincible in the overall standings way before this week's event. "But after missing the cut in slopestyle yesterday, too, I am not happy. It just wasn't a very good couple of days for me."
Conditions for the women's competition were even worse, with heavy snow, poor visibility and a long contest hold in between the first and second runs. 2010 champ Kelly Clark came out on top, beating out Hannah Teter for the top spot by almost 10 points.
"It was a super challenging day and the conditions were less than ideal, but I'm happy, all things considered," Clark said. "I'm really glad Gretchen [Bleiler] and Hannah made it, and I think it will make for a good final. Hopefully the weather's clearing up by Saturday because I have a run in my head that should be the pinnacle of my season if the conditions are right to put it down."
Watch the event live at metacafe.com -- times below in Eastern Standard Time:
--Friday, slopestyle finals: Women 10-11 a.m., Men 1-2:30 p.m.
--Saturday, halfpipe finals: Women 10-11 a.m., Men 1-2:30 p.m.
A highlights show will be broadcast on ESPN2 on March 13 at 4:30 p.m. ET.