Wednesday’s Sochi roundup: Changing of the guard in halfpipe
ROSA KHUTOR, Russia – What does it take to beat three Olympic gold medalists at their own game?
U.S. Snowboard Team rider Kaitlyn Farrington can tell you. Make that Olympic gold medalist Kaitlyn Farrington. In six rides over one very long day of halfpipe competition at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park, she seemed to get stronger and stronger. And by the time she got to the second run of finals, she had the run of her life, with big air and clean landings, which the judges said was worth 91.75 points. Turns out, she needed all of them.
In those finals, before a cheering, flag-waving crowd on a chilly night in Rosa Khutor, Australian Torah Bright, Olympic gold medalist at Vancouver in 2010, had a clutch second run, scoring 91.5 points, after a pretty disastrous first run. And Farrington’s U.S. teammate Hannah Teeter, Olympic gold medalist in 2006, was sitting in third, based on her 90.5-point first run.
Farrington’s terrific second run set the stage for Kelly Clark, the gold medalist from 2002, who recovered from a nasty first-run fall to put down a powerful second run. Clark, riding last in the finals, produced huge airs, clearly the biggest of the competition, and some great tricks. But she landed a frontside 1080 a little short. That ultimately may have been the difference. The judges took a long, long look at Clark’s run (told that it seemed like a long time to wait for the judge’s verdict, Clark said, “You’re telling me!”) and they decided it was worth 90.75 points. Enough to knock Teeter off the podium, but not enough to catch either Bright or Farrington.
It did make Clark the most decorated Olympic snowboarder of all time, with three medals, one gold and two bronze. In her fourth Olympics, she’s now medaled in three of them. “I’m pretty excited for the medals ceremony,” Clark said in the finish area. “If I didn’t win, I’m glad someone from the U.S. did because we’re going to get to see our flag raised and hear our national anthem.”
Ultimately, the results from the 2014 halfpipe on Wednesday had four gold medalists in the first four spots: Farrington, Bright, Clark and Teeter. If that’s ever happened, anywhere, in any discipline, no one could say for sure, but it seems rather unlikely.
As one of the four, Teeter was clearly the unluckiest, missing the podium by 0.25 points. She acknowledged that fourth is a tough place to finish at the Olympics, but said she had always ridden because she loved it, and not for medals. And she looked back on her own experience in Torino, when she won the gold in her first Games. “When you’re young, coming into it, you just have no expectations,” she said. “So [Farrington] came into this just to have fun. I mean, we came up here together, and she was just in good spirits, having a good time, dancing up at the top.”
Farrington agreed, saying that when she was at the top the pipe before her second run, “I just said, I’ve got nothing to lose right now, so let’s just have fun.”
Farrington said she went into Wednesday expecting to spend a long day riding the halfpipe, and that helped her out when she actually did have to do just that. She missed qualifying straight to finals in the first round, like her more decorated competitors, and had to go through a second round to earn her way into that night’s shoot-out. “Yesterday, going into this,” Farrington said, “I told Kelly, I plan on riding all day tomorrow. So I was kind of expecting it.”
And her impending celebration later that night? “I’m going to dance my face off!”
Farrington is from Sun Valley, Idaho, and she said her parents, Suz Locke and Gary Farrington, “were ski bums, and so I just kind of took to that, in Sun Valley, skiing and snowboarding, and at one point in my life I decided I was going to be a snowboarder.” Her folks, who used to ranch and still “have lots of horses,” stood in front of the stadium stands cheering their lungs out and holding a poster with her picture and the words “Kaitlyn: Cowgirl up.” She said it stemmed from a former swim coach, who when he wanted her to go harder, would say, “Cowgirl up.” (No word on whether there is any relationship to the Boston Red Sox “Cowboy up” battle cry on their 2007 run to the World Series.)
She said she hadn’t really envisioned things playing out the way they did. “I wanted to make the finals, and I thought if I could land a good run, I could get on the podium. But I had no expectation that I’d be a gold medalist.”
Or that she would beat three of them in the process.
Germany’s Eric Frenzel grabs nordic combined gold
KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia – Germany’s Eric Frenzel and Japan’s Akito Watabe jumped long and skied strong, which is a pretty good recipe for success in nordic combined.
At the RusSki Gorki Ski Jumping Center on Wednesday, the two, who are among the favorites for both individual nordic combined events at these Games, went 1-2 in the jumping portion of the Normal Hill/10km event, and then skied together throughout the cross-country race in the late afternoon, with Frenzel pulling away at the end to get gold and Watabe the silver, just 4.2 seconds back.
Frenzel, the defending World Cup champion and leader in the standings this year, has won gold at the World Championships, but this was his first Olympic gold medal. Watabe, whose younger brother, Yoshito, is also a talented nordic combined athlete (15th on Wednesday), picked up his first Olympic medal, and first individual medal at a major competition. He got a team gold at the 2009 Worlds.
Magnus Krog of Norway finished 20th in the jump, giving up 1:03 to the leaders. He made up all but 8.1 seconds of that with some extremely fast skiing in the 10km, grabbing the bronze medal.
On a warm, sunny day in Krasnaya Polyana, all of the U.S. skiers struggled in the jump, with defending Olympic champ Bill Demong doing the best, at 31st. Always a strong skier, he had to make up 1:33 in the ski portion. He chipped away for a while, and had made back more than 40 seconds at one point, but said he got “tangled up in a big pile-up on the second lap,” and spent the whole third lap trying to make up the time he’d lost. He had to settle for 24th, 1:49.6 behind the leader.
Brothers Bryan and Taylor Fletcher, both better skiers than jumpers, also had a lot of time to make up after poor jumps. Bryan started 41st and wound up 26th, while Taylor started 46th and was able to rally to finish 33rd. The fourth American entered in the event, Todd Lodwick, is nursing a shoulder injury, and decided to take it easy with an eye on the team event later in the Games. He took his jump but opted out of the 10K.
The Americans generally said they were not thrilled with RusSki’s 90-meter jumping hill. They find the shape of the hill challenging, and weren’t able to adjust well enough to contend on Wednesday.
“I almost pulled off the miracle jump today, one I didn’t think was possible before today,” said Demong, who had by far his best jump of the week in the trial jump Wednesday morning. “It kind of gave me a little hope, but I’ve already almost been looking forward to the big hill, because I think things were pretty good there last year, and I my shape is much better and it’s been going really well on hills like that.”
“Unfortunately,” Demong said, “it turned out to be a good training day at the Olympics.” He did say that he likes the quality of the snow, which is soft and getting softer as the Games, and the warm weather, wears on.
So Demong said he was looking forward to the large hill competition, and to the team event next week. In part, that’s because his family will be arriving soon, including 3-year-old son, Liam.
Coming up on Thursday:
(all times for Sochi; add nine hours for EST)
Cross-country. The women’s 10km classic race takes place at the Laura Cross-Country Ski and Biathlon Center at 2 p.m.
Freestyle. The men’s ski slopestyle competition makes its Olympic debut at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park, with qualifying at 10:15 a.m. and the finals at 1:30 p.m.