ROSA KHUTOR, Russia — In securing the win at the inaugural ski halfpipe event at the Olympic Winter Games on Tuesday, David Wise became perhaps the least surprising gold medalist of 2014.
We’ll never know what Wise had left in his bag of tricks for the second run — he crashed off the first hit — but sitting on a first-run score of 92.00 and with just one skier, Justin Dorey, left to drop into the pipe, the contest was nearly in the bag for the American.
“That was really nerve-racking,” Wise said of watching Dorey’s final run. “I knew the right-side double cork was something that was definitely there and he had it to boost the score up.”
Wise was joined on the international podium by Canada’s Mike Riddle and France’s Kevin Rolland, who scored 90.60 and 88.60 for silver and bronze, respectively. The American’s winning run consisted of a right-side 900 tail grab, left-side dub (double-corked) 1260 mute, right 720 opposite mute, switch left 720 Japan and right dub 1260 mute.
The shame of the contest was the snowy conditions that unfortunately prevented the skiers from throwing their biggest tricks. Wise said there were a couple new tricks he was hoping to debut at the Olympics, but the conditions prevented that from happening.
“It was really unfortunate. I had all these crazy amazing runs that I wanted to do here at the Olympics but if you can’t get the speed you can’t do the tricks that you want to do,” said Wise.
It was tough day for the rest of the American squad, widely considered the best in the world at halfpipe skiing. Aaron Blunck was the only other representative to make it to the final — he did so by the skin of his teeth, qualifying 12th out of 12. In the final, he skied a clean second run, which the judges awarded a score of 79.40, seventh place.
In any event, Blunck, who dropped in first in qualifying, will always have bragging rights as the first Olympic ski halfpipe competitor in history.
“It was really cool to be the first person ever to compete in ski halfpipe at the Olympics,” said Blunck. “I was so nervous before dropping in. I think it was the most nervous I’ve ever been.
“(The pipe) is so slow,” added Blunck. “It’s not what we’re used to. We’ve been competing in Colorado and Park City this year and the snow there is super dry, but here it is super sticky snow.”
Meanwhile, a tough season continued for Torin Yater-Wallace, who wasn’t able to put down a clean run and failed to qualify for the final. The outcome was quite a bit worse for his teammate Lyman Currier (son of 1972 Olympic alpine athlete David Currier), who crashed in his second run and injured his left knee, later posting on social media that he was diagnosed with a torn ACL that has ended his season.
For Canada, Riddle’s performance amounts to a seventh Olympic medal in freestyle skiing in these Olympics.
“I have never done that combination before, back to back dub (double corked) 1260s, but I decided it was a good time to do it for the first time,” said Riddle after the run. “It’s unbelievable. I put down a good run in what were difficult conditions. I knew I had a chance.”
In an often subjective and sometimes controversial sport, there’s vast agreement that few could better serve as the face of freeskiing than the young father Wise.
“I feel honored to be a part of this sport and to be standing here at the top of the podium,” Wise said. “Being a dad, for me, provides a balance I don’t think I had before. I can go out and ski my heart out, but that doesn’t necessary define who I am. Being a good husband and father, first and foremost, is more important.”
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