Riders in the FIS Snowboard World Cup Halfpipe had to fight fog and falls in today’s finals at Audi quattro Winter Games NZ 2015 with Japan’s Raibu Katayama and Cai Xuetong from China eventually taking the men’s and women’s titles.
Katayama emerged from relative obscurity to steal gold from a world-class field including Sochi Olympic medallists battling it out at Cardrona Alpine Resort near Wanaka.
It was only Katayama’s second medal on the international scene, although he is no stranger to the podium at home.
His win was all the sweeter for beating compatriot and 2014 Winter Olympic bronze medallist Taku Hiraoka into second, with reigning Olympic champion Iouri Podladtchikov of Switzerland taking the bronze medal.
“I am very happy to get the win,” said Katayama. “This is just a start – my first win in a World Cup and I want to be on the podium a lot more in the future. The conditions were getting softer. It was a little bit hard to ride but I still enjoyed it very much.
“My aim is to keep practising hard right after this competition and then I want to be at the US Open, X Games and other major competitions.”
The 20-year-old from the city of Yaizu took advantage of a sunny start to lay down a 90.00 point first run, with a frontside 10 tail grab, a cab double 10, a frontside 9 tail grab, a backside 9 mute, and a frontside 10 double mute grab.
That took him to first position, which he held for the rest of an intense contest.
The big guns failed to fire on their first run, with the exception of American Gregory Bretz, whose 82.25 put him in second.
Then the fog rolled in leaving riders waiting for clearance for their second and third runs. When competition resumed, Bretz increased his score to 86.00, only to be overtaken by Podladtchikov with 86.75.
In the third run, everyone had to step up or miss out on a medal, and more than half the field fell trying to land the trick that might give them an edge. Although leading, Katayama continued to push the envelope and almost landed a rare frontside 1440.
After a second weather break, Taku Hiraoka notched up a superb last run, scoring an 89.00 for second place and giving Japan a hard-earned one-two at Audi quattro Winter Games NZ 2015.
Cai Xuetong continued her winning run at the Games, adding gold to her 2013 silver and 2011 gold in the halfpipe. As the winner of the 2015 FIS World Snowboard Championships in Austria she was always going to be the one to beat.
She went into an immediate lead with her first run score of 88.00 for an air to fakie backside grab, a cab 7 backside, a front 5 backside grab, a back 5 mute, and a front 7 indy.
Cai’s biggest threat on paper was Kelly Clark of the USA, a five-time X Games Superpipe champion and gold medal winner at Winter Games NZ 2013. But it wasn’t her day, and three slips took her out of contention.
Silver medallist Hikaru Oe of Japan started well with an 80.50 point first run. France’s Sophie Rodriguez pushed past on her last run with an 81.00, only for Oe to nail an 83.25 and reclaim second, leaving Rodriguez with the bronze.
Head judge Ola Sundekvist was impressed with the increasingly high standard of competition despite the weather.
“Amplitude for both ladies and men was much bigger than in the qualifications, and as for the tricks – they went for it! We saw many tricks that we didn’t see in qualifications. The improvement between the qualifications and the finals was pretty good.
“We saw a few of the girls doing the back 9s; we saw the guys doing 12s and we saw guys trying to do the 14s and that’s what we like to see. And in the men’s final the guys were going humongously big. That first run was insane, and [Katayama’s] was a well-deserved first place.”
Audi quattro Winter Games NZ 2015 concludes today with the closing ceremony at Cardrona Alpine Resort near Wanaka. The two downtown Games Villages in Queenstown and Wanaka are open from 3pm with live music and DJs, medal ceremonies and aprÃ©s ski hospitality. The free JUCY Meltdown Concert takes place in Wanaka featuring Kora supported by Arma Del Amor.