Jubilant French skiers made sporting history at Audi quattro Winter Games NZ today by dominating the FIS Freestyle Skiing World Cup Halfpipe event.
Kevin Rolland, Thomas Krief & Benoit Valentin achieved a clean one, two, three for France in the Wells Olympic Pipe at Cardrona Alpine Resort near Wanaka – the first time French skiers have taken the entire podium for a FIS World Cup halfpipe.
Top qualifier Rolland kept up the pressure with a classy first run scoring 92.00, keeping him in front for the rest of the competition which is also the first Platinum-level event of the season on the AFP World Tour.
Second-placed qualifier Krief vied with Valentin for the next two places, only decided by a gutsy last run scoring 90.40, just pushing Valentin into third with 89.20.
For Rolland, it was a dream come true. “It couldn’t have worked out better for us. A French podium was a goal but we tried not to focus too much on it. I stomped my first run, which is pretty rare. Normally I have a hard time dealing with the pressure, so landing it was definitely a confidence boost. From there, I was able to alter my runs according to the competition. We couldn’t be happier to land the one, two, three.”
Rolland’s winning combination started with a left double cork 1260 mute, leading to an alley-oop flat 360 safety, a switch left 720 double Japan, a right 900 tail and a double cork 1080 mute.
The only Kiwi in the finals, Beau-James Wells, was one place ahead of Krief in the qualifiers and was always going to be a threat on his home snow.
His all-or-nothing attitude in attempting one of the halfpipe’s most difficult tricks – the unnatural rightside double cork 1260 – was a valiant effort to get into real contention and disrupt the French connection.
But today wasn’t his day, and three falls put him out of the running.
American Broby Leeds and the rest of the field pushed hard, but flat light contributed to several slips and some heavy falls, leaving the podium clear for the French, who had a well deserved win, according to head judge Lao Chazelas.
“There’s a pretty clear distinction between the podium three and the rest of the roster. Everyone outside the French team fell on their runs so that definitely played a role, but their runs were really well executed with good amplitude. We would have loved to see Beau and Lyman [Currier] land their runs since they were going so hard.”
Local Kiwi star Janina Kuzma hoped to topple US Olympic silver medallist Devin Logan in the women’s event, but like Rolland, Logan managed to land a winning score in her first run.
She scored 83.20 for her mute grab, alley-oop flat spin 540, left 540 tail, right 540 Japan, left 720 no grab, and switch alley-oop left 540.
“It feels great to win,” she said. “This is the first competition before the Northern Hemisphere season starts up so it’s awesome to put some runs down. Everyone’s killing it and putting down some solid runs.
“I added in an alley-oop flat 5 which is a new one for me so I was glad to get it in the competition atmosphere. Thankfully, I landed my first run since I fell on my second and third so I’m glad that worked out!”
It was a close contest for second and third, but Kuzma kept rival Ayana Onozuka of Japan at bay to take second with 78.20 to Onozuka’s 74.40.
Kuzma appreciated her local support. “It feels awesome to be second on my home mountain in front of my hometown crowd. I couldn’t be more proud. Everyone came out to cheer me on and my family’s here so I’m stoked.
“I’m stoked for the other girls on the podium too. We’re all trying to step it up and put down new runs. Some worked and some didn’t but I think that the top three girls ended up on the podium.”
Judge Chazelas agreed. “In the women’s event we didn’t see all that many stomped runs. There’s a clear difference between the podium and the others, but overall, the runs could have been cleaner with more solid grabs.”
Audi quattro Winter Games NZ 2015 continues tomorrow (Monday) with the IPC Alpine Adaptive Slalom Southern Hemisphere Cup races at Coronet Peak near Queenstown. 2015 dual IPC World Champion Corey Peters, and 2010 Winter Olympic gold medallist Adam Hall are expected to race for New Zealand. It is also the first day of competition in the Games’ elite mixed doubles curling tournament at Maniototo International Curling Rink in Naseby, Central Otago. Full results are available on the event website www.wintergamesnz.kiwi. The two downtown Games Villages in Queenstown and Wanaka are open daily from 3pm with live music and DJs, medal ceremonies, the Adventure Film Festival presented by GoPro and aprÃ©s ski hospitality.