The QRC Winter Games NZ, fuelled by Forsyth Barr snow sports action wrapped up with a spectacular showdown in the Cardrona Superpipe today with the FIS Freeski World Cup Halfpipe Finals. Kexin Zhang of China and Birk Irving of the USA emerged as the winners.
After Mother Nature called the shots yesterday and the men’s qualifying rounds were called off due to poor visibility, it was different story this morning and qualifying took place at 8am under blue skies. 10 men from a 30-strong field then progressed to the final rounds later in the day.
With the likes of two-time reigning world champion Aaron Blunck (USA), 2018/19 halfpipe crystal globe winnerSimon D’Artois (CAN) and NZ’s own Miguel Porteous (Wanaka) in the mix it was always going to be a heavyweight battle.
Simon D’Artois left no doubt about his goals for the day, scoring a 92.60 on his first run to earn the top qualifying spot. Miguel Porteous also secured his ticket to finals on his first attempt, with an 86.80 which initially had him in second place after run one before he dropped back in to third following a stomped second run from Birk Irving (USA).
Team USA came out firing with Jaxin Hoerter, Taylor Seaton, Aaron Blunck and Lyman Currier all making the top 10 and up against a strong Canadian contingent also including Brendan Mackay and Sam McKeown for the finals.
Finals competition got underway at 11am and there was no taking easy even as the first FIS Freeski Halfpipe World Cup of the 2019/20 season.
“I’m just going to try and push it and push it and push it,” said Eileen Gu of China after landing an 88.80 on run one and initially holding the lead. She would need to do just that with her compatriot Kexin Zhang landing back to back switch 900s on her second run and taking the lead with a score of 91.00.
Eileen upped her second run, increasing her score to an 89.00 but couldn’t quite catch Kexin. Nevertheless, she was delighted by a new career best result.
“It feels incredible,” said Eileen. “This is my halfpipe world cup podium, it’s also my first halfpipe world cup ever. This is way more than I could ever have expected and I’m super happy with how I performed today.”
Russia’s Valeriya Demidova was on strong form all day, landing three solid runs for a top score of 87.80 on run three, putting her in to third place overall.
The men’s finals competition stepped up to a whole other level from the morning’s qualifying event. In the words of the USA’s Jaxin Hoerter “it’s a lot bigger than qualifying, the boys are getting sendy.”
Birk Irving set the bar with a score of 95.00 and the lead on run one but never got the chance to relax as the rest of the field threw down every run, and he had to keep pushing hard to be assured of the win. Birk’s third run was indeed his best, the judges rewarding for progressive tricks, including two double flips, huge amplitude and good execution and upping his score to 95.60.
“I’m just really excited to land that run, those are tricks I’ve wanted to do for such a long time,” said Birk. “It’s insane to put that run down today, I’m beyond words. The pipe was perfect, everything just lined up and ended up working in my favour, I couldn’t be happier.”
In the end Birk couldn’t be toppled, although Noah Bowman (CAN) gave the scoreboard a good nudge, laying down perfect back to back switch doubles and scoring 93.40 on his last run of three to finish in second.
Aaron Blunck (USA) also saved his best for last scoring 92.80 on run three for third place on the World Cup podium.
NZ’s Miguel Porteous took a heavy crash on his first run and consequently did not start his second or third runs but thankfully avoided major injury.
1: Kexin Zhang – right 720 mute, switch left 900, switch right 900, switch left 360, right 540 mute
2: Eileen Gu – right 540 tail grab, left 540 japan, right 720 safety, switch left 7 japan, left alley-oop mute
3: Valeriya Demidova – right flair safety left flair safety right 720 safety, switch right