PYEONGCHANG, SOUTH KOREA – Norwegian and Canadian teams dominated qualification for the men’s snowboard slopestyle final on Saturday with both nations having all four of their athletes qualify for Sunday’s final.
Canada’s Max Parrot emerged as the highest scorer during the qualification, which sees each athlete have two attempts to register the highest possible score, with the competitor’s best run counting as their qualification score. The top six boarders from each heat then progress to Sunday’s final.
The event started almost 40 minutes late due to a ‘technical maintenance’ issue. However, the competitors did not seem concerned by the delay or the foggy conditions as they produced some stunning runs across the slope, featuring three rails at the start before three jumps.
Norway’s Marcus Kleveland, ranked No. 1 in the world and fresh off the back of Winter X Games gold last month, wowed fans with a backside 1440 mute grab on the way to a score of 83.71 in the first run.
The 18-year-old qualified in first place from heat one, leading a strong Norwegian contingent and said the spirit in the camp had been great coming into the event.
“It is definitely good to get the whole crew in,” he told reporters after his second run. “We have been having a good time at the village and had some really good days of practice. We are just having fun.”
Neither of Japan’s young medal hopes was able to make the grade.
On his 16th birthday, Hiroaki Kunitake was unable to unwrap a clean run. A heavy crash on the second jump in his first attempt and a messy landing on the same jump in his second left him with no chance of qualifying from his first Olympic adventure.
It looked like Yuri Okubo might go the same way until his second run. The 17-year-old linked together a clean top rails section with a big switch backside 1260, frontside cork 1080 and a backside 1440, but the judges deemed the run worth just 75.05 points, only good enough for eighth best in his heat.
“I don’t know why, but my body felt stiff during my first run. I’m still lacking everything that’s needed (to win) — technique, physique and luck,” said Okubo.
Sochi silver medalist Staale Sandbech joined the three Norwegians who qualified from heat one with a solid showing in the second heat, scoring 82.13 to qualify in fourth place.
However, it was Canada’s Parrot who secured the highest scoring run of the second heat. The 23-year-old produced two spectacular runs, the highest-scoring of which was graded 87.36 by the judges.
Compatriot Mark McMorris pushed Parrot all the way, qualifying with the second highest score from heat two.
The 24-year-old bronze medalist from Sochi admitted that the pair push each other to greater things and will be competing hard in the final.
“We feed off each other for sure. When he does good then I want to do good and I am sure it is vice versa for him,” McMorris said after the event.
Team USA’s Redmond Gerard qualified in third place from the second heat and will be the sole American representative in the final.
Kiwi Garcia Knight, who saw his compatriot Tiarn Collins pull out through injury on the eve of qualification, produced an impressive first run, scoring 80.10 to qualifying in second place from the first heat.
Canada’s Sebastien Toutant qualified in third.
The biggest turnaround in heat one came after Sweden’s Niklas Mattsson suffered a heavy fall on the knuckle of the final jump of his first run.
He gave the fans a thumbs up on landing and responded with a score of 73.53 in his second run to qualify in sixth place.
There was a very worrying moment for fellow Swede Mans Hedberg, who crashed on the final feature.
Hedberg wobbled as he got to his feet and then could be seen beating the ground in frustration as he received medical attention. The 24-year-old was taken away for further examination in a neck brace.
Early last year Hedberg broke his neck before having surgery but it could not be determined at that stage if it was a recurrence of that injury.
A highly noticeable aspect of qualifying was the different approaches taken by the various riders, particularly on the “kiwa” feature, based on the shape of traditional Korean roof design which would have made the scoring very challenging for the nine judges.
The 12 qualifying athletes return to the slopes on Sunday for the final.