ZHANGJIAKOU, China – Japan’s Kokomo Murase and Reira Iwabuchi progressed to the final of the women’s snowboard slopestyle at the Beijing Winter Olympics on Saturday, but Miyabi Onitsuka was eliminated in qualifying.
Murase, the youngest member of the Japan delegation at age 17, landed the day’s second-highest score of 81.45 points and Iwabuchi was 11th with 67.00, but Onitsuka, who put her hands down in both runs, was not among the top 12 riders who move on to Sunday’s final.
The Japanese are all slopestyle World Cup winners and all three headed to Beijing as medal contenders. Murase is competing in her first Olympics, while Iwabuchi and Onitsuka are in their second.
“It was my first Olympics so I tried to have fun in both runs,” Murase said.
“The winds made it tough, but I tried not to let that affect my run. I don’t think the wind will be as strong tomorrow so I want to get into my rhythm and aim for the podium,” she said.
Murase’s first run consisted of three impressive aerial tricks including front and backside 720s, and with 74.95 she slotted into the provisional top spot in the rankings.
Her second run, featuring a backside 900, was even better, putting her behind just New Zealand rider Zoi Sadowski-Synnott who was the top qualifier with a second-run score of 86.75.
In a clean ride over a course designed with Great Wall motifs, Sadowski-Synnott earned her best score after she successfully landed a backside 900 off the final jump.
“I was pretty stoked on that one, to put it down all the tricks together,” said the 20-year-old, who is among the favorites.
However, Sadowski-Synnott is leaving some tricks up her sleeve for the finals.
“I have got a bit more in the tank for tomorrow,” she said.
Reigning two-time gold medalist Jamie Anderson of the United States was also among the 12 athletes to advance to the finals but the 31-year-old was unhappy with her run.
Saying the course was “super challenging,” Anderson added that she was nevertheless grateful to be back on Olympic slopes.
“I felt really pissed after my last run. Such is life, highs and lows,” she said, advancing in fifth place with 74.35 points.
Air temperature at the Zhangjiakou Genting Snow Park dropped to minus 20 Celsius by the end of the first run.
The stands were half-filled by local university students waving flags emblazoned with the popular Olympics panda mascot.
Despite the shock elimination, Onitsuka, who finished 19th, will get another chance to shine in the women’s big air event, which starts Feb. 14.
She will need to put this heartbreak behind her, though.
“(My second run) didn’t go so well. Yes, it was windy and the conditions weren’t perfect, but I could have done better. I’m very disappointed,” a teary-eyed Onitsuka said.
“I worked hard for four years but this means there are still some things I’m lacking,” she said.
Murase, Iwabuchi and 10 others have advanced into the three-run final at Genting Snow Park, where the course features a snow replica of the Great Wall of China that protects the riders from the winds that whip across the course.