Frestylists seal fate in last Olympic qualifier
LAKE PLACID, N.Y. – You knew Deer Valley was going to be a tough act to follow, but the Nature Valley Freestyle Cup in this two-time Olympic village got an assist over the weekend since it was the final Olympic qualifying World Cup for U.S. aerialists and moguls skiers.
A podium was a dead-certain ticket to the Olympics. No podium was a recipe for heartburn. The supply of heartburn greatly exceeded the demand. It probably should have been called The Tums Freestyle Cup.
When things finally wrapped up Sunday, and U.S. coaches and staff got to work on their final calculations – with the Olympic freestyle team set to be announced today at Deer Valley, a couple of things were clear:
– Jillian Vogtli, who moved to Park City a decade ago after graduating from college so she could get started skiing moguls, has a beat-the-deadline that so many late-filing taxpayers will appreciate: If God didn’t want us to use the deadline, She wouldn’t have invented it.
Four years ago, Vogtli came to Lake Placid and grabbed her first World Cup podium, finishing third in the last Olympic qualifying contest. This time, Vogtli came to Lake Placid and grabbed her second Olympic berth, finishing third in the last Olympic qualifying contest.
– Canadian aerialists will be a force to be reckoned with. They clogged the aerials competition Sunday, going 1-2-4-5. And Ryan Blais, the guy who won, didn’t qualify for the Olympic team! "Speedy" Peterson broke up the assault, finishing third – and might have won it all if he hadn’t "thrown a shoe," losing a ski as he landed what’s becoming his signature jump, the five-twist, triple-flip "Hurricane," which he plans to land at the Olympics next month in Torino.
– Is Kari Traa, the 2002 Olympic and 2003 world and coupla-time World Cup moguls champion, back? Looks like it. She pinned World Cup leader Jenn Heil’s ears back Sunday in the bumps final at Whiteface (with Vogtli third), and has shown signs she will be a mighty force under the lights Feb. 11 in Sauze d’Oulx.
– Men’s moguls again figures to be a three-way shootout among the Yanks, the Finns and the Canadians, particularly Alexandre Bilodeau. And probably Aussie Dale Begg-Smith, who won both ends of the Nature Valley doubleheader at Whiteface to take the World Cup points lead.
While there was plenty of jubilation Sunday when some athletes saw they’d made the Olympic team – everyone does the math and you needed a podium or two top-5s to be seriously considered, the flip side of that wide-smiles coin is the pain and heartache felt by the ones who didn’t make it.
Park City’s Nate Roberts won the moguls world championship last March in Finland and he was delighted gal-pal Vogtli got her second Olympic spot…but he was understandably bummed that he won’t be among those introduced at Deer Valley. His two sixth-place finishes didn’t overtake Travis Cabral, who crashed Sunday but already had a fourth and two fifths in the bank.
Likewise, Luke Westerlund, a Parkite in recent years, was one of the most creative bumps runners when his knees allowed him to ski, but he couldn’t find the magic this season.
When Peterson won, Ryan St. Onge won, and Olympic medalists Eric Bergoust (1998 gold) and Joe Pack (’02 silver) each reached the podium over Labor Day in the season opener in Australia, it seemed obvious the women’s aerials group could have just two athletes in Torino. Emily Cook – whose compelling recovery from her feet-shattering accident four years ago is a well-documented tale – won the Olympic Trials wild card Dec. 30 and filled one of those slots…and Jana Lindsey was the only other woman to have a pair of top-5s.
Saturday, the women got in one round of aerials and it was to be the qualifying round. But the winds began to gust more mightily and the guys never got a chance until the next day. Officials declared the women’s qualifying round to be the official results, so Evelyne Leu of Switzerland won with Canadian Amber Peterson and Russian Anna Zukal tied for second place. No U.S. women would have moved through to finals; Kate Reed in 13th place was the top American.
Friday was the first of the two moguls competitions. Michelle Roark, who has punched her ticket to Torino when she won during the Chevrolet Freestyle International at Deer Valley a week earlier, won again and said she hoped she could maintain her momentum through Feb. 11. Canadian Stephanie St. Pierre was second with Traa third; Shannon Bahrke was fifth.
Begg-Smith topped the men’s list with Alexandre Bilodeau of Canada in second place and Dawson third and Cabral fourth.
Normally, January includes two World Cup stops in Canada and two in the USA; this season, the second Canadian stop was scrubbed and the tour headed back to Europe for a couple of competitions and then final tune-up camps before the Olympics open Feb. 10. NBC and its affiliates will be broadcasting over 400 hours of coverage from Torino.
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