Telluride skier Gus Kenworthy finds fire, improves Olympic chances with slopestyle win
The Aspen Times
After a rough few days in Snowmass, Telluride freeskier Gus Kenworthy came into Sunday’s U.S.-team selection slopestyle event with a little tighter focus knowing the Team USA qualifying was coming down to the wire.
Kenworthy, who won slopestyle silver at the Sochi Games, did not advance to the finals of Thursday’s Toyota Grand Prix slope event. He made the halfpipe finals Friday but struggled and finished seventh.
He found his “head space” on his second run Sunday in a makeup event on the schedule, clearing the rails and putting together spins of 1,440 then 1,260 and finishing with a 1,080 for 95.40 points, which held through the third round.
It moves him into second in the slopestyle rankings with a win in hand. The final two slopestyle qualifiers are at Mammoth Mountain this week as well as the last pipe selection event.
“I didn’t make the finals in the first event because I messed up both of my runs,” Kenworthy said of Wednesday’s qualifier. “I think it lit a fire under my ass and I realized how much I had to step it up in the last two days (at Snowmass). I didn’t get the pipe results I was hoping for, but I did some new tricks so that was good for me but it didn’t yield the result I wanted.
“But to come in today and land the run I wanted and get on the top of the podium, it’s so much confidence going into Mammoth.”
His win kept teammate Nick Goepper from earning an official invitation to the Olympics. Had Goepper finished second behind anyone but another American he would have gotten the nomination. However, since he picked up his second podium finish, Goepper has met the objective Olympic criteria and he also sits atop the U.S. selection rankings.
“I am feeling great sitting in a really good position qualifying for the Olympics,” said Goepper, who was second at Dew Tour in December.
A half-dozen athletes left Snowmass knowing they’ve got a trip to South Korea on the schedule next month, and a number of others are in good position heading into this week’s final Team USA qualifiers.
Coming into Snowmass, only three athletes had secured a spot on Team USA with Chris Corning and Jamie Anderson in slopestyle (neither competed in Snowmass) and Chloe Kim, who finished second in Saturday’s halfpipe finals.
But joining them for sure after Snowmass are snowboarders Shaun White, Jate Pates of Eagle and Ben Ferguson in halfpipe; Silverthorne boarder Red Gerard and skier Maggie Voisin in slopestyle; and halfpipe skier David Wise.
With the American men’s ski halfpipe sweep at the Grand Prix, Wise clinched his nomination with the win, and Aspen’s Alex Ferreira and Aaron Blunck of Crested Butte made the objective Olympic criteria by getting on the podium. If Ferreira finishes first or second in Mammoth he would clinch his spot.
Aspen halfpipe skier Torin Yater-Wallace, who did not advance out of the qualifier at the Snowmass Grand Prix, is third in the U.S. Team selection rankings and remains in the mix along with Kenworthy, who is fifth in the ski pipe standings. Yater-Wallace won a qualifier event last season but still needs a second podium.
The rest of the U.S. teams will be announced soon after the Mammoth events. There are 26 overall spots on the U.S. snowboard team and 30 on the freestyle skiing team. Each discipline can have as many as four skiers or boarders, but U.S. officials can shift the numbers.
Also confirmed on the snowboard team in boardercross are Jonathan Cheever, Lindsey Jacobellis and Faye Gulini.
The Grand Prix weekend at Snowmass was punctuated by White’s perfect run Saturday to win the halfpipe and clinch his fourth trip to the Olympics.
“I’m just going to take this run I’m doing now and just build — get it bigger, better, more technical tricks. I’m so excited,” the 31-year-old White said. “Now the pressure’s kind of off and I get to train. Mammoth will be fun practice, but it’s not like everything is boiling down to the last Olympic qualifier to make the team. Man, we locked it up big time.”
Gerard, 17, also will compete in the big air event, which is making its Olympic debut. The slopestyle riders will represent in big air.
“I’m feeling good. This was a pretty fun contest,” Gerard said. “I love riding at Snowmass. They have amazing jumps and everything. It feels good that I ended the week in first.”
Since Sunday’s ski slopestyle event was not FIS-sanctioned, the field was American-heavy with five U.S. riders in the 10-man field. The women’s field was much the same, and Voisin continued her strong weekend with a second-place run Sunday. British skier Isabel Atkins, who grew up in Boston and trains in Park City, Utah, but has citizenship through her father, won Sunday’s slopestyle.