Aspen’s Yater-Wallace 2nd at Grand Prix
December 6, 2014
COPPER MOUNTAIN — There was no Olympic hangover for American David Wise in the U.S. Grand Prix halfpipe finals at Copper Mountain Resort.
He picked up right where he left off in February in Sochi, claiming the top spot at the first major competition of the season.
The Winter Games halfpipe gold medalist scored a 92.4 in his first of three finals runs, which proved to be enough to hold off a competitive field of fellow Olympians.
"I would say this was the most intense competition we've ever had this early in a season," Wise said of the finals, which saw all three podium finishers scoring in the 90s. "Usually a lot of guys fall and there's a lot of mistakes. But everybody was skiing pretty solid today. If that's any indication of what Dew Tour and X Games are going to be like this year, it's going to be pretty unreal."
Aspen skier, X Games medalist and U.S. Olympic teammate Torin Yater-Wallace also christened the season with a strong start, claiming second after scoring a 91.0 in his second run.
"Starting this (season) off like this and getting a podium is like, whatever, first or second, I'm just pumped," he said. "A year ago I was in the hospital with a collapsed lung twice and broken ribs and stuff. It was miserable. Just to be skiing now a year later is so nice."
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Yater-Wallace initially suffered a punctured lung early last season as a result of an accident with needle-based muscle treatment.
Then while training for the Dew Tour finals in Breckenridge, a crash broke two of his ribs and re-punctured the lung.
Even with an injury-riddled season and a number of days in the hospital, Yater-Wallace, who was then 18, still qualified for the Olympic team as a coaches' discretionary pick.
With only about a week back in the halfpipe, however, he finished a disappointing 26th at Sochi.
Describing Friday's effort as not going 100 percent because it's still early in the season, the 19-year-old will be an early favorite for next week's Dew Tour in Breckenridge.
France's Benoit Valentin rounded out the top three in the men's finals with a 90.8.
Wise and Yater-Wallace's Olympic teammates, Coloradans Gus Kenworthy (Telluride) and Aaron Blunck (Crested Butte), finished sixth and seventh respectively.
Both mentioned injuries they were dealing with following the qualifying round.
Kenworthy, who took home a silver in slopestyle at Sochi, completed only one run in qualifiers because of a back spasm. Blunck has been dealing with a bulging disc in his back.
"The back is doing pretty good," Blunck said after Friday's competition. "It's a little bit sore, but I was able to deal with it. I'm excited to have a couple days off and then go to training. … I'm really stoked for Dew Tour."
Both Kenworthy and Blunck expect to compete next week. Kenworthy said that he'll compete in both halfpipe and slopestyle.
On the women's side, New Zealand's Janina Kuzma claimed top honors, followed by American slopestyle silver medalist Devin Logan and Japanese halfpipe bronze medalist Ayana Onozuka.
Like a number of athletes, Logan said she opted to ease back into competition and not ski too aggressively.
"I put down a good first run that I was happy with and was just kind of taking this as practice, as it's the first comp of the year," she said. "I'm just happy to get on the podium with some really good girls out there."
Logan's teammate and Sochi gold medalist Maddie Bowman opted out of the competition earlier in the week citing limited practice time and a need for rest ahead of Dew Tour.
Fellow American Brita Sigourney also decided not to participate after practicing earlier this week.
Competitors had only two or three days of practice leading up to this week's competition. Copper's superpipe, which opened last Saturday (Nov. 30), was the first halfpipe to open in North America.