Aspen’s Bleiler battles virus, fall to qualify in women’s superpipe
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
ASPEN ” “What’s going on with me?” Gretchen Bleiler joked Thursday as she lounged on the ground behind the Inn at Aspen, leaning against a pile of snow as she munched on saltines.
“It’s been a long few days.”
Tuesday, the Aspen native came down with a stomach virus, one that didn’t spare her mother and stepfather, either. With a competition looming, Bleiler checked into Aspen Valley Hospital.
Being sick, she said, was not an option.
“It was awful,” Bleiler added. “I was feeling way better [Wednesday], but I wanted to chill and make sure I was 100 percent.”
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After a day spent off her feet and out of the superpipe, the 27-year-old was admittedly weak but in good spirits Thursday morning as she launched her Winter X Games snowboard superpipe title defense.
Then, another setback. Bleiler attempted her trademark Crippler off the first hit on her second qualifying run, hit the deck and fell 22 feet to the base of the Buttermilk pipe. She lay, stretched out on her back for nearly 20 seconds before standing up and dusting herself off. She boarded slowly into the finish area, flashing a megawatt grin and a shrug of the shoulders to the crowd.
Bleiler had to settle for her first-run score of 84.66, good for fifth place. The top six riders in Thursday’s field of 14 advanced to Friday’s best-of-three runs final, which begins at 7:45 p.m.
“On that first run, I really held back more than I should,” Bleiler said. “The reason I did go easy was because I was riding well in practice and landed all my tricks, but didn’t land them all in a single run. And also because I haven’t eaten much, I didn’t want to take too many runs and get worn out. I just told myself ‘Let’s land a run.'”
“My goal was to go big [on my second run]. I left a little early on the Crippler and fell on my right butt cheek. I’ll be fine. These things happen all the time.”
She’ll have work to do if she is to climb the podium Friday. Torah Bright sported a gold jacket Thursday. The 27-year-old Australian might soon have the hardware to match.
Bright, last year’s runner-up, laid down a nearly flawless second run to post a score of 97.66 and nab the top qualifying spot. Vermont’s Kelly Clark (95) was second and South Lake Tahoe’s Hannah Teter (86.66) was third.
“I still had another trick to do, and I ran out of pipe,” Bright joked. “The pipe is perfect. As long as I keep my energy up and keep riding my best, I have a chance. I was definitely happy with that second run.”
Moments after Clark, the 2002 Olympic golf medalist and a five-time podium finisher at Winter X, wowed the crowd with a high-amplitude run that featured towering airs and back-to-back 720s, Bright upped the ante. After stomping a stylish 360 off the first hit, she pulled off the first of two 720s. In between, she landed a clean backside 540 and a soaring air to fakie.
Bleiler, the last to drop in, took a tumble on the ensuing run.
“Obviously it’s nice to qualify in first place, but it doesn’t really matter,” she said. “Honestly, I like going right away ” I hate waiting. This is a good thing for me. … I didn’t come close to throwing the same run I will in the final.
“I made finals, so I’m fine with that.”
Bruised backside and all, Bleiler said her malady is on the mend. An acupuncture appointment, some ice and more saltines, bananas and apple sauce should have her ready to contend for the pipe crown.
With a win, Bleiler would become the first ever to go back to back in the discipline.
“Torah has been riding better than I’ve ever seen her ride, and Kelly’s going big, as always,” she added. “The pipe is amazing, I’m in my hometown and I have the support of the entire community. I’m going to go out and do everything I have to do to give everyone a good show.”
1. Torah Bright / 97.66 / Cooma, Australia
2. Kelly Clark / 95.00 / Mount Snow, Vt.
3. Hannah Teter / 86.66 / South Lake Tahoe, Calif.
4. Ellery Hollingsworth / 85.66 / Darien, Conn.
5. Gretchen Bleiler / 84.66 / Aspen, Colo.
6. Kaitlyn Farrington / 73.66 / Bellevue, Idaho
7. Kjersti Oestgaard Buass / 73.33 / Trondheim, Norway
8. Maddy Schaffrick / 64.33 / Steamboat Springs, Colo.
9. Molly Aguirre / 62.66 / Mammoth Lakes, Calif.
10. Faye Gulini / 55.33 / Vail, Colo.
11. Leslie Glenn / 51.00 / Breckenridge, Colo.
12. Meg Pugh / 49.66 / Cottonwood Heights, Utah
13. Tricia Byrnes / 48.00 / Aspen, Colo.
14. Lizzy Beerman / 37.00 / Weston, Vt.
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Puckett was a five-time Olympian and World Cup skier