Chris Corning misses cut in excruciating fashion at X Games Aspen snowboard big air
Heading into Friday’s big air elimination round, Chris Corning knew the X Games Aspen big air format would be a beast. The 25-minute jam format pushes snowboarders to their limits of endurance and focus, with one rider after another hucking themselves off the 300-foot in-run and 80-foot jump.
But Friday’s qualifier, which was topped by Canadian star Max Parrot, turned out to be a challenge in a different way for Corning, the 20-year-old Silverthorne resident and American big air star.
After the 25-minute clock expired, he was up top ready for his last run ranked in sixth position. That’s the bubble spot to make it into Saturday’s primetime final. Then Japanese youngster Ryo Aizawa dropped in and surfed on the back of his board to hold onto the landing of a quad-cork 1800. That’s a massive four-inversion, five-rotation trick on the boundary of snowboarding’s progression and happens to be Corning’s best trick.
The development bumped Aizawa suddenly above Corning — and the cut line — in the X Games’ jam format, where snowboarders are scored on “overall impression” and re-ranked after every jump. In the end, Friday’s qualifiers were, in order, Parrot, Mons Roisland, Darcy Sharpe, Ryo Aizawa, Yuki Kadono and Rene Rinnekangas. Parrot led the way after easily landing a cab triple-cork 1620 a backside triple-cork 1440 and a frontside triple-cork 1440.
“The level of riding is totally insane,” Parrot said. “Our sport has been progressing so far, so much and every year I get surprised, actually. For qualifications, triples over triples, it’s almost like it was a final.”
Triple corks were one thing, but it was the quad cork that totally disrupted Friday’s qualifier. Corning, in recent years, became the first rider to land it at various competitions and on different types of jumps, including last month in the scaffolding-jump spotlight at SunTrust Park in Atlanta. Corning effectively won that baseball-stadium competition — and the 2019-20 FIS snowboard big air World Cup — with the trick.
Which brings us back to Friday. Aizawa lands the quad-cork. Corning moves down to seventh. And then, 10 seconds before he’s set to drop in for his final run, Corning’s U.S. Snowboard coaches Dave Reynolds and Mike Ramirez tell him to go for the quad cork — something Corning hoped to save for the final.
Seconds later, Corning wasn’t able to land the trick, bringing his 2020 X Games Aspen to an emotional end despite the fact that he’d landed each and every trick in the elimination round he was confident would qualify him through. He also did not advance out of Thursday’s slopestyle elimination.
For the ever-focused, ever-motivated Corning, was this more fuel to the fire to come back and win his first X Games Aspen medal next year?
“Yeah, I mean, it more just sucks,” Corning said, “cause I don’t know what to do. … Usually, when we’re at a big air comp, you have time to think about stuff and understand what you’re going to do. But, here, there’s no thinking. You’re just going. I’ve competed for so long doing it the other way that switching, that kind of thing was hard for me. But it is what it is.”
Corning entered his final run in sixth after landing a backside triple-cork 1440, a switch frontside 1260 with a nose grab and a flat-spin frontside 1440 with a melon grab. In the emotion of the moment right after the round ended, Corning was confident that was good enough to qualify through compared to the batch of tricks landed by the qualifiers just ahead of him.
But with the new X Games format, where riders aren’t awarded explicit scores, he said that made it hard to gauge just how far you are ahead or behind of competitors and just how much more you may need to do.
“It’s really hard to strategize,” Corning said. “You’re just guessing. The coaches have no idea what I should do. And I have no idea what I should do.”
As for Parrot, he wouldn’t tip his hand on what tricks he’ll try Saturday night (8 p.m., ESPN) when automatic-qualifiers Mark McMorris and Sven Thorgren join the qualifiers.
“Bigger tricks,” Parrot said. “I ain’t gonna say. I have many tricks. You’ll have to watch to see it.”
Fully aware he was in the midst of the mountain bike race of his life, Aspen’s John Gaston said he “tried to not think too far ahead” to prevent the magnitude of the moment from getting to him. He eventually finished runner-up in the iconic race.
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