It’s official: Aspen skiers Yater-Wallace and Ferreira are Olympic-bound
Aspen athletes confirmed for 2018 Winter olympics
Alex Ferreira (halfpipe skiing)
Torin Yater-Wallace (halfpipe skiing)
Simi Hamilton (cross-country skiing)
Chris Corning (slopestyle/big air snowboarding)
On the bubble
Wiley Maple (alpine skiing)
Alice McKennis (alpine skiing)
Noah Hoffman (cross-country skiing)
Aspen’s Torin Yater-Wallace won the first Olympic qualifier in men’s ski halfpipe at Mammoth Mountain in February. This gave him four more chances to earn the second podium to meet the U.S. Ski Team’s objective criteria for the Pyeongchang team next month.
Turns out, getting on that second podium wasn’t so simple.
“In my mind, it was almost like, ‘this should be easy,’” Yater-Wallace said. “‘Just grab another podium.’ When in reality you kind of forget it’s obviously a top-level event and it’s never easy.”
It finally came together Friday, again in Mammoth, where Yater-Wallace took third to make the U.S. Olympic team alongside fellow Aspenite Alex Ferreira and Nevada’s David Wise. The discretionary fourth pick hadn’t been announced as of Sunday evening, but it’s expected to go to Crested Butte’s Aaron Blunck, a 2014 Olympian and the reigning X Games Aspen gold medalist.
Yater-Wallace, also a 2014 Olympian who is widely considered to be one of the best halfpipe skiers on the planet, needed every last run to make the 2018 Winter Olympics. He was a solid fifth at the Copper Grand Prix on Dec. 8, but fifth isn’t a podium. Ditto for Dew Tour in Breckenridge, where he took a strong fourth, one spot off the podium.
The hope was to have it come together at the Snowmass Grand Prix. But Yater-Wallace, fighting a lingering foot injury, failed to make it out of the Jan. 10 qualifying round.
“I was really bummed after that, and not being able to ski in front of my hometown crowd is always unfortunate,” Yater-Wallace said. “But it gave me motivation to go into this last event and put it down when I needed to. I gave my parents a little bit of a heart attack there on the third run of the last event.”
On Friday in Mammoth at the final Olympic qualifier, Yater-Wallace faced uncertainty. His first two runs of finals resulted in scores of 13 and 12.20, leading his Olympic dreams to one final run down the halfpipe.
“I was just wanting to land a run so bad. That was my pure motivation,” Yater-Wallace said. “I’m really happy to walk away from there how I did. I’m extremely thankful to have made it happen on the third run.”
His final run score of 89.20 was good for third place and his second qualifying podium. This means the 22-year-old Yater-Wallace is both nominated and confirmed for his second Olympics.
Nevada’s Wise, the reigning Olympic gold medalist, Yater-Wallace and Blunck went to the 2014 Sochi Olympics together alongside Boulder’s Lyman Currier. Blunck was seventh in Sochi, while the injury-riddled Yater-Wallace and Currier didn’t make finals.
Ferreira was the first-man out for Sochi. He left no doubt this winter, with a win at Dew Tour and second-place finishes in both Snowmass and again last week at Mammoth.
“Now I can just sleep easy. I fully went in there and clinched my spot. I didn’t leave anything up to chance,” Ferreira said. “I’m just blown away it’s actually happening. The three of us are all really good friends, and then Dave is a close friend of mine, as well. It’s crazy to go support your country with your buddies. I think that’s one of the coolest things.”
The 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea officially get underway Feb. 9, although the men’s ski halfpipe qualifiers aren’t until Feb. 20 at Phoenix Snow Park. Finals are Feb. 22, with the closing ceremony scheduled for Feb. 25.
Behind Wise, Canada’s Mike Riddle won silver and France’s Kevin Rolland bronze in 2014, the first year the discipline had been an Olympic sport. All things considered, the Americans believe they’re in position to have a strong showing in Korea.
“It started out as a prediction and it has come true in flying colors — this is the strongest team we have ever put together,” Wise said Saturday during the U.S. team’s news conference in Mammoth. “The hardest part of our job this year is done now. We made the team. It certainly wasn’t easy and it took a lot of dedication.”
Many Aspenites on the Olympic bubble
The remainder of the U.S. Olympic teams will be announced throughout the week, with the U.S. Olympic Committee expected to formally announce Team USA on Friday.
Aspen native Simi Hamilton is qualified for his third Olympics, where he ranks in the top 50 of the World Cup standings among cross-country skiing sprinters. Aspen’s Noah Hoffman, a cross-country distance specialist, is on the bubble. He was a 2014 Olympian, but hasn’t met the objective criteria.
Among the last disciplines to be announced will be the alpine teams, where Aspen’s Wiley Maple is right on the bubble, as well. Considering he wasn’t officially named to the U.S. Ski Team this winter, he’s in a good position to make his first Olympics after finishing in the points during each of his speed races over the weekend in Kitzbuehel, Austria. New Castle’s Alice McKennis, who once trained with the Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club, is also on the bubble.
Others with AVSC connections that have already clinched an Olympic team spot are Eagle’s Jake Pates in snowboard halfpipe and Summit County’s Chris Corning in snowboard slopestyle and big air.
“There was a lot of relief with knowing you made the team and you can work on training,” Corning said Saturday during the Mammoth news conference. He sat out both the Snowmass and Mammoth Grand Prix events to heal. “When you’re at each contest there is no time to train.”
Before many of these athletes go to Korea, you can watch them compete in X Games Aspen beginning Thursday at Buttermilk, including Yater-Wallace and Ferreira.
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