White, Vito corkscrew Copper Grand Prix field
Summit County correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado
COPPER MOUNTAIN, Colo. – It took nearly six hours, but after more than 150 total runs down the pipe, everything went exactly as planned in the U.S. Snowboarding Grand Prix men’s qualifying.
Or, at least, everything went as hyped.
Unveiling the new “double corkscrew” for the first time in North American competition, the final runs of the day by the final two riders in the contest – Shaun White and Louie Vito – might have displayed for everyone surrounding Copper Mountain’s superpipe Friday exactly what the future of snowboarding looks like.
Having already secured his spot in Saturday’s pipe finals, Vito unleashed back-to-back double-cork 1080s on his second run, scoring an astounding 48.6 points.
For those who weren’t there to witness it, the trick involves doing two flips while making three, full rotational spins.
Not to be outdone, White – who is credited for inventing the trick – followed Vito on the last run of the day by hitting his own pair of double-cork 1080s before finishing with a high-flying backside 1080 on his last hit. White scored a near-perfect 49.5.
“I was already in (the finals) which was all that I cared about,” Vito said afterward. “I think Shaun felt the same way, so we just wanted to step it up a notch and try to get ready for (Saturday).”
Those final two runs overshadowed what had already been an amazing day of riding. With one of the deepest fields in any snowboarding competition, the start list for Friday’s men’s heats read like a who’s-who of halfpipe riding. Combine that with the fact that Copper’s Grand Prix officially started the Olympic qualifying process, it’s easy to imagine the tension felt by riders.
“It’s crazy, I don’t think I’ve ever been as nervous for a qualifier before,” two-time X Games champ Steve Fisher said. ” … It was a really stacked heat, and there was a lot of pressure.”
Fisher, known for his smooth, high-flying style, didn’t look too affected by the moment, though. The Breckenridge competition veteran nailed his first run, which included a frontside 1080 and a cab 720. He wound up with a score of 43.3, which moved him on to the finals as the second-highest finisher in Heat 1.
“It was pretty mellow,” Fisher said of the run. ” … That’s been my approach (to qualifying) the whole time: Stick to what I have but do it big, do it smooth.”
While former Dew Tour pipe champ Danny Davis won the first heat with a score of 45.5, both Tore Holvik of Norway and Charles Reid of Canada advanced automatically to Saturday’s finals.
Only 16 riders could advance out of Friday’s heats, with the top-four finishers in each of the three heats automatically moving on. The final four riders were then taken from the next four highest scores from all heats combined.
This left a lot of the world’s top riders on the outside looking in.
Both Kevin Pearce and Mason Aguirre were unable to get out of Heat 1. And Finn Janne Korpi didn’t get an advancing score in Heat 3.
A young, up-and-coming rider was able to just squeak into the finals, though.
Summit County local Zack Black, 19, didn’t have to sit around and wait to see if he would advance. Taking off toward the end of the final heat, the Summit High grad and Team Summit alum knew he needed a big run if he wanted to move on.
“I was standing up there pretty nervous,” said Black, who’s a member of the U.S. Snowboarding Rookie Team. “Everyone was really killing it.”
Then Black, known for his unique, technical style, carved up a stellar run that included an extremely difficult switch, backside 720. His score of 41.6 was enough to earn him the 15th spot in the finals.
“It’s a stressful competition, and landing the first run of the season is great,” Black said. “(Making the finals) gives me another chance to hit a big run.”
And that’s what all 16 riders will be attempting to do Saturday, after both Vito and White showed what it’s going to take to hit the podium.
“You’ve got to go for it,” said Vito, who has his eyes on claiming one of the four Olympic team spots. “You’re not going to make the Olympic team finishing fifth. You’ve got to go for it.”
Fisher had his own, unique take on what might impress the judges Saturday.
“I’m going to go down naked,” he joked before changing his mind. “Just got to do everything bigger and better.”
Saturday’s finals, for men and women, begin at 11 a.m.
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