China’s Xuetong Cai wins women’s halfpipe finals at Burton US Open
VAIL — A Chinese athlete topped the podium for the first time ever in snowboarding’s longest-running competition, the Burton US Open, Saturday in Vail.
And with China preparing to make its debut as a winter sports haven at the 2022 Winter Olympics, the country appears to be peaking at the right moment. Xuetong Cai has been competing in snowboarding for 15 years, long before China voiced interest in hosting the Olympics.
Since then, she has seen the sport grow to a level in China where there are junior team athletes competing, a social media scene where pictures and videos of snowboarders are being shared frequently, and mountains where recreational snowboarders are a common sight.
“It’s getting there,” Cai said following her win on Saturday. “I think it’s going to get there; because of the Olympics now it’s growing, snowboarding in China, you can see it in the mountains.”
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While a win at the most historic snowboarding competition in the Burton US Open solidifies the country’s status as a serious snowboarding nation, Cai’s win isn’t the first big splash for China.
In 2018, Chinese snowboarder Jiayu Liu earned the Olympic silver medal with her impressive halfpipe performance. It was the first winter Olympics medal for China.
Liu was also at the Burton US Open this year but opted out of the competition. She said the growth of the sport since her 2018 podium finish has been surreal to see.
“It’s just getting bigger numbers, every year, all the time, and it’s not going to stop, because we have so many people in China,” she said. “All the students, all the kids, everybody goes on snow, so that’s a cool thing to see.”
YIWEIG ZHANG AND THE TRIPLE
On the men’s side, China’s Yiwei Zhang also made a name for himself at the Burton US Open in 2014, when he was the top-performing athlete in semifinals. He didn’t land a run in finals, though, finishing 10th. Zhang continued to impress in the years to come, finishing runner-up to Scotty James at the 2015 World Championships and becoming the first person to ever put a triple cork to his feet later that season.
Finnish physiotherapist Tiitu Romar has been working with the Chinese team and said the progression of the athletes has been impressive to watch. Romar said Zhang is taking some time off but has all intentions of competing at the 2022 Olympics.
Romar was busy this week in Vail nonetheless, with both Cai and up-and-coming Chinese athlete Shaotong Wu making finals.
Romar said Jiayu Liu and Xuetong Cai are inspiring a new generation of snowboarders.
“They’re both really good at helping the younger girls in the pipe,” Romar said. “They both do an awesome job supporting these younger girls.”
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The Colorado Snowsports Hall of Fame announced Wednesday it will pay tribute to Stapleton Jr. in October when he is inducted as part of its 2020 class, where he will join his father in their permanent place among Colorado’s snowsport legends.