Gagnier gagne (wins) men’s slopestyle
VAIL – Quelle surprise.In Friday’s men’s slopestyle final at the U.S. Freeskiing Open, two skiers with foreign passports took two of the three spots on the winners podium. Nineteen-year-old Charles Gagnier of Victoriaville, Quebec, in his fourth year competing in the Open, grabbed the slopestyle crown with an untouchable 92-point first run.The only American to make his way on to the podium alongside Gagnier was Park City, Utah’s Tanner Hall, whose 88.2-point second run held off Sweden’s Jon Olsson (84.2) and Aspen’s Peter Olenick (82.6).Since he was the third competitor to go out of the field of 16, Gagnier had to patiently wait through 29 runs to see if his first score would hold up for the win. Though he said he wasn’t nervous, the French Canadian uneasily chewed his fingernails in the finish corral during his long wait. “I’m just stoked about what I did,” he said after his second run. “I don’t care what happens.”He watched as Hall jumped into second place ahead of Olenick after the first run, then watched again as Olsson put down a second run that again bumped Olenick back a spot. When Hall’s last effort on course – a 76.4-point second run – wasn’t good enough to overtake the soft-spoken Gagnier, the new champ finally could relax.”I just had my run in my mind, and I just wanted to do what I had planned,” he said. “It feels real good. This is my fourth time here. I wanted to do good here.”The run that won him gold was one that displayed versatility and originality. Switch 270s up onto then off the C rail, followed by a slide down the kinked rail and then a switch jump up onto the long, orange rainbow rail began the run, and then two 720s off the first two kickers – one of which was unnatural – led into a huge switch 1080 off the bottom kicker.
Gagnier, like a number of other competitors in the field, toned down the intensity of his second run because the bottom half of the course had become shrouded in flat light and was growing increasingly faster as the temperature dropped.He was candid in evaluating the judge’s high marks of his first run.”I think I did a good score because I trick on every rail,” he said.’Hold it down’Hall could only shrug and smile in the finish corral after he remained in second following his second run – the final run of the competition.He said his first run in the finals – which included two 720s with Japans, and a switch 1080 – was one of the best runs of his life.Obviously, he said, the judges didn’t fully agree with him.”I’m glad that I could come out here and hold it down,” he said. “I had fun. I had one of the best runs of my life on that first run, and I was so stoked on that.”He said one of the reasons that he was upset with the judging was because of who was on the judging panel.”All these contests all the time, to me, they’re judged (expletive),” he said. “Especially when you’ve got snowboard judges in there that don’t know a thing about skiing. Half the panel is snowboard judges. I mean, don’t get me wrong – it’s an awesome sport and I love all of them – but, for a freeskiing event, you’ve got to have judges that ski and know what’s going on.”The Open’s competition director, Adam Comey, stood by his decision to hire International Judging Commission judges – some of whom snowboard – for four of the six spots on this year’s judging panel. The other two panel spots were filled with longtime freeskiing judges.
“Four of the (judges) are from the International Judging Commission, which is the highest-ranked winter sports judging committee out there,” Comey said. “In fact, it’s the only one out there. It’s the only committee out there that does anything in terms of developing rules and regulations for all snow sports – including both skiing and snowboarding. These guys are trained. They are snowboarders, and some of them are also skiers. They’ve judged at Superpipe Championships, X Games, Gravity Games, Global X – you name it. If there’s an event out there, they’re the judges.”Comey said he decided to switch to IJC judges this year after past years of hiring freeskiing pros, most of whom were sitting out because they were injured at the time. “They just weren’t reliable,” he said. “They didn’t show up on time, and they weren’t very dedicated.”Old guys throw downOlsson started the final with a terrible run – one that put him in second-to-last place. It might have been uglier than the aquamarine full-body suit that he was wearing. The second-run for the 22-year-old Swede was made of an entirely different material, however. Two 720s followed by a huge 900 off the last kicker moved his name almost to the top of the leaderboard.”I don’t know,” he said. “I figured I’m pretty much the oldest competitor here. I get really tired from doing this many laps.”He was one of the few competitors to have a better second run than his first. The rapidly deteriorating light conditions didn’t seem to bother him at all.”I’m used to these conditions,” he said. “In Sweden this time of year, it’s never light out. I’m used to this.”Schiller struggles
TJ Schiller, the surprise winner of last year’s slopestyle title, finished a disappointing 11th. “My performance today definitely wasn’t as good as I was hoping,” he said. “I don’t think I came as prepared as I was last time. I think I had a little bit of weight on my shoulders that I couldn’t really shrug off. I’m just hoping that I can use this as mental training so that when I go to the X Games I can throw it down.”Little big manThe biggest trick of the day came from the smallest and youngest competitor of them all. Derek Spong, a 14-year-old phenom-in-training from Seattle broke out a 1260 on his last run of the day. Yes, a 1260 – the only one thrown in the final.Said Spong, while shrugging his shoulders afterward, “My coach and I talked about it before I went.”Staff Writer Nate Peterson can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 608, or via e-mail at email@example.com.Vail, Colorado