World Cup Notes: Shiffrin 26th in Lake Louise, Corning 39th at Steamboat
Owens, Johnson, and Walczyk prep for moguls opener; Shiffrin 26th in Lake Louise downhill
The Visa Big Air men’s snowboard final will not include any American, as Red Gerard finished in 11th, one spot out of the necessary position to make the 10-person final. Five athletes from both qualifying heats will compete in Saturday’s final.
Chris Corning, and Avon resident and 2019 World Champion in the slopestyle, placed 39th. He was the seventh-best American. The Visa Big Air event is the second and final World Cup big air competition and the only big air tryout competition used in determining the U.S. Olympic slopestyle/big air team. Corning was fourth in the big air event at the 2018 Olympic Games. Team selection is determined by a combination of objective and discretionary criteria, and won’t officially be announced until Dec. 22.
According to the U.S. Ski & Snowboard Olympic Athlete Selection Procedures, “Up to the top two (2) highest ranked athletes, per gender, from the Slopestyle World Snowboarding Points List (WSPL) issued on December 22, 2021 will be nominated to the 2022 U.S. Olympic Team. Athletes must be ranked within the Top six of the rankings.”
As of Dec. 2, the top two Americans on the points list are Red Gerard (No. 2) and Dusty Henricksen (No. 3). Corning is the sixth American, ranked No. 19.
Athletes must have at least one top three finish in a designated try out event to be eligible for the objective-based third quota slot. Two slopestyle events remain on the calendar. The Winter Dew Tour on Dec. 16-18 at Copper Mountain will be Corning and others’ first opportunity to improve their status and the final tryout is the Toyota U.S. Grand Prix on Jan. 6-9 at Mammoth Mountain Ski Area. The Mammoth Mountain event is also a World Cup event, but as it is after the Dec. 22 Slopestyle World Snowboarding Points List deadline, would not impact those rankings.
Before either of those events take place, halfpipe specialists will compete at the Toyota U.S. Grand Prix halfpipe event.
Owens, Johnson, Walczyk open up World Cup season in Ruka on Dec. 4
Vail area athletes Kai Owens, Tess Johnson and Dylan Walczyk will open their 2021-22 World Cup campaigns officially in Ruka, Finland, Saturday. The event is available to stream on Peacock and Ski and Snowboard Live and begins at 7 a.m.
Owens is the youngest American mogul skier to start in a World Cup competition and earned Rookie of the Year in 2021 after finishing fourth in the overall standings. She was sixth in her first World Championships last March. She recently told U.S. Ski & Snowboard that she would “love the opportunity to compete in China, which is my birth country.”
Johnson is no stranger to early success either. Still just 21, she became the youngest ever moguls skier to be named to the U.S. team at age 14 during the 2015-16 seasons and is the youngest American freestyle athlete ever to medal in a World Championships.
According to a U.S. Ski & Snowboard report, the athletes have been fine-tuning new elements in their final three-week, on-snow prep period.
“Whether it’s a new trick or a more dynamic turn,= or faster speeds from increased strength and improved technique, each athlete is working on something here,” Matt Gnoza, head mogul coach, said to U.S. Ski & Snowboard’s Lara Carlton. “The Ruka course is an ideal training course. Lap time is quick, which gives athletes a lot of time on task.”
Walczyk has two World Cup podiums and was the top U.S. mogul finisher at last year’s world championships, where he was 10th. Despite not being named to the 2021-22 U.S. team, Walczyk opened his season in Nov. 20 at the FIS event in Idre Fjall, Sweden, where he placed fourth as the top American. Local Jesse Andringa was sixth in that event, but was not listed on the start list for Ruka.
Ski and Snowboard Club Vail moguls coach John Dowling, who started coaching the Breckenridge-born athlete when he was 12 years old, sees the talented Walcyzk as being the victim of the U.S. team’s move towards increasingly difficult age-based criteria.
“They started setting the bar lower for younger skiers and setting the bar really high for older skiers,” he said.
Apparently, the Project 2026 initiative, an age-based criteria movement across all disciplines at U.S. Ski & Snowboard, hasn’t been kind to Walcyzk.
“The bar is so high, even though he’s the best skier in terms of results and World Cup standings, he wasn’t named to the team. You could argue that he was our best skier last year and didn’t make the team,” Dowling said, referring to the fact that if dual moguls results were not considered, Walcyzk would stand atop the rankings. As it were, Americans Bradley Wilson, Nick Page, and Walczyk were eighth, ninth, and tenth in the final cup standings. Nonetheless, for Dowling, it almost feels tempting to speculate the national governing body had the 28-year-old in mind with it’s criteria.
His relationship with the U.S. team has been rocky as a result. It is unfortunate, since Dowling knows from experience just how much of a team player Walczyk is.
“He’s been a really integral part of our team since I’ve been here — 10 years.”
When he isn’t training, Walczyk helps out with the SSCV coaches and mentors younger athletes. He was present with the club at their last Bend, Oregon camp.
“I can rely on him to take a group if he’s around; I can ask things of him,” Dowling described. “He’s been a mentor for a number of athletes on our team. He’s kind of the godfather of our technical program.”
Able to demonstrate and coach, according to Dowling, he even had an impact on Tess Johnson and Kai Owens when they were just getting started.
Because World Cup starts are based off of FIS points, Walczyk is able to compete in Ruka but has to fund everything himself, including travel and support. Currently, he is paying Alex Debonville, another former pupil of Dowling, to coach him. Downing isn’t surprised at the initiative.
“He’s skiing for himself, very purely. He’s funding it, he’s doing it on his own. He’s skiing because he loves skiing and he’s a great skier,” Downing said.
Shiffrin 26th at Lake Louise World Cup downhill event
The 2018 Olympian Breezy Johnson was 2nd at the Lake Louise World Cup downhill event on Friday morning in Alberta. The speed specialist, who was fourth in the downhill overall in the shortened 2020-2021 season, finished 1.47 seconds behind Sofia Goggia of Italy and 0.07 seconds ahead of Austrian Mirjam Puchner. Goggia is the defending Olympic champion in the downhill and has won two World Cup season titles in the discipline as well.
Jacqueline Wiles was the second American, finishing in 23rd, while Mikaela Shiffrin, who won the slalom event at Killington last weekend, settled for 26th. Shiffrin appeared visibly frustrated at the finish area, shaking her head as she quickly exited the finish area.
For Johnson, the event is her fifth World Cup podium, all of which have come in the downhill event.