It was supposed to be a showcase of the best men’s halfpipe skiers in the world fighting it out for Olympic glory, but on Saturday in Beijing, it was Mother Nature who took centre stage instead.
Freezing temperatures (-32 degrees Celsius) and high winds made conditions nearly impossible for even the best in the world, and many athletes paid the price.
Gus Kenworthy, a silver medalist at the 2014 Games in Sochi, had arguably the worst fall of the day, completely crumpling as he hit the top of the halfpipe.
The former American skier, who now competes for Great Britain, was able to continue the competition and landed a solid final run to finish in eighth place. But Kenworthy knows this wasn’t the finals that anyone wanted to see.
“I think most of the main guys have scaled their runs back,” Kenworthy told reporters after the event. “The top three were so impressive, their runs were so good. But they’re not the runs that they wanted to do coming out here. Everyone has had to adapt and modify … It’s a tough, tough day to do this.”
Kenworthy was not the only one to voice displeasure when it came to the conditions, as commentators and fans were also shocked that the event was not postponed.
If the first 35 runs of the day were not enough to illustrate the dangerous position the athletes were being placed in, then the final run of the event most certainly did. Aaron Blunck crunched his head along the side of the halfpipe and was down for several minutes before finally rising to his feet. His American teammate and silver medalist in the event, David Wise, even ran up the pipe in his ski boots to check on his countryman before Blunck skied down on his own power.
For reference, the mixed alpine event, the other skiing event that was scheduled to begin later Saturday, was postponed due to the high winds.
The tough conditions also did the three Canadians who made the 12-man final no favours, as all three missed the podium. Noah Bowman finished in fourth, while Brendan Mackay and Simon D’Artois finished ninth and 10th, respectively.
Nico Porteous of New Zealand won gold with a stellar run that earned him a 93.00, just beating out Wise. American Alex Ferreira rounded out the podium and took home the bronze.
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