A beaming Scotty Lago and Louie Vito were confirmed as the second and third members of the US Olympic halfpipe squad over the weekend after performing well at the final two qualifiers in Park City, Utah. On the women’s side, the weekend’s results meant that Hannah Teter and Gretchen Bleiler, who took the Gold and Silver medals at the last Olympics are in the US team alongside Kelly Clark.
In the first of the two Park City qualifiers on Friday, Shaun White and Kelly Clark took the top spots, confirming that their selections as the first members of the men’s and women’s squad were fully justified (not that there was any real doubt in the matter!). Scotty Lago put himself in a great position, landing second behind Shaun, while the relative unknown Greg Bretz finished third. Louie Vito, despite having claimed two second places earlier in the campaign, finished a distant sixth.
When Saturday dawned, Lago finished second again (behind Mr White), putting himself firmly in the picture for the games. Meanwhile Vito’s previous finishes proved enough to grant him a spot in the squad. However, the real excitement started just behind these three, as Lago’s fellow Frends member Luke Mitrani took third place, pushing Greg Bretz down into fourth. With several good finishes under his belt already from the previous qualifiers, Mitrani now found himself tied on points with Bretz overall.
Not only that, but the veteran halfpipe rider JJ Thomas, who won the bronze medal at the 2002 Olympics, is also tied on points with these two. Thomas, who failed to make the 2006 Olympic squad, has not finished on the podium in a major halfpipe event since 2005. By his own admission the 28-year-old had all but given up on halfpipe competition and any hope of making this year’s squad. However, he now finds himself in a three-way tie that left US Olympic officials stumped. They will announce the final member of the squad today.
While the final place in the women’s team will also be announced today, it is widely expected that the spot will go to Elena Hight, who has a higher average score than the other contenders over the qualifying campaign.
Given the number of the world’s top halfpipe riders who are American, it is no exaggeration to say that getting a spot in the US squad may actually be harder than winning a medal at the games. Certainly, the slightly OTT pageantry surrounding the qualifiers suggests they are as important as the games – have a look at this weekend highlights video from US mag Snowboarder for an amusing take on the whole affair.
Overall though, the way riders have pushed the limits of progression, with Shaun White’s double McTwist 1260 as the latest example, shows that the competition for places was as fierce as the competition for medals will be. The only dampener on the whole shebang is the absence of several of the top men from the field due to injury, including Danny Davis, whose place at the games was all but assured by this run.