#1: 2022 Winter Olympics Week 2 Recap Part 1: Result Coverage:
Hello, and welcome to Top Five Fridays, the February 18, 2022 edition! This week is absolutely packed with competitive ski news, so if that’s your cup of tea, then you’re in luck. If you consider yourself more of a coffee drinker in terms of this analogy however, it might be best to skip ahead to the edits because while your eyes might glaze over at all of our event coverage, we do have some really, really solid edits to share with you this week. Now, with the stage properly set, let’s dive in!
This week, we’re kicking things off in much the same way we did last week: with a recap of U.S. Olympic results. Unfortunately, this week was also a bit of deja vu for Mikaela Shiffrin, who’s in the midst of a career defining moment. We’ll explain our thoughts on that in just a few sentences, but first, let’s bring you up to speed. When we left off last week, Mikaela had skied out of two consecutive races which were also her top two events: the slalom and giant slalom. Following those two massive disappointments, Shiffrin picked herself up and competed in both the Super G and Downhill races. While neither are her strong suit and expectations of a podium were low, Shiffrin did finish both races, even securing 9th in the Super G. These two performances seemed to lift her spirits ahead of the Alpine Combined event, a race which combines an athlete’s times from a Downhill run and a Slalom run. In that event, Mikaela’s last chance to score an individual Olympic podium, things started out strong as she earned the 5th fastest Downhill time of the event. Noting her prowess on the slalom course, a podium finish seemed highly likely for Shiffrin. And then, she skied out of the slalom course after just 10 gates, marking her third DNF of the Olympic games. Even more shockingly, as Mikaela pointed out in post-race interviews, a ridiculous 60% of her career DNF’s have now come in Beijing. In other words, over the course of her entire career, Shiffrin has skied out of races five times. Three of those have been over the course of the past two weeks in Beijing.
That statistic right there more or less sums up our assertion that this will be a career defining moment for Shiffrin. Without being overly dramatic, this is the worst competitive stretch that Shiffrin has had in her career. At the same time, noting her current first place position in the overall FIS World Cup standings this season, it’s impossible to make claims such as “Mikaela’s lost it,” or, “her career is over.” Ultimately it’s this juxtaposition that presents immense opportunity for Shiffrin. While she’s currently experiencing the lowest of lows, the way she handles the remainder of this season could result in one of the most triumphant returns from an athlete that this sport has seen. Imagine if Shiffrin is able to put this string of losses behind her, overcome the mental battle that comes with such situations, and finishes the year with a series of wins? That, would be a story fit for Hollywood. Of course the rest of this story is yet to be written, so we’ll have to simply stay tuned to learn more. For now, check out this article from NPR that highlight’s Shiffrin's Olympic experience thus far.
Now, while Shiffrin’s story is certainly the one dominating headlines here in the U.S., there have been some additional successes for Team America that bear highlighting as well. Perhaps most noteworthy are the results from the Men’s Slopestyle competition, in which U.S. athletes Alex Hall and Nick Goepper took home the gold and silver medals respectively. There are plenty of heartwarming elements to this story, which the New York Times did well to share, but the two highlights for us are the creativity found within Hall’s run, which showcased the only switch 7 to nosepress 5 out of the table top feature, and Goepper’s podium which, while not impossible, also wasn’t the most likely outcome for this event. All in all, it was an incredible event for the U.S. team, and one well worth watching in general as a number of athletes from all countries managed to put down some impressive runs. To learn more, check out this recap from the U.S. Ski Team.
Finally, rounding out this highlight, we also want to give a quick shout out to Megan Nick who took home bronze in the Women’s Aerials event. As somewhat of a newcomer to the sport, Nick took a strategic approach to the event which ultimately resulted in a podium finish in her first OIympic games. You can read more about her story here.
#2: 2022 Winter Olympics Week 2 Recap Part 2: The Stories Behind the Games:
In other Olympic news this week, we caught a couple of peripheral stories surrounding the events. First on that list, is yet again, the story of Eileen Gu. In recent weeks, we’ve shared the story of how Eileen Gu, who grew up in California, spent her summers growing up in China, and is inarguably the best freeskier in the world, has decided to represent China in this year’s Olympics. So far, we’ve discussed the problematic side of this decision: how opting to ski for a problematic country instead of the U.S. team is a questionable look for Gu, and how it raises interesting political questions surrounding her citizenship status. We’ve also discussed Gu’s stated reason for choosing to compete for China: to inspire the millions of young girls in the country to also take up skiing as a lifelong passion. What we haven’t discussed in depth yet, are the financial reasons for Gu’s decision. This week, we’ve learned a lot more about that, thanks to an article from the Australian arm of Yahoo! News. In their report, we learn that since the start of 2021, Gu has made over $30m USD in Chinese endorsements alone. For comparison’s sake, Mikaela Shiffrin, who recently earned the most prize money on the FIS circuit, has a net worth of approximately $3m USD. In other words, in choosing to represent China, Gu has earned over 10x Shiffrin’s net worth in just one year, from just Chinese endorsements. While the debate can rage on regarding the ethics of Gu’s decision, this week’s news puts a pretty fierce end to the debate over the financial value of it. To learn more, check out the full report from Yahoo!.
The second story we want to bring you this week regarding some interesting Olympic side news is another article from Yahoo!. This time, they turned their attention to the Big Air venue, which has raised plenty of eyebrows due to what appears to be three massive nuclear towers in the background, giving the event a bit of dystopian flair. To kick things off, the article clarifies that the towers are in fact not nuclear power plant towers, but are actually cooling towers for an old steel mill. As for the venue itself, while the backdrop may give off dystopian vibes, the structure has actually been quite impressive to Olympic athletes. Being a relatively new event, urban Big Air competitions so far have been hosted on massive scaffolding structures. The venue in Beijing though, has been constructed as a permanent fixture, complete with an adjustable landing. As a result, everything from the drop in, to the jump, and even the landing zone itself has far exceeded expectations set by previous Big Air setups. While it remains to be seen how frequently the venue will be used after the games, it could be the first of many permanent venues that pop up across the world as it’s already proven its worth. To learn more about this, check out the writeup from Yahoo!.
#3: 2022 Freeride World Tour Stop #3 - Kicking Horse Recap:
Moving right along this week, we come to our third round of competitive coverage: a recap of the third stop of the 2022 Freeride World Tour. Last weekend, the athletes on the tour found themselves traveling west to British Columbia, where Kicking Horse hosted the third stop of the tour. This year, the third stop was of additional significance as it was the last stop for athletes to earn enough points to qualify for the final two stops of the tour. For the men’s division, that meant the top 11 athletes would go on to the final two events, while only the top 6 women would make the cut. As such, it was the proverbial “do or die” time for many athletes, while some athletes were already guaranteed a spot in finals. The result of that dynamic ultimately resulted in a wide range of efforts, with some athletes going all out to state their case for finals, while others played it safe to ensure full health for finals. And then, there were also some athletes who were a shoe-in for finals and absolutely sent it anyways.
One of those athletes was Freeride World Tour rookie Maxime Chabloz whose run more or less blew our minds. It was one of those runs where as it progressed, your jaw found itself closer and closer to the floor. Right off the bat, Chabloz lofted a beautiful, almost alley-oop style 270/360 safety into a pseudo-hip feature. From there, he sent a cork 720 off a windlip that most athletes 360’d or backflipped. Arguably the most show stopping feat though was a massive backflip at the bottom of his run, which ended in an outrun that required straightlining through a small patch of pine trees in which there was seemingly just one exceedingly narrow escape plan. In a sign of how great this week’s contest was, Chabloz still had to sweat out his scores as his run wasn’t exactly guaranteed a first place finish. When Chabloz entered the finishing gate, fellow FWT rookie Max Palm was on the hot seat, having put down a run that featured the second ever double backflip on the tour, as well as incredibly smooth skiing, well selected lines, and a massive drop to end the run. Interestingly enough, even that run wasn’t guaranteed to take the top spot at the time as Kristofer Turdell had also put down an insane run to temporarily claim the throne. Ultimately, it would be those three who claimed the podium, resulting in the two rookies, Maxime Chabloz and Max Palm, taking the overall highest points into the final two stops of this year’s tour.
On the women’s side, the storylines were just as interesting as it’s been two young athletes that have stolen the show in this year’s series. Dropping in second, after the snowboard men, the women had an excellent opportunity to take full advantage of a venue with countless line choices. Kicking things off in the unenviable first to drop position, was tour rookie Lily Bradley, who’d just earned her first career podium a week earlier, taking home third in Ordino-Arcalís. Despite being the first to drop, Bradley wasted no time, or space, in putting together a run that featured smooth, solid skiing, and just about as many drops and hits as she could find. As a result, she earned an 80.67, an incredibly impressive score for a first run, and ultimately a score that would hold throughout the course of the event, earning Bradley her first FWT gold medal. Following her lead were athletes Jessica Hotter and fellow rookie Olivia McNeill, who started the season with a first place finish. With the results from the third stop in, Jessica Hotter leads the women’s group in the standings, while the two rookies, Lily Bradley and Olivia McNeill are tied for second place. From here, both the men and women will have almost a full month off before reconvening in Fieberbrunn, Austria for the fourth stop of the event. To read more about the stop in Kicking Horse, check out the recap on the Freeride World Tour’s website.
#4: 2022 Kings and Queens of Corbet's Event Recap:
Finally, rounding out our competitive coverage this week is a recap of the 4th ever Kings and Queens of Corbet’s. A quick recap for those unfamiliar: The Kings and Queens of Corbet’s is one of the most unique competitions in skiing and snowboarding, and truthfully would be pretty hard to replicate anywhere else. In this event, athletes are given two chances to put down their best run through Jackson Hole’s legendary Corbet’s Couloir, with the men competing for the title of King, and women competing for Queen, regardless of whether they’re on skis or snowboards. To amplify the unique approach that this contest takes, a handful of jumps are constructed both at the entrance of the couloir as well as a park style table top at the bottom, giving athletes ample opportunity to separate themselves from their competition. Finally the event is rider judged, with awards given out a week after the contest is held.
This year, conditions for the event weren’t quite as quality as they have been in the past as a combination of variable snow and wind presented natural challenges. As such, this year’s competitors opted towards creativity when it came to dropping into the couloir, as opposed to massive airs have been the highlights in years past. Parkin Costain, for instance, opted for a clever entrance where he popped to switch, then lofted a switch 180 into the heart of the couloir. Following his lead, Blake Wilson also served up a similar entry, with the addition of a hint of butter on his 180 in. From there, he also mixed in a frontflip, backflip, and finally what looked like double cork 1440 before exploding on the landing of the money booter. Ultimately, for better or worse, that was largely the story of the day as athletes didn’t shy away from sending it on the final jump, only to be bested by the weather and conditions. Still, as a rider judged event, it’s hard to say how much these collective crashes will matter when it comes time to judge each run as the impressiveness of the attempts might just outweigh the failure to land in certain cases. To learn more about the event, click here. To watch a full replay, simply scroll down!