Slopestyle snowboarding is one of the most exciting and perilous events in the Winter Olympics. When major medal contender and one of the brightest stars of the sport, Shaun White, defected from the event on Tuesday, the event became arguably more intriguing.
Slopestyle is a new addition to the Winter Games and brings a modern twist to some of the more traditional snow sports of the Olympics. In slopestyle, the athletes compete over a difficult, downhill course which contains jumps, rails and quarter pipes. Deadspin reports that the course for the Olympic debut has been cited by contenders as being particularly treacherous.
On Thursday morning, eight contenders advanced to the finals. Only four spots remain and 21 riders will compete on Saturday to determine who will move on and try to achieve a place in Olympic history.
There are many ways to stay on top of all of the action from the slope. Here are the ways you can watch.
12:30 a.m. ET, Men's Semifinals
3:45 a.m. ET, Men's final/medal round
Full coverage of the men's semifinals and medal rounds will be broadcast on tape delay on NBC Primetime at 8 p.m. EST on Feb. 8.
Live streams will be available on www.nbcolympics.com.
The medal race became increasingly more interesting with the last-minute absence of Shaun White leaving the field open to dark horse riders.
In the first heat of the semifinals, it was clear that the course was going to be a difficult, demanding one and that no one was guaranteed a spot in the finals.
Norway's Staale Sandbench topped the first heat with Peetu Pirroinen (Finland), Sebastien Toutant (Canada) and Jamie Nicholls (Great Britain) rounding out the qualifying spots behind him. In the second heat, the popular Max Parrot (Canada) notched the top spot over Finland's Roope Tonteri, Sven Thorgren (Sweden) and Gjermund Braaten (Norway).
The contenders from Team USA did not fare so well. Chas Guldemond turned in the best showing with a fifth-place finish while his comrades, Sage Kotsenburg and Ryan Stassel wound up eighth and ninth respectively.
With no Olympic history to go upon, so far slopestyle snowboarding is making a name for itself as a must-watch event.
How safe is this course?
There is no denying that any professional sport comes with physical risk, but the slopestyle course at the Sochi Games has been criticized as being overly daunting. With two top snowboarders, Shaun White and Norway's Torstein Horgmo, both already out of the event, the course itself may be the biggest obstacle these athletes face.
Will Max Parrot deliver on the trash talking?
Shortly after White's defection became public, Canada's Max Parrot took to Twitter to voice his opinion. "He's scared," said Parrot in a tweet, captured by Sports Illustrated, before he later took it down. So far, he has proven that he is as fearless as he is talented and conquered the course strongly in the opening heat.
Will Mark McMorris fall short of gold medal hopes?
Mark McMorris, representing Canada, appeared to be a top contender heading into the first round. But he failed to qualify for the finals and will get a second chance on Saturday. His teammates, however, put on a strong showing for their country and unless he can improve in his second chance, they may be carrying Canada's hope for a medal.
Though he failed in the first heat and it is doubtful he is anywhere near 100 percent physically after fracturing his ribs at the X Games, he still remains a top medal contender. After a poor performance in the first round, he may show improvement second time out and is always a force to be reckoned with.
The disappointment was palpable when none of the remaining athletes for Team USA managed to qualify for the finals in the first round. Kotsenburg, in particular, expressed some dissatisfaction with the scoring in an interview with the Washington Post.
“It just sucks when the tricks that people have been doing for two or three years are still being rewarded more than this new stuff,” he said.
Known for his avant-garde style, the 20-year-old athlete is making his Olympic debut. If he can rein in his need to push the boundaries, he has the solid skill set the judges are looking for and has the sheer talent to compete with anyone in this event. He will go into this round with something to prove.
Seppe Smits has already made history by becoming the first ever Belgian snowboarder to compete at the Olympics. On Thursday morning, he was a quarter of a point away from making it to the finals. If he can replicate that sharp, precise round again he could be on his way to being the first ever Belgian snowboarder to medal at the Winter Games.
Guldemond may be Team USA's strongest hope here and his more traditional style seemed to be rewarded by the judges over his teammate, the revolutionary Sage Kotsenburg. His fifth-place finish in the first heat of the semifinals meant he narrowly missed an automatic berth in the finals and he should move forward off of that effort.
Representing Great Britain, Billy Morgan kicked off the Sochi Olympics in style with a solid run in the first heat of the semifinals. Though it was not quite good enough to land him in the finals, it was an encouraging performance and he may be flying under the radar.
Slopestyle snowboarding has made its inaugural Olympic appearance a memorable one from the beginning. The field looks to be loaded from top to bottom in the medal round. Only four athletes will move on from the second round of semifinals to compete for a coveted medal and the stakes are high.
Providing he can improve off of a disappointing first run, Mark McMorris remains a favorite to earn a medal. He is one of the top slopestyle athletes in the sport and is showing his heart at the Olympics persevering through a significant rib injury.
From the first round of semifinals, the top contenders are Canada's Max Parrot and his teammate Sebastien Toutant.
My medal predictions are:
Mark Morris - Gold
Max Parrot - Silver
Sage Kotsenburg - Bronze