Female snowboarders followed in the footsteps of their male counterparts on Day 5 of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi as qualifying for the halfpipe event got underway in Russia.
Each of the riders had the best of two runs to progress through the competition. The top three from each of the two heats advanced straight to the final, while the next six from each moved on to battle it out in the semis.
Let's take a look at the results.
|8.||Sarka Pancochova||Czech Republic||66.25|
|11.||Rebecca Sinclair||New Zealand||48.25|
*qualified for final, info via NBColympics.com
Kelly Clark offered Team USA a small consolation after Shaun White's failure to medal by easing her way into the final with an excellent score of 95.00. Clark appeared appreciative of her Olympic adventure before the event, as noted on her official Twitter account:
However, medal favourite Arielle Gold didn't enjoy the same break for USA and has been forced to remove herself from the competition, per CBC:
Halfpipe: USA's Arielle Gold injured in practice, will not compete. #CBCOlympics— CBC Olympics (@CBCOlympics) February 12, 2014
At 30 years old, Clark was ominously consistent across both runs and posted a score of 92.25 before blowing that away with an improved performance during her second attempt.
Only Queralt Castellet could compete with the American hopeful, posting a score of 93.25 after her first attempt. Although the 24-year-old followed her opening-round high with 52.00, she was more than able to coast straight into the final.
Aside from this impressive duo, many of the women failed to highlight their full potential in the difficult Sochi conditions. Nobody else managed to break 80.00, let alone challenge Clark and Castellet in the upper echelons.
Sophie Rodriguez of France qualified for the final as the best of the rest with a score of 78.50. The 25-year-old, who captured a bronze medal during last year's FIS Snowboarding World Championships, will hope to close the gap during her next appearance on the snow.
China has two representatives heading into the semifinals, as Shuang Li and Zhifeng Sun sandwiched Ursina Haller of Switzerland, who finished fifth. Alexandra Duckworth follows with a score of 69.75 and will attempt to up her output across the rest of the competition.
Czech Republic's Sarka Pancochova and Australia's Stephanie Magiros complete the semifinal selection from the opening heat but should be considered outside shouts for the final on current form. Like Clark, Magiros was understandably excited before the action took place:
Living my dream today with these chicks right here in Sochi! @ Olympic HalfPipe http://t.co/Ln8umuHuZo— Steph Magiros (@stephmagiros) February 12, 2014
Australia's Torah Bright dominated the second heat, posting a best score of 93.00 to confirm her place as a medal contender in the final.
*qualified for the final, info via NBColympics.com
Despite struggling through her second run, Bright finished one point ahead of Hannah Teter, much to the delight of the Aussie support:
Torah Bright messes up her 2nd run- not that she needed it! Torah's 1st run score of 93 keeps her 1st. Final at 4:30am AEDT #GoAUS— AUS Olympic Team (@AUSOlympicTeam) February 12, 2014
With Gold's absence confirmed from the competition, much of the onus was on Teter to perform. She did so in qualifying and enters the final with two impressive scores of 90.25 and 92.00.
It is always useful to continue improving throughout the day, so Team USA will be optimistic that Teter has entered the medal run with consistent, yet beatable scores. Prior to the event, Teter was amongst those questioning the state of the halfpipe:
This is the sketchiest halfpipe finals I've seen in a long time! #SochiProblems— hannah teter (@hannahteter) February 11, 2014
Xuetong Cai of China completed the final lineup after qualifying third in the second heat with a score of 88.00. She just edged out Kaitlyn Harrington, who moves into the semis with a best run of 87.00.
Jiayu Liu was the only other rider to compete with the top four. The 21-year-old's second run of 83.50 saw her comfortably follow Harrington into the next round, but the high scores stopped there.
Mirabelle Thovex and Clemence Grimal were unable to join France teammate Rodriguez directly in the final, but qualified for the semi either side of Rana Okada of Japan, who finished seventh. Canada's Katie Tsuyuki completed the lineup with a score of 54.25.
Mercedes Nicholl, also of Canada, suffered a heavy fall during her second run, as noted by CBC's coverage:
With the finalists now confirmed, we have a clearer idea of who should come out on top in the women's halfpipe. Clark's overall form appears unbeatable right now, and she'll be extra determined to claim victory after Gold's exit from the tournament.
Bright and Castellet will certainly push Clark for the prize and will be looking to land bigger tricks in the final. As we saw with the men's competition, an extra smidgen of guts and ambition can make all the difference.
Speed has been difficult to maintain through each halfpipe event, ensuring the gold medal winner will need to utilise every inch of their strength to get the best from a difficult course.