The qualifying round for the inaugural women’s freestyle skiing halfpipe event was extremely intense and immensely competitive on Day 13 of the 2014 Winter Olympics from Sochi.
Frenchwoman Marie Martinod pulled off the top run of all the hopeful qualifiers, nailing an amazing second routine that netted her an 88.40 from the judges.
Brita Sigourney of Team USA is going to be tough to beat, as her top score of 87.00 on her first run was the second highest of all participants thus far in Sochi.
She tweeted shortly after her second run, clearly looking forward to the finals:
Welp that was fun! Now let's do it again!!!— Brita Sigourney (@britasig) February 20, 2014
Don’t discount American Maddie Bowman (85.60) or Japan’s Ayana Onozuka (83.80) either, as both stars were remarkable during their qualifying runs and could easily best their scores in the next round.
With only 12 spots available in the medal round, the 23 ladies involved weren’t afraid to pull out all the stops to impress the judges and give themselves a chance to land on the podium later in the evening.
Only the better of the two qualifying runs counts toward making the final.
Let’s take a look at how every competitor fared, note who is moving on to the medal round and recap the top performances during the qualification round of the ladies’ skiing halfpipe event.
This is the first time ever that the ski halfpipe has been considered an Olympic sport, so it’s no surprise that there was a combination of nervous jitters and monumental performances during the opening round.
Team USA’s contingent of skiers proved that they are going to be a force and likely to place at least one woman on the podium. Jason Stahl of NBC Olympics noted that each of the nation’s representatives advanced:
Sigourney appears to be the top candidate to medal at this juncture, but her three other teammates that made it to the last step of this competition will push her for that spot.
Bowman, whose best score was good for third place during qualification, told Maddie Oatman of Mother Jones that this event is much more liberating than traditional ski racing:
I was a racer before, but it felt a little too serious—a little too strict. I just kind of fell in love with the whole idea of skiing around with your friends and having fun, trying new things, and being creative. It allowed for a lot more freedom.
Skyler Wilder of NBC Olympics noted that Bowman’s parents were both pro skiers and that she is a favorite to capture gold later this Thursday:
Bowman has won gold medals in this event at the 2013 and 2014 X Games, but is just two months removed from double knee surgery. She’s in to the next round, but will need to pick it up if she’s going to top the podium in the finals.
Angeli VanLaanen is another great story for the Americans. The 28-year-old did not compete for three years due to a battle with Lyme disease, but it is now in remission and allowing her to compete at the highest level.
VanLaanen narrowly made it into the finals with a high score of 83.00, good for fifth place in the qualifiers.
However, the Americans will have some competition from Martinod, Onozuka, Canada’s Rosalind Groenewoud, Switzerland’s Virginie Faivre and more.
Stahl noted that Onozuka saved her energy in the second qualifying run, an interesting strategy:
.@AyanaOnozuka takes it easy in the pipe on her 2nd run. Her 83.80 on her 1st run should get her through to the finals.— Jason Stahl (@stahl_jason) February 20, 2014
Martinod was especially impressive during her runs, although any of these women is capable of pulling out a monster run and taking the gold in the medal round.
The 12 athletes that scored the highest in qualification have advanced and are now preparing for the finals of the ski halfpipe, which is slated to begin at 12:30 p.m. ET.
How many American competitors will reach the podium in the ski halfpipe?
It is safe to say that the cream has risen to the top and the medal round will certainly be one of the most intense competitions Sochi has seen thus far. These women are going to have to be flawless to hit the podium, and a single mistake could derail four years of hard work and preparation.
The stakes are obviously high, but these elite skiers have risen to the occasion and know that they could be bringing Olympic glory home to their country with just two more solid runs.
Make sure you tune in to watch the final round, as you won’t be disappointed.