Olympic medallists secure top spots in snowboard halfpipe qualifiers

 Kelly Clark gets airborne during the halfpipe qualifiers at the Audi quattro Winter Games NZ in Cardrona -  Getty Images

Kelly Clark gets airborne during the halfpipe qualifiers at the Audi quattro Winter Games NZ in Cardrona - Getty Images

There were no surprises when Olympic gold medallists Iouri Podladtchikov of Switzerland and USA’s Kelly Clark overcame cloudy skies and flat light to lead men and women’s qualification for the FIS Snowboard World Cup Halfpipe at Cardrona Alpine Resort today during Audi quattro Winter Games 2015.

Reigning Olympic champion Iouri Podladtchikov (SUI), known for his amplitude and style in the pipe, put down a clean first run which earned him a 92.25 and a comfortable lead over his rivals.

His run included a massive backside air leading to a frontside 9 tail, backside 5 mute, frontside 1080 tail and a cab 1080 double cork as his last trick.

Sochi halfpipe bronze medallist Taku Hiraoka from Japan, who also finished second at the Winter Games NZ back in 2013, pushed hard but could not improve on his first score of 88.50 due to a fall in the middle of his second run.

Hiraoka’s team mate Ryo Ayono closed out the top three rankings with an 81.00 on his second run, leaving only seven other riders the chance to compete in the finals.

Difficult weather conditions predicted for later in the day prompted competition officials to start the event earlier than scheduled but according to Head Judge Ola Sundequist it didn’t affect the riders but some had trouble finding their sweet spot.

“Most of the men stepped it up big time from training as they headed into the qualifiers. Some of them seemed to have a hard time, either they were getting too much speed or too little speed, or were over rotating or under rotating. Ultimately, the right guys ended up going to the finals.”

Clark leads six women to finals 

In the women’s qualification runs, 2002 Olympic gold medalist and five-time X Games Superpipe winner Kelly Clark (USA) earned her top spot thanks to a big run with stylish tricks.

Although China’s Xuetong Cai finished first at the end of heat one with a solid 90.50, Kelly pushed harder and higher in her second run, earning a 93.75 from the judges.

“I was happy to come out and land some runs this morning,” said Clark. “The name of the game in qualifiers is just to make it to finals. I’m excited to keep going from here with more technical and clean runs.”

Japanese rider Hikaru Oe squeezed out France’s Sophie Rodriguez into third with a 79.75 in her second run, beating Rodriguez by just one point.

French star Mirabelle Thovex and China’s Zhifeng Sun will also be heading to the finals, doubling each country’s chances for a spot on the podium.

“The right girls ended up on top. If the weather allows for training tomorrow, I definitely expect everyone to step it up for the finals,” said Head Judge Ola Sundequist.

Finals of the top-6 women and top-10 men are scheduled for Sunday, August 30th.

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