Three Americans headed to men’s slopestyle semifinals

KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia – With Shaun White skipping the men’s slopestyle event, none of the three Americans  snowboarders in the field managed to score high enough in Thursday’s qualifying round to automatically advance to the finals. Instead, all three U.S. riders — Sage Kotsenburg, Chas Guldemond and Ryan Stassel — must battle their way through a tough semifinal round.

Even though the Winter Games opening ceremony isn’t scheduled until Friday night, the Olympic competition officially kicked off a day early with the qualifying round of the men’s slopestyle, a snowboard event making its debut at these Sochi Games. Led by Canada’s Maxence Parrot, eight riders scored high enough through two runs Thursday to earn a ticket to the finals. The remaining 21 competitors must battle in a semifinal round for one of four remaining finals spots.

The semifinals are scheduled for Saturday morning at Rosa Khutor Extreme Park, with the finals slated for later in the afternoon.

Similar to the riders in the day’s first heat, several snowboarders expressed disappointment that White withdrew from the field. All three American riders say they wished there was time for the U.S. team to fill White’s spot on the slopestyle team. While many of the Olympic riders said they understood White’s decision, several said they’d prefer he remained in the slopestyle competition.

“I hope we don’t just end up with a guy who wins but everybody says, ‘but Shaun wasn’t there,’ ” said Norway’s Staale Sandbech. “That would be sad, I think. Shaun is really good in the pipe; he’s really good in the slope — but he’s not the top rider in the slope.”

Perhaps Thursday’s biggest surprise was Canada’s Mark McMorris, a gold-medal favorite who finished seventh in his heat with a score of 89.25. McMorris, who’s competing here with a broken rib, was visibly disappointed when the score was announced, surprised his triple cork didn’t have a bigger impact on the judges. “Pretty ridiculous, but it’s a judged sport. What can you do?” he said.

After steady performances Thursday morning, Kotsenburg, Guldemond and Stassel will get one day to rest and prepare for Saturday’s semis. Judges gave Parrot a 97.5 on his second of two runs for the day’s highest mark. Kotsenburg scored 86.5 and finished eighth in the day’s second heat, barely topping ninth-place Stassel, who scored 81.0. Guldemond’s 86.0 was good enough for fifth in the day’s first heat.

Kotsenburg expressed some disappointment with his score. He felt the judges didn’t appreciate some of wrinkles he added to his jumps, which included unique board grabs and tougher landings.

“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.

“I would like to just bring some new stuff to snowboarding, kind of let everyone else see there’s more stuff than spinning more and more,” he said. “There’s such thing as style. …..Not saying I have the best style, but we’re not robots. They like to see robotic tricks.”

The other riders to advance directly to the finals: Sandbech (94.5), Finland’s Peetu Piiroinen (90.75), Canada’s Sebastien Toutant (87.25), Great Britain’s Jamie Nicholls (86.75) from the first heat, and Finland’s Roope Tonteri (95.75), Sweden’s Sven Thorgren (94.25) and Norway’s Gjermund Braaten (91.25) from the second heat.

The women’s slopestyle qualifying round was scheduled for Thursday afternoon.

Rick Maese is a sports reporter for The Washington Post.
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