BONGPYEONG, South Korea — Four of the best halfpipe skiers in the world will battle for the same thing here at the Olympics, but there’s little that’s cutthroat about the days and hours leading into their competition against each other.
In fact, Aaron Blunck is sharing a room with Torin Yater-Wallace. Separated by just a wall, David Wise is sharing a room with Alex Ferreira. They eat together, ski together, kill time together. On the eve of the freestyle skiing halfpipe competition, the free-spirited, highflying bunch watched “That 70’s Show” together.
“We’re just having fun,” Ferreira said. “Just doing our thing and enjoying every second of it.”
It can be hard to separate the group, as the rest of the men’s halfpipe field could find at Thursday morning’s Olympic finals (9:30 p.m. ET Wednesday). Out of the 102 events being contested at these Winter Games, the men’s halfpipe represents the United States’ best chance at a sweep of the podium, something that no doubt excites the skiers.
“If I’m with my boys, are you kidding? It’s gonna go off.” Ferreira said.
Only three of them, of course, can fit on the podium, but all four have positioned themselves to challenge for a spot. At Tuesday’s qualifying, the Americans posted the three highest scores. Blunck led the way with a mark of 94.40, followed by Ferreira’s 92.60 and Yater-Wallace’s 89.60. Wise, who won the inaugural Olympic halfpipe event four years ago in Sochi, is probably the gold medal favorite, and he finished in eighth Tuesday with a score of 79.60.
“We don’t talk about it,” Wise said of the possibility of an all-American podium. “Would it be amazing? Absolutely. We’d be so stoked. I’m just excited to be out here skiing with the guys who push me to higher levels.”
At last month’s Winter X Games, Wise, Ferreira and Yater-Wallace finished 1-2-3 in the Superpipe event, and they skied into PyeongChang feeling good about the United States’ Olympic chances. That’s because for all four, just making the team felt like an accomplishment. The U.S. team is limited to four halfpipe skiers, and the four friends — and the larger group of talented halfpipe specialists back in the United States — have been raising the bar for each other on a weekly basis the past few seasons.
“We push each other a lot. The U.S. pipe team is definitely one of the deepest — if not the deepest — team of halfpipe skiers in the world,” Yater-Wallace said. “Let alone just making it here, which was the hardest part, all four of us going to the final would be unreal.”
That familiarity with each other and the constant training together means one good run often inspires the others. And to even reach PyeongChang — to simply make the U.S. team — they’ve all had to up their game.
“That’s what the U.S. team is trying to do, make it as rigorous as possible so we can endure all the different types of conditions and pressures,” Ferreira said.
While Wise is from Reno, Nev., the other three grew up in the Aspen, Colo., area, and they’ve all been skiing and competing with each other for years. In a way, in an individual sport, even having a shot at the podium was really a team effort.
“I definitely think there’s a little bit of competitive nature between a couple of us. But at the end of the day, we’re all super good friends,” Blunck said. “We’ve been traveling with each other since we were young. Everybody just wants each other to do well, and we want to see each other healthy and walk away with a smile on our face.”
The Americans will make up one-third of the 12-man field in the finals, and they all know they’ll have to somehow top Wise, who despite Tuesday’s score set a high bar at last month’s Winter X Games where he landed four different double corks, rotating and landing in each possible direction. Like the other Americans in the qualifying round, he left plenty of tricks in his pocket for the Olympic finals, where they’ll all be aiming for gold while also cheering on each other.
“I just hope everyone skis to their full ability and we showcase halfpipe,” Blunck said.