Bow down. Photo: Sam Mellish
Night shift: Tom Copsey, Ed Blomfield, Andrew Duthie, Sam McMahon
While the nightmare winds that have been plaguing the Phoenix Park snowboard setup didn't have quite such a spanner-in-works-throwing effect on yesterday's pipe qualifiers as it did on the women's slopestyle finals, it did effect the runs and worryingly the forecast was for more of the same for pipe finals day. Read on to see how it all played out...
First off: Hats off the the Yanks. They certainly know how to breed good pipe riders and today's finals saw all four in with a shot. You know enough about Chloe Kim and Kelly Clark (two women at opposite ends of their careers) by now, but we'd also been impressed by Maddie Mastro and Arielle Gold's runs enough to be thinking there was a chance of an all-USA podium today if the stars aligned.
"Hats off the the Yanks. They certainly know how to breed good pipe riders and today's finals saw all four in with a shot"
However, China's Liu Jiau had impressed, qualifying in second (with her Davis-esque switch backside first hit Method), and Haruna Matsumoto's consistency down the superpipe's length getting her through in third was impressive. There was also enough shown by some of the other 12 finalists to have us thinking that - while the gold medal still looked like Kim's to lose - the other podium spots were less predictable.
As with all contests, though, qualification is all about doing enough to get in the finals without dropping your best run or taking too many chances. Would the wind permit this? It was a glorious bluebird day in PyeongChang and mercifully the wind seemed to have finally relented, and when mixed with the laser shaped U-tube this made for arguably the best conditions for an Olympic pipe finals in years.
But to paraphrase the old football adage, women's pipe finals these days is a game with 12 people riding a semi tube and at the end Chloe Kim wins. Such has been her dominance the past couple of seasons that she was hands down the odds-on favourite and despite her tender years (she's still only 17) and undeniable pressure to perform, she raced to a commanding lead with her first run, pegging 93.75 to the board. It's worth remembering that she'd previously qualified for Sochi but was deemed too young to compete...
China's Liu Jiayu - word on the street is they call her Birdie - had previously held the round one top spot with a solid run (kicked off with that tasty switch Method) but you could tell that she had more to give. Enough to challenge Kim? It was doubtful, but not impossible at that time. As expected, the other Americans were looking to make a decent fist of it, with both Maddie Mastro and Arielle Gold taking a punt on a risky first hit front 10 in run 1 (neither could hold on though), and Grand Dame Kelly Clark showed she's still got gas in the tank with a trademarked lofty run including her front 10 - but with younger riders making big spins look nicer these days, would it have the same impact? After the first runs she was sat in bronze.
As run 2 got rolling some of the other girls looked like they had it in them to potentially squeeze their way on to the podium's lower platforms. Spain's Queralt Castellet certainly had it in her - she's so small but sends it so big, had the experience (and heartache) of three previous Games to fuel her, plus was flashing one of the best pipe Methods in the game - but though she got her 10 down she lost speed and vital height lower down, which will always be punished.
Shoutout must also go to French rider Mirabelle Thovex for adding some variety to proceedings. She'd clearly been a fan of Torah Bright's Vancouver runs as she was going for the back 7 switch back 3 combo as in qualis, but struggled with the landing and even when she mixed her run up for her final shot she failed to get any height.
Oh, and Chloe fell on her second run! Was that a chink in the armour someone could exploit? Liu certainly stepped her run up, but as Ed Leigh on the Beeb said "It looked like she was looking to cement silver rather than going all in to take down Kim."
- Chloe Kim (USA) - 98.25
- Liu Jiayu (CHN) - 89.75
- Arielle Gold (USA) - 85.75
- Kelly Clark (USA) - 83.50
- Cai Xuetong (CHN) - 76.50
- Haruna Matsomoto (JPN) - 70.00
- Queralt Castellet (ESP) - 67.75
- Sena Tomita (JPN) - 65.25
- Mirabelle Thovex (FRA) - 63.00
- Sophie Rodriguez (FRA) - 50.50
- Emily Arthur (AUS) - 48.25
- Maddie Mastro (USA) - 14.00
As we moved into the last roll of the dice it was Kim, Liu and Clark on the podium. But all of a sudden, Arielle Gold finally put down that big old front 10 she'd been trying and proceeded to send it clean down the length of the pipe, finishing off with a finger-licking Heave Ho. This bumped Kelly off the podium but she still had a final shot to get back there.
Unfortunately for one of the greatest, most successful pipe riders in snowboarding's history, there was not to be another medal as a succession of flat landings (how her knees dealt with them and how she kept speed we'll never know) meant though she improved it wasn't enough to get back on the podium.
By this time the only rider we thought could have a chance at messing with the lower medals was Maddie Mastro if she could put down a solid run - but she came unstuck on the first hit front 10 again and confirmed Chloe Kim as the PyeongChang 2018 women's pipe gold medallist.
Victory lap of straight airs? No chance. Kim went full send. Method, front 10, cab 10, front 9, McTwist, front 7. Great height. Great style. 98.25 points. Thank you very much and good night.
If anyone had any doubts that the 17-year-old American is in a league of her own then this just crushed them. She's simply on another level, and another Clark-like era of women's pipe dominance beckons. This, though, will be the Age of Kim.