Max Parrot about to make that jump his bitch.
Night Shift: Tom Copsey, all on his own LOLZ
After the female riders delivered an frankly mind-blowing Olympic debut for snowboarding Big Air at Pyeongchang 2018, it's now the turn of the men. With triples aplenty and rotations consistently in the 1620s (and even 1800s), forget kicking back with a beer for this one - it's a sea-sickness tablet that you'll need.
"it looks like the jump in Pyeongchang doesn't lend itself to quad corks"
Fortunately/unfortunately (delete according to preference), it looks like the jump in Pyeongchang doesn't lend itself to quad corks. That's potentially bad news for Chris Corning and Billy Morgan, both of whom have one in the tank. Max Parrot and Marcus Kleveland do too, of course, but their track record at winning big events with just triples will stand them in good stead nonetheless.
Indeed, based on recent results it's safe to assume that Max, Marcus or Mark McMorris will take this one. The field is strong throughout though, with Stale Sandbech, Seb Toots and slopestyle winner Red Gerard all amongst the likely challengers. We're also hoping that Peetu Piiroinen, the one-time god of Big Air, can show the form he did in the halfpipe and make another Olympic final.
Unlike the women's qualification, where all the ladies went in one big two-run super heat, the dudes were split into two heats for their qualis. Six dudes from each heat would advance to the finals, ensuring plenty of squeaky bum time as tickets were at a premium, and so under perfect bluebird skies, things got rolling...
QUALIFication Heat 1
There was a good mix of heavy hitters, young pretenders and long shots rolled into heat one, but it's fair to say that all eyes were on Canadian Max Parrot to see what he'd pull out of his deep wizard's sleeve. It's fair to say that he certainly didn't disappoint and, like Anna Gasser in the women's qualifiers the other day, put down a clear statement of intent that he wasn't here to wear fancy clothes and wave at cameras; he was focussed on cementing his reputation as the best Big Air rider around.
Though the much-maligned back 14 triple mute was wheeled out by a few riders (Red Gerard, Yuri Okubo and Rowan Coultas) it was impressive to see that it was not as mundanely ubiquitous as it was a couple of years back when it tended to induce mass narcolepsy at Big Air contests. Here, thankfully, there was plenty of variety to keep things interesting - the back triple 14 was still a popular choice of rotation, but Melon grabs (Chris Corning, Alberto Maffei, Rene Rinnekangas, Nicolas Huber), Japans (yes Kyle Mack!), or even the switch backside version (Michael Schaerer) kept the triple-dipping disco more interesting.
And it wasn't all about corking thrice. Some riders chose to eschew multi-dips for good old fashioned flat spins, but it was clear from the judging that spin-to-win was the name of the game here. A Cab 14 Melon from Jamie Nicholls wasn't rewarded with a number big enough to make finals, nor was Ståle Sandbech's front 14 tail, but when Niklas Mattsson stomped his sizeable landing gear down on a flat-spun back 16 mute he bagged 90 points and secured second place.
The battle for the last qualification spots was intense. Less than a point separated sixth-placed Red Gerard and Yuri Okubo in ninth to give you an idea of how close it was, and there was a sense that it was tough for the judges to separate the riders putting down 1440s without some pungent spice to set them apart. In many cases it was splitting hairs.
Perhaps the biggest shock was Ståle not making it through. He looked to build on his opening front 14 tail by sending it to the moon - the cameraman lost him he went so big - but he couldn't hold the landing and was steadily bumped down into an agonising 7th. But in positive shock news, Swiss young buck Michael Scharer putting down a switch back 14 triple mute to make it through was great to see, as was Mattsson finally making one count to nab the second highest score of the heat.
What was in no doubt, however, is that from this showing Max Parrot has to be odds-on favourite to win gold. He stomped the bejesus out of two front double 1440 Mutes without appearing to break a sweat. There's certainly more to come from the Canadian in the finals.
QUALIFICATION HEAT 2
Heat 2 had the remainder of the hotly-tipped Canadian contingent - Mark McMorris, Seb Toutant and Tyler Nicholson - but it was to be the on-fire Garlos Garcia Knight from NZ who came out swinging hardest in this qualification session. Not only that, there were some crazy high scores being thrown around in round 1, some less-hyped riders making the cut, and some early baths for some pre-event podium picks.
We lost the stream for the best part of the first runs (we've have now caught up thanks to the magical rewind button), so were watching the live score ticker. Quickly it was clear we were missing something special. Carlos Garcia Knight - 88.75. Torgeir Bergrem - 94.25. Seb Toutant - 91. Jonas Boesiger - 96. WTF?! We had no idea what these scores were rewarding and cursed German internet vigorously. When we caught up we found CGK had put down a switch backside 16 mute with the slightest of handdrags, Bergrem a monster, textbook back 16, Toots a Cab 16 triple and young Swissman Boesiger a backside triple cork 16 mute, and ultra deep to boot.
It was full on bonkers boarding, and once again showed that the judges are happy to dish out big scores for flat spins, if the rotations enter the renaissance era of 1620 or higher. After the first round of exchanges it was Billy Morgan sat on the bubble, but with the likes of Marcus Kleveland, Peetu Piiroinen and Tyler Nicholson yet to fully open it up it was a worrying place to be going in to round 2.
But, as with compatriot Ståle Sandbech in the earlier heat, the hotly tipped Kleveland had a shocker on this second run, sitting down on a back 16 and with that his time at the Olympics was ended. Torgeir and Boesiger - both either confident that they'd qualified or aware they hadn't anything more in the tank to one-up their previous efforts - treated us with some style (Torgeir in the shape of his sexual switch back 5 Method, Jonas with a Swiss style Method), but others who hadn't hit the mid-90s knew they needed to turn it up to book their finals spots.
CGK, as he's done throughout these Games, showed he's got more than what it takes to dine at snowboarding's top table by sending his switch back 16 to the moon, grabbing till 12 and stomping deep into the landing. It would net him 97.5 points and qualify him in first place. McMorris, sat on an 89 for a front triple 14, dropped in fakie for a switch back 16 that had a whiff of the multi-corkage and was good enough to bump him up to 95.75 and secure his spot. A sit down on the landing trying to improve his Cab 16 triple meant Seb Toutant would stay on 91 points, but it would prove enough.
The last of the six final tickets, despite late rallys from Peetu, Nicholson and an 1800 attempt by Vlad Khadarin, was claimed by Billy Morgan, who put down a bigger, cleaner version of his back 14 triple nose to earn 90.5 points and secure the final place. And with that, Saturday morning's finallists were all decided.
Women's Big Air finals are next on the agenda, so we'll see you at some stupid early time on Friday morning for those!