Onboard editor in chief Danny Burrows was on the ground at Cypress Mountain to watch the women's pipe contest and fired this report over the wire...
Torah Bright did Australia proud yesterday by winning gold in the women’s halfpipe contest at Cypress Mountain, beating what was perhaps the strongest
field of female pipe rippers yet seen in a women’s contest.
By placing first in the qualifications Torah secured a place in the finals along with previous Olympic medalists Kelly Clark and Hannah Teter, X Games
winner Gretchen Bleiler and two relatively unknown riders Sun Zhifeng and the Spaniard Queralt Castellet.
Sun and her Chinese teammate Jiayu Liu are part of a select group of former martial artists and gymnasts who were plucked from state run sports schools
to ride snowboards five years ago. That said, their riding certainly doesn’t look forced, combining amplitude with tight spins, solid grabs and ample servings of style.
Joining the six riders who qualified for the finals would be the top six women from the semis. 17 year-old Liu stuck an amazing first run that secured her an early lead which was not broken until the second round when Australian Holly Crawford blazed an incredible run that included sweet sevens with plenty of amplitude. The US rider Elena Hight, who was the first girl to land a 9 in competition, was also riding well, opening her run with a huge 9 that would also earn her a spot in the finals. The girls to proceed to the finals were Crawford, Liu, Mercedes Nicoll, Hight, Sophie Rodriguez and Ursina Haller.
Perhaps the saddest story of this competition was that of Queralt Castellet who had placed second in the qualifying rounds and on the night was perhaps
Torah’s greatest challenge for gold. Just before the semis, while practicing, she caught an edge on her final 5 and knocked herself out for over a minute. Once she had regained consciousness she wanted to carry on but race officials insisted that she was taken to hospital for observation. Apparently she was so annoyed that she managed to make the ambulance drive back to the contest site before eventually succumbing to reason.
Torah’s lead going into the finals came crashing down when she overcooked a switch back 7 on her second hit leaving the top three spots in the hands of Teter, Liu and Rodriguez of France whose run included an opening 9 and back to back 7s and 5s. Kelly Clark, Hight, Haller and Bleiller also fell leaving them with much work to be done in their second run.
Now in last place the pressure was on Torah to perform. And she did: Back 3, switch 7 mctwist, back 5, air to fakie and then a final cork cab 7 to close. The crowd went wild as, with a look of disbelief, she came to a halt at the base of the pipe. This was now the run that everyone would have to chase. Bleiler blew her chances of a medal on the coping as did Hight who was unable to finish a run in which she spun back to back nines, while Kelly Clark put in a final run which put her into bronze just behind Teter with 6 riders to go. Rodgriguez went for a 10 on her first hit, which would have been a first in women’s pipe, but went down hard leaving Liu to make her play for a medal and Teter, who was already in second behind Tora, still wanting gold.
Liu who came through the semis in second place had been riding hard all night and was certainly a challenge to the top three. Unfortunately, a fault on the flat cost her speed in a run that would have certainly earned her silver but left her in fourth. Teter was the final challenger to Torah’s score of 45 and you could have
heard a pin drop as she dropped in. Her Method, front 9, back 5, front 3, cab 7 and frontside air weren’t enough though and the stadium erupted to shouts of “Aussi, Aussi, Aussi! Oi, Oi, Oi!" as a score of 42.4 flashed up on the board.
Torah would be the first Australian in history to win gold at the Winter Olympics. It was expected that she might pull her double cork in the contest – she was the only contestant to have them – but in the end her style and amplitude and ample bag of tricks were enough to secure her the most sought after medal.
Congratulations to all!