With the season's eighth halfpipe, the two Japanese stops of the 2000/2001 Nokia Snowboard FIS World Cups were concluded today at Asahikawa and, similar to the first event here two years ago, the venue presented itself to be worth for a World Cup race.
The riders judged it to be the best pipe they have seen on the tour this season and all liked riding a lot. More than 2,500 Japanese halfpipe fans made it a fun day at Santa Present Park and although none of their riders claimed any of the podium spots, they enjoyed a contest full of pure excitement.
It was the day of the Americans with Tommy Czeschin and Gretchen Bleiler taking the wins. Czeschin had already claimed the highest score in the qualification and did the same when it came to the finals. Leading after the first run, he looked as if he still wanted to push it and although he could not improve his score in the second run, none of the others even came close.
"Japan seems to be a good place for me," Czeschin said, "I pulled third here in 1999 and I had a great time for the last two weeks. The pipe was in perfect shape and it was really good riding all day. It was nice when the sun was out all morning, but we also did not suffer from the heavy snowfall around noon because the pipe was just awesome."
Sweden's Magnus Sterner, 5th after the first run, pulled it together in the second run to finally take the silver. "I was trying to go big," he said, "and I got to grab the board on the backside hit which I had missed in the first run. It was great today and the training paid off for everyone. The Sapporo pipe was good also but training was limited, this pipe was even better and we really had the chance to try it before the competition so it was a lot of fun for everyone."
His teammate, Markus Jonsson, had a solid first run, but only ranked 7th. He pushed the amplitude in the second run and made it up to 3rd place. "I am stoked. It was great," he said. "In my first run I messed up on the first hit and was scared that the same might happen again in the second but I pulled it together, could catch the speed and worked it out. There is no way to make any plans in a competition like this - you just have to go for it."
Finishing 2nd today, Magnus Sterner made it back to the top in the standings ahead of Karlsson and German rider Jan Michaelis, who did not make it to the finals and ended up in 16th place today.
Gretchen Bleiler pulled the second half for the US double and got her first-ever World Cup win today.
"This is just great," she said, "I did not do that well in the last competition, but had fun riding today and just wanted to do the best I could, that was my motivation. I wanted to go out and give the crowd a good show. The pipe was awesome and in this kind of pipe you can go big, it is just the best feeling. I also like the fact to get to Park City now and that pipe will be good too for sure so I am really excited."
French rider Doriane Vidal had been in the lead after the first run and did not hide her disappointment when she dropped back to 2nd place. "I was glad when I kept first position after the first run," she said, "but the amplitude was the most important thing today and I was disappointed when they put her in front of me. However, I am fine since I liked my riding today and had fun."
US rider Kelly Clark took 3rd place.
Finishing 7th today, Sabine Wehr-Hasler from Germany keeps the yellow leader bib. Norwegian rider Stine Brun Kjeldaas did not race today but still sits in 2nd ahead of Lesley McKenna from Great Britain who pulled 11th today.
A lot of alpine riders went on to Hawaii today to take some days off while most of the halfpipers go straight to Park City, Utah (USA). The dress rehearsal for the 2000 Salt Lake City Olympics will take place there next week, featuring halfpipe and parallel giant slalom.
Britta Semmler, MountainZone.com Correspondent