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More than 50 Olympians from this month’s 2014 Sochi Games will descend on Vail next week for the annual Burton US Open Snowboarding Championships, including current and past gold medalists such as Kaitlyn Farrington, Jamie Anderson, Hannah Teter and Kelly Clark.
Conspicuously absent from this year’s start list is two-time halfpipe Olympic gold medalist and five-time defending US Open champion Shaun White, who wound up just off the podium in fourth at Sochi. Russian-born Swiss rider Iouri Podladchikov, who dethroned White for gold, also won’t be in Vail.
Sochi halfpipe bronze medalist Taku Hiraoka of Japan will ride at the US Open – the second year the event’s been held in Vail – but silver medalist Ayumu Hirano, a Ski and Snowboard Club Vail athlete from Japan, won’t compete here, according to organizers.
However, 2014 X Games superpipe gold medalist Danny Davis will compete in Vail in both halfpipe and slopestyle.
“I’m excited for the US Open,” Davis said in a press release. “It’s always fun to ride at an event that is not only just for snowboarders, but also run by snowboarders. The Open is legendary. I look forward to this event every year.”
The competition gets under way Wednesday with the semifinals of both men’s and women’s slopestyle — an event that made its debut at the 2014 Olympics but has been a part of the US Open for 12 years. All events are free and open to the public.
The first ever women’s gold medalist in slopestyle, Jamie Anderson, of Squaw Valley, Calif., will take on a deep field that also includes silver medalist Enni Rukajärvi of Finland.
On the men’s side, gold medalist Sage Kotsenburg won’t be in Vail, but silver and bronze medalists Stale Sandbech of Noway and Mark McMorris and Canada will compete in Vail.
Both men’s and women’s halfpipe semifinals begin Thursday, with Salt Lake City’s Farrington, another Ski and Snowboard Club Vail Olympic gold medalist, taking on a very deep field that includes three of the last four Olympic halfpipe gold medalists.
Teter, who won gold the 2006 Torino Winter Olympics, and Clark, the 2002 Salt Lake City gold medalist and bronze medalist at Sochi, will try to knock off the upstart Farrington. World champion Arielle Gold, of Steamboat Springs, also hopes to be in the field.
“I’m definitely not counting it out,” said Gold, 17, who crashed in training at the Sochi Games and was knocked out of the competition. “I’m doing shoulder rehab as much as I can and just trying to see if I can get there.
“I don’t want to push it and do something that could put me at risk of hurting myself even more, but I would ideally like to be able to ride just to get a little bit of redemption after the way that the Olympics went.”
Video of her training crash went viral on the web and underscored the shoddy design and condition of the halfpipe – the second straight Olympics where warm coastal weather has wreaked havoc in arguably the Games’ most telegenic event.
But Gold is already thinking about the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea, where she said a friend of hers at NBC already scoped out the venue and reported conditions should be much colder and the pipe should be in better shape. She added that Sochi showed there’s a changing of the guard in the sport, with a new wave of young riders challenging the established veterans.
“A lot of the medals, especially in snowboarding, were won by people who were at their first Olympics, like Kaitlyn Farrington, who wound up winning,” Gold said. “Lately, especially this year, it kind of feels like it’s the year of the rookie. I’ve seen so many people coming up and just really being able to push the veterans, which has been awesome to see.”
Her brother, rookie Taylor Gold, also bore the brunt of terrible pipe design and bad weather at Sochi, where practice was limited while workers tried to fix the too-narrow pipe, chewing up the bottom with excessive snowcat traffic.
“That’s what was really frustrating for me was having no practice going into the biggest event of my life,” said Taylor Gold. 20. “Maybe there will be others, maybe not, but it’s the Olympics and they need to do a better job.”
Taylor Gold ran out of room for his final trick in his final qualifying run, missing it and subsequently missing the finals.
“We barely got to figure out the pipe at all,” Taylor Gold said. “My downfall was not knowing how many hits I was going to get, which is something you learn when you’re doing your full practice run.”
He also feels confident snowboarding fans will see a much better product at the US Open in Vail, where top pipe designer Snow Park Technologies (SPT) cuts the halfpipe. SPT was not the pipe designer for the Sochi Games.
“I just want to have fun and try not worry about the pressure too much because I’ve already had a season that I wouldn’t have believed if someone told them to me before the season started,” Gold said of the Open, where he finished sixth in halfpipe last year. “So it’s kind of a bonus but I would just definitely like to come out and slay it.”
An Olympic Athlete Celebration event will take place from 6 to 7 p.m., Wednesday, March 5, at the main stage at Solaris. Open to the public and free of charge, the event will be hosted by legendary sports commentator Sal Masekela, who will welcome the Olympians to Vail and feature interviews of their experiences in Sochi. There will be giveaways, music, fireworks and more (see the full entertainment schedule at www.Burton.com/USO).
Check out live webcasts (www.Burton.com/USO) of the slopestyle semifinals on Wednesday, March 5, halfpipe semifinals on Thursday, March 6, slopestyle finals on Friday, March 7, and halfpipe finals on Saturday, March 8. And tune in to Fox Sports 2 on Friday, March 7, and Saturday, March 8, to watch the men’s and women’s finals live on TV. Here is the full TV schedule:
FOX Sports 2 Burton US Open Snowboarding Championships TV Schedule
Friday, March 7 (11:30 a.m. MT): Women’s Slopestyle Finals (live)
Friday, March 7 (2 p.m. MT): Men’s Slopestyle Finals (live)
Saturday, March 8 (2 p.m. MT): Men’s Halfpipe Finals (live)
Saturday, March 8 (4 p.m. MT): Women’s Halfpipe Finals (delayed)
For a full list of competitors, full broadcast and webcast schedules and event details, go to www.burton.com/USO and follow the action under hashtag #BurtonUSOpen.