It was all or nothing for Colorado's Gus Kenworthy, who was determined to win the AFP Championship Big Air in Whistler on Saturday or go down in the attempt.
On a slushy jump where takeoff speed was a guessing game and landings were soft and bumpy, Kenworthy landed a double corked 1620 blunt spin - four and a half rotations and two inverts - even throwing in a long mute grab to win over the judges.
Up until that point, Quebec's Vincent Gagnier held the lead with his unique double bio 1260 with optigrab - the only skier of the evening the performing the unique spinning and flipping trip. In the end the win went to Kenworthy with a 95.6, followed by Gagnier with a 94.2. Russ Henshaw of Australia landed the biggest double cork 1260 of the night to take third place with a 92.8.
Gagnier knew before the score came up that Kenworthy was going to take the lead. "Yeah, he grabbed that forever," he said.
As for his own choice of tricks, Gagnier said he always wants to do something different.
I never want to do the same trick as everyone," he said.
As for Kenworthy, it was more about landing his trick than winning.
"Definitely at the beginning of the night I through I'd try the 16 (1620) in the finals, and I did a 12 and 14 in the qualifier to build up to it," he said. He crashed on his first attempt but landed the second one cleanly to win the Chevrolet Scion valued out $22,000.
Together with his win in the Slopestyle, Kenworthy had over $30,000 in cash and prizes with the halfpipe still to come. Kenworthy is one a few athletes that competes in all of the freeski disciplines, which he says makes things challenging.
"It's definitely harder to divide your attention," he said. "Big air and slopestyle are at least similar because you're jumping, but with pipe and slopestyle you need to change your focus to get ready. "This time I haven't been in the pipe at all. I'm hoping to get in a few good training runs in the morning and hopefully that will be enough." In the women's big air, it was obvious early on that there was going to be a problem. Smaller and lighter than the men, the women we're having a tough time clearing the table and landing on the transition. Several athletes crashed, including Canada's Keltie Hansen. In the end it was all about speed, and Emma Dahlstrom elected to play it safe with a big, floating 360 that she landed cleanly. She took the win, followed by Eveline Bhend of Switzerland and Anna Segal of Australia. Bhend tried a 540 and Segal a 720, but none of the landings were clean enough to get full points for the jump.
The World Skiing Invitational/AFP Championships continue today with the superpipe event. The first qualifying heats start at 10:15 a.m. and the finals for men and women get underway at 2 p.m.
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