Oslo's huge Holmenkollen ski jumping arena played host to a proper, old school throwback of a snowboarding contest tonight, as the winner of the quarterpipe event at the inaugural World Snowboarding Championships was crowned in front of thousands of stoked, rowdy Norwegians.
The pre-match hype had all been about whether local legend Terje Haakonsen could best his 9.8 meter world record for highest air. Haakonsen rose to the occasion, as expected, but was pushed off the podium thanks to a strong showing from the rest of the riders -- especially eventual winner Olivier Gittler.
A quarterpipe session is about as primal as snowboarding gets. It's also probably just about the most accessible type of snowboarding comp out there too. For a start, anyone can understand it -- the "winner" is the guy who goes the highest and lands. Simple. These days, in a world where tricks are getting ever more spectacular and complicated, and working out a winning run involves complex equations of style and technicality, there's something pretty refreshing about that.
That said, the quarterpipe contest is also a bit of an anachronism. They're pretty much an endangered species among all the other contest formats that have developed over the last few years, from inner-city rail jams to backcountry spectaculars. In recent years, it's an event that has also become pretty synonymous with Haakonsen himself, thanks to his undoubted mastery of the discipline and the small matter of his 2007 world record air.
Whether large scale QP sessions like this will continue once Haakon finally retires from the competitive scene in future years is an interesting subplot. If they can be held in settings like this, there's every reason to think they will.
The crowd at the Hollmenkollen, perched spectacularly atop a hill overlooking the Norwegian capital of Oslo, certainly seemed amped on today's final. Much of this has to do with unrivalled perspective of this spectacular arena, which meant the crowd had a perfect view as the action went down. The day had begun with 19 riders before the field was whittled down to eight finalists.
The six riders joining Gittler and Haakonsen in the finals were a mix of familiar and not so familiar names: Jack Mitrani, Matt Ladley, Kim Rune Hansen, Daisuke Murakami, Daniel Josefsen and Ruiki Masuda. Each rider got five runs, with the best three counting towards their overall total. A "flow score" mark was then added to these three to give each rider's overall mark for the event.
Throughout his five runs, Gittler was the most consistent, throwing down lofty McTwists at will. He was pushed hard by Mitrani, Haakonsen, Ladley and Kim Rune Hansen -- the latter taking best trick and second place with a gutsy 5.5 meter double Michalchuck that posted the highest score of the night.
Although conditions meant Haakonsen was never likely to best his world record air, he still took the highest air of the night with a classic 7.7 meter backside air. His attempt to mix it up with a McTwist on his last run ended in a nasty looking slam that had the crowd wincing, and ended up pushing him to fifth place overall.
In the highest air stakes, Haakon was pushed by Mitrani, who hit 7.3 meters with his own super smooth backside air. Mitrani took third overall. Matt Ladley impressed everyone and nailed a lofty backside 5 on his way to fourth place.
With Olivier Gittler crowned the first World Snowboard Champion of this event, eyes now turn to tomorrow's halfpipe final. With unanimous agreement that the pipe here is just as good as it gets, and with the riders already completely killing it in practice, it should be quite a show.