PARK CITY — The pressure of making the Olympic team may be gone for freeskier Maddie Bowman, but the pressure of performing for her friends and family pushed her just as hard in Friday night’s U.S. Grand Prix.
“There was a different kind of pressure today,” Bowman said after winning the first of two ski halfpipe competitions at this weekend’s Visa U.S. Grand Prix with a score of 92.20. “I had a lot of friends and family out here, and I wanted to impress them, and it made it all the more fun.”
The 20-year-old was the first woman to secure her spot on the first-ever ski halfpipe team with a win last week in Colorado, but she said the goal has simply shifted to keeping her momentum as she heads into X Games and then the Sochi Olympics.
“It's pretty great,” she said of her victory on a cold, clear night at Park City Mountain Resort. “I'm happy to keep the ball rolling. I am happy to be here and just ski. I think my biggest focus was to try more stuff, push it a little bit harder and risk a little more. I just think that if I do everything right, I'll be fine. I want to keep the momentum going into X Games and the Olympics.”
French skiers Marie Martinod and Anais Caradeaux earned silver and bronze, respectively, with scores of 89.80 points for Martinod and 84.80 points for Caradeaux.
On the men’s side, France’s Kevin Rolland won the gold, while Alex Ferreira earned silver with 93.80 points. Ski halfpipe pioneer Simon Dumont, who was in fourth place in the overall standings, didn't ski. Officials said he didn't feel well and it's unclear if he'll compete Saturday night. The surprise of the night was 19-year-old Lyman Currier’s season-best 91 points that earned him bronze.
“I just learned that switch dub-10, and I was super stoked to be able to put it at the beginning of my run and put down the rest of my run afterward,” Currier said.
The battle to win a spot on the country’s first freeski team is fierce. Consider that the only athlete to earn a spot so far is David Wise, and he didn’t even earn a spot on Friday night’s podium as he finished ninth.
“It’s insane,” Currier said. “Just standing down here, being on the podium, every single person coming down can knock you off. It’s definitely nerve-wracking.”
Earlier in the day, local skier Alex Schlopy earned his first victory in three years with a win in the slopestyle competition.
“I’m just excited I finally got to put down the run I’ve been wanting to put down for the past few season,” said the 21-year-old Park City native. “I’ve had a few small injuries, a lot of weather problems the last few events, and sometimes the course just doesn’t cater to what you want to do.”
Schlopy won three major prizes in 2011 — Winter X Games Big Air Contest, 2011 Slopestyle Winter Dew Tour at Snowbasin and 2011 World Championships at Deer Valley — and then nothing after that.
“I lost motivation for a little bit, but I’m back,” he said, holding the gold pick ax that served as his trophy for winning the event that helps athletes qualify for the 2014 Olympic team. “I guess I didn’t really have a goal in mind anymore.”
Having the Olympics on the horizon provided new incentive for most athletes.
Devin Logan earned herself a spot on the Olympic team with a victory and also tried to secure a spot on halfpipe Friday night. She finished fifth in the competition, but will skip Saturday’s second slopestyle competition in hopes that focusing only on halfpipe will help her lock up her spot.
Canadian athlete Uki Tsubota said the sport being accepted into the Winter Games has made the last two seasons more intense as athletes position themselves for Olympic competition.
“The last two years have been about the Olympics,” she said.
Rolland said he’s secured his spot on the French team, but he felt for the U.S. athletes trying to earn a spot in the extremely tight men’s competition.
“That’s why it was maybe more easy for me to go tonight because I don’t have a lot of pressure,” he said. “I know already if I don’t hurt myself, I’m going to be there.”
He also loves competing in Park City’s halfpipe.
“I have some really good memories in this pipe,” he said smiling. “Because pretty much every time I compete here, I’m on the podium.”