James Woods | How the British Skier Pushed 'The Best Slopestyle Competition in History'
Woodsy might not have got the result he wanted today, but in the context his performance was insane.
To misquote Radiohead, for a minute there we lost ourselves. To every Brit standing at the bottom of the slopestyle course in Pyeongchang, and I’m sure all of those watching at home, it seemed for a short while that history might be repeated.
James Woods had put down a blinding run in the men’s ski slopestyle final. Like his team mate Izzy Atkin in yesterday’s ladies’ competition, he was sitting in the bronze medal position with just a few skiers left to drop. Once again, the wait was agonising. But in the end it was not to be.
Nick Goepper of the US, always a threat on a pair of skis, came through with a run that was cleaner than Woodsy’s, landing himself in the silver medal position and bumping Woodsy into fourth.
"The switch triple cork 1440 octograb is a hammer of such magnitude it would put Mjolnir to shame."
“Fourth isn't that great, it definitely sucks," said Woodsy afterwards. “You're so close to the action." But while he was disappointed “results-wise" he was proud of the way he’d skied, and rightly so.
Woods’ run, which he’d been “constructing for a good amount of time" mixed up techy rail tricks up top (including a transfer over the goal post reminiscent of Red Gerard) with a triple cork 1440, a 12, and then his signature trick - a massive switch triple cork 1440 octograb, a hammer of such magnitude it would put Mjolnir to shame.
Having put it down once in qualifying, Woodsy then stomped the same run twice in the three-run final. But he couldn’t quite keep it clean from top to bottom. On his first run he fell on the final trick, taking a heavy blow to the chin. His second was marred by coming off a rail slightly early, and on his third he sat down slightly on the landing of a 450 out. They were minor mistakes, but enough to cost him a medal.
Of course, throwing down a run like that, Woodsy hadn’t just been going for any medal, he’d been going for gold. And he wasn’t far off. As his coach Pat Sharples said afterwards: “I know I’m probably biassed but I think if he’d landed it cleanly, he would have won."
Pat wasn’t the only one. Might the podium have looked different if Woodsy had kept it clean, we asked the gold medallist Oystein Braaten afterwards? “Yeah, I think so. It’s hard to say, but with the run he did, it was looking really good."
“It was such a good last trick, I’m bummed for Woodsy," Alex Beaulieu-Marchand, who took the bronze, agreed. “And also for the other skiers who were putting it out there." Because Woodsy wasn’t the only skier who’d tried to tear the Phoenix Park slopestyle course a new one. As Nick Goepper said afterwards, “that was the greatest skiing slopestyle competition in history." He wasn’t exaggerating either.
Woods himself had set the bar early when he landed his run in qualifying, but he’d known he would had to come out all guns blazing. “When Sharpey [Pat Sharples] brought me the startlist last night, I had a look at it and I thought 'goodness me'," he said. “It was like staring at a brick wall. Just to make it to this finals was incredible."
The field was one of the strongest ever assembled in skiing slopestyle. The course was excellent, pushing riders to be as creative as possible. And the conditions were spot on, with barely a hint of the winds which had derailed the women’s snowboard slopestyle contest earlier in the week. It was a perfect storm. One look at the heavy hitters who didn’t make it through to finals was enough to show you the quality of the skiing on display.
Swedish skier Henrik Harlaut, who’s won enough X Games silverware to sink a galleon, was one of those who fell by the wayside. His countryman Jesper Tjader didn’t make the cut either. Russ Henshaw, Jackson Wells and McCrae Williams all put down runs, but none were deemed good enough. Woodsy’s team mate Tyler Harding skied amazingly well through the rails, landing probably the techiest trick of the day with a 450-on 450-off. But without sticking his kickers there was no way he was going through.
The judges must have been relieved that qualifying was only two runs. They’d given Woods a 90.20 and the top place qualifier 95.40. It wasn’t a question of tweaking their scoring scale so much as ripping it up and starting again.
Runs that would win any other competition were dismissed out of hand. Andri Ragettli of Switzerland who had qualified through in second was given a mere 85.80. Oscar Wester, the owner of that top qualifying score, put down a run that included a massive alley-oop double rodeo 9. It was only good enough for 11th place.
“Qualification was mind-blowing and the final was two times that," was Goepper’s analysis, and Woodsy agreed. “Everybody brought their A Game," he said, “I couldn’t be prouder for freeskiing."
"Runs that would win any other competition were dismissed out of hand."
It was a sentiment that the medallists shared. As ABM said: “Today was an incredible contest for ski slopestyle, showing the world what our sport is."
Goepper said: “I’m an athlete first but I’m a super fan second. Even in training, I kept commenting to the guys on the lift, like ‘wow’."
All of which helps put Woodsy’s achievement into context. The day may not have ended with the result that he wanted. But in the best freeskiing slopestyle contest the world has ever seen, he’d given it his all, and he’d smashed it out of the park.
And seeing him standing there with blood dripping down his chin (the result of that nasty first run crash) there was no doubt in any of the spectators’ minds that the boy who grew up on Sheffield dryslope could hold his head high. He’d skied out of his skin, pushing the world’s best right to the wire, and driving the sport he loves forward in the process.