Night Shift: Tom Copsey

Slopestyle may still be new to snowboarding (complete with teething problems), but no Olympian event is as wet-behind-the-ears as Big Air.

Of course, outside of the five-ring cycle, there have been Big Air comps since the first snowboarders realised that jumping off the biggest thing they could find would probably get them laid. Events like the X Games and Air + Style were born, and it's now a staple of the contest circuit.

Frustratingly, however, women's Big Air spent several years in the wilderness. Both of the aforementioned blue riband events neglected to run a women's division - a bad move in itself, but one that also had a detrimental effect on slopestyle, as traditionally the big tricks from that event are honed in Big Air first.

"Women's Big Air spent several years in the wilderness"

Whatever you think of the IOC, it was only when they started sniffing around for new, 'youth-friendly' events that the FIS tour jump-started women's Big Air. Eventually -

and belatedly - X Games and A+S followed suit.

Sure enough, the increase in elite events has done wonders for the overall standard, with double corks becoming the order of the day in just a short few years. Austria's Anna Gasser has emerged as the dominant force in Big Air, showing a consistency that plays very well in the 'three jumps, best two count, must be spun in different directions' format.

There's a pack around her, though, that are all capable of having a say in matters, including Laurie Blouin, Hailey Langland, Spencer O'Brien and recent slopestyle winner Jamie Anderson.

After the disappointment of the earlier event, the riders know that this has the potential to be the showcase they deserve. We'd expected to see them go all in, and they didn't disappoint...

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QUALIFIcation

Outside of the riders' social media noise, this was the first time we were given a look at the inaugural Olympic Big Air jump and it looked... well, more Medium Air than some of the beasts we've seen at other contests. Word from the riders was that it was in good shape, though, and with bluebird skies and the occasional puff of wind (nothing like the shitshow women's slopestyle finals, mind) the women's qualifications got things started on this new Olympic discipline.

The qualis was set up to be a two jump format with the best score counting and the top 12 advancing to Friday's finals - no 'must spin different ways', no 'tech jump/style jump', no 'third bite at the pie'; the girls knew what they needed to do and it was interesting to see how they played it.

The field seemed split between riders who knew the field they were up against and threw their best shots in run 1, and those higher up the ladder who approached it by posting a safety run first, to follow up by opening up the throttle in run 2.

After a few back, Cab and front 7s were put down, scoring in the high-60s to low-70s, it was the USA's Julia Marino who got the double disco started - her Cab double underflip (more flipped than corked) was stomped and netted her 83.75 and an early lead. It was clear that to make the finals you'd need to either go upside down twice, or pull off something special in the flat spin departmenr. Jamie Anderson - only a recent inductee to the cult of doubling - had a bite at one, but fell leaving her in the unfamiliar position of having it all to do on the second run.

Then came Anna Gasser who, unsurprisingly, Cab doubled her way into first. A safety trick for her, certainly, but it was good enough for 88.25 points and first place at that point. Hot on Gasser's heels, though, came slopestyle silver medalist Laurie Blouin who pulled the same trick with a bit more corkage, a longer grab and a deeper send to leapfrog the Austrian.

Outside of the double crew, there were some riders showing that a good old flat spin can still curry favour with the judges. Japan's Reira Iwabuchi span Cab 9, her compatriot Yuka Fujomora stomped a back 9 and Norwegian Silje Norendal also went Cab 9 to settle into the upper end of the ranking after run 1. Props must also go to Jessika Jenson who had a finger-licking Travis Parker-esque back 7 late cork, and 16-year-old Zoi Sadowski Synnott who went deep on a double backie.

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  1. Anna Gasser (AUT) - 98.00
  2. Yuka Fujimori (JPN) - 94.25
  3. Reira Iwabuchi (JPN) - 92.75
  4. Laurie Blouin (CAN) - 92.25
  5. Zoi Sadowski Synnott (NZL) - 92.00
  6. Jamie Anderson (CHN) - 90.00
  7. Miyabi Onitsuka (JPN) - 86.50
  8. Sina Candrian (CH) - 86.00
  9. Julia Marino (USA) - 85.25
  10. Silje Norendal (NOR) - 77.50
  11. Spencer O'Brien (CAN) - 76.75
  12. Jessika Jenson (USA) - 76.25

As the second run kicked off it was clear that there was a gap in the field, and there were some bigger name riders - Cheryl Maas, Jamie Anderson, Klaudia Medlova, Spencer O'Brien, Enni Rukajärvi, Hailey Langland - whose places in the finals were far from assured. It was time to step it up.

Cheryl went all in for the backside 9 that won her X Games gold back in 2016, but couldn't put it down, while Langland looked to step up her smooth Cab 7 to a Cab 9 but also fell. Spencer O'Brien had opted to get a safe score on the board in her first run - that tasty front 7 off the toes that she does so well - and we expected her to mix it up, yet she pulled the same trick again in round two - albeit better - perhaps thinking that a safer bet to qualify than stretching herself. But she maybe didn't reckon on what those following her had in mind, as a bunch of them unleashed leaving Spencer to endure some nervy moments as she was pushed down closer to the bubble.

It seemed from this point on the girls went full send, with the lead changing hands rapidly. Sina Candrian got her 'Shades of Sochi' front 10 to post an 86, before Zoi Sadowski Synnott not only stomped a textbook switch back 9 - the kind Jussi Oksanen would be proud of -, she bagged 92 points for it and jumped up into first.

Jamie Anderson showed why she's been the dominant force in women's snowboarding for years by brushing off the pressure and putting down her Cab double with the kind of corkage that makes snowboarders smile and sommaliers frown. Her place in the finals was assured, but it was not the case for Enni Rukajärvi who overcooked her front 10 attempt and won't be joining the finals.

Next to drop was diminutive 16-year-old Reira who took her Cab 9 from round 1 and improved on it considerably. Whether it deserved 92.75 points is debatable, but she certainly deserved to make the finals. But her compatriot Yuki Fujimori didn't let her sit in the top spot for long, stomping a perfect back 9 that was held so long you feared for her fingertips.

Then came Gasser. As if to say "Hold up, girls. I'm supposed to be the favourite here", she dropped in switch, unleashed her Cab double 10, stomped it (with a tiny hand drag, it must be said), and posted the highest score of the day - 98 points, and with more in the bag you'd be brave or foolish not to back her for Gold. That said, how will she cope with the pressure?

It was impossible to see anyone topping Gasser's score, but there was still time for Laurie Blouin to improve on her own by sending her Cab double to the K-point, and there was heartbreak for Klaudia Medlova - certainly a rider who has some heavy tricks in her locker, but one who seems unable to do her riding justice in a contest environment - as she overcooked her front 10 double and couldn't kill the rotation properly on the landing.

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With Klaudia falling it seemed that was the last chance for anyone to slip into contention for finals, and so it proved to be. The standard of riding, certainly in the top half of the group, was insane and goes some way to finally giving these women the stage to do justice to where their riding is at. For anyone bemoaning the gymnastic aspect of men's Big Air riding, do yourself a favour and tune into the women's final on the 23rd.

These girls are on fire.

Results

1 - Anna GASSER

88.25 / 98.00 // 98.00 QF

2 - Yuka FUJIMORI

82.00 / 94.25 // 94.25 QF

3 - Reira IWABUCHI

80.00 / 92.75 // 92.75 QF

4 - Laurie BLOUIN

90.25 / 92.25 // 92.25 QF

5 - Zoi SADOWSKI SYNNOTT

72.75 / 92.00 // 92.00 QF

6 - Jamie ANDERSON

30.25 / 90.00 // 90.00 QF

7 - Miyabi ONITSUKA

81.75 / 86.50 // 86.50 QF

8 - Sina CANDRIAN

31.75 / 86.00 // 86.00 QF

9 - Julia MARINO

83.75 / 85.25 // 85.25 QF

10 - Silje NORENDAL

76.00 / 77.50 // 77.50 QF

11 - Spencer O'BRIEN

69.50 / 76.75 // 76.75 QF

12 - Jessika JENSON

76.25 / 39.75 // 76.25 QF

13 - Jessica RICH

73.50 / 74.25 // 74.25

14 - Hailey LANGLAND

73.00 / 29.00 // 73.00

15 - Carla SOMAINI

70.75 / 24.75 // 70.75

16 - Enni RUKAJARVI

68.75 / 49.75 // 68.75

17 - Brooke VOIGT

67.75 / 32.00 // 67.75

18 - Elena KOENZ

62.00 / 65.75 // 65.75

19 - Sarka PANCOCHOVA

65.50 / 30.00 // 65.50

20 - Cheryl MAAS

65.00 / 44.75 // 65.00

21 - Sofya FEDOROVA

64.00 / 23.25 // 64.00

22 - Isabel DERUNGS

54.00 / 59.25 // 59.25

23 - Klaudia MEDLOVA

30.75 / 50.50 // 50.50

24 - Asami HIRONO

27.50 / 37.75 // 37.75

25 - Aimee FULLER

25.00 / 14.25 // 25.00

26 - Katerina VOJACKOVA

19.00 / 10.50 // 19.00

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