Irving third in men’s Olympic halfpipe qualifiers
Finals are Friday night in Colorado
The Aspen Times
Winter Park freeskier Birk Irving has become a consistent presence on the biggest stages, and his Winter Olympic debut on Wednesday night — or Thursday afternoon in China — went as well as he could have hoped.
Behind two strong runs, the 22-year-old Irving qualified through to the men’s halfpipe skiing finals in Zhangjiakou, which is a little more than 100 miles from Beijing, and will be among a 12-man finale seeking a spot on the Olympic podium when finals go down Friday night here in Colorado.
In the two-run qualifier, Irving finished third among the 23 skiers. His first-run score of 83.25 had him sitting in fourth place midway through, but his second-run score of 89.75 vaulted him up a spot, slightly edging out Nevada’s David Wise, who was fourth.
Crested Butte’s Aaron Blunck, now a three-time Olympian who finished seventh in both the Sochi and Pyeongchang Games, qualified first with 92 scored on his second run. He fell on his first run and needed that sensational second go to make finals.
“Oh man, that first run. I was feeling actually so good, training was going so well and there was no doubt in my mind for the first run,“ Blunck said. “But that’s not how it went at all and then on top, I am honest, I was shaking, I was so nervous. … But once I dropped in, I just remembered that it’s just skiing, I just tried to smile and just remember like, ‘It’s just skiing, dude, this isn’t what makes you as a year, just go skiing, just have some fun.’”
Qualifying second was New Zealand’s Nico Porteous, who scored 90.50 on his second run. The 20-year-old Kiwi has become the sport’s biggest star behind his back-to-back 1620 combo, which has led to him winning X Games Aspen in both 2021 and 2022. He also won the world championship last March in Aspen, sharing a podium with Canada’s Simon D’Artois (silver) and Irving, who won worlds bronze that day.
Canadian’s Brendan Mackay (fifth, 87.25) and Noah Bowman (sixth, 85.50) were next in qualifying, followed by Aspen’s Alex Ferreira in seventh (84.25) and D’Artois in eighth (82.50).
New Zealand’s Miguel Porteous, Nico’s older brother, qualified through in ninth with 81, France’s Kevin Rolland was 10th with 75.25 and Switzerland’s Robin Briguet was 11th with 72.25.
Just making the cut in the 12th and final spot was the Telluride-raised Gus Kenworthy, who now skis for his mother’s homeland of Great Britain. He scored 70.75 on his final run after falling on his first to keep his career going; he plans to retire after the Olympics.
Rounding out the 23-skier field was Finland’s Jon Sallinen, who graduated from Carbondale’s Colorado Rocky Mountain School as an exchange student and works with Roaring Fork Valley icon Peter Olenick, after the 21-year-old fell on both runs to finish 23rd with 18.50. It was his first Olympic appearance.
The finals are scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m. MST on Friday and will be televised by NBC, USA and through the Peacock streaming app.
Wise is the two-time reigning Olympic gold medalist. Halfpipe skiing only made its Olympic debut at the 2014 Games in Sochi, so he is the only Olympic gold medalist in the sport’s history to this point.
Ferreira won Olympic silver at the 2018 Pyeongchang Games and Nico Porteous won bronze.
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