Big air leads to big bruises, disappointments for Canadians

Canada's Laurie Blouin crashes while landing in the women's big air competition at the Pyeongchang Winter Olympic Games Thursday, Feb. 22, 2018 in Pyeongchang. (Paul Chiasson/CP)

PYEONGCHANG, South Korea – Competing at the Pyeongchang Games quite literally beat up Laurie Blouin, her shiner from a slopestyle crash gone only to be replaced by a badly bruised buttocks that limited her performance in Thursday’s inaugural Olympic big air final.

The snowboarder from Stoneham, Que., had trouble getting up after dropping on her posterior during the first jump at the Alpensia Ski Jumping Centre and, out of contention, she decided to skip her third jump after falling again on her second run.

Still, surviving the dangerously windy slopestyle event with a silver medal is a pretty solid consolation for the 21-year-old, even though physically she paid for the entire experience.

“Practice went pretty good. I did all the tricks I was supposed to do in the final,” said Blouin, who qualified in fourth spot, but ended up 12th out 12 in the final with a two-best-jump score of 39.25. “I guess I wasn’t stressed enough. I think I was just too chill at the top. I don’t know; I just couldn’t put one down.

“After falling on my first one, that was heavy for my bum.”

The big air final was moved up a day because of heavy winds forecasted for Friday, a decision that should have been made for the initial slopestyle final, too, when only a small handful of runs were completed without a fall.

At the time, Spencer O’Brien of Courtenay, B.C., said 90 per cent of the women didn’t want to ride that day, and that FIS had pushed forward without considering input from the snowboarders. She ended up 22nd in the slopestyle and capped her second Olympics with a ninth-place finish in big air.

“Slopestyle definitely put a damper on things for us. I feel like we got robbed of an event over there,” O’Brien said. “But the big air definitely made up for it. The ladies definitely showed the world what we were capable of and where women’s snowboarding is at, so, really honoured to be a part of this big air event. It’s incredible.”

Austria’s Anna Gasser won the big air gold with a strong third and final jump that pushed her score to 185 points, past slopestyle winner Jamie Anderson of the United States at 177.25. New Zealand’s Zoi Sadowski Synnott took the bronze at 157.50.

“The last trick, that was a little risk I took,” said Gasser, who was among the snowboarders frustrated that FIS didn’t push back the slopestyle competition. “I wasn’t sure; should I keep it safe, should I just do (the second) trick again and get a better score, or should I risk it? But I watched the girls and everyone was so good, so I was like ‘OK, I’m going to try to do this trick,’ and I was so happy when I landed it.”

Less happy was O’Brien, who qualified 11th for the final and ended up ninth, landing a couple of conservative jumps on her first and third runs to finish at 113.25.

She had struggled to land tricks in practice and when it came to competition day, she didn’t feel her best, shedding some tears at the end of the competition.

“Sometimes you’re off,” is how O’Brien described it. “I ended up going with a lot safer runs than I would have liked to, but that’s just kind of the way the day panned out for me. I’m pretty disappointed I couldn’t have put down my best, but that’s what I had today and that’s how it goes.”

O’Brien was also emotional after a 12th place finish at the Sochi Games, which she had entered as the defending world champion but was still coming to terms with a diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis as she competed.

These Games didn’t go to plan for her either, but she’s among the pioneers who helped get slopestyle into the Olympics in the first place.

“It feels really good to see the inclusion of both slopestyle and big air into the Olympics as a sport. I’m so proud of these women and where we’ve taken it,” said O’Brien. “A little bit of a disappointing performance for me. I’m happy to have made the finals and landed a few jumps, just really excited about the level of riding here today. It’s incredible. All the girls are throwing down.”

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