David Wise (USA) reacts after his first run of men’s ski halfpipe finals during the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games at Rosa Khutor Extreme Park on Tuesday. (USA TODAY Sports: Andrew P. Scott)
ROSA KHUTOR, Russia — American David Wise was forced to downgrade his routine but still shone brightly in a Sochi snowstorm to become the first men’s freestyle skiing halfpipe Olympic champion on Tuesday.
The skiers were unable to unleash the acrobatics they are capable of as the persistent snow made for atrocious conditions but Wise nailed his first run of the night to record a score of 92.00 that none of his rivals was able to overhaul.
“I’m still trying to believe this whole crazy thing,” the 23-year-old told reporters. “I feel so proud to be part of this sport and to stand at the top of the podium is just amazing.”
Canadian Mike Riddle rebounded from a ragged first run to take silver with the 90.60 he notched at the second attempt, while France’s Kevin Rolland won bronze with a score of 88.60.
The snow may have been picturesque but it also slowed the pipe and prevented the skiers from getting the height they needed to go for their best tricks in what they like to call “the show”.
There were plenty of falls but the best freeskiers in the world were not going to pass up a chance to show what they could do on their event’s Olympic debut, even if they had to adapt their routines.
“It was really unfortunate,” Wise said. “I had all these crazy amazing runs that I wanted to do here at the Olympics but if you can’t get the speed you can’t do the tricks that you want to do.
“Unfortunately, I had to change my run. The run I completed was like plan C or D even but that’s just the way it goes, you’ve got to adjust and do the best you can.”
Gold medal favourite Wise dropped into the pipe second last in the first round and produced a spectacular display of acrobatics high above the 6.8 metre walls.
No-one else went above the 90 mark until Riddle managed it on a second run littered with audacious grabs of his board to move into second place.
“We managed to put together pretty good runs considering,” said Riddle. “We hope you guys enjoyed the show.”
Frenchman Rolland had looked the most likely to challenge Wise but was unable to improve on his first round score when he lost control landing his final jump.
Wise was already assured of at least a silver medal when he stood at the top for a second time with only Canadian Justin Dorey to go after him.
Dorey showed he had a big performance in him when he top-scored with 92.00 in qualifying for the final so Wise could not afford to coast, but the American’s second run never got going and he was soon face down in the snow with a score of 3.40.
The nervous wait lasted just a few seconds, though, as Dorey fell as spectacularly on his second run as he had on his first and Wise was Olympic champion.
“That was really nerve racking,” Wise said. “Just watching him skiff out, all this relief flooded over me.”
New Zealand’s Jossi and Beau-James Wells finished outside the medals in fourth and sixth but their brother Byron was unable to compete after being injured in training.