Olympic preview: Women's snowboard halfpipe
The United States has swept the podium just three times in the history of the Winter Olympics. Of those three sweeps, none of have come in a women's event.
That might change in PyeongChang.
The women of the U.S. snowboard halfpipe team have an opportunity to make history. With four of the world's top riders on the team, it's easy to picture some combination of this group making up the gold, silver and bronze medalists.
Here's a look at who the women looking to make history are, and who might be able to stand in their way.
Country: USA | Age: 17
The heavy gold medal favorite in women's halfpipe is Chloe Kim, who could become one the breakout stars of these Olympics.
Kim was unable to compete at the last Olympics in 2014 because she was too young, but she was already well on her way to becoming the best in the world. Two years ago, she became the first woman to land back-to-back 1080s in a halfpipe run, and she repeated the feat a few weeks ago at X Games.
Much of Kim's focus this season has been on cleaning up her cab 1080 — the switch version of the frontside 1080 that several other women have recently learned — so that she can land the back-to-back combo with more consistency.
Kim is a first-generation Korean-American. Both of her parents were born in South Korea, and that's where she'll now have a chance to win gold in her Olympic debut.
Country: USA | Age: 34
This will be Kelly Clark's fifth Olympics. She's already the most decorated Olympic snowboarder ever with three total medals (one gold, two bronze) in her career and has never finished lower than fourth.
Although she has symbolically passed the torch to Chloe Kim — a girl half her age — already, Clark remains one of the top women in the sport. She was the first to ever land the frontside 1080 in a competition and has that trick as dialed as anyone in the field outside of Kim.
Country: USA | Age: 17
A rising star in women's halfpipe, Maddie Mastro has been a consistent podium finisher all season long. The Southern California native is coming off a bronze medal at X Games, where she landed a frontside 1080 for the first time in competition. She'll make her Olympic debut in PyeongChang.
Country: USA | Age: 21
Gold was named to the U.S. Olympic team in 2014 but never got the chance to compete in Sochi. That's because she injured her shoulder during practice and had to withdraw from the contest.
Like many other women in the field, the frontside 1080 has been a primary focus for Gold this season. She recently added it to her halfpipe runs for the first time ever, and it's been paying dividends. A few weeks ago at X Games, she put down arguably the best run of her career and briefly knocked Chloe Kim out of the top spot before ending up with a silver medal.
Who Can Stop the Americans?
Outside of the U.S. team, China fields one of the strongest groups. Cai Xuetong and Liu Jiayu will both be competing at their third Olympics and could threaten for a podium spot. Liu finished fourth at the 2010 Olympics, and Cai won X Games medals in 2016 and 2017.
Japan has been rapidly progressing as a snowboarding nation in recent years and, with riders like Haruna Matsumoto and Sena Tomita, could also make a run at the podium.
Another possible contender is Spain's Queralt Castellet, who is competing at her fourth Olympics. Castellet, 28, has not yet cracked the top 10 at the Winter Games, but she won a U.S. Grand Prix event at Snowmass last month that featured all four of the U.S Olympians. It was there that she unveiled a frontside 1080 for the first time.
What Will it Take to Win?
In case you haven't picked up on the theme yet, the frontside 1080 — a trick with three full spins — is going to play a big role in this contest. For a long time, it was just Kelly Clark and Chloe Kim doing that trick, but several of their competitors hit a breakthrough this season and now have it in their arsenal. It could be hard to reach the podium without that trick.
But Kim can take things a step further. The back-to-back 1080s (a frontside 1080 into a cab 1080) are not something she has consistently been attempting, but if she puts that combo down, she will be hard to beat. Up to this point, no other rider has done that combo in a competition run.
It's not just about one trick though. Riders will need to make sure that they maintain amplitude throughout their runs, execute their tricks with proper grabs, and include other technical tricks beyond just the 1080. The judges like progression, but they really want to see clean, well-executed runs.
How to Watch
NBCOlympics.com will be streaming every round of every competition live online. Links to each stream are below.
Qualifying: Sunday, Feb. 11, 11:30 p.m. ET
Final: Monday, Feb. 12, 8:00 p.m. ET
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