Canada’s medal prospects in the new Olympic sport of freestyle halfpipe are bright if the World Cup in Calgary is an indication.
Canadian men swept the podium and placed four in the top five Friday at Canada Olympic Park event and that was with reigning World Cup champion Mike Riddle of Sherwood Park, Alta., sidelined with a bruised heel.
Justin Dorey of Vernon, B.C., Calgary’s Noah Bowman and Matt Margetts of Penticton, B.C., finished first to third respectively in the halfpipe, which makes its Olympic debut next month in Sochi, Russia. Simon d’Artois of Whistler, B.C., was fifth.
“We have a lot of talent on the halfpipe team right now,” Dorey said. “I think we’re all capable of putting down podium runs.”
Dorey, 25, posted a combined two-run score of 87.20 points for his first World Cup victory. Bowman, 21, was second with a 84.40 score, while Margetts, 25, was third with a score of 82.60.
Calgary’s Megan Gunning finished just outside the women’s medals. Rowan Cheshire of Britain won the women’s event with a score of 80.40 points. Virginie Faivre of Switzerland second with 79.80 points and Amy Sheehan of Australia third with 79.20. Edmonton’s Keltie Hansen was eighth.
As in snowboard halfpipe, the freestylers use momentum generated by the pipe’s slopes to gain air and perform tricks.
Former world champion Rosalind Groenewoud of Squamish, B.C., underwent surgery on both her knees last month. She wasn’t yet ready for competition although she intends to compete in Sochi.
The U.S. team wasn’t in Calgary so reigning world champion David Wise and world silver medallist Torin Yater-Wallace were not in the men’s field.
“There’s no doubt there were some strong podium contenders who weren’t at this event, so that opens up a little bit of room,” Canadian coach Trennon Paynter said. “That being said, our guys who podiumed today have all podiumed at major events in the past.
“We had four of the top five. It’s one of the best results we’ve ever had as a team. At this time of the year as we’re building towards going into Sochi, it’s such a positive note. We’re all stoked.”
Canada will have to leave some halfpipe talent at home for the Winter Games. The country can enter a maximum of four men and Riddle has already qualified for one of those spots.
“We have some of the best halfpipe talent in the world, which is pretty crazy,” Margetts said. “It’s pretty cool we have that. It also makes it really difficult because we have so many good competitors, teammates we have to compete against and there’s so few spots.
“I still had two Canadians, two teammates, two competitors who were still ahead of me. Even though we all did well today, they still did better than me which gives them that little more of an opportunity to go, which kind of sucks. You’re obviously stoked for your friends, but you’re competitors at the same time so it’s kind of difficult emotionally to deal with that.”
Dorey felt some of the pressure to qualify for Sochi lift with his victory.
“It’s not official that I’ll be going, but I feel really confident in my position to get on the team, so now I can start pushing it a little bit more and start working on my Sochi run,” he said.
“The pressure, I’m starting to learn how to deal with that a little better. There will be plenty of that in Russia. I’m stoked to go there because I’ve been doing this for almost eight years and lot of the guys I grew up with doing this sport have kind of phased out of it.”
Bowman joined Canada Olympic Park’s freestyle club at age 14, so standing on the podium in the place where it all began felt special to him.
“It means so much to have a podium with two of my best friends and teammates here in Calgary,” he said. “It was so amazing to have friends and family out here supporting. Hearing all them cheer before I dropped in, I got chills.”
Both Bowman and Margetts said there was a standing bet among the Canadian men that if they ever achieved a medal sweep, Paynter “had to start smoking again,” said Margetts. Paynter disavowed all knowledge of the wager to reporters.
Canada’s three male medallists each received a $5,000 bonus from WinSport, which operates Canada Olympic Park. WinSport established the Sarah Burke Performance Awards in memory of Burke, a Canadian freestyle ski pioneer who died following a training accident in January, 2012.
Any Canadian athlete who earns a World Cup medal at COP earns the financial award.