2022 Winter Olympics: Next generation of snowboarders are here to stay
Through the snowboard slopestyle event and qualifying of snowboard halfpipe at the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, China one thing is clear and that is that the next generation of riders are here and there is nothing anyone can do to stop them now.
When New Zealand’s Zoi Sadowski-Synnott landed her second 1080 (three full rotations) of the final run of the Women’s Slopestyle final she became the first person to win this event at the Olympics not named Jamie Anderson since snowboard slopestyle was introduced at the 2014 Olympics in Sochi. The 20-year-old Sadowski-Synnott also became the first Kiwi to win a gold medal in the Winter Olympics ever.
With Anderson, 31, finally being overthrown on the women’s side and Shaun White, 35, set to retire after the halfpipe final it looks like the next generation of snowboarders will be in charge very soon.
In the women’s slopestyle final seven of the 12 athletes competing were 21 years old or younger. This includes gold medalist Sadowski-Synnott and bronze medalist 21-year-old Tess Coady from Australia. Coady came back to the Olympics with a vengeance as four years ago as a 17-year-old she was set to compete at PyeongChang 2018, but tore her ACL in practice and had to pull out.
This new generation of riders has been pushing the sports further ahead than anyone really could have imagined considering they are following some of the legends of snowboarding such as White and Anderson. White alone changed snowboarding forever and helped bring it to popularity in a big way following his Torino 2006 gold medal in halfpipe when he was only 19 years old.
It is not only the women’s slopestyle at the 2022 Winter Olympics that this next generation is showing out in but in the men’s version as well as both men’s and women’s halfpipe.
In the men’s slopestyle 27-year-old Max Parrot won the gold edging out another young prodigy in Su Yiming. Su is only 17 years old and probably should have won the gold if it was not for an error in the judging. He seemed to have come out of almost nowhere this season by winning the FIS Snowboard Big Air World Cup event at Steamboat in December 2021 and has now asserted himself as a household name in the snowboarding world after his impressive Olympic performance.
Su was one of four riders aged 21 or younger which included defending Olympic gold medalist Red Gerard, 21, and fellow American Sean Fitzsimons, 21. Gerard made waves four years ago breaking out as a 17-year-old winning slopestyle gold at PyeongChang and now he leads the way on the men’s side for the young generation ahead.
Similar to Su, Sadowski-Synnott seemed to suddenly turn a gear this season and made the leap to being one of the world’s best. She had competed at the Olympics in 2018 and even won the bronze medal in big air as a 16-year-old, but really moved to the front of the sport since that Olympic appearance by winning back-to-back slopestyle world championships and seven X Games medals including double gold at X Games Aspen 2022 with wins in both slopestyle and halfpipe.
“She’s the one that’s taking the sport to the next level,” women’s slopestyle silver medalist Julia Marino, 24, said of Sadowski-Synnott in an interview with the New York Times. “I’m just happy to be a part of it.”
Along with Sadowski-Synnott, the next generation of women’s snowboarding is being led by an American who reached the peak of Olympic sport by winning gold at PyeongChang 2018 in women’s halfpipe at 17 and is already being considered the greatest women’s snowboarder in history. That person is California’s, Chloe Kim. Now 21, Kim finished first in halfpipe qualifying Tuesday night and looks certain to win her second straight gold.
Kim won gold in 2018 by becoming the youngest woman ever to do back-to-back 1080s in a halfpipe at the Olympics and by doing so became the youngest woman to win the event. Coming into the Olympics there were many athletes who could end as the gold medalist in each different event, then there is women’s snowboard halfpipe that Kim has been believed to win comfortably since 2018 despite taking a year off from snowboarding to be a normal kid.
Women’s halfpipe is led by Kim, but she is just one of seven women to qualify for the final that are 21 years old or younger. This includes the second-best qualifier 17-year-old Mitsuki Ono from Japan. Ono will have her work cut out for her to get on the podium, but is more than capable of putting down a big run like she did to win gold at the 2020 Youth Olympics.
Even the men’s snowboard halfpipe has a youthful movement looking to take that next step. Among the four athletes are 16-year-old Valentino Guseli of Italy, and a pair of Japanese riders 19-year-old Ruka Hirano and 20-year-old Yuto Totsuka. Totsuka became a household name in the year leading up to the 2022 Winter Olympics after an incredible 2021 in which he won X Games gold and a World Championship both in halfpipe. After the qualifying round, all three young riders finished inside the top six competitors to move onto the halfpipe finals.
With there being a very good likelihood that at least a few of these 2022 Winter Olympics snowboard athletes will be contending for at least one more medal in Beijing, it shows that while the current generation may have a few runs left the next generation of athletes are here to stay.
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