Hood River’s Sean FitzSimons drops out of Olympic slopestyle finals, turns to big air
ZHANGJIAKOU, China — Sean FitzSimons followed a promising pair of snowboard slopestyle preliminaries in his Winter Olympics debut on Saturday with three forgetful runs in the final round of the event on Sunday.
The 21-year-old from Hood River, who grew up skiing Mount Hood, lost his balance trying to make jumps on every lap, scoring 29.48, 29.61 and 26.61 points out of 100 in road to a 12th place.
“It wasn’t my best, but I didn’t hold back,” FitzSimons said. “There is definitely a silver lining knowing that I was aggressive and will have another chance to win a medal.”
FitzSimons entered Sunday’s championship rounds after posting the third-highest score in Saturday’s two qualifying rounds. The top 12 riders from the 30-person peloton qualified for Sunday’s final and raced down the slopes in reverse order of their qualification. The judges count only the snowboarders’ best tally of the three runs for their final score.
In 10th place, FitzSimons, wearing a black and white Team USA jacket, a red Beijing 2022 vest hugging his chest, a plain gray helmet and tinted snowboard goggles, could see how most of his opponents behaved in every race in front of him.
Her first of three championship races at Genting Snow Park in Zhangjiakou, located about 120 miles northwest of Beijing in neighboring Hebei province, ended almost as soon as she started when a 1620 yaw attempt – four and a half turns in the air while rocking off-axis – left him sitting on his back.
FitzSimons’ second run proved the most promising. After performing a Hardway 270 jump from the venue’s opening rail, he used his hand to help balance a 1620 oncoming landing. Another 1620 attempt on the final jump left him sitting out again after another tricky landing.
By comparison, his American teammate Red Gerard won gold in the slopestyle event in PyeongChang four years ago by completing a 1440 – just four pirouettes in the air.
“It shows how much we’ve pushed ourselves to be better,” FitzSimons said of the rising bar. “I knew I had to go out and give it my all.”
This is exactly what he did for his third race. Needing a near-perfect performance for a medal shot, FitzSimons attempted an 1800 yaw – five turns in the air while spinning off-axis – but became disoriented in the air and barely avoided d land directly off to the side. Instead, his board hit the ground first before his momentum slammed his chest into the ground.
FitzSimons said after his third run that he was uninjured on any of his failed landings.
Canadian Max Parrot dethroned Gerard at the top of the podium, posting a score of 90.96 on his second run to win gold. China’s Su Yiming won the silver with a score of 88.70 and Canada’s Mark McMorris used a strong third run to take third place, pushing Gerard off the podium.
Gerard settled for fourth with a best 83.25 on his first run, and fellow American Chris Corning was sixth.
FitzSimons and his American teammates will return on February 13 for the big air snowboard qualifiers before the official competition for the event begins on February 14.
— Chris Kudialis, for The Oregonian/OregonLive