Arielle Gold qualifies for Dew Tour finals in half-pipe

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— What Arielle Gold hopes is a journey to Russia kicked off with a great first step.

The 17-year-old Steamboat Springs half-pipe snowboarder threw down big on her first run during Wednesday’s women’s semifinals at the Dew Tour in Breckenridge. She whipped out on her second run but scored a 90.80 on her first. That had her in second place early and was good enough to keep her in third place overall, easily among the eight athletes who will compete in the event’s finals Saturday.

“I was really excited to be able to put that run down,” she said. “I feel pretty good going into the finals.”

Two-time Olympic medalist Kelly Clark qualified first, with a 94.80 run. Chloe Kim was second at 93.40. Kaitlyn Farrington, Elena Hight, Torah Bright, Gretchen Bleiler and Xuetong Cai all made it in the top eight.

This week’s event is the first of five that are serving as qualifiers for the 2014 Winter Olympics, set for February in Sochi, Russia, so strong results are paramount for those hoping to make the trip with the U.S. Team.

That wasn’t lost on Gold, who burst onto the scene as one of the country’s top Olympic threats last season.

“I was definitely a bit stressed going into the contest,” she said. “It’s finally setting in that this is happening. I was definitely happy to put down a good run and make it to finals. I’m feeling way better already.”

The day wasn’t quite as kind to Steamboat’s Maddy Schaffrick. She finished 10th with a top score of 71.2, only 2.2 back of Cai, in eighth. The result didn’t have her down, however.

“I’ve been dealing with a bum knee, so I was just stoked to be able to compete,” she said. “It’s such a thrill to be back here with all my friends and be back in it. I was just stoked to get my tricks back.”

Her best run was her first, but she couldn’t improve on it on the second go-around.

“I’m not upset at all,” she said. “I have many finals ahead of me this season and many finals ahead of me in my life.”

The men are up next, competing Thursday to qualify for the finals in their events, and Steamboat again will be represented by a strong contingent. Benji Farrow, Taylor Gold and Matt Ladley will represent Steamboat in the snowboard half-pipe. Nik Baden, meanwhile, will compete in snowboard slope-style.

To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 970-871-4253, email jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @JReich9

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