Darren Gardner swings through the slalom course on Howelsen Hill on Thursday en route to a second win in as many attempts in the Race to the Cup snowboarding event in Steamboat Springs. The Canadian said the results will lock him into a spot on the World Cup circuit, and there, he hopes to earn a trip to the 2014 Winter Olympics.

Photo by Joel Reichenberger

Darren Gardner swings through the slalom course on Howelsen Hill on Thursday en route to a second win in as many attempts in the Race to the Cup snowboarding event in Steamboat Springs. The Canadian said the results will lock him into a spot on the World Cup circuit, and there, he hopes to earn a trip to the 2014 Winter Olympics.

Olympics dreams linger for Race to the Cup snowboarders

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— There are few top-level winter athletes competing in Olympic events right now who don’t have at least one eye focused on Sochi, Russia, the site of the looming 2014 Winter Olympics.

That’s true not just for those training in Steamboat Springs hopping to catch on with Team USA, but for foreign racers passing through town, as well.

So make no mistake — he’s no threat to take one of the precious Olympic snowboarding spots allocated to the United States, but Wednesday and Thursday were very good days for Canadian Darren Gardner, who Thursday afternoon finished a sweep of the Race to the Cup event at Howelsen Hill in downtown Steamboat, winning both of the week’s races.

“The Canadians here, we were all fighting for a World Cup spot at the next three events,” he said. “Winning both days here secures my spot for the World Cups before they announce the Olympic team.”

On Thursday, Gardner was tops in the parallel slalom, beating an equally enthused Steamboat snowboarder, Aaron Muss, in the finals.

“I definitely have a shot at it, and I’m riding well,” Gardner said

Muss edged out top American rider Justin Reiter in the semifinals but pulled up in both of his finals runs, giving the championship to the Canadian.

Muss’ mood wasn’t lowered by that fact.

“I’m ecstatic. It’s my second time even making it in the top four, so second place is huge,” Muss said. “I don't know how to feel because it hasn’t even sunk in yet.

“It may get me into some World Cups, but I may stay and train and get ready. As much as I want to believe I have a shot at the Olympics, it’s a long shot, so I want to train to get faster.”

Reiter, meanwhile, went on to finish third, beating Michael Trapp in the finals. Reiter said he regretted one mistake in his semifinal showdown with Muss, but he, too, wasn’t bent out of shape about it.

He arrived in Steamboat late Wednesday night, the race another in a long string of competitions that’s had him hoping across the globe as he tries to line himself up for an Alpine snowboarding slot at Sochi.

“I’m exhausted. I came into today not even knowing if I would start,” he said. “I gave it my best effort and I was stoked with how qualifiers went. I just made one mistake, but that’s motivation for training in the future.”

On the girls side, Maggie Rose Carrigan completed her own podium sweep. The Steamboat Springs snowboarder beat Canadian Jennifer Hawkrigg in the finals to win and add a slalom win to Wednesday’s victory in the giant slalom.

“That was amazing,” Carrigan said. “This was a really tough course, but we held strong.”

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

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