17 furious days, part 3: Arielle Gold and other Steamboat snowboarders aim for the Olympics
January 6, 2018
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Athletes are halfway or more through the qualification process to make the United States team for the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea, yet most of the spots on that team are still up for grabs. Plenty of Steamboat Springs athletes still have hopes of making the cut, and we’re analyzing where they stand and what they still need to do. Today, we look at the freestyle snowboarders, a group without 2014 Olympian Taylor Gold and X Games superpipe champion Matt Ladley, both out with injury, but led by 2014 Olympian Arielle Gold.
Sport: Halfpipe snowboard
Ties to Steamboat: She spends her winter in Summit County for training, but was born and raised in Steamboat.
Position: She's currently fourth in a sport that's likely to take four women in the halfpipe, but she's only a hair behind No. 3, Maddie Mastro, and comfortably ahead of anyone else.
What needs to go right: She has two events left to move up the standings, the first next weekend at Snowmass and the second the following week at Mammoth Mountain, California. Another podium would come awfully close to making her a lock, but it would really depend on how those behind her perform.
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Chances: On the right track. 80 percent
Chances at the Olympics: She's had plenty of podium finishes at events around the world that will feature a very similar competitive field to what she'll see at the Olympics. Heck, the Olympics field probably isn't even as deep. So, she absolutely has a shot at a medal. She hasn't been the most consistent rider in the last two years, but a good day puts her on the podium. She'd likely need some help to win, but that's not crazy either.
Sport: Snowboard cross
Ties to Steamboat: He lives near Park City, Utah now with the rest of the U.S. team, but was born and raised in Steamboat.
Position: He's in a good spot, in fourth place in another sport that likely to send four athletes, but yikes. Things are tight. That's through four of five qualifying events. He's riding the best he ever has and the most consistent on the team.
What needs to go right: He has one qualifying event left and while he's been good all season, he's not far enough ahead of his teammates to feel comfortable. One good result from another U.S. rider totally changes Dierdorff's position. A podium finish at that last event, Jan. 19 to 20 in Erzurum, Turkey, guarantees him a spot. If he doesn't get on the podium, he leaves it up to coaches. He has to be happy being the top U.S. rider in two of the four events so far, but leaving it up to someone else's opinion is an uncomfortable prospect given the long, glitzy resumes of the other riders on the U.S. team. A solid case could be made for six or even seven athletes. At the end of the day, he's been on fire and the momentum is on his side, so he needs to ride that to a big result.
Chances: On the right track. 70 percent.
Chances at the Olympics: The way he rode in the first half of the season anything's possible. He earned his first World Cup podium finish in September, then didn't miss the top 10 in any ensuing events. Small mistakes have kept him off the podium since, but he'd definitely be on anyone's list of the 10 or 15 athletes who could win a medal.
Sport: Snowboard slopestyle
Ties to Steamboat: Grew up in Steamboat.
Position: Now 60 percent of the way through the qualification process Baden's in seventh place. That's not a great place to be considering at most four athletes will go to represent the United States. But, he's not in a bad place, either and there's plenty of opportunity to move up.
What needs to go right: He needs a big result. Baden's still plenty young, just 19, so this Olympic cycle isn't make-or-break for him. He's had solid results that have continued to get incrementally better through the last few years, but if he wants to make it to South Korea, he'll need top-five or even top-three finishes instead of top-10 or top-15 finishes.
Chances: He needs to catch a break. 20 percent.
Chances at the Olympics: Snowboard slopestyle is another of those events where the qualifying shouldn't be any more difficult than the actual Olympic event. Baden's already regularly competing against the best in the world. So, if he were to make it, a top-10 would seem likely with more possible.
Sport: Snowboard cross
Ties to Steamboat: The Alaska native moved to Steamboat Springs after high school to train.
Position: Mancari's currently ranked third among the U.S. riders, a good but not great position to be in. She's had consistent results in the qualifying events, regularly in the top-20 finishers and as high as 14th.
What needs to go right: The battle may not be against her snowboard cross teammates, but against those choosing the U.S. snowboard team, who may be tempted to only go with two athletes on the women's snowboard cross squad. Mancari could show she deserves a spot with a top-10 finish in the final qualifying event, set for Jan. 19 to 20 in Turkey.
Chances: Has work to do. 50 percent.
Chances at the Olympics: A top-15 finish would certainly seem within reach and it wouldn't be at all surprising to see her fly into the top 10. A medal seems like a stretch, but snowboard cross is a wild sport where anything is possible.
Sport: Halfpipe snowboard
Ties to Steamboat: Grew up in town, moved to Oregon in 2016 to attend school and train.
Position: She's on the board when it comes to qualifying points thanks to a 15th-place finish at the Dew Tour, but she's nearly at the bottom of the list, 15th out of 16 riders. The U.S. team is loaded and enough other women have already put up strong results there's not a lot of room to join the party.
What needs to go right: Atkins, just 19 years old, is more likely to figure into the future of her sport than this year's Olympic race. If she were to pull it off, she'd need at least one podium performance at the final two qualifying events, and probably two.
Chances: Longshot. 2 percent.
Chances at the Olympics: The U.S. doesn't send slouches in this event. Any woman who makes the team will be a threat to medal, but that's why it's so difficult a path for Atkins. She hasn't yet shown the ability to put up strong results against the best in the world. The conversation should be different by 2022.