American Ferguson rides creative run to second place at U.S. Grand Prix snowboard halfpipe in Copper | SteamboatToday.com

American Ferguson rides creative run to second place at U.S. Grand Prix snowboard halfpipe in Copper

Antonio Olivero
aolivero@summitdaily.com

On a day when seven American men attempted to get ahead on Olympic qualification via a podium finish at the U.S. Grand Prix FIS Snowboard Halfpipe World Cup at Copper Mountain Resort, it was Ben Ferguson of Bend, Oregon, who exited the Woodward superpipe in the best position.

At the first Olympic qualifier of the season, Ferguson was awarded an 89.75 on his second run. It featured a bag of new tricks that the 22-year-old said are completely changed from the past couple of years, namely the switch McTwist and switch double backflip that he ended his runs with. He nailed those after dropping in with a back 1 into the halfpipe, followed by a cab double 10, a double crippler and a back 3, before his new finale.

"I think I just got more consistent (since last year)," Ferguson said. "I put more time in on my snowboard on the halfpipe, and also just going into it to have fun and not putting too much pressure on myself.

"I need to get a couple more banger tricks," he added, "a couple more spins, a couple bigger tricks. Then I think we'll be pretty ready to go."

Ferguson's 89.75 was the top American score of the day, and it piqued the interest of the other American who finished in second place Saturday, Maddie Mastro of Mammoth Lakes, California.

"One of the things I remember just from today watching was actually Ben Ferguson's run," she said. "I was really excited to see him put it down and the creativity. It's just so different from other riders, so I was stoked."

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Ferguson's performance was well behind the 95.25 posted by Japan's Ayumu Hirano on his second run. The 5-foot-4 2014 Sochi Olympic halfpipe silver medalist ran away with the Grand Prix title on that second run, though he also posted a first run of 90.50 that would have been good enough for first place too.

"Ayumu is just like this little, he is so efficient when he rides the halfpipe," Ferguson said. "You never see him lose any speed. He lands at the top of the wall and he has the big crazy tricks, and he does them with good style as well."

Ferguson held onto the second place spot despite a riveting final run by Olympic veteran Shaun White, who at 31 has his eyes on qualifying for his fourth Winter Olympics.

The 2006 and 2010 Olympic halfpipe gold medalist strung together a backside air, a front double 14, a cab double 1080, a front stale 5 and a double McTwist 1260 on that third run. It was one he and others in attendance at Copper felt may have warranted a better score.

"I honestly just was using this contest as practice, you know," White said. "Obviously, I wanted to, I think, post a better score for the Americans. I was putting in my first kind of easier runs to just put in a great score, lock it in and that allowed me to then go for my second and third run a little harder. I'm a little disappointed in my score for the third run. I really thought I was gonna bump up at least doing a 14 and a double 10 and a double 12. I don't know. I'm a little confused right now, but that's why we do these events."

White's showing came after he crashed in October while training in New Zealand, which forced him to miss a month of training.

Hirano's countrymate Raibu Katayama secured fourth position with an 84.75 on his final run. That score bumped back four Americans into fifth through eighth place respectively — Danny Davis (83.25), Ben Ferguson's younger brother Gabe (79.00), Chase Josey (77.25) and Gregory Bretz (72.50). American and 2010 Olympian Louie Vito (33.00) rounded out the finalists in 10th place while Australia's Scotty James, who topped his competition after qualifiers, finished in ninth (38.75).

As for Olympic qualification, three spots on the U.S. Olympic team will be given to the athletes who meet the objective criteria, which is a podium finish at a qualifying event, such as the Grand Prix at Copper. Other qualifying events are scheduled for the Dew Tour Dec. 14-17 in Breckenridge, Jan. 10-12 in Snowmass and Jan. 17-19 in Mammoth, California. A fourth Olympic team spot will likely — but not definitely — be given to a competitor of the coaches' choosing.

For the objective spots, if more than three athletes have podium finishes, then the team will defer to the World Cup scoring system, which will give the American athlete with the best result 1,000 points, the American with the second best result 800 points, the third best 600 points and so on. Those with the most points make the team.