White and Bleiler win Grand Prix | stanton-company.com

White and Bleiler win Grand Prix

With three of four halfpipe contests complete, the 2010 Olympic snowboard team is shaping up to look a lot like, well, the 2006 Olympic snowboard team. Shaun White became the second official member of the team, winning with back-to-back double corks and a first-run score of 47. Louie Vito, who finished second for the second time this qualifying season, is all but a lock to join him in Vancouver. “It’s great to get this out the way, so I can focus on what I want to do in my Olympic run,” White says. If his second run was any indication, White’s Olympic run could very well include a double McTwist 1260, which he crashed attempting on his final hit. “No one’s even attempted that trick before,” White says. “I wish they weren’t tearing down this pipe tomorrow. I want to start working on it right now.”

Each week, the list of never-been-done tricks grows, or shrinks, depending on how you look at it. On Saturday, Zach Black became the first rider to land a switch backside 1080 in competition and Ellery Hollingsworth crashed attempting to become the first woman to land the 10. “The riding is getting heavy,” White says. “Guys I didn’t even think about as competition before the start of the season are stepping up. Guys like Louie, who were tired of taking a back seat. He’s pushing it. We’d all love for wins to come easy, but nothing this season is going to be easy.” White pushed his competitors before the start of this season. “And they pushed back,” he says. “We were at a jog heading toward the Olympics. Now we’re in a full-out sprint.”

In the weeks between her second-place finish at Copper and her win Saturday afternoon in Mammoth, Gretchen Bleiler turned her focus inward. “I thought about what I really want and I realized I want to go to the Olympics again and I want to win a gold medal,” she says. “I have a renewed sense of the Old Me, of the hunger and fire I had before Torino. I realized I have more mental tools than I have ever had.” And on Saturday, she started using them. “After qualifiers, I decided I needed to switch up my run,” she says. “I needed to put the run I’ve been doing away for a while.” So she opened with a 900 instead of her trademark Crippler 720. That, she saved for farther down the pipe. “I need to drop in to a big trick, and my run flowed so much better that I was able to go bigger,” she says. “It felt so good to land that run. Today was awesome for my confidence.” And for her chances of making her second-straight Olympic team.

Elena Hight, who also landed a brand-new run that included back-to-back 900s and back-to-back 700s, scored her first podium of the qualifying season with a second-place finish. “I had a rough practice this morning, but when I got here, everyone was throwing down,” she says. “It made me want to step up. There’s been so much hype around making the Olympic team and now it finally feels real.” Hannah Teter finished third for the women, and is in good position to make her second-straight team. Clark, who added a Crippler to her run this week, finished an uncharacteristic fourth. It’s the first time she’s missed the podium in more than a year.

While he wasn’t in Mammoth in person, no one was more present in spirit–and in stickers and signage–than Kevin Pearce, who was injured while training in the Park City halfpipe on Dec. 31. At the bottom of the Mammoth pipe, Pearce’s fans, friends, Frends and fellow riders held handmade signs and wore stickers and customized hats to show their support for Pearce and his family. “He’s on everyone’s mind, so why not have the signs and stickers and talk about him as much as possible?” Bleiler says. “It feels like he’s here.”

Head snowboard coach Mike Jankowski says it’s been important for the coaches and athletes on the U.S. team to maintain an open and honest dialogue in order to help these young athletes continue to compete without the presence of their friend. And small doses of positive news doesn’t hurt, either. “Kevin is doing even better than the doctors expected at this point, and that doesn’t surprise any of us,” Jankowski says. “He’s one of the strongest people I know.” Adds White: “It’s been heavy. It weighs on all of us, not seeing him here. Kevin is a great big personality and it’s strange to not see him at the top of the pipe and get to talk to him between runs. But he’s doing better. He’s getting there. And that’s all we wish for.”

For updates on Pearce’s condition, fans may join the Facebook group Well Wishes to our Frend Kevin Pearce, where his family is posting frequent updates.

1. Shaun White
2. Louie Vito
3. JJ Thomas
4. Luke Mitrani
5. Zack Black
6. Steve Fisher
7. Scotty Lago
8. Matt Ladley
9. Elijah Teter
10. Dylan Bidez

1. Gretchen Bleiler
2. Elena Hight
3. Hannah Teter
4. Kelly Clark
5. Ellery Hollingsworth
6. Holly Crawford
7. Clair Bidez
8. Maddy Schaffrick

Fore more on this story, please visit ESPN.com

Posted on: January 11, 2010
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