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Canadians podium at AFP finals

Mike Riddle wins halfpipe; Groenewoud third in pipe, Gagnier second in slopestyle

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A long season of travel and events came to a close this past weekend with the World Skiing Invitational/Association of Freeskiing Professional Championships dropping in for three days of contests.

The Canadian skiers did well in the competitions, even though Kaya Turski didn't compete and Rosalind Groenewoud finished third in her event they both walked away with overall AFP titles in slopestyle and superpipe respectively.

The World Skiing Invitational is one of the longest running freeski events in the world, dating back over a decade to the very first twin-tip skis. The 2012 edition could also be the last WSI for a little while, as Whistler waits to find out whether its bid to host an X Games Global event in 2013 is successful. Most of the athletes hope it will be.

"We're all waiting for the official announcement, and I'll probably throw a party when it happens," said superpipe athlete Mike Riddle on Sunday. "It would be so awesome to have such a high-calibre event come to Whistler, to our home turf. All of us would just go crazy. We would love it."

The word from X Games should arrive by the end of the month.

The AFP Championships including three disciplines. The slopestyle competition took place on Blackcomb on Friday, the big air was on Saturday night and the slopestyle took place on Sunday, also on Blackcomb. Athletes didn't get a lot of sun but spring conditions were in effect from start to finish with soft snow and soft landings.

Slopestyle

On the women's side, Anna Segal of Australia took the top spot with a top score of 90.0 points, followed by Emilia Wint of Colorado with an 86.4. Third place went to Pemberton's Yuki Tsubota, a late addition to the women's invite list who bested some of the top skiers in the world with a score of 83.0.

Montreal's Kaya Turski did not attend the event, but still finished on top of the Association of Freeskiing Professionals (AFP) World Tour slopestyle standings with 5,300 points. Segal closed the gap with her Whistler win to finish second with 5,034. Devin Logan of the U.S. placed third.

On the men's side, Colorado's Gus Kenworthy was the clear winner with two double corked tricks in his run, including a 1260 spin with a mute grab and the biggest air of the day on the bottom quarterpipe — a once-common terrain feature that left some of the athletes scratching their heads.

Kenworthy finished with a 92.4, followed by James Woods with an 89.4 and Joss Christensen with an 88.8. The top Canadian was Noah Morrison in eighth.

"I worked as hard as I could putting together a run," he said. "Every feature on the course was big and super technical, and you really had to be on it."

Tom Wallisch was named the AFP slopestyle champion, although Kenworthy was still favoured to win the overall title as one of the few athletes that competes in all three disciplines.

Nick Goepper and Bobby Brown were second and third in the slopestyle rankings.

Big Air

It was all or nothing for Gus Kenworthy, who was determined to win the AFP Championship Big Air in Whistler on Saturday or go down in the attempt.

On a slushy jump where takeoff speed was a guessing game and landings were soft and "grabby," Kenworthy finally landed a double corked 1620 blunt spin — four and a half rotations and two inverts — even throwing in a long mute grab to win over the judges.

Up until that point, Quebec's Vincent Gagnier held the lead with his unique double bio 1260 with optigrab — the only skier of the evening performing that spinning and flipping trick.

In the end, the win went to Kenworthy with a 95.6, followed by Gagnier with a 94.2. Russ Henshaw of Australia landed the biggest double cork 1260 of the night to take third place with a 92.8.

Gagnier knew before the score came up that Kenworthy was going to take the lead. "Yeah, he grabbed that forever," he said, shaking his head. "It was pretty sick."

As for his own choice of tricks, Gagnier said he always wants to do something different than the other skiers.

"I never want to do the same trick as everyone," he said.

As for Kenworthy, it was more about landing his trick than winning.

"At the beginning of the night I through I'd try the 16 (1620) in the finals, and I did a 12 (1260 spin) and 14 (1440 spin) in the qualifier to build up to it," he said.

He crashed on his first attempt but landed the second one cleanly to win a Chevrolet Sonic valued at $22,000.

Combined with his win in the Slopestyle, Kenworthy won over $30,000 in cash and prizes this past weekend.

Kenworthy is one a few athletes that competes in all of the freeski disciplines, which he says makes things challenging.

"It's definitely harder to divide your attention," he said. "Big air and slopestyle are at least similar because you're jumping and a table is a table, but with pipe and slopestyle you need to change your focus to get ready."

Kenworthy still planned to compete in the halfpipe the next day, but with no training runs earlier in the week he made the decision to pull out.

In the women's big air, it was obvious early on that there was going to be a problem. Smaller and lighter than the men, the women were having a tough time clearing the table and landing on the transition. Several athletes crashed, including Canada's Keltie Hansen.

In the end it was all about speed, and Emma Dahlstrom elected to play it safe with a big, floating 360 that she landed cleanly. She took the win, followed by Eveline Bhend of Switzerland and Anna Segal of Australia. Bhend tried a 540 and Segal a 720, but none of the landings were clean enough to get full points for the jump.

Superpipe

Despite the lack of sunshine, spring skiing conditions were very much in effect on Blackcomb Mountain on Sunday with slushy snow, slow takeoffs and soft landings for the AFP superpipe championships.

It was a good day for Canada overall with Mike "The Riddler" Riddle taking the men's event with a score of 92.6. Thomas Krief of France was second with an 87.0 and Joss Christensen of the U.S. took third with an 85.2.

Riddle's run was no question the best of the day with lots of air-time on every trick, spins in both directions, long grabs and clean landings from start to finish. His first hit was a huge double corked 1260, followed by a stylish 900 on the left wall, another stylish 900 on the right wall, a flatspin 360 and a switch 900.

Riddle wiped away a few tears of joy at the bottom, and not just because his contact lens had been knocked out of place.

"It's been a really tough season," he told reporters. "I haven't had any big results this year and I've been struggling a lot mentally. And it's been a tough year for the whole ski community in losing Sarah (Burke). I'm just really happy to end this season on a good note, and looking forward to the next one."

Riddle, one of the larger skiers in the pipe, said an equipment change and home field advantage also made a big difference with the conditions.

"I have brand new skis that I've been trying to get all year and they're super stiff so they support me," he said. "So that's a huge factor. I don't know... I just feel at home here and I feel confident."

Not until the event was over could Riddle relax, with all of the finalists more than capable of taking the win away in the best-of-two run format.

"I didn't know if it would be good enough," he admitted. "(Canadian teammate) Justin Dorey was throwing down and if he landed his run he had a really good shot at beating me. I was pulling for him, I like to see my friends land their tricks and celebrate, but I'm still happy with my result. It was kind of nerve-wracking sitting at the bottom and watching people come down, but at the same time it's all part of it."

Riddle is currently living in Vancouver but is considering a move to Whistler to be closer to the team and training. For the next few years leading up to the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, the team will be based out of Whistler most of the time. A trip to New Zealand is also planned at the end of the summer.

Riddle earned $8,500 for the win, with $4,500 for second and $2,000 for third.

In the women's contest, Maddie Bowman put together a smooth run with a corked 900, 720 and a couple of big 540s to take first place.

"I'm stoked," she said. "Training went really well for me, and after that it was, 'okay, let's just chill out for a second,' and it worked. Maybe it's skiing in Whistler because I love this place, and it was nice to be in a soft pipe because it reminds me of being at home (in California)."

Bowman's score was a 93.2, followed by Anais Caradeux with an 85.0 and Squamish's Rosalind Groenewoud with an 83.6.

A third place result guaranteed Groenewoud the overall AFP superpipe title, but it really came down to the wire after she crashed in her first run in the finals. Her second run didn't go as planned either, but experience took over and she pulled it off.

"I was definitely happy to land my second run," she said.

"It wasn't the run I was going for, I messed up at the top and had to freestyle it, pull something out of my pants and make up a whole different run. I was a little disappointed not to complete the run I'd been training and felt really comfortable with, but I am happy with the overall AFP title for pipe because I had a really good season."

Bowman won $5,000, Caradeux $2,500 and Groenewoud $1,000.

Complete results are online at www.wssf.com.

Other Canadians in the finals include Megan Gunning in fifth and Dara Howell in seventh. Ketlie Hansen did not compete after her crash on Saturday night. In the men's contest, Penticton's Hunter Visser placed eighth, Noah Bowman 10th, Matt Margetts 11th and Justin Dorey 12th.

At the end of the weekend the Sarah Burke Award for overall AFP awards went to Gus Kenworthy and Devin Logan, who was injured during the championship slopstyle.

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