Whistler's own Brandon Semenuk proved once again why he's one of the best freeride mountain bikers in the world on Saturday night with 25,000 fans crowding the slopestyle course for Red Bull Joyride.
After casing the very last jump on his first of two runs — something Semenuk did in 2011 before he won here the first time, and in 2010 when he placed second — he laid down the strongest second run of the night.
The hardest part for Semenuk after crashing on a backflip-tailwhip "flipwhip" combo on the last jump was waiting for his second chance.
"I wanted to get right back up there," he said. "It kind of sucked that we had a half time, because I was ready to go up and do it. My blood was going, I was ready to do it and I wasn't afraid anymore (after getting a crash out of the way)."
Despite the crash, Semenuk still placed seventh in his first run. His second run featured back-to-back double tailwhip variations spinning in both directions, a backflip off the cabin jump and another flipwhip on the bottom air. Other riders arguably had runs with tricks that had a higher degree of difficulty, but no other rider threw a trick off of every single feature, had as complete of a run, or made it to the bottom without crashing.
After Semenuk scored a 96.4 on his second run, that left six riders in the field to challenge for the title. All did their best but one-by-one they made mistakes in runs that had the potential to one-up Semenuk.
Swedish rider Martin Soderstrom, who had the lead after the first run and has never finished higher than second at Crankworx Whistler, landed a triple tailwhip on his second attempt but then had a huge crash on the last air, injuring his leg.
Although riders usually aren't all that aware of the crowd, Semenuk said he could hear the crowd's support all the way down the run. When asked if he felt any pressure, he nodded. "All my friends and family are here, I didn't want to disappoint."
Semenuk, for his part, didn't celebrate his win — worth $25,000 — until Soderstrom was up and heading to an ambulance.
Soderstrom finished second in the event with an 89.8, while British rider Sam Pilgrim, a rider who has crashed or broken his bike every single year he's competed at Crankworx, finished third with an 87.0.
"It's pretty cool," he said of the fact that he pulled into the lead on the Freeride Mountain Bike (FMB) world tour with his third place finish. "I would be better if (injured Ontario rider Brett) Rheeder was in the comps because it would be real.
"It's taken five years. I've never done that good here. When I was riding I was mostly just looking to make it to the bottom, and that turned into third place."
Anton Thelander of Sweden, the youngest competitor, placed fourth and won the new "Young Gun" award.
Semenuk, who placed second at X Games and first at Crankworx Les 2 Alpes, opted against competing on the tour this year. When asked if he regrets not being on the tour given his results, Semenuk said no. His goal this year was to focus on a few key events and spend the rest of the time filming — something he says is going well.
"I've been working on season two of Life Behind Bars with new episodes every second week, and since March I've been working on a feature film with Freeride Entertainment that's about halfway done. I spent most of my summer doing that and I'm going to get back to that once this is wrapped up," he said.
"We wanted to show the most progressive riding, with the best features, jumps and trails, and make it happen. It's a core film, there's not a lot of talking, just some good riding on some really awesome courses."
Only three riders have won two slopestyle events in Whistler, going back to the first one in 2002 — Paul Basagoitia, Cam Zink and now Brandon Semenuk.