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Whistler riders join expanded halfpipe program

Teams must perform in 22-foot competition halfpipes for results to count



With just four events remaining for athletes to qualify for the 2010 Olympic Games, the Canadian Snowboard Federation has named four additional athletes to the halfpipe team for the upcoming season.

Two men and two women have been added to the program, including Whistler athletes Dan Raymond - a veteran of the team as well as the winner of the 2009 Nor-Am Tour for halfpipe - and Katie Tsuyuki, a member of the development team last season. Other new athletes are Charmaine Ironside of Calgary and Derek Livingston of Ontario.

The additional athletes will join a team that includes Jeff Batchelor of Ontario and Sea to Sky residents Brad Martin, Justin Lamoureux and Crispin Lipscomb on the men's side and Sea to Sky residents Sarah Conrad, Alexandra Duckworth, Mercedes Nicoll and Dominique Vallée for the women's team.

The Canadian Snowboard Federation has set the goalposts high for riders and only counting results in pipes with 22-foot walls - similar to the Olympic pipe at Cypress Mountain. Any podiums at events with smaller pipes are not counted as highly in the Olympic selection process.

Despite those conditions, head coach Tom Hutchinson reaffirmed his goal to win at least one medal in 2010.

"The Olympic Team selection process will differ as our qualifying events are all held in 22-foot halfpipes, which reduces the number of events we will enter on the World Cup Tour," he said. "The other way it differs from the traditional process is that qualifying contests are not just FIS World Cups but also include Grand Prix events in the U.S. This open system allows professional snowboarders to have a chance at qualifying for the Games."

The additional athletes were selected at a national team selection camp in Whistler during the spring. Only two athletes were guaranteed a spot with the team this season, with Batchelor and Lamoureux qualifying with top-eight results at the World Championships. Last season Batchelor, Martin and Lipscomb earned World Cup medals for the team, while Sarah Conrad was the only female rider on a halfpipe podium last season.

According to Hutchinson, overall quota spots are granted based on rankings from Jan. 15, 2009 to Jan. 15, 2010. Right now three Canadian men are in the top-10, but nothing is guaranteed until the qualifier period closes.

The Canadian Snowboard Federation has set its own criteria, including the 22-foot halfpipe requirement.

"We have an open program," explained Hutchinson. "Someone like Dustin Craven can drop in (to qualifier) events and if he qualifies he qualifies, it's not closed just to members of the national team.

"It makes everybody work harder, which is the goal. We don't want anybody feeling they're going (to the Games) now, because... we want them working and developing. We probably have about 10 guys fighting it out for a maximum of four spots."

A few athletes have been identified as medal hopefuls by Own The Podium and receive full support including travel costs. Other athletes with the national team receive coaching and the assistance of a wax technician, video technician, and other experts.

The team arrives in Whistler this week for a camp on Horstman Glacier. There's no halfpipe this year, but athletes will be using other terrain features to train and learn new tricks. The next training camp is at Mt. Hood in late July, followed by a camp in New Zealand in August. There may be another camp in New Zealand in October and November.

With strong international competition, including the dominant U.S. and Japanese teams, athletes will be challenged to make an impact. That's why individual programs have been developed for athletes that the CSF views as medal contenders.

"What we've done for our top athletes is to create individual programs," said Hutchinson. "We're not doing it as a group or training together (as in the past), but we've looked at each athlete - especially the three guys we've targetted - and said 'you need to work on this, or on that.' Each athlete has a very different plan heading into the Olympics."

The next chance for athletes to prove themselves is the U.S. Grand Prix in Colorado in mid-December. Other events include World Cup events in Europe that have 22-foot pipe walls, and the second U.S. Grand Prix event. The team will be confirmed by Jan. 23.