KRASNAYA POLYANA, RUS, 17 FEB 2013 – It's a theme that's getting almost too tired to mention at this point, but once again on Sunday the weather hanging over the Rosa Khutor Extreme park did its best to put a damper on another fine night of World Cup competition.
The snow and fog that moved in over last night's halfpipe event appears to have settled of Rosa Khutor to stay for a while. While the snow itself is a welcome development after so many days of above-average temperatures, it did make gauging speed difficult for some athletes, and there were several missed landings and big crashes through the qualifying round.
In a bit of a surprise, ladies' Freestyle World Cup overall leader Mengtao Xu (CHN) ended up in 8th place in qualifying despite being the only woman to attempt the triples jump. Though she landed cleanly, poor form meant that several women much lower on the rankings would jump after her in the finals.
However, in the finals, Xu stepped up her game, executing perfectly her two jumps in the final, including a lay, tuck, full in the super final that earned her a score of 90.30 and her fifth win in six events this season. She was followed up by Laura Peel (AUS), who skied consistently all day, sticking clean landings despite the soft snow and fog that challenged so many others.
Peel's final jump of a back full, full was enough to garner a score of 83.47 to and eke out 2nd place ahead another member of the powerhouse Chinese team, Xin Zhang. Zhang also performed the back full, full, but a a minor bobble in her landing reduced her score to 82.21.
In the men's competition, the big surprise of the day was the failure of World Cup overall aerials leader Zongyang Jia to advance past the finals stage, as he had a hard back-slap in his landing. His failure lead opened the door for last year's aerials Crystal Globe winner Olivier Rochon to advance to the super final for the first time since the first event of the season.
However, just before the men's super final, a soupy fog rolled in, almost completely obscuring the take-offs to the crowd gathered to watch below. The judges could still see, however, and the fog was consistent enough to be considered fair contest for all the athletes. The lack of visibility did, however, result in a super final in which none of the aerialists were able to cleanly land their jumps.
So, in a situation where nobody scored any real points for landing, Guangpu Qi (CHN) ended up taking the win based on a well-executed jump with the highest degree of difficulty - a back double full, full, double full. Behind Qi was his countryman Zhongqing Liu, executing a jump with the next highest degree of difficulty in a full, full, double full.
Rochon, who jumped first, was denied his first podium since that first event of the season by Denis Osipau. Osipau, jumping last after finishing first in the small final, threw down the same jump as Rochon (a lay, double full, full), but with a slightly cleaner landing was able to relegate the Canadian to 4rd.
And with that, the Rosa Khutor portion of the 2013 Sochi Olympic Test Event FIS Freestyle World Cup came to a close as the light snow continued to fall, leaving Tuesday's ski cross race as the last competition of the event.
While conditions on the day were again less than ideal, the Sochi organizers should be commended for wrestling three days of top-level competition away from Mother Nature's attempts to lay the event to waste. The moguls, halfpipe, and aerials events showed that the venue here at Rosa Khutor is second-to-none, and there's no doubt that next year at the Olympics they will be will be even better.
Hopefully, so will the weather.
Mengtao Xu (CHN) scored her fifth win of the 2012-13 season, and is now running away with the ladies' freestyle overall title, leading Hannah Kearney (USA) in freestyle points 93-63
Xu's winning jump was a lay, tuck, full, and she was the only lady in the competition to perform a jump that included three flips
Laura Peel (AUS) scored her second straight 2nd place finish
Tanja Schaerer scored her first World Cup podium in nearly a year
Guangpu Qi celebrated his first victory in just over a year, taking the men's competition with a back double full, full, double full – the most difficult jump performed in the super final
heavy fogged rolled in before the men's super final began, and seemed to hamper the athletes, as none of them managed a clean landing in their final jumps
- Qi's countryman Zhongqing Liu placed 2nd, while Denis Osipau of Belarus claimed 3rd place.
Zongyang Jia (CHN), the men's aerials World Cup leader, fell in the finals and failed to make it through to the super final
Mengtao Xu - "Today it is very difficult weather. Sometimes wind, sometimes snow, sometimes fog. It is difficult for me. I feel very excited tonight about competing, it is very important for me."
Tanja Schaerer - "Training was really hard with the snow and difficult conditions but the Russians did a great job here with the ramps and I'm looking forward to the Olympics."
Guangpu Qi - "The conditions today were difficult. My purpose was not to win the gold, it was just to compete welL. Today the first jump went well but my second was not so well because of the thick fog."