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Big Air's groundbreakers set for liftoff

By SUN XIAOCHEN | China Daily | Updated: 2023-11-29 08:55
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Practice for this week's Shougang Big Air World Cup event got underway on Tuesday at the iconic venue in west Beijing. The qualification rounds take place on Thursday and Friday, with the finals on Saturday. [Photo/China Daily]

Cutting-edge action in store as world's finest freestylers do battle at Beijing's iconic Olympic venue

With newcomers determined to soar beyond their limits and veterans keen to reconquer the monster slope, the Shougang Big Air World Cup is set to thrill Beijing with never-before-seen tricks, flips and twists.

Almost two years since earning instant iconic status at the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics, the Shougang Big Air venue is ready to welcome back the world's finest freeskiers and snowboarders as they launch themselves to new heights off a ramp renowned for its unique and challenging structure.

With two days of open practice beginning on Tuesday, competitors have been hurtling down the 60-meter-high slope to hone their moves.

The qualification rounds for freeski and snowboarding take place on Thursday and Friday, respectively, followed by the final sessions and a live pop-music concert on Saturday.

Headlined by China's reigning Olympic champion snowboarder Su Yiming, legendary Canadian rider Mark McMorris and five-time freeski World Cup season winner Andri Ragettli of Switzerland, a total of 166 athletes from 24 countries and regions have signed up for the Beijing showdown, where they hope the world's first and only permanent Big Air slope can help them hit new heights.

"I didn't perform as well as I'd wished (at Beijing 2022) coming back from a 10-month injury break... But I was just happy to be back and really excited to have a second chance (competing here)," said Ragettli, who finished 14th at Shougang in 2022, at a World Cup news conference in Beijing on Tuesday.

"It's the best city Big Air venue in the world I think. So I'm really excited to be part of it and to go for a better run this time."

A surging new star to watch in the high-flying discipline, reigning world champion freeskier Troy Podmilsak of the United States, is making his debut at Shougang this week, and has been mightily impressed by what he's seen so far.

"It's gonna be crazy. All the best riders here at an amazing jump is gonna produce some crazy tricks. I think we're gonna see maybe the best ever Big Air event on the weekend. I am excited to be a part of it," said the 19-year-old, who won the Big Air title in his world championships debut in March in Bakuriani, Georgia.

After becoming the first skier in history to land a forward 2160-degree trick to secure his world title, Podmilsak said he won't hold back at all in his Beijing debut.

"For sure the 21, I'm planning on doing it. I know a few other guys were thinking about it. We're going to see some 21s, and maybe even bigger tricks. We just don't know yet."

'Something special'

After witnessing an exceptionally successful Beijing 2022 event, Chad Buchholz, media coordinator from international governing body the FIS, said he's confident that the World Cup event will generate even more excitement than the Olympics.

"Everything is looking really good... a jump like this really allows the athletes to step up on the spot. They feel comfortable like they do generally on this jump, so they are able to progress in finals, which is something that I think really speaks to how excellent this venue is. I really do expect to see something special here. To see some stuff that we've never seen before," he said.

Despite skipping Tuesday's news conference, local favorite Su has garnered massive attention from fans and media as he returns to the scene of his Beijing 2022 heroics, which delivered China's first and only Olympic snowboarding gold medal.

After taking a lengthy break from competition following Beijing 2022, Su reported to Tsinghua University in August to begin his college studies. The 19-year-old has still found time to treat fans to his daredevil tricks, with videos of his training program in Austria going viral on social media.

As the new Olympic cycle proceeds into its second season, Team China is also embracing the home World Cup as the perfect opportunity for the younger generation to level up their routines ahead of the 2026 Milano Cortina Winter Games.

"Our goal is to make it to the final first and see what we can do to step up our performance from there," said 19-year-old Chinese freeskier Liu Mengting, who is making her Big Air World Cup debut in Beijing.

"Hopefully I can learn from the world's best and try to go for a podium finish."

With the regeneration of Shougang park — the site of a former steel mill — exemplifying Beijing 2022's far-sighted legacy strategy, the international winter sports community is on board with the project for the long run, said Roby Moresi, FIS park and pipe contest director.

"What we see today is the result of a consistent effort and hard work from the Chinese organizers. We started off with a normal competition and we ended up doing a World Cup event, Olympic Games and now into a legacy portion of the project, which will take us into many more years of World Cup events in Beijing at the Shougang park," he said.

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