Canada's Mike Riddle wins silver in men's ski halfpipe
Gregory Strong, The Canadian Press
Published Tuesday, February 18, 2014 12:00PM EST
Last Updated Tuesday, February 18, 2014 11:45PM EST
KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia -- A big blast of winter weather finally arrived at the Sochi Games on Tuesday night, dumping a big helping of thick snow just in time for the Olympic debut of the men's ski halfpipe competition.
The challenging conditions didn't faze Canada's Mike Riddle at all. The veteran freestyle skier stuck with his plan to unveil a new combination for his final run and it helped him win a silver medal.
"I managed to link together some tricks that I haven't done before," Riddle said. "I couldn't be happier with the result."
Riddle hit back-to-back double cork 1260's for the first time -- three and-a-half rotations with two twists per trick -- and it was enough to wow the judges at Rosa Khutor Extreme Park. The rest of his run was clean and it earned him a score of 90.60 points.
"Just to be here is unbelievable and then to get a medal -- I'm speechless," he said.
American David Wise took the gold with a total of 92.00 and Kevin Rolland of France won bronze with 88.60 points. Calgary's Noah Bowman finished fifth while Justin Dorey of Vernon, B.C., missed jumps in both his final runs and ended up 12th.
Riddle won a world title in 2011 and took the overall World Cup crown last season.
"I did have more in the arsenal that I wanted to bring out but conditions made it kind of impossible to maintain speed," he said.
Thick, clumping snowflakes started falling at the start of the qualification round in the early evening. The snow turned to rain and then back to snow ahead of the final two runs.
The winter wonderland made for great scenery but did little to jazz a tepid crowd that was quite thin without a Russian in the final. At times, spectators could barely see the skiers drop into the halfpipe.
In ski halfpipe, competitors are always trying to come up with never-before-seen tricks and combinations. However, those high-flying manoeuvres were muted somewhat due to the slow conditions.
Some skiers were forced to adjust their plans just before their runs.
It was no problem for Riddle, who has seen all kinds of crazy weather conditions over his long career. The 27-year-old from Sherwood Park, Alta., was the third-oldest skier in the 29-man field.
He competed in the first world championship in 2005 and was on hand for his sport's World Cup season debut as well. He relied on that experience in the final.
"Knowing what to do when the weather is bad -- when to hold back and when to send it -- definitely is an advantage in conditions like this," he said.
Dorey was strong in the qualification run but struggled in the final. He was the last skier down the pipe but had trouble with a landing and lost his balance.
"I didn't come here to get fourth place," Dorey said. "I really, really wanted to podium. I was going for broke."
As much as it hurt to come up short, he was very proud to see Riddle -- his longtime friend and teammate -- reach the podium.
"He's been skiing the best he's ever skied in his life this year," Dorey said. "It's incredible. He's one of the older guys and he's just hitting his prime."
Matt Margetts of Penticton, B.C., fell in his second qualifying run and missed the cut for the 12-man final.
Wise, meanwhile, overcame the conditions to score a 92 on his first run, which held up as the weather worsened. He was the favourite entering the event as the three-time defending X Games champion.
"Huge respect to him tonight," Riddle said. "It was really tough conditions and he put down an unbelievable run and that just pushed me that much harder to try and put my run down."
Riddle had reached the top 10 in his last 12 competitions entering the Games. He was sixth after a mediocre first run.
"You had to land really high on the transitions to be able to maintain speed for your next trick in order to link together your run," he said. "So if you weren't perfect, you were done basically. Every trick had to be pretty much perfect."
Ski halfpipe was making its Olympic debut thanks in part to the efforts of Canada's Sarah Burke, who died in a training accident in 2012.
"This Olympics for me is definitely bittersweet," Riddle said. "It's awesome to be here but I know that she should be here too. She's been on my mind a lot this week."
Dorey also weighed in on his former teammate.
"She'd be so proud of it," he said. "We made it, we're here. This was probably her biggest dream to see our sport in the Olympics and we did it. So just that in itself is a small victory for all of us here."
Riddle's silver was the seventh medal for the national freestyle team and 17th overall for Canada.
There could be more freestyle hardware to come. The women's ski halfpipe and men's skicross events are set for Thursday and the women's skicross goes Friday.